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Boss Hague
King Hanky-Panky of Jersey

Part 18

By Jack Alexander

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

One of the more convincing signs that Hague is reaching the end of his tether is the 1940 report of the Bureau of the Census. It shows that in the past decade Jersey City lost more than 15,000 in population, dropping to 301,012. This loss would mean nothing, except for the fact that during same period the number of property owners -- individuals, banks, government agencies, et al. -- fell from an estimated 20,000 to an estimated 9,000. Much of the loss in population is attributed by Hague’s critics to sacrifice ales by small home owners who have fled to places where the assessments and taxes are less burdensome. Distress sales of homes at a fraction of the assessed valuation are a commonplace. Even the friendly Jersey Journal is worded about the future. In an editorial printed last February, entitled DOES THE DAY OP RECKONING APPROACH? the Journal discussed the prospect of municipal bankruptcy and remarked: “… It Is becoming increasingly a question whether real-estate taxation will provide sufficient menus to steer Jersey City and the rest of Hudson County past the shoals of financial disaster much longer.” The property owners who remain, talk vaguely of starting a tax strike and forcing a showdown, and they probably would if they could count on the cooperation of large property-holding government agencies such as the FDIC and the HOLC. Both of these go on turning over millions in taxes to the city each year, with rarely a protest, and Hague goes on meeting his ballooned pay rolls. One payless payday would do more to shake the boss than the loss of five seats in the legislature.

A Shaky Throne

But even an alphabetical agency can get angry, and a few weeks ago the Federal Home Loan Bank Board supported the charge that Jersey City’s loss in population is one of the prices it is paying for Its murderous taxes. “Existing property values are destroyed and decentralisation is unwarrantably speeded,” said Dr. William H. Husband, a member of the board.

The board had many reason for being miffed, and it cited one of them. In January, 1987, It foreclosed on a three-story shingle dwelling in Jersey City. The HOLOC appraises the property at $8,200. It assessed at $20,900 and pleas for a reduction in assessment have been denied. Taxes are $1,011 a year. Because of needed repairs, the house has been vacant since the foreclosure, and efforts to sell it have failed. Now the Government proposes to make $1,868 worth repairs under an HOLO loan, in the hope of renting the property for enough to meet the taxes.

“A mere picture of the house would make the assessment seem laughable if it were not such tragic evidence of a vicious tax system,” Doctor Husband commented.

With all this money trouble in the air and the political horizon clouded up, Hague is reported ready to retire. The last few years he has spent more and more time away from City Hall and the city has been run mostly by Deputy Mayor John Malone and Frank Hague Eggers, the Hague nephew, who has given up his Judgeship to help out as his uncle’s confidential secretary

Hague, some political observers guess, will run for his seventh consecutive term as mayor in the election of next May, as a ”vindication,” and then will retire in favor of Eggers. This would be a dirty trick to play on a nephew, as Eggers is no more brilliant than most politicians’ nephews are. However, he might be smart enough to set up a sort of regency of property owners and financial experts and try to avert municipal bankruptcy.

As for Hague, he can loll about in Florida and Saratoga, and muse upon the exciting years when be was rising from a problem child to “the first citizen of his city and the leading citizen of New Jersey.” He may be pardoned If be feels that his years of service entitle him to shy away from his city’s financial difficulties, which are loaded with nasty mathematics. For, after all, a mugg is a mugg. Or, as Gertrude Stein might put it, a mugg is a mugg is a mugg is a mugg.


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