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The Early Career of Mayor Frank Hague

Chapter 2 - Hague’s Alliance With Wittpenn
Part 1

By Mark S. Foster

Copyright 1967

Web version, edited by GET NJ.
Copyright 2002

In Tammany Hall, there have been at least two classic ways to rise to political power. One is through attrition, patience and some ability; long steady service… The other is through aggression, precise timing, and some luck. Here the potential chieftain gains power by destroying the existing leader…at the right moment he must toss his political career into the breech. He must fight. 1

Hague undoubtedly combined these two methods. One unique element in his rise to power was his skill in switching back and forth. He intermittently worked for and fought with his superiors in the party. Feral instinct seemed to guide his actions. Luck certainly played a large part in his eventual success, in that his enemies made no concerted effort to destroy him until too late. When they finally did, he was too powerful, and his enemies were the ones who felt the consequences.

A small storm cloud loomed on the horizon even as Hague accepted the mantle from county leader Robert Davis as head of the second ward Democrats. His role as leader of the ward was to be brief and stormy. He received the appointment for two important reasons. William Behan had proven ineffective, and many of Hague’s friends were exerting a great deal of pressure on Davis to replace Behan with Hague. Certainly Hague had done little to make Behan’s job easy. The two men had never worked well together; Hague had “reorganized” the Democratic club in the ward by splitting the club into two halves. Behan approved the move, probably because he was powerless to do anything about it.2 Hague’s alleged purpose was to inject “new life” into the party. Just possibly he advanced his own claim to ward leadership in the process.

If Hague’s rivalry with Behan failed to bother Davis, another incident did arouse his anger shortly thereafter. In the fall election of 1907, Davis asked Hague to work hard for the nomination of John J. Heavy for the Street and Water Board. Perhaps Davis forgot that just the year previously he had asked Hague to work against Heavy for nomination as Sheriff. Hague had followed these orders and personally made a house to house canvas speaking directly to his constituents against Heavy’s candidacy. Partly as a result, Heavy did poorly and Davis’s candidate won the nomination. Shortly thereafter Davis changed his mind about Heavy, to the extent that he wanted his nomination as a member of the Street and Water Board. When he called Hague into his office soliciting support for Heavy, a stormy scene followed:

“I want you to hustle for Heavy in the second ward,” said Davis. “Hustle for Heavy?” demanded Hague, “Heavy, the man you wanted me to beat last fall? Not on your life!”3

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