Thursday, June 09, 2011

Back When Republicans Were Hard to Find in Boston

William M. Bulger. James Michael Curley: A Short Biography and Personal Reminiscences. Carlisle, Ma.: Commonwealth Editions, 2009.

In 1955, the author cast his first vote for his political hero for Mayor of Boston, James Curley, who then was age 81. Curley had been elected Mayor four times yet his candidacy then proved to be a long shot. Bulger admired Curley's courage and his history. Bulger respected that history and recalls going to watch Curley's concession speech in the 1951 race for Mayor when Curley finished second in the Democratic Primary.

In 1952, as a college student, Bulger wrote a college paper on Curley's second conviction. Bulger believes Curley did not engage in the mail fraud of which he was convicted. Curley had attached his name to help James Fuller obtain military contracts. Curley was not aware of Fuller's illegal business activities and writing checks that bounced. Curley even received one of Fuller's checks that bounced. Bulger argues that Federal prosecutions were overzealous and committed their own illegal acts in order to convict a famous person, Curley, for crimes committed by a lesson known person, Fuller.

Curley served in the Common Council and was a state legislator when he was convicted for taking a civil service test for another. He went to jail in 1904. He kept his political career going with the argument "he did it for a friend." He argued he deliberately violated a bad law by helping a poor person get a job that rich people could easily get. The feeling was if Curley would go to jail to help someone, he would fight for his constituents. Curley trounced the "good government" candidate. Curley read a lot in prison. He found and remembered many quotes he would use in speeches.

Curley helped people and by helping others he built his own political organization. Curley claimed in his first decade in politics he annually found jobs for 500, halted 7 evictions or repossession, and prevented 25, mostly juveniles, from obtaining criminal records. Curley would help people facing vagrancy charges find jobs. He refused to help drunks, whom he found were not reliable employees, and wife abusers, who disgusted him.

Curley remained accessible to the public. Even as Governor, people could wait and meet him. Curley claimed as Mayor he met 250 people daily, although this is likely an exaggerated claim.

Curley made personal attacks. He would not attack a corporation for a fare hike, but would attack the leader of the corporation and claim that leader personally causing the rate hike. When he was criticized by another politician once, he told his mostly Irish American audience that his attacked who had served in the British Army, was a "British Hessian."

Curley would play audiences for humorous put downs. When a Congressional opponent stated his wife wanted to be the wife of a Congressman, Curley responded "then why don’t you drop dead and let her marry one."

Curley required everyone in his office to work on constituent problems. As Governor, he persuaded banks to lower mortgage rates, something they had not done in a quarter century. As Mayor and Governor he got lower rates for public utilities. Jobs programs were administered for public works that hired many jobless. Curley was involved in the details of his administration.

Curley died in 1958. Curley’s family let it be known Curley appreciated his life and that people should not despair over the difficulties he faced in life. "It was a good life. He was grateful for it."


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