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The Early Career of Mayor Frank Hague

Chapter 3- Hague Fights the County Machine
Part 2

By Mark S. Foster

Copyright 1967

Web version, edited by GET NJ.
Copyright 2002

Whether or not it was a result of his personal disappointment at not being appointed, Hague refused a request by Wittpenn to support a charter for commission government which would replace the old city charter. Hague's refusal to support commission government offended Wittpenn; Hague was rapidly losing influence in the Wittpenn administration and a number of the mayor's advisors tried to convince Wittpenn that Hague was a political liability.

Undoubtedly Wittpenn gave serious consideration to the idea of dropping Hague right then. However, a number of sobering considerations stood in the way. Politicians with Hague's popularity, political savvy and determination were rare. At the time when feelings between the two were most tense, the Jersey Journal announced that Hague, on his own initiative, had established a number of classrooms throughout the city to teach immigrant Italians and Poles enough English to pass naturalization exams and become American citizens. In return for English lessons, and a helping hand in time of need, they would be expected to vote as Hague directed on election day. During a previous hard fought campaign, Hague had been the first ward leader in the city to think of "advertising" his candidates through the media of outdoor movies. In 1911, the silent movie was still a novelty. Voter turnout in support of these candidates was enormous. Finally, Wittpenn knew that he would need Hague's support in a bid for a third term as mayor. Therefore, Wittpenn welcomed Hague back in to the fold.

According to the Jersey Journal, "Frank Hague is Back with Wittpenn. Wittpenn Rejoices over Return of Prodigal Son."5

Hague's return to the fold was indeed timely for Wittpenn. If Hague stood with Sheehy in opposing commission government, he was harly one to oppose the new and popular Geran law. His hard work once again paid dividends. Sheehy himself was still identified with Davis's machine, and when results of the fall primary of 1911 were in, Jersey City rejoiced that "Wittpenn-Hague Forces Crush Sheehy and the Machine."6

Wittpenn was renominated for mayor by the Democrats. The voting figures showed his victory to be very close. Careful analysis of the results seems to vindicate Wittpenn was renominated by a margin of 1,605 votes. He carried ward two by the uncomfortably close margin of sixty-five votes. Wittpenn received 909 votes against 844 for Sheehy's candidate.7 Had Hague supported Sheehy's choice, he could probably have shifted most of the 909 votes away from Wittpenn. This in itself might have changed the results of the primary. Furthermore, a number of other ward leaders owed Hague political favors in return for jobs he had found for their followers. If Hague had been sufficiently aroused against Wittpenn, there seems to be little doubt that he could have induced enough votes away from him to prevent his renomination.

This clearly shows that the rapprochement was a marriage of mutual convenience. Hague himself was running for nomination for a position on the five man Street and Water Board. The two Democrats who received the most votes in the primary would be the candidates. Hague won the most votes, rolling up 8,067.8 John Prout won the other nomination. However, the third place candidate accumulated almost 6,800 votes, and it appears that Wittpenn's determined opposition would likewise have cost Hague the nomination. At this point, each man still needed the other.

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