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The Early Career of Mayor Frank Hague

Chapter 6 - Hague’s Rise to the Mayoralty
Part 3

By Mark S. Foster

Copyright 1967

Web version, edited by GET NJ.
Copyright 2002

Still, Hague and his allies left nothing to chance. Two months before the election, they began campaigning formally. Their disunited opponents were still trying to make order out of chaos and choose their tickets. Hague’s forces ran exceedingly hard. A reporter who covered their campaign was flabbergasted that various members of the Hague ticket spoke before thirteen widely scattered groups throughout the city in just one evening. They ran not only as politicians, but as entertainers. On one occasion, A. Harry Moore wore a candy-striped coat and put on a minstrel show. Nevertheless, the star of the show when it comes to straight political talk was Hague. He clearly dominated the other members of his ticket. On one occasion when the “big three” were all present, an eyewitness reported:

As Mr. Hague’s talk consumed an hour and a quarter and it was not finished until 11:15. Commissioners Moore and Brensinger had little time at their disposition to speak themselves.”9

Nobody expected Hague’s victory to be as smashing as it was. On May 9, 1917, the Jersey Journal headline read “Hague Elects All Five City Commissioners.” Though Hague himself actually ran second to Moore, all knew it was he who had master-minded the victory. Moore received 20,033 total votes to Hague’s 19,348. O’Brien ran fifth with 14, 030 votes. The only candidate to mount a serious challenge was James W. McCarthy, a Republican who gathered more than 12,000 votes. The Republican ticket ran well ahead of both Wittpenn groups. Wittpenn’s dispirited candidates were led by the embittered Henry Byrne, who could manage only 9,087 votes.10

Technically, the commissioner who received the largest number of votes could be appointed mayor. However, A. Harry Moore showed little desire for the position, and appointment of the mayor was left to the commissioners themselves. As the Jersey Journal indicated, “Hague can have the mayoralty if he says the word.”11 Hague did give the word, and on May 11, 1917, he was named mayor. According to the Walsh Act, the only power he had over and above that enjoyed by the other commissioners was that he could choose and appoint the three-man school board. Few could have guessed at that time how much power Hague was to create for himself through this office.

The Wittpenn organization finally admitted its last defeat. By a formal announcement, Wittpenn himself handed over leadership of the county to Hague, expressing the hope that the Democrats would finally become a unified organization. Few present would have dreamed how very united Hudson County Democrats would soon be. It has been and will be the fascinating subject for historians for years. A few days after the election, the Newark Evening News gave an inkling of what the future might hold. “Jersey Democrats had better get acquainted with Frank Hague, who has just emerged on top in one of those political fights which make Jersey City famous.”12

Finis

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