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The Early Career of Mayor Frank Hague

Chapter 5 - Hague as a Progressive
Part 2

By Mark S. Foster

Copyright 1967

Web version, edited by GET NJ.
Copyright 2002

Hague’s request for an extra $15,000 from the Board of Finance was turned down. He wasted no time in calling in the City Plan Engineer, who almost immediately produced evidence to support Hague’s claim that his appropriation was inadequate. Though Hague had been forced to lay off nearly half his men, the engineer reported that the streets had never been so clean. Even his long time critic, the Jersey Journal, swallowed its earlier criticism and sided with him. “It is useless to find fault with a public official if sufficient means are not provided for his work.”4 Hague, enjoying this unaccustomed praise, could not resist taking a verbal poke at Wittpenn. “Politics has entered into the problem - it is evident that Mayor Wittpenn does not propose to let me make good with the street cleaning.”5

In the meantime, Hague had reneged in his temporary support for Wilson. Hague’s reason was that Wilson insisted upon trying to interfere with local politics, and Hague felt this should be the responsibility of local citizens. Wilson feared that if he did not personally take charge of Hudson County, the Democracy would be divided and thus would be unable to deliver the large plurality he needed in November to offset normally Republican downstate New Jersey. Therefore, Wilson summoned Hague and several of his allies to Sea Girt, New Jersey, where he was taking a brief rest before the big campaign push. At Sea Girt, he laid down the law to Hague.

If you are with me, you will form no combinations with those who are against me at the presidential primaries…If Alexander is the only stumbling block to you from working in harmony with Mayor Wittpenn, I will see that Alexander is not a candidate. His petition will not be filed.6

Wilson, it appeared, was in favor of freely nominated and elected candidates, as long as this would not interfere with his own candidacy. Although he declared himself in favor of a “wide open primary” for state offices, he called James Smith’s possible election “the most fatal backward step the Democrats in the state could take.”7

Despite Wilson’s stern lecture, Hague and a number of his allies still decided to run a separate slate of county officers in the primaries. Wilson therefore decided to teach Hague a lesson. He came personally to Jersey City to stump for Wittpenn’s slate of candidates. Hague could not overcome Wilson’s great popularity, even though he campaigned with his usual vigor. His candidates were buried in the county primary. Hague was only able to nominate his own men in the second ward. There, even Wilson’s magic name could not shake loyalty to Hague. Knowledgeable political observers must have sensed that Wilson, not Wittpenn, had defeated Hague. Nevertheless, the less observant Jersey Journal called Wittpenn the “undisputed leader in Hudson County.”8 One should note that this source had recently written his epitaph.

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