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The Early Career of Mayor Frank Hague

Chapter 4 - Hague’s Career at its Nadir
Part 2

By Mark S. Foster

Copyright 1967

Web version, edited by GET NJ.
Copyright 2002

If Wilson also lectured Wittpenn and Hague about the need for a united Democracy, it was indeed understandable. He was already laying groundwork for his bid for the presidency next year, and he needed a solidly united Democracy I New Jersey as a basis upon which to build his strength. Neither listened attentively.

Hague broke their uneasy truce and fired the opening round at Wittpenn. Bayonne, a neighboring city, faced a serious water shortage, Jersey City was in the best position to alleviate Bayonne's drought, and nobody disagreed that the city should do so. Unfortunately, existing mains were barely adequate to supply Bayonne with the needed water. The Street and Water Board therefore invited two water companies to come in, investigate the situation and make proposals. Suddenly, Hague charged that the hearing of the two water companies were being conducted in private. As a representative of the people on the Street and Water Board, he refused to attend the meetings. Hague's real objection was that the building of an additional water pipe to Bayonne was an unnecessary expense. He felt that Bayonne's water shortage was strictly a temporary matter and that the existing pipe structure was adequate. Therefore he objected to the whole idea of a hearing. In Hague's mind, Wittpenn was the villain for ordering the hearings in the first place. Despite Hague's boycott of the hearings, the Street and Water Board voted 4-0 to go ahead and lay the new pipe. Hague was bitter: "If my attitude toward this water agreement is to be punished by the loss of the mayor's friendship, and I am to be fought, then I will fight back."4 On the other hand, the Hudson Observer sided with the mayor:

Mayor Wittpenn's explanation and defense of the contract which Jersey City made with a water company, whereby the city sold, for valuable considerations, a right of way over a small strip of land for a pipe line to relieve the water famine in Bayonne were scarcely necessary.

One of the charges was that the contract was made in secret but that was not true. All of the conferences were attended by a representative of this newspaper.... It is regrettable that one of the five Commissioners stayed away, failed to qualify himself to vote intelligently on the subject, and, in his ignorance of the facts, made statements which reflected unjustly upon those who are honestly trying to serve the city.5

As a member of the Street and Water Board, Hague had been assigned to head the Department of Street Cleaners. This was actually an enviable appointment, since it allowed him a considerable amount of patronage. Usually he had somewhere between fifty and a hundred men working directly under his jurisdiction. Although the Civil Service act prevented his hiring and firing at will, he could replace retiring or disabled men with friends who had passed Civil Service exams.

If Hague had demanded strict economy from the Board regarding new pipelines, he felt very much limited in the funds allotted to him to keep streets clean. Soon after he came into office, numerous complaints were allegedly heard to the effect that no improvement was evident in street cleaning. Charges were also heard that one of the primary reasons for dirty streets was that one of every five street cleaners was given that title of foreman, which meant that he did no cleaning himself but only supervised others. Critics called it "peanut politics". Other complaints were soon heard that Hague encourage older workers, to whom he owed no political debts, to retire in order that he might replace them with his favorites. If they proved recalcitrant, so the stories went, Hague's foremen gave them the worst jobs and drove them harder.


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