William C. Kashatus. Dapper Dan Flood: The Controversial Life of a Congressional Power Broker. University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania
State University Press, 2010.
This book begins with examples of how Dan Flood reacted during a crisis, and what differences resulted from his actions. Flood, a member of Congress, learned that heavy hurricane rains caused floods up to 15 feet in his northeast Pennsylvania district, destroying 20,000 homes, 150 factories, and 2,728 businesses for over one billion dollars in damages. Rep. Flood used his years of friendship with Defense Secretary Melvin Loan to borrow a helicopter. He also convinced Laird to place the military reserves of general alerts. Flood set up an office on the Naval Reserve Center (which had been built from his legislation) and declared “this is going to be one flood against another.” Flood helped secure 40 helicopters to rescue flood victims, arranged for a Coast Guard Fireboat to be flown from New Jersey to fight a fire, and saw to it that 1,500 National Guard troops guarded against looters. Flood’s ability to state he was the Defense Appropriations Committee Subcommittee Chairman cut through a lto of military and bureaucratic red tape. Flood even went beyond legal authority in obtaining help. He even managed to have National Guard troops rerouted from a training program, over the objection of their Civil Defense leader, to help with the flooding crisis.
Rep. Flood and Rep. Joseph McDade, from a neighboring district, helped create what was then the largest Federal disaster assistance program, the Agnes Recovery Act. This gave Small Business Administration Disaster loans with $5,000 forgiveness and 1% interest rates to hospitals, colleges, bridge rebuildings, and creation of a master plan against future floods that would prevent the river from overflowing again.
Flood was an actor who continued to wear capes, top hates, white suits, and white ties while in Congress. He grew up in his coal mine centered district, went to law school, acted off Broadway, and went into politics. In getting elected, he lied about attending a youth military academy and about athletic accomplishments.
Flood was elected to Congress as an independent Democrat in a Republican majority district in the 1940s. He lost elections in 1942, 1946, and 1952. He discovered that corrupt Republican election practices included voter fraud and bribery, as well as negative attacks, and that these tactics helped defeat him. Flood first won election in 1944. He befriended House Speaker Sam Rayburn who, in a rarity for a freshman member of Congress, appointed Flood to the Appropriations Committee. Flood learned his to direct funds to his district. Among the projects he helped bring to his district were a modern hospital, airport, interstate highway, and construction projects.
In the 1940s, Flood was on a special Congressional committee that studied that massacre of 11,000 Polish Army officers. He supported anti-Soviet resistant efforts in Hungary and elsewhere.
Flood helped President Johnson get many of his Great Society proposals passed through Congress. He also supported greater involvement in the Viet Nam War. Yet, he was also known for asking strong questions of Defense Department leaders concerning their budget requests.
Flood’s style of Congressional deal making ran afoul of the post-Watergate morality of the 1970s. An aide to Flood, Stephen Elko, took $65,000 in bribes in exchange for Federal contracts. Although none of the money went to Flood, he was charged with participating in this scheme. Congress removed Flood from his powerful positions. Flood’s first trial ended in a mistrial. His health was failing so, while professing innocence, he pled guilty in a second trial in exchange for one year of probation.
Dan Flood was born in 1903 in Hazleton, Pa. His father was a mine worker turned tavern keeper. As a child, Flood rode along the Panama Canal. He was fascinated by it. This interest would continue into adulthood as he would strongly support American presence in the Panama Canal Zone.
Flood attended Harvard Law School where he became involved with the Hasty Pudding theater club. He quit law school for acting, working for the Manhattan Players Theater Company and appearing in 50 plays over three years. He had a screen test with Paramount Pictures yet wasn’t picked. Flood resumed studying law at Dickinson. He graduated law school in 1929 and passed the Bar in 1931. He won a case against a coal company whose high tension wires caused a boy to lose an arm, a case that went to the state Supreme Court.
Flood managed the campaign of Frederick Kirkendall, who ran as the Democratic Party’s nominee for Wilkes Barre Mayor but lost in a respectful showing in a heavily Republican majority city. Flood became active in politics and government, serving as a Liquor Control Board’s Special Deputy Attorney General from 1935 to 1939. Records show in 1937 he prosecuted 30 liquor control violators and won 25 cases resulting in liquor license revocations.
In 1941, State Treasurer G. Harold Wagner named Flood as Director of the Bureau of Public Assistance Disbursements. This experience in budgeting and finance would later help him get appointed to the House Appropriations Committee.
John Fine began leading a Republican organization in Luzerne County in 1922. Fine was an ally of Governor Gifford Pinchot. Democrat John Casey was able to win election to Congress over this Republican machine in 1922, 1926, and 1938. J. Harold Fleming would sweep to Congress during the rise of the Democratic Party during the New Deal.
Luzerne County Democratic Party Chairman and State Senator Leo Mundy made Flood his committee’s Legal Counsel. Flood also served as the Young Democratic Club of Pennsylvania’s National Committeeman. Flood was picked to run for Congress in 1942 when Rep. John Flannery resigned to become a Common Pleas Judge. Flood lost to Thomas Miller in a special election by 93 votes. Milller then defeated Floor in the 1942 general election for Congress by over 8,000 votes,. Flood received about 5,000 votes from soldiers abroad. When elected to Congress in 1944, Flood would fight for the military and for veterans.
Flood’s district had no major road leading to it. The nearest hospital was over 100 miles away. Unemployment in his district when he was elected was 19%. Flood sought to attract diverse businesses to develop within his district. He realized the dangers of an area being reliant upon one business, who had been coal mining.
Pennsylvania Rep. John Snyder, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, died in 1945. West Virginia Rep. Matthew Neely was a likely replacement for Snyder. The Pennsylvania delegation wanted the vacancy filled by another Pennsylvanian. Speaker Rayburn increased the membership of the Appropriations Committee from 43 to 45 and named both Neely and Flood to the committee.
Flood argued that the high unemployment of Luzerne County represented surplus workers ready for military production. A mortar ammunition company was placed in Luzerne County as a result, followed by subsequent military contracts awarded to local manufacturers. Within two months in Congress, Flood had created over a thousand new jobs within his district.
Flood had to battle a fellow Democratic representative, John Murphy, for Federal projects. It is believed President Truman offered that one of the two could be a Federal and the other would have a hospital located within his district. Murphy got the judgeship and Flood got the hospital.
Flood was also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He argued for harsh treatment of Nazi war criminals. He voted against creating the Committee on Un-American Activities.
Flood once hired someone to appear as Santa Clause. Santa spent more time drinking with adults than giving out candy canes to children. An inebriated ran into a church and began urging parishioners to have some drinks while also swearing at the priest. Flood would later hire someone else to portray Santa.
Flood voted in favor of legislation to prevent coal strikes. United Mine Workers members in his district were upset. Flood changed his position and urged President Truman to veto the bill he had earlier voted supported. Yet, the political damage to Flood had already been cemented and he lost reelection by 84 votes.
John Fine was Governor yet claimed he was most proud of his work leading the Luzerne County Republican Party. One of Fine’s main targets was Flood. After being defeated for reelection, Flood began planning his comeback. Even Democrats were pessimistic about both Truman’s and Flood’s chances of winning in 1948. Flood campaigned hard, benefitted from the opening of the hospital and airport he helped fund, and questioned alleged illegal Republican voter registrations. It was rumored that Republicans had been bribing Democrats to vote Republican. It was also claimed people were voting multiple times. Flood won his reelection.
Flood began exerting his influence of Democratic Party politics. He made appointments to Postmaster General and to Democratic State Committee over the contrary wishes of the local county Democratic leader.
Flood was reappointed to the Appropriations Committee. He became friends with his office neighbor, a fellow Irish American Member of Congress, John Kennedy. From 1949 to 1951, Flood used his Appropriations Committee position to help attract over $100 million in Federal funds to his district. He had the military buy coal for European bases.
Flood’s wife Catharine made the newspapers when she dressed as Eve in a leotard with a fig leaf at a Congressional Wives Club fashion show.
The New York Daily News reported Flood received 109 airline trips from Colonial Airlines, a violation of House rules, especially since he has argued against hiring more aviation enforcement officers. He was then accused of hiring his wife for a no show job, which he denied while insisting she did work. The IRS then looked into his for possible tax evasion.
Flood’s Republican opponent Edward Bonin ran a successful negative campaign against Flood. Bonin won by under 300 votes.
When Flood returned to Congress, he took great strides to avoid future attacks by avoiding things that could lead to allegations. He kept his private law office in a separate office from his Congressional office.
Still, Flood still attracted controversy. Flood pushed for selling more anthracite coal, which was mined in his district, to Europe. He turned it into a national interest as something that helped increase the Gross National Product.
Flood was personally friendly to mine owner Santo Volpe, who was also the alleged head of organized crime in northeast Pennsylvania. Flood got the IRS to stop an investigation of James Tedesco, a reputed organized crime member. Organized crime operated the Knox Coal Company which mined too close to the Susquehanna River and led to a sever mine disaster.
Fllod helped steer $4.6 million of military contracts to Luzerne County in 1957 to 1958.
Flood worked with Senator Paul Douglas to pass the Area Redevelopment Act for government loans and grants for infrastructure in economically distressed areas. President Kennedy named Pennsylvania Labor Commissioner William Batt, Jr. to administer the program.
A group calling themselves the Democratic Minute Men sought to oust Luzerne County Democratic Party boss James Dorris. The Democratic Minute Men argued that Dorris was affiliated with John Fine in return for patronage jobs. The Democratic Minute Men supported State Sen. Martin Murray for becoming the new county party leader. Flood was neutral in the race and Dorris was retained. Flood has received support and contributions from moderate Democrats and wealthy Republicans.
Flood made several efforts to get Nikita Khruschev, who admitted Stalin commited many crimes, to also admit that Stalin was behind the Katyn massacre. Flood represented many of his constituents who were of Eastern Europen descent in condemning the Soviet Union. Flood also enjoyed the attention his fights produced. While Flood delivered manyanti-Communist statements, he stayed away from Joseph McCarthy. Flood may have noted that while McCarthy received much press attention he also had few friends in Congress. Rep. Melvin Laird noted Flood once joked that McCarthy “was a better actor” than Flood.
In 1903, the U.S. paid Panama $10 million plus $250,000 annually for their railroad and a 99 year lease for a canal. In 1958, Panama noted the U.S. earned $100 million a year on the canal while paying Panama $1.9 million annually. Flood rose as a defender of U.S. interests in Panama.
Flood helped advise local communities with tips of applying for Federal grants. He noted how filing good applications early is important. The money may be all designated by the time some late filers apply.
Flood was committed to fighting poverty. He saw that Appalachia was included in the Area Redevelopment Act and he fought for Model Cities programs. He also saw that his district got funds, even if it meant expanding the definition of Appalachia so it reached into his district. Wilkes Barre also was the first city to receive Model Cities money to replace slums with new construction.
Flood could play politics. William Schutter, who directed Wilkes Barre’s Model Cities, threatened to run against Flood. Flood asked for an audit of the program. The audit had some critical things to say about Schutter. While Schutter was able to respond, his candidacy for Congress failed.
One of Floods’ most impassioned speeches was for legislation to provide occupational disease compensation to black lung patients who worked din coal mines. His speech contained coughing and wheezing as he acted as if he was a sufferer. Rep. Tip O’Neill noted “ordinarily, speeches don’t change votes, but this one did. It was one of the two or three most impressive speeches I’ve ever heard.”
Flood’s philosophy was “government is to do for the people that which they cannot do for themselves.”
Flood was pro-military yet warned that the Vietnam War was too costly. He saw many social programs could better sue the money that the war took. Flood publicly supported the war but he became more critical in hearings of how military funds were spent.
Flood had initially been very hawkish on Vietnam. In 1955, when Catholices were persecuted in North Vietnam, Flood declared “if the Communists try to take over, I say used nuclear weapons.” Yet Flood became concerned when military budgets were fuel of deceitful projects and overspending.
Flood successfully fought to keep the Tobyhanna Army Base open. It was northeast Pennsylvania’s largest employer at 3,000 employee, 40% of whom lived in Flood’s district even though the base was outside his district. The Defense Department wanted to move all of Tobyhanna’s operations 130 miles away to the Letterkenny Depot and reduce 500 jobs. Flood’s objections helped convinced the Defense Department to not only save Tobyhanna but to hire 600 more people at Tobyhanna.
Flood suffered from esophageal cancer in 1962. He had a few other health problem which pained him. Some of Flood’s staff believed that he hired Stephen Elko onto his staff under threat that Elko would otherwise expose Flood’s abuse of alcohol and pharmaceuticals. Elko cultivated relationships with lobbyists. Elko asked for monetary assistance in getting government grants. The contributors believed Elko would divide the funds between Elko, Flood, and sometimes another member of Congress. Flood was not supervising Elko well. Among the bribes Elko collected was $5,000 to get a technical school its accreditation. Elko signed Flood’s name to a letter requesting this.
During the Hurricane Agnes flooding, Flood took control for arranging the rescue helicopters that may have saved a thousand lives. He took control of efforts to evacuate patients from a hospital.
State Rep. Raphael Musto recalls getting help from Flood in arranging for a bakery to bake and distribute bread to people afflicted by the storm.
The Agnes Recovery Act of 1972 that Flood helped pass was a historic bill. It allowed for siaster recovery loans at 1% instead of the normal rate of 6%. This was the first time a rate reduction was enacted.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary George Romney withheld funds for flood recovery. Romney stated he believed relief should come from the private sector and from voluntary donations. The public uproar over this led to Romney resigning.
Meanwhile, Elko continued accepting funds for Congressional influence. He took $1,500 from a company seeking to build prefabricated homes in the flood recovery area. Fred Peters of this company later gave an envloved with $5,000 in it directly to Flood, who accepted it.
Flood helped Medico Industries receive military contracts in 1967 and 1974. He did so despite 1958 U.S. Senate hearings that alleged that company’s leader, William Medico, had organized crime ties.
E. Wharton Shober, President of Hahnemann Hospital, sought public funds for hospital expansion. He hired U.S. Rep. Joshua Eilberg’s law firm for $500,000 to lobby for bond tax exemption status. Elko had Shober give him $8,500. Elko then arranged for a fee sharing arrangement over new hospital profits. Flood helped Hahnemann receive $14.5 million, an unusually high amount for a hospital.
A House Ethics Committee investigation made Elko resign in 1976. The committee had declined to investigate for two years until a rare request from the Senate opened an investigation on Elko. Elko went through Flood’s files, destroying some and removing others. Elko was then indicted. Elko was hired for several jobs by friends of Flood’s, causing Federal investigators to suspect Flood was try9ing to pay Elko not to implicate Flood.
The investigation made Flood’s health worsen. He took several medications and became addicted to some. His legal bills created financial hardships. Flood’s trial resulted in a mistrial when the jury could not reach an agreement. 11 of the 12 jurors were willing to convict Flood on at least some of the counts.
Flood was hospitalized with gall bladder and intestinal problems, among others, before his second trial. Doctors found him depressed and senile. The trial was postponed four times. Congress announced they were opening an investigation into Flood. Flood’s attorney sought a plea bargain. Flood had to resign from Congress as part of the plea agreement.
Democrat Raphael Musto won the special election for Flood’s seat. Musto then lost the seat in a general election to Republican James Nelligan, who held the seat for one term until losing it to Democrat Frank Harrison.
Flood died in 1994 at age 90.