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The Early Career of Mayor Frank Hague

Chapter 2 - Hague’s Alliance With Wittpenn
Part 10

By Mark S. Foster

Copyright 1967

Web version, edited by GET NJ.
Copyright 2002

If Hague was winning the fight for the “little people,” he appeared to be losing his fight with the Democratic organization. In a significant compromise, Davis announced that he would not support Wittpenn for renomination as mayor in the fall of of 1909.32 Rumors circulated that Hague was not strong enough to put up his own slate of county committeemen from the second ward for the fall election. Many believed that he would be dumped as City Hall custodian. The word circulated that he had outlived his usefulness to Wittpenn and that the latter would drop him to insure a unified party. Surely Wittpenn could not have been overjoyed with Hague’s advice to constituents to refuse to pay any city assessment for their viaduct. “The Davis men were chuckling over Hague’s prospective retirement…He is not protected by the Civil Service Act.”33 The Jersey Journal was busy writing his epitaph: “Hague will have no trouble finding a lucrative position when he leaves City Hall on January 1.”34 On top of all this, the story broke that one of Hague’s friends had received a job at the bathhouse in the second ward. Mysteriously, he had somehow received a passing grade on the Civil Service Exam, even though records showed that he had never taken the test! Shortly thereafter, the Jersey Journal noticed that “City Hall Custodian Frank Hague is not seen so much in the Mayor’s office these days.”35 Going nowhere with his fight with Sheehy, seemingly abandoned by his ally Wittpennn and touched by the breath of scandal, Hague needed time to think. In July, he took a brief vacation with his wife and son, his political career at its all time nadir.

Though Hague had made some tactical blunders, he was fortunate that he faced an indecisive adversary in John Sheehy. Sheehy’s main problem was that his personal convictions often conflicted with political necessities, and he had difficulty reconciling them. Fortunately for Hague, Sheehy chose the fall of 1909 to back Felix Tumulty for mayor, even though his “superior” Davis had announced for Wittpenn. Davis was livid with rage. Sheehy at first refused to back down in supporting Tumulty, despite Davis’s personal request. Shortly thereafter, discretion on Sheehy’s part triumphed over valor and he “fell in line,” but the solidity in Davis’s organization was scarcely imposing. Even more important, Davis’s ire was temporarily diverted from Hague, allowing Hague some time to think and act.

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