Friday, March 18, 2011

Not the Larry or Moe of Boston Politics

Jack Beatty. The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1874-1958). DaCaopfiese, 2000,

Police estimate one million people lined the streets of Boston to watch the hearse carrying James Curley pass. As four term Mayor and Governor, Curley had been their leader, especially to many Irish Americans.

The fictitious “The Last Hurrah” was based on Curley. He sued with a film version was made and then denied he had been paid $25,000 for the right, claiming whoever signed his name forget his signature. He agreed to a $15,000 payment. There are many who believe Curley may have conieved to squeeze a little extra money from the film producers in what may have been Curley’s real life last hurrah. He died two months later.

Curley did not get along with the Kennedys. He hold over his head, as blackmail, that John Fitzgerald, Boston Mayor and John Kennedy’s grandfather, had an affair.

As Mayor, Curley got long handled mops for cleaning ladies so they wouldn’t have to clean City Hall on their knees. It was said “Lincoln freed the slaves, Curley got the scrubwomen off their knees.” Curley also called them matrons and cleaners rather than scrubwomen, and he made their jobs civil service. Curley’s mother had been a scrubwoman.

Curley had two children die, at ages 34 and 41, of cerebral hemorrhages at two different locations on the same day. Curley stood for 14 hours to meet everyone who came to see him after their deaths.

Curley grew up poor. He filled his youthful hurt of being poor by seeking money and spending it.

Curley did not create a political machine. All his political organizations were for his own elections.

Arthur Schlesinger and Erik Erickson found that, in 1924, campaigns based on issues increased voter participation while campaign based more on personalities decreased voter participation. The TV ads of today often place great reliance on character and less of issues. These may be part of the reasons for smaller voter turnouts in modern elections than in the past. In 1880, 82% of voters participated in the Garfield versus Hancock election with one fifth of Northern voters being personally active in the campaigns. Curley ran on personality, with little regard for issues, and won elections with low turnouts.

Curley was elected to the Common Council in 1897. It was a group that listened to citizen complaints one night a week, but had little power. He ran for office independent of either Democratic Party factions. Curley ran door to door campaigns. He finished respectfully in a losing campaign. He claims he won and that the party machinery stole the election. He won a third try with party support.

Curley studied oratory and became a good speaker. He defended the poor and claimed his favorite designation given to him was “Mayor of the Poor”.

Curley switched allegiance from the Charles Quirk party faction to the Timothy McCarthy faction before the McCarthy faction won all caucuses in 1900. Election rigging is acknowledged by Curley as having occurred.

Curley served two terms on Common Council. He then ran for the state legislature. He was also a ward chairman and still a supporter of McCarthy. Curley say McCarthy as a rival and he plotted with a group called the Jackson Club. Curley though left the Jackson Club, vowing he never again waned to be a member of someone else’s political organization. Curley started his own club. He called it Tammany Hall, after the scandal ridden New York political club. To Curley, Tammany Club meant a place that helped people obtain jobs and which helped the poor.

Curley’s club resulted in former rivals Timothy McCarthy and Charles Quirk to unite. Curley was reelected to the state legislature and an ally also won. Afterwards, McCarthy lost reelection to his Alderman’s post to a Republican.

Curley and an ally were arrested for cheating on civil service exams by taking them for two others. Curley was found guilty and sentenced to twon months in jail. Curley was reelected the day after being imprisoned. Although he was the first Massachusetts state legislator jailed, he chose not to fade away in disgrace. Instead, he ran for Alderman at Large, running across all of Boston. He was one of eight Democrats who with the primary. The Reform Club members declared they had been “disgusted” by Curley’s nomination, with one member declaring “Massachusetts might become a second Pennsylvania---a shocking thought”. Tammany paid a dollar a vote to people who voted multiple times. Curley was elected.

Curley was expelled from the legislature but embraced by most of his fellow Aldermen. While there, Alderman Frank Linchen accused a number of Aldermen with accepting bribes. Linchen claimed Curley was their leader in getting a bill passed and was paid twice what the others received. A grand jury looked into the allegations and made no indictment.

The Boston Herald was critical of Curley. Curley wrote a letter threatening to stop publishing Council minutes in the Herald, which would cost the Herald $8,500. Curley denied writing the letter although the handwriting is his.

Tammany used intimidation. They threatened the Herald’s editor. They beat up a rival’s caravan by burning some with torches, hit one with a brick, and broke their musical instruments. They also violently disrupted a rival’s meeting.

Curley’s ally Tom Curley (no relation) turned on James Curley by support Theodore Glynn for Alderman over Curley. Tammany Hall was factionalized in the split. Tom Curley and others were purged from Tammany Hall, with a brawl afterwards. It is noted that James Curley was a strong man who fought physical fights.

The Boston American accused Curley of getting the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company to hire nonexistent people and that their pay went to Tammany funds.

In 1909, Curley was elected to the new City Council, created when the Board of Aldermen and Common Council were abolished. He then ran for Congress against incumbent Democrat William McNary. Curley accused McNary of taking funds from the Armour Sulzberger Company and Swift beef packers. He then accused his Republican opponent J. Mitchell Galvin as being close to an anti-immigrant politician, Henry Cabot Lodge. Curley was elected.

Immigration was a main issue for Rep. Curley. He argued against a literacy requirement for being accepted as an immigrant. He noted many people who arrived in American illiterate who became important, including signers of the Declaration of Independence. During debate when Rep. Augustus Gardner was reading statistics of crimes committed by illiterate immigrants, Curley replied “I was going to ask the gentleman how many illiterates had been arrested for forgery:, a crime, of course, an illiterate person would have trouble committing.

Curley ran for Mayor against incumbent John Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald withdrew from the race. Other opponents withdrew as well. It has been speculated that Curley did things to get them out of the race. Most of the Boston papers printed in English supported Curley’s opponent. Yet almost 90 foreign language papers supported Curley. Tammany called the wives of campaign workers for Curley’s opponent and told them their husbands were not campaigning but we having affairs. Curley was elected.

Mayor Curley reduced the pay of high positioned police and fire officers and of school doctors. He increased the pay for patrolmen, privates, and custodians. While 6,000 of 15,00 city employees received pay cuts, only a few were fired. He also nixed some city contracts Fitzgerald had awarded.

Curley is believed to have received 5% of several city contracts. This may explain why Edison provided lighting at much higher costs in Boston than it charged in other cities.

Curley expanded Boston City Hospital. He also expanded Strandway, a parkway by the bay. He abolished the Parental School where truants were sent for up to two years.

While Curley was Mayor, the city debt decreased. This is contrasted during the same period by per capita spending increases of over 100% in New York, Jersey City, and Albany, 75% in Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Curley increased censorship. Some books could not be sold in Boston. Words such as “bitch”, “bastard”, and “oh, God” could not be said on stage. The tango was banned from a park. Isadora Duncan could not dance with bare legs. Bare feet in public was banned.

In an act of hypocrisy, Curley lobbied Sen. Boies Penrose to allow a moive “Where Are My Children?”, about women having abortions without many negative consequences, shown in Penrose’s state of Pennsylvania. Curley had a financial interest in the film.

The author notes that many historians talk about the widespread bribery of public officials during this era. Today, disclosed payments to campaigns are allowed. Instead of individuals being corrupt, the author observes, today the system is corrupt.

Curley took “honest graft”. He did not take money from illegal operations. Curley bought a large house in Boston far away from his old ward. The luxuriousness of the house led many to question where he got the money to afford the house. People performing work on his house received city contracts.

Curley allowed political free speech. Socialists and peace groups could meet and speak in Boston while President Wilson was having them jailed elsewhere. Curley also stood up for German Americans who were physically attacked in other cities, noting they were not Germans under the Kaiser.

James Gallivan, who took Curley’s Congressional seat, ran against Curley for Mayor. Andrew Peters resigned as Assistant U.S. Treasury Secretary to also run. The press reported Peters had raped a 11 year old girl and had paid tens of thousands of dollars of blackmail to her parents. The girl committed suicide. Peters denied the story. The race enlarged as U.S. Peter Tague decided he had a chance as well.

Curley had tow favorable short films about him made. He warned theaters that their licenses depended upon their showing the films.

Peters won the election. Gallivan divided the Irish American vote. Curley decided to run for Governor. Curley then changed his mind and ran against Gallivan for Congress. Gallivan noted that Curley no longer lived in the district. Gallivan defeated Curley.

Curley ran again for Mayor. He and District Attorney Joseph Pelletier realized neither could win with both in the race. A Curley aide, without Curley’s knowledge, offered to have an arbiter decide who should withdraw from the race. Pelletier accepted. Curley was upset but agreed to the arbiter. Curley’s negotiators got both sides to agree to a pro-Curley arbitrator. The arbitrator decided Curley was the stronger candidate. Some believe Pelletier was looking for a graceful method to leave the race, and this was it.

Curley accused his Republican opponent John Murphy as being a “reformer”. That tag was unpopular in 1921. A Republican ran as an independent. It is believed Curely ran him to take away votes from Murphy, which likely helped. The independent received 4,260 votes and Curley won by 2,698 votes.

In his second term, $11 million was spent updating the City Hospital. He also increased school building spending. Curley raised assessment to raise revenues. Some businesses removed their top floors to lower their assessments.

Curley ran for Governor. Curley spoke out in favor of restricting child labor. His opponent called that “Bolshevism”. It was a strong Republican year and Curley lost.

The law was changed to prevent a Boston Mayor from serving successive terms. Curley’s Fire Commissioner Teddy Glynn and Curley’s brother John Curley. the City Treasurer, both ran. Curley was divided and finally endorsed Glynn. John Curley withdrew from the race.

Curley worked for Al Smith’s campaign for President. Smith lost but he carried Massachusetts. Some credit Curley’s work with making the difference in Smith winning the state.

Curley sought a third term as Mayor. The Good Government Association endorsed former State Treasurer Frederick Mansfield, another Catholic. Mansfield accused Curley of graft and that mismanagement was keeping Boston from achieving home rule. Without home rule, the legislature had a lot of say in Boston’s public policies. Daniel Coakley also ran. Coakley taunted Curley with requests to allow Coakley to tell the truth about Curley, from what Coakley knew through lawyer-client confidentiality.

Curley was a planning visionary. He called for creating a 50 year plan for metropolitan Boston, including 43 towns around Boston. Many met these ideas with derision. Still, had this regional planning been addressed since Curley’s time, there may not be the educational disparity between excellent schools in white communities and poorer achieving schools in African American neighborhoods.

The Depression hit during Curley’s third term. Two weeks into his term, the first case of death by starvation hit Boston.

John Fitzgerald planned to run for the U.S. Senate in 1930. Curley planned to run for Governor in 1932 after Governor Frank Allen would like win his second two year term in 1930 and then likely not run in 1930. Curley figured the seat as Governor would be open a d he would still be Mayor and could use his strengths as Mayor to mobilize support. Curley guessed Fitzgerald would lose running for Governor. Curley offered to throw his support to Fitzgerald if he ran for Governor instead. Fitzgerald agreed. Fitzgerald faced primary opposition. Fitzgerald suffered nervous exhaustion during the race and withdrew.

Curley became President of the National Conference of Mayors. The Mayors gathered and realized that solving the problems of the Depression were beyond the abilities of Mayors.

Curley ran for Governor in 1932. He also supported Franklin Roosevelt for President. Curley convinced Roosevelt to challenge Al Smith in the Massachusetts Democratic Primary. Massachusetts was considered a state leaning heavily towards Al Smith. This primary was also Curley challenging the state Democratic Party organization. Smith won the primary with over 60% of the vote and denied Roosevelt even a single Massachusetts delegate. Curley’s political reputation suffered. Yet, it improved when Roosevelt was elected President. Curley hoped for a major appointment but did not receive one. He was offered Ambassador to Poland but later withdrew his nomination.

In running for Governor, the party organization endorsed Charles Cole, a World War I General. The Boston Herald printed stories of graft wile Curley was Mayor. Still, Curley won the primary and then defeated another General, Gasper Griswold Bacon, in the general election.

Governor Curley sought to show power by removing Finance Commission members “for cause” after the Republican majority of the Commission turned down his request to do so. Curley tried attacking the reputation of a Commission member in a radio broadcast, but that didn’t work. So he offered another Commission member another job, and that worked. Democrats then, for the first time ever, had a majority of Commission membership.

Controlling the Finance Commission enabled Curley to fire people and put his appointees in their places. Patronage was dispensed. The Boston Globe criticized Curley for removing qualified employees and replacing them under political favoritism.

254 pardons and paroles were granted by Governor Curley on Christmas, 1935. Many of the prisoners paid high fees to their attorney who also paid Curley and an aide. Prisoners unable to purchase pardons and paroles rioted.

As Governor, a 10% surcharge on income, corporate, and inheritance taxes was imposed. The workweek at state institutions was reduced from 60 to 48 hours. A limit of using injunctions during disputes between labor and management became law. A prevailing wage for state construction jobs was created. Workers compensation rates were increased and allowed to last, if qualified, for lifetime instead of a five year maximum. Curley’s proposed a graduated income tax, retail sales tax, and an additional intangible wealth tax, which were defeated.

Curley tried to boast that his ties to President Roosevelt would bring in large projects to Massachusetts. Yet the Roosevelt Administration privately was not very fond of Curley. Many of Curley’s publicized grand proposals were approved, but at substantially lower levels.

Curley declared an emergency during a flood. He took command of the National Guard for two straight days without sleep. He criticized the legislature for not approving sufficient flood relief funds.

Curley declared that judges over age 70 should submit to physical and psychiatric examination. He hoped that would allow him to replaced some of the 36 judges this concerned. The press reacted strongly against his attempt to “pack the courts”. Curley abandoned this proposal.

Curley won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Roosevelt spoke at a political rally and ignored Curley. Curley’s campaign suffered without getting Roosevelt’s support. He lost to Henry Cabot Lodge. He was the only Democratic U.S. Senate candidate to lose in 1936.

Curley is believed to have received kickbacks for awarding some state government contracts.

Curley ran for Mayor of Boston in 1937. Curley mistakenly claimed he had given a patronage job to a rival’s sister who had no living sister. He accused another rival of being a British government agent but could not show any evidence supporting the claim. The Cardinal endorsed Maurine Tobin over Curley. Tobin won.

Curley then ran for Governor against Democratic incumbent Charles Hurley. Curley won the primary. The press wrote of a $40,000 kickback Curley received from a legal dispute. A civil, but no criminal, suit resulted. Curley was ordered to repay most of the amount plus interest. Curley lost the election.

The law changed so Maurice Tobin could run for reelection as Mayor. A scandal involved Daniel Coakley helped Tobin defeat Curley.

State Sen. Daniel Coakley, Curley’s close ally, was impeached for taking $1,000 to fake a letter from a priest to have Raymond Patriarca, convicted of murder, pardoned by Curley on his last day in office as Governor. Coakley became the first person in 321 years of Massachusetts colonial and state government to be prohibited from ever running again for office. Some Curley allies challenged Tobin’s victory. They claimed Tobin’s campaign finances were afoul of the Corrupt Practices Act. After several months, the state Supreme Court dismissed the allegation.

Curley next ran for Congress against Rep. Thomas Hopkinson Eloit. Eliot had been the main drafter of the Social Security Act as a Congressional aide and then served as the first General Counsel to the Social Security Board. Curley ran against Eliot on the slogan “Curley or Communism:. The Catholic Bishop indicated the Catholic Church hierarchy preferred Eliot, a Unitarian, over fellow Catholic Curley. Eliot observed the same people voting in different precincts. Curley won.

Curley surprised some by having a liberally voting record in Congress. He was accused of agreeing to lead a Kalanite company that committed fraud while it was supposed to have been aiding the war effort. The Attorney General Francis Biddle informed President Roosevelt that Curley’s “profit had been trifling” but that he could be indicted. President Roosevelt requested that Curley be allowed to testify before the grand jury. Biddle consented. Curley gave an hour long speech before the grand jury. The grand jury then indicted him. Curley declared the charges were political from New Deal Democrats who wanted him out of office.

Curley meanwhile was elected Mayor. He was then convicted of the fraud charges. Curley refused to resign as either Mayor or as U.S. Representative. Curley appealed the conviction, which took a year and a half.

Curley got revenge against Governor Tobin. Curley attacked Tobin’s viciousness against Curley at the Democratic State Committee. The speech drew applause. Posters of Curley’s claim that Tobin was “vicious” and “cruel were placed around Boston. Tobin was defeated for reelection by Republican Robert Bradfield.

The Appeals Court upheld Curley’s conviction. Curley was imprisoned. Governor Bradfield and the legislature passed a bill giving Curley his salary while imprisoned and declaring that Curley would be reinstated as Mayro from the temporary Mayor upon his release.

100,000 signed a petition requesting President Harry Truman to give Curley clemency. 100 members of Congress signed, including every Massachusetts Democrat except John Kennedy. Truman commuted Curley’s sentence.

The legislature considered abolishing the office of Mayor of Boston. Instead, a plan for a strong Mayor with at two- party- election after primaries was placed before voters.

Curley ran for reelection. He spent no money and returned the one contribution he received. He lost.

Curley ran unsuccessfully for Mayor two more times. Curley was given a full and unconditional pardon by President Truman. Curley stated he needed to keep campaigning to keep himself alive.

Curley convinced state House Speaker Tip O’Neill to help the legislature approve a $12,000 yearly pension for Curley.

Curley’s career fizzled as he for Governor in 1954 but received only one vote at the Democratic Convention.


Post a Comment

<< Home