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The Political Machine Ii: A Case History “i Am The Law”
June 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 4
Earnest, hard-working Frank Eggers and the other commission candidates began making the rounds of the ward clubs and parish houses before Christmas, hitting the opposition of Kenny, who had yet to announce a ticket, and pounding home the achievements of the organization. To those on the outside, it was a very impressive show. But from all over the city, the word from the wards came: it was not working.
The Eggers team orated about the medical center, about the city’s vicefree image and low crime rate. The Kenny opposition ignored achievements, issues, and political philosophy and blasted at only one target: Frank Hague. Their argument was simple. Hague was an evil dictator. Eggers was just a stooge. Endlessly they denounced the “Royal Family,” condemned “King” Hague’s wealth, sneered at his accomplishments, called him an absentee dictator, and proclaimed themselves the Freedom party. They published a Freedom newspaper which mocked the organization with biting humor and wry observation. They published photostats of Hague’s bills at Sulka’s, showing him spending $75 for a shirt and $25 for silk underwear. They persuaded supporters inside the telephone company to leak the astonishing amounts Hague ran up each month on long-distance calls from his Florida mansion to City Hall. They also shrewdly placed Polish and Italian candidates on their fiveman ticket to oppose the organization’s all-Irish slate.
More and more men and women of local prominence came out openly for John V. Kenny. Patrolmen in Journal Square directed traffic with their fingers raised in a V for a Kenny victory. Revolt was general among the younger men in the police and fire departments. City Hall itself seethed with malcontents and ambitious minor politicians who saw in a Kenny victory a chance for quick promotion.
Then came a voice from Florida. For months Hague had stayed in his Biscayne Bay mansion, letting Eggers and the other candidates make all the public statements. But now, as the battle roared toward a climax, he seemed to lose faith in the organization’s ability to survive without him.
There was a hint of desperation in his announcement that, under his personal leadership, the organization was going to make a supreme effort—a tremendous rally in the heart of Kenny’s second ward, the site of the old Horseshoe district. The Friday before the rally, Hague sent letters to over 7,000 voters in the second ward, recounting the story of his association with Kenny. He told how, out of gratitude to Kenny’s father, saloonkeeper Nat Kenny of Horseshoe days, he had gotten the young man his first job and had helped him rise in politics. “If now he betrays me,” Hague asked, “how can he be trusted not to betray you?”
On May 3, the ward clubs formed up outside City Hall at about 6:30 P.M. The orders had gone out to every job holder in the city to be on hand. But many stayed home, deciding that the loss of a job was a less formidable danger than a fractured skull. Hague, his lined, tanned face grimly set, escorted Eggers and the other candidates to the front rank of the parade. With long strides he led them up Grove Street into the second ward—and bedlam.
Six deep, the second warders lined the curbs, screaming contempt and defiance at the Boss and his aging battalions. They pelted the marchers with eggs, tomatoes, stones, and chalk powder. Police had to fight to clear a space in front of the speaker’s platform.
More than a few of the marchers retreated to the safety of Public School 37’s auditorium immediately. The courageous formed up before a flag-draped platform outside the school; around them a mob of thousands surged, bellowing, screaming, sounding horns and cowbells, waving Kenny placards and streamers.
The police cordoned the platform, and Hague, Eggers, and the other candidates stepped out before the crowd. Eggs spattered them. The derision rose to an enormous crescendo. Eggers tried to speak. He went on for a few sentences, then stopped in despair. He could not even hear himself: With a shrug he motioned to the others to leave the platform.
The commission candidates filed off, but Frank Hague did not move. For a moment he stood alone, his face a mask of suppressed fury. Then he strode to the edge of the platform and glared down at the shrieking mob. For more than three decades Frank Hague had ruled them. He had fought those who opposed him with ballots and with clubs and fists. And he had won every time. Remembering, they suddenly shut their mouths.
For a long, hushed moment they stood facing each other. Then a small thin man in the first row sprang forward. A “Down with Hague” sign on a long pole swung toward the Boss, twisting and whirling like a crashing kite. Hague had to step back to avoid it, and in the same instant the man screamed:
“G’wan back to Florida!”
Hague almost choked with fury. Smashing aside the sign, he pointed down at the culprit.
“Arrest that man!”
He was speaking to the cordon of police around the platform. For too many years in Jersey City those words had been the signal for swinging clubs, the crunch of wood on bone.
The man fell back, cowering. The crowd held their breath. Then people realized that the police were not moving. Every policeman in the cordon was anti-Hague. Quite logically they had decided they had no obligation to obey orders from the ex-mayor of Jersey City.