Sunday, December 06, 2009

When Democrats Ruined Republican Fun in Pittsburgh

Bruce M. Stave. The New Deal and the Last Hurrah: Pittsburgh Machine Politics, Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970.

The author interviewed 103 Pittsburgh political party committee people or their relatives who served during the New Deal. This period was the “last hurrah” for Pittsburgh Republicans and the “first hurrah” for Pittsburgh Democrats as they too political control from the Republicans during this era.

Richard Croker, New York’s Tammany boss, stated the divisions of political power called for one boss able to handle problems that business leader could approach.

Pittsburgh machine politics allowed middle class groups to gain participation in politics. Otherwise, political may have continued to be dominated by people from higher classes, according to Samuel P. Hays.

Irish in Pittsburgh, facing many employers who refused to hire Irish, discovered that politics was an avenue open to them. Pittsburgh machine politics had a huge Irish membership.

Robert K. Merton, a sociologist, observed that machine politics humanized government bureaucracy for many people. Machine politics lasted as long as the public appreciated these services over the moral failings in the operations of the political machines.

Machine politics meant employment for many. Committee people were supposed to know the voters in their election divisions and to try to help those who needed help. In return, residents voted according to the committee people’s recommendations.

A study by Phillip Cutright published in 1964 comparing party committee people in partisan places versus party committee people in nonpartisan places, found, in the partisan community, 32% had patronage jobs, 41% had been approached by others inquiring about patronage jobs, and 37% campaigned door to door before primary elections. In the nonpartisan community, 3% held patronage jobs, 1% received inquires about patronage jobs, and 13% campaigned door to door before primary elections.

The New Deal made Democrats more popular with voters. Many urban areas switched to solid Democratic majority voting.

Tommy Steele led the Pittsburgh Republican machine beginning in 1863. Steele’s nephew, Christopher Magee took over after Steele. Magee along with William Flinn dominated Pittsburgh politics until 1905.

George Guthrie was elected Pittsburgh Mayor as a fusion candidate that included support from Democrats. Republicans held the Mayor’s office for 20 years afterwards.

Allegheny County Commissioner Charles McGovern was a reform Republican. In 1927, the Republican machine dumped McGovern but he was reelected as an Independent to the seat reserved for a minority party member.

Allegations that city contracts were not being given to the lowest bidder were made against the Director of Supplies. He was convicted. A reform movement gained ground.

Pittsburgh Democratic leaders sometimes worked with Magee, sometimes to defeat Republican candidates Magee disliked. Democrats, in return, received about one fifth of the patronage jobs.

The Democratic organization changed during the New Deal when it saw it could win elections. Gains in voting Democratic were particularly noticeable among African American voters. Republican leader had withheld patronage jobs from Black while Democratic leader David Lawrence made it happen.

In 1940, 51.1% of Pittsburgh residents were of foreign stock, a decrease from 62.2% in 1910 and 56.7% in 1920.

In 1932, voter fraud charges were made against Republican leader State Sen. James Coyne and other Republicans. Over 13,000 suspected fraudulent voters were alleged. Even a statute was found to be a registered voter.

Republicans were against planning and spending money on jobs programs at a time the New Deal was delivering jobs and the public wanted jobs. It was alleged that employees on Federal relief were required to contribute 3% (if earning under $1,200 year) or 5% (if earning over $1,200 a year) to the Democratic Party.

Democrats overtook Republicans in number of registered voters in Pittsburgh in 1936.

In 1930, public jobs were held by 58% of Philadelphia Democratic committee people. In 1928, 59.2% of Chicago Democratic committee people held public jobs which increased to about three fourths holding public jobs in 1936. These were signs nationwide that New Deal jobs were going to politically connected Democrats.

The author studied 103 Pittsburgh New Deal committee people, about one fourth of the total, and found one third were on work relief during the New Deal with 99 serving with the Works Progress Administration.

The author found 7.2% of Pittsburgh Democratic committee people held committee jobs in 1927, 19,2% in 1932, and just under half in 1940.


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