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The Early Career of Mayor Frank Hague

Chapter 2 - Hague’s Alliance With Wittpenn
Part 4

By Mark S. Foster

Copyright 1967

Web version, edited by GET NJ.
Copyright 2002

To complicate matters even further, Davis had previously promised a supporter named James McKee that he would try to get him the job as custodian.8 He would certainly lose face if he could not deliver the appointment to McKee. Frank Hague stood directly in Davis’s path. Wittpenn was caught in the middle, and he was in no hurry to make a hasty decision about either of the jobs in question. The Jersey Journal’s headline screamed: “Open Clash Between Davis and Wittpenn on Slate.”9 While Wittpenn hesitated, Davis tried to force his hand, claiming that he “wouldn’t take the collectorship if it were offered.”10 He apparently hoped to frighten Wittpenn with the specter of disharmony in the party. Wittpenn, instinctively sensing that Davis would have to settle for the collectorship, called his bluff and appointed Hague to the custodianship. Davis had no immediate means of reprisal and backed down. In order to save face, he claimed he had “never said he wouldn’t accept the collectorship.”11 This was undoubtedly a bitter pill to swallow for one who only a few months previously had been undisputed boss of Hudson County’s Democracy. This defeat increased his dislike of Hague, whom he saw as the focal point of his problems. Davis was forced by circumstances to show a modicum of respect for Wittpenn. However, he was under no obligations to Hague, who soon bore the brunt of Davis’s wrath.

Since Davis controlled appointments of ward leaders, his method or retaliation appeared obvious. Less than two weeks after Hague took over as custodian, the Jersey Journal stated: “In the Horseshoe there is also trouble over the underground attempt to relieve City Hall Custodian Frank Hague of the second ward leadership. Hague will fight for retention as ward leader.”12 But Hague’s removal would not be as easy as it might appear on the surface. While Davis held control over county patronage, a good number of his minions held city appointments just as he did. Davis feared reprisals by Wittpenn against his followers. Any overt move by Davis to unseat Hague could shake the Democracy of Hudson County to its foundations.

Hague realized that he was walking a political tightrope. As he saw it, the bet thing he could do would be to make himself indispensable to Wittpenn. If the later were to desert him, his political future would vanish overnight. Thus, working right under Wittpenn’s nose at City Hall, Hague applied himself to his new job. The Jersey Journal noted: “City Hall Custodian Frank Hague keeps the City Hall looking spick and span. Under his direction, cleaners have cleaned every nook and corner.”13 Realizing he was in a pretty tight spot, Hague stated “I shall be loyal to Robert Davis. I shall gladly fight under Davis’s leadership and of course I shall never forget the obligations I am under to Mayor Wittpenn, whose form friend I shall continue to be.”14 Davis was not about to be mollified easily, and he irritated Hague in a number of little ways. Hague’s name was conspicuously absent from the menu card for the Robert Davis Annual Banquet in March. Davis also ordered County Chairman James Hennessey to “postpone” the naming of ward leaders for the coming year, a move clearly meant as a slap at Hague.

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