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The Early Career of Mayor Frank Hague

Chapter 2 - Hague’s Alliance With Wittpenn
Part 6

By Mark S. Foster

Copyright 1967

Web version, edited by GET NJ.
Copyright 2002

Hague’s coup in the Tammany Club is a very colorful story. Only four days had elapsed between Davis’s unexpected dethroning of Hague and the regularly scheduled meeting of the Tammany Club Sheehy and Hague were both members, as the two separate clubs which existed in Behan’s days as ward leader had once again been united. Before Davis’s surprise announcement, Sheehy himself played down his interest in ward leadership. Even after his appointment, Sheehy stated: “I never sought this post, but I’ll try to do a good job… I expect Frank Hague’s help…I expect he would be a good Democrat…”21 Hague had little interest in party harmony if it was dependent upon his acceptance of his demotion. Hague knew that sentiment was pretty evenly divided in the Tammany Club between himself and Sheehy. If Hague had more friends, he also realized there was still considerable sentiment in the ‘Show to the effect that he should quietly abdicate ward leadership for the sake of party unity. Hague must have sensed that Davis’s hands were at least partially tied by the fact that the Democrats faced a general election in the fall of 1908, and that Davis wanted party unity above all. So he called Davis’s bluff. Hague, by virtue of his position as a member of the executive board of the club, had access to the membership roll sheets and record of dues payments. Close scrutiny of the latter showed that the bulk of Sheehy’s supporters had not paid their dues and were not “members in good standing.” The next meeting was scheduled for eight p.m. the night of June 4. The word quickly went out. By seven-thirty, Hague’s followers had packed the meeting room on the second floor of a large red brick building. A group of strong armed Hague men stood guard at the door and refused admittance to all who were not “members in good standing.” When one Sheeyite tried to pay his dues at the door sot that he could become a member in good standing, he was told to “come around tomorrow.” Sheehy’s followers got wind of the plot and tried to crash the meeting, but it was too late! Hague boasted the next day that of four hundred and fifty men in the room, only eighteen had not voted to retain him as ward leader.22

Otto Wittpenn also was concerned with promoting a degree of party unity. Sheehy’s followers, sensing this, went to Wittpenn and demanded recognition as the official leaders in the ward. Wittpenn skillfully evaded the issue: “Second ward leadership? Why that doesn’t appear to be city business, does it? Really, I’m too busy with important things to bother with a picayune squabble over ward leadership.”23 In effect, Wittpenn refused to call Hague off and Davis’s attempt to remove Hague had backfired.

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