- Historic Sites
John F. Fitzgerald put his seal on his city, his times, and a political tribe that still increases. To foes he was “Fitxblarney” but friends called him
August 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 5
Two years of Fitzgerald, however, brought an inevitable reaction. There were still transplanted Irish in Boston who felt that Patrick Collins had been a worthier representative than Johnny Fitz and his Dearos. They remembered how Collins as mayor had welcomed the delegates of the National Municipal League and asked them to report to him if they found anything shady in his administration. What they might have found in Fitz’s did not bear thinking about.
For the 1907 elections anti-Fitzgerald Democrats nominated Representative John Coulthurst. Coulthurst also had the backing of Hearst’s American and of all the bosses except Lomasney, who this time returned to Johnny Fitz. The Republicans picked their own variety of boss, George A. Hibbard, the Boston postmaster. Hibbard was a parrot-nosed, thrifty Yankee who announced he was running for one term solely for the purpose of “cleaning up the mess.” Fitzgerald conducted his usual bouncing, badgering campaign, adding such bizarreries as circulars in Yiddish to persuade the newly arrived Jewish voters. In a narrow election, Coulthurst swung enough Democrats from Fitzgerald so that Hibbard was able to win.
Mayor Hibbard, while looking after needy Republicans, did much of what he had promised. He cut down the municipal payroll, halved the cost of street maintenance, and reduced the city’s debt. Through departmental efficiencies he managed to save about a million dollars. Toward the end of his administration, and in the hope of more reform mayors to come, the Good Government Association maneuvered the adoption of a new city charter. According to its terms, party designations were to be dropped from the municipal ballot. There were to be no more primaries, and nominations for mayor could be made by voters’ petition. A nine-member council would replace the thirteen aldermen and seventy-five councillors. The mayor’s term was lengthened to four years.
Electorates soon weary of reform interludes, however, and those who are barred from the trough weary even sooner. By 1909 it seemed that the wheel had turned and that the colorless Hibbard would be replaced by Johnny Fitz. To avoid four more years of Fitzgerald entrenchment, Republicans and reformers united on the bluest blood of Beacon Street, James Jackson Storrow. A predestined Harvard man, Storrow had been captain of a crew that had beaten Yale, and he was now New England’s wealthiest banker. Although imposing in figure, he was a poor speaker. This was offset by his being that atavistic anomaly, a Yankee Democrat.
Smiling Jim Donovan early threw in his lot with Storrow, impressing on the banker the truism that political campaigns cost money. Storrow was impressed- he gave a half million dollars before his campaign was over. Storrow money was loosely plentiful, and Smiling Jim understood its application. Curley, then the visibly rising boss of the South End’s Ward Seventeen, said later that he had refused $60,000 to side with Storrow. Fitzgerald knew that without the support of Curley and Lomasney he could not win. The three came to an agreement. The thirty-five-year-old Curley as junior partner was to take over Fitzgerald’s old congressional seat and bide his time in Washington until the next municipal election. What Lomasney was offered remains a secret.
“Take Storrow’s money, but vote for Fitzgerald,” was the word the Dearos passed round. Storrow tried to argue about corruption and the issues of municipal government. Johnny Fitz simplified the election into a contest between an Irish-Catholic boy from the slums and a wealth-encrusted Harvard blue blood who was anti-Catholic, anti-labor, anti-Negro, and anti- anything else Fitzgerald could think of between speeches. He papered the city with large photographs of City Hall on which was inscribed: NOT FOR SALE, MR. $TORROW . “Manhood against Money” was another Fitzgerald slogan that was used under a touchingly domestic photograph of Fitz and his family.
In a day when a political meeting was for many the most entertaining event of the year, Johnny Fitz was a circus and a prophet combined. During the frenzied weeks before the election he led his motorcade through several thousand miles of shabby streets, shouting his tenor voice hoarse in halls and on corners. Fitzgerald even persuaded Hibbard, mortally ill, to run as a token candidate to draw votes from Storrow.