Tammany Picked An Honest Man


“Dear Boys—It is too bad that you cannot play ball somewhere in peace. Of course the police cannot always let you play on the street, but now and then they can wink so hard with both eyes as not to see you when you are doing no harm to passersby and the street is not crowded … So, boys, do the best you can, and I will help you a little now and then if you send me word.”

A letter from a man who objected to the loud striking of the great clock on the Metropolitan Life tower overlooking Madison Square (and adjoining Doctor Parkhurst’s place of weekly expostulation) received courteous consideration:

“You complain of the clock on the Metropolitan Building. You want me to stop it. You say it strikes 4 times on the quarter, 8 times on the half, 12 times on the three-quarters, and 16 times on the hour, making 40 times every hour, or 210 [ sic ] times from 8 A.M. to 12 noon every day. I am sorry for you. But really does the clock make as much noise as Doctor Parkhurst does? You know we all have to bear something, and I am willing to bear my share of it.”

Another correspondent who begged for relief from yowling tomcats drew this judicious response:

“I regret to say that I have so many official duties pressing upon me that I cannot just now devote any time to the tomcats, as you request by your letter. There are a few in my neighborhood, but I go to sleep and let them howl. It amuses them and doesn’t hurt me. But some say that it is the pussycats that howl, and not the tomcats. How is that? We must not kill Tommy for the sins of Pussy. And, also, remember that ‘the female of the species is more deadly than the male.’ ”

He wrote to the police commissioner urging that patrolmen be on the lookout for cases of cruelty to horses; advised grand jurors not to feel too grand; congratulated a little girl on feeling happy (“everybody ought to be happy”); regretted that he could not undertake to find a wife for a man in Arkansas City, Kansas (“How could I recommend any good girl here to you? You may not be so attractive as you think you are.”). He suggested that a public-spirited ratcatcher drop in and talk over his proposed bill to exempt ratcatchers from jury duty, and took issue with presumptuous judges who struck down as “unconstitutional” laws that had been enacted with the overwhelming concurrence of the “common people.” A woman who was looking for happiness in the shape of a husband who would measure up to her formidable matrimonial requirements the Mayor admonished: “You are looking for happiness in the wrong direction, my dear madam. I do not think there is any man living who would suit you.”

To those who favored extra-legal methods to combat vice and crime, Gaynor preached: “The only way to enforce the law is the way prescribed by law. That which cannot be done lawfully must not be done at all, by the police or any other public official from the President of the United States down.” His constant precept was, “Ours is a Government of laws, and not of men.” When a taxpayer expressed a wish that he might arrest wrongdoers, the mayor counselled him:

“My dear sir, let me tell you that every citizen has full legal right to arrest anyone whom he sees committing any criminal offense, big or little. The law of England and of this country has been very careful to confer no more right in that respect upon policemen and constables than it confers on every citizen. … Sail right in as hard and as fast as you want to, being careful, however, only to arrest guilty persons, for otherwise your victims will turn around and sue you for damages for false arrest. Policemen have to take the same risk.” He cautioned his own policemen that “not even a murderer can be arrested and imprisoned without evidence.”

In face-to-face confrontations, the Mayor was as brusque as he was in his letters. With Fusionists and other political half-breeds he had no sympathy—“mingle-mangle committees,” he called them; and when reporters begged to know what that word might mean, referred them to “one of honest old Hugh Latimer’s sermons to the King; it is there, look it up. I haven’t time to play dictionary with you.” He would not stoop to excuses or attempts to evade responsibility for his actions or those of his subordinates. He told an investigating committee: “I do not propose to be mayor and have someone else run the city. If it is run badly, here is the man responsible: right here.”

Then, going back to his office, he could enjoy writing to the Reverend Basil M. Kerbawy, of Brooklyn, on the vexing subject of beards: