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Boss Hague
King Hanky-Panky of Jersey

Part 17

By Jack Alexander

Originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on October 26, 1940
Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2002

Hague’s early career runs closely to a familiar pattern. After his expulsion from grade school he got a job in the Erie Railroad shops In Jersey City, with the idea of following his father’s trade, blacksmithing. Hague was a tough, hot-tempered kid, but a dandy in dress, and blacksmithing did not please him. He attached himself to the rough-and-tumble politics of the Second Ward, which was part of the Horseshoe district -- so-called because of its geographical shape. In 1891 he was elected constable and later was appointed a deputy sheriff.

In 1904 a paroled Jersey City convict named Red Dugan was being tried in Boston on a forgery charge. His alibi was that on the day the crime was committed he was in Jersey City. Deputy Sheriff Hague went to Boston and supported the alibi, testifying that he had conversed with Dugan in a public park of Jersey City on that day. Dugan subsequently embarrassed Hague by confessing his guilt. The Boston authorities, who wanted to prosecute Hague, wrote to a Hudson County judge asking what could be done to bring him back Into their jurisdiction. The answer was that nothing could be done. However, the Hudson judge punished Hague in his own way. On the day Hague was in Boston he was supposed to have been a witness before the Hudson County grand jury. For ignoring the grand-jury subpoena, the county judge fined Hague $100, stripped him of his badge and ordered him to keep out of the courthouse. The next time the judge came up for appointment, Hague was in power and he saw that the judge was dropped.

The loss of deputy-sheriff rating did not check Hague’s rise in statecraft. In 1901 he was made sergeant-at-arms of the Assembly, and in 1908 Mayor H. Otto Wittpenn appointed him custodian of City Hall, an act Wittpenn was soon to regret. Hague was doing his duty by the ballot too. After one election the county prosecutor charged that Hague had stormed into a polling place with two policemen and had tried to intimidate the election judges by threats and profane language. Failing in this, he had overturned an oil lamp and thrown the place into confusion, the prosecutor said.

Hague ran for street and water commissioner in 1911 and was elected. Shortly after that he broke with Mayor Wittpenn and, to the surprise of all, joined forces with a group of reformers who wanted to install the commission form of government. Unsuspectingly, the reformers welcomed the convert to their ranks. He was a zealous penitent and he made many addresses In which he renounced his former sinful affiliations and stated that the old councilmanic system gave “too much opportunity for the playing of cheap politics.” The commission form was adopted in 1913 and Hague was elected commissioner of public safety, which gave him control over the police and fire departments. Within a few years the director had almost doubled the personnel of both departments and for the first time the reformers began to realize that they had been double-crossed.

Hague started his long tenure as mayor by winning in the 1917 election and extended the pay-roll padding to all city departments. This called for a new font of revenue and Mayor Hague discovered it in the railroads, which owned almost half the town and had been enjoying a low valuation. He raised their assessments. They appealed the increases as exorbitant and were upheld by the State Board of Tax Appeals. So, in 1919, Hague put up his own candidate for governor and won and the new governor packed the tax board with more reasonable men. Now Hague raised the valuation of railroad property from $67,000,000 to $180,000,000 and was sustained on appeal. Ha was also sustained in raising the Standard Oil Company assessment from $1,500,000 to $14,000,000 and that of the Public Service Corporation from $8,000,000 to $80,000,000.

In spite of the flood of gold which this brought in, the city’s bonded indebtedness was doubled between 1922 and 1928. After Hague’s state-wide triumph in 1919 he was made a Democratic National Committeeman and was acknowledged as the boss of New Jersey. The state has never been the same since.

A personable young fellow named Moore, who was secretary to the unfortunate Mayor Wittpenn, tied himself to Hague’s kite when it appeared certain that the young man from the Horseshoe was going places. Moore is A. Harry Moore, who is now finishing his third term as governor and who has served for the glory of New Jersey and the Hague machine.


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