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The Early Career of Mayor Frank Hague

Chapter 1 - Early Days With Boss Davis
Part 3

By Mark S. Foster

Copyright 1967

Web version, edited by GET NJ.
Copyright 2002

Hudson County Democrats had fared well in an election year otherwise dominated by the Republicans. But they had little time to congratulate themselves on their gains. A municipal election loomed in the spring of 1897, and they hoped to oust the incumbent Republican mayor. This would be no easy task. Much work had to be done to revitalize the grassroots organization of the party. Petty personal differences and rivalries had to be set aside in order to have a united party at election time.

The success that the Democrats enjoyed in later years was largely due to the fact that they could unite, if only temporarily, at election time and submerge individual differences. Davis was fortunate in that he had had a number of able and aggressive young lieutenants to perform basic functions in party organization. Hague spent most of his time at specifically assigned tasks. He rang doorbells and assisted countless Democratic constituents in the often bewildering task of registering to vote. If a neighbor’s son was jailed on a petty charge, it was often Hague’s responsibility to arrange immediate bail. If a mother’s child was seriously ill, Hague might personally take the child to the hospital. If a fire broke out at two a.m. on a winter night, he was usually one of the first at the scene. He did not return to bed until the victims had been properly cared for. In later years, as Commissioner of Public Safety and head of the fire department, Hague often personally rescued victims from the flames. He never forgot his early training. Thus, being a politician in the second ward was no easy life. His working day seldom ended at five o’clock; he was on call twenty-four hours a day.

The Democratic party in ward two provided much more than service. The second ward Democratic club often sponsored social functions. Parades, political rallies with speeches and live entertainment, band concerts and picnics were just a few of the social services offered. In the days before radio, “talkie” movies and television, party functions were one of the few organized social outlets available to the poor. Individual ward leaders often sponsored athletic clubs of various types. Dances or “balls” were likewise presented.

For a young ward heeler, a picnic or a dance was an event which called for painstaking preparation. Often it was his responsibility to rent a dance hall, hire a band, supervise the hanging of the decorations and arrange for the catering. Invitations were sent to all the important party leaders. If the “big men’ attended, the ward heeler’s goal was to spend as much time as he could being seen conferring with them, impressing both his constituents at the function and the big men with the effort he had put into throwing a well planned party. At moments when the bosses were busy elsewhere, the ward heeler would be busy talking with guests, dancing with spinsters and the like. Hague was in his glory on such occasions, as he had a love for fine clothes and enjoyed cutting a fancy figure.8 Clearly, the young and ambitious ward heeler had work to do even at the most festive occasions.

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