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The Early Career of Mayor Frank Hague

Chapter 5 - Hague as a Progressive

By Mark S. Foster

Copyright 1967

Web version, edited by GET NJ.
Copyright 2002

At the time Woodrow Wilson won the Democratic nomination for president, it is clear that Frank Hague’s political career had reached a plateau. He realized the need for a political face lifting, a completely, a completely new image if his career was to progress further. It cannot be said that prior to the middle of 1912 Hague showed no signs of entertaining progressive ideas. Nor did he entirely refrain from using Machiavellian means to augment his power after this time. Nonetheless, one sees Hague in remarkably different lights before and after Wilson’s nomination.

From time to time prior to Wilson’s nomination, Hague had taken a progressive stance. Notably, however, it had always been suspiciously close to election day. Though he had supported William Martine for Senator, it was not until Smith’s candidacy seemed doomed and Smith’s other supporters were also flocking to Martine’s camp. When running for the Street and Water Board, Hague talked about the “need for progressive men.” 1 After his election he asked that citizens of Jersey City judge him by his results and to note what he did in office.2 Yet Hague’s political machinations as Street and Water Commissioner quickly brushed aside any brief ideas that he might be a true convert to the progressive faith.

If Hague was a Johnny-come-lately to this ideology, he seemed determined to make up for lost time. In the five years between Wilson’s nomination and Hague’s own election as Mayor, he attacked, among other things, railroads, water companies, the “insurance trust,” food retailers, streetcar companies, the local gas company, building contractors, movie theaters, house of prostitution, narcotics and war profiteering. As Commissioner of Public Safety, he waged unceasing war against inefficiency in the Police and Fire Departments, and he greatly modernized both.

Two weeks after Wilson won the nomination, Hague was invited to address a group of businessmen about the problem of keeping the streets clean in Jersey City. Hague struck a responsive chord with this group, and he convinced them that they should help him procure a larger annual appropriation from the Board of Finance. He once again blamed the Board of Finance for most of Jersey City’s ills. In short order he attacked several other chronic problem areas in Jersey City. He called the sewer system “inadequate, and a menace to public health.”3 This was a switch for Hague since he was not responsible for the sewers. Yet, he was concerned. He also charged that local railroads were covering manholes, and he demanded that they be forced to open them. Hague feared that flooding would result if manholes remained closed.

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