The sordid story of Mayor John V. Kenny and the Jersey City waterfront

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Hudson County Corruption in the Era of John V. Kenny

The History of the Claremont Terminal and the Jersey City Waterfront since May, 1949

Author Unknown

Travelling north along Garfield Avenue in the Greenville section of Jersey City, one can see the sprawling yards of the Claremont Terminal stretching across vast acreages of land, and fanning eastward to the shallow water line of New York Bay. Less than two months ago (date of composition unknown, editor’s note), this vast terminal served as the gateway from the north, west, and south for tremendous amounts of industrial tonnage which was shipped from this point to the battlefields of Korea and the main islands of Japan. The United States Army had its headquarters here for control of overseas shipments and had entered into a contract with the Dade Brothers Corporation, a principal stevedoring concern, whose responsibility it was to crate, load and ship industrial and war cargo under Army Transport orders.

This was perhaps the most active port in the entire country. Particularly when it is considered that Jersey City serves as the home terminus for virtually all of the nation’s main railroad lines and because of this city’s proximity to the shipping empire that hugs the New York waterfront.

Industrialists the nation over shipped armaments of war to this terminal. Perishable products destined for United Nations fighting men in Korea were also received here. Guns, tanks, automotive equipment and other rolling stock were hoisted aboard transport vessels docked at this terminal and invoiced for the Far East. Some 3,000 men and women punched time cards here on an around the clock basis, eighty-six percent of which were local people, men and women who live and buy in Jersey City.

But the heartbeat of this great terminal has stopped. No longer do Army transports bulge with cargo; the vast stretches of loading platforms are now devoid of materials, and the men and women who once manned this “City of Supplies” are unemployed or searching for employment in other quarters. The life expectancy of Claremont Terminal was snapped virtually in the embryo stage resulting in a loss of some seven and one-half million dollars annually to the merchants of Jersey City.

The full responsibility for the death of this great terminal rests with one man – Mayor John V. Kenny of Jersey City.

The dictatorial characteristics that have marked Mayor Kenny’s actions since May, 1949 extended themselves in the direction of this terminal, finding their result in a wave of labor unrest that kept cargo frozen to the piers and stayed orders of the Army that this essential cargo be permitted to reach vital destinations . Wildcat strike after wildcat strike, all unofficially called by a handful of City Hall controlled dissident members of the union, rendered this terminal useless for protracted periods of time. The fight for power, and still more power over Union affairs and waterfront rackets was being waged relentlessly by the Mayor of Jersey City. Honest workingmen were caught in the squeeze.

Mayor Kenny was determined to wrest control of the unions and the waterfront from these officers who refused to bow their knee to his political mandates. He set out to accomplish this grab of power by sending handpicked members of the Marine Warehouseman’s Union (some of whom were city employees) into the terminal under express instructions to halt work and thereby force the officers of that union and the Longshoreman’s Union to make their peace with his administration. One of the Mayor’s principal purposes was to control every ounce of patronage along the waterfront.

Mayor Kenny’s hirelings played their parts well. They were responsible for acts of violence that found honest workingmen being subjected to physical abuse. They set up roadblocks which prevented trucks laden with cargo from entering the terminal. And, to maker certain that no shipments whatsoever were received, the Jersey City Police, moving under the Mayor’s orders, formed a cordon around the main entrance of the terminal halting every truck that attempted to deliver its critical war merchandise and every Longshoreman who attempted to enter. Then the union began to fight back.

In unprecedented action, many of these union officials resorted to public print in order to make their story known to the people of Jersey City. They laid the full blame for work stoppages and labor unrest at the door of Mayor Kenny. These charges were made by top officials of the Longshoreman and Warehouseman’s Union. None of these charges were ever answered. The United States Army also acted. Officials of the Army Procurement division called upon City Hall wildcat strikers to desist and allow the terminal to go back on the same footing it had once enjoyed. They threatened to move out of Jersey City unless work was resumed. Their plea was not heard at City Hall.

If peace and order was to return to Claremont Terminal, Mayor Kenny’s intervention would have to be removed. It was no secret that the Mayor had embarked upon a program of “patronage conquest,” and it was made unequivocally clear that unless his word became law, no bargain short of this would be entertained by the Mayor.

Claremont Terminal closed down.

This was a sad day for Jersey City. It brought havoc into the homes of thousands of local citizens who depended upon this income for their livelihood. It broke the backs of local merchants who no longer would enjoy the millions of dollars that these employees would spend. It shut off delivery from Jersey City of war materials to the fighting fronts. It gave notice to industrialists the world over that Jersey City, because of its unstable labor market, and its Gestapo type local government, was no place to locate their businesses. The slogan “Everything for Industry,” attributed to this city for many years, held little meaning now in the realization that a great terminal had died at the hands of unscrupulous politicians who were more intent upon bartering away the future of our city for their own self-aggrandizement and personal profit.

Why should Mayor Kenny seize upon Claremont Terminal and strangle its operations to the extent that the Army was forced to relocate in the State of Virginia? Why was the Mayor content to allow unemployment to run rampant and permit a labor situation to develop that would frighten industry?

Dade Brothers Contracting Company held a long lease with the Lehigh Valley Railroad, owners of Claremont Terminal property. The Mayor had a more than passing interest in this lease. He felt that his son-in-law, Paul Hanly, should inherit this lease and take over the terminal contract from Dade Brothers. And, by gaining control of all hiring facets at the terminal, the administration would then be in a position to further their own political salvation by sending unemployed local citizens to work through ward leaders and committeemen. This practice, it was felt, would obligate those who received this kind of help to the Kenny brand of government and would add to the wealth of the Kenny Royal Family.

But Mayor Kenny’s carefully laid plans backfired. The fighting men in Korea were far more important than the self-desires if any politicians. So the Army pulled out. They removed their operations to a territory that would allow for successful conclusion of shipment contracts. Claremont Terminal became a huge and tragic Jersey City ghost industry.

“It will not be the policy of this administration, if elected into office, to interfere in the internal affairs of any union. Grievances can be settled by union members themselves without the intrusion of public officials.”

These were the words of Mayor Kenny, spoken during the running of the City Commission elections preceding May, 1949. But this interference did come, and it came in the most brutal manner from the same man who uttered these high sounding phrases when he was running for the highest offices in Jersey City’s government. This interference has resulted in a loss of employment to possibly three thousand able bodied men and women. It has robbed almost seven and one-half million dollars annually from local merchants.

Claremont Terminal is dead. Mayor Kenny was its assassin.

Power, if ruthlessly displayed can result only in ruin. The Claremont Terminal, now rendered to ashes, is a case in point that none can ignore except at their peril.

The closing of Claremont Terminal is by no means an isolated example of the cruel sabotage practiced by Mayor Kenny on the labor movement along the Jersey City Waterfront. The terminal closing proves the rule rather than the exception.

Actually the closing down of this vast terminal was the expected climax of a series of waterfront disturbances that have consistently plagued steamship companies who berth here. The resultant work stoppages have brought about financial disaster to those men who must look to waterfront operations as their sole means of income and has seriously crippled Jersey City as a profitable place to conduct waterfront commerce.

History will record the fact that the peace and order that prevailed along the Jersey City waterfront for many, many years, suddenly and violently changed into a state of violent chaos after John V. Kenny was sworn in as Mayor of the second largest city in New Jersey.

As a matter of record, the entire Hudson Coutny waterfront was completely paralyzed in July, 1949, denying work to thousands of able-bodied men. Perishable and expensive cargo was left to rot on the piers. This particular strike, in no way conccerned with hours, wages, or working conditions, extended over a period of seven logn weeks before loading operations were resumed. Neither the officials of the union or the steamship companies themselves were rewponsible for this wildcat walkout. The fault rested squarely with Mayor Kenny who, having gained control of city government, was now following a planned pattern of pitting union against union, employee against employee, in a brazend attempt to control the division of spoils that is synonymous commerce under his administration.

No sooner was the prolonged strike over when the flame of violence and disorderflared anew less than three weeks later. Again, vital cargo was left standing for weeks on the piers. Coming on top of the previous seven week layoff, the financial blow proved much too severe to many families who were forced to go on city relief rolls in order to buy food and pay their rent. These were the bitter fruits of Kenny “Freedom.”

Then came the staged march on City Hall. Men who had been denied employment fell easy prey to the Mayor’s scheme to embarrass his fellow Commissioner, the late James F. Murray, and thereby shift the blam from his own office.

Some four hundred longshoremen, led by “Biffo” DeLorenzo (a Kenny favorite and brother-in-law of the slain mobster Charles Yanowsky, who had been Kenny’s close friend) converged on City Hall in an unruly demonstration. Mayor Kenny knew their purpose. So did DeLorenzo. So too did Commissioner Murray, who only too well realized that Mayor Kenny’s claws were now reaching out for Pier B, the only city-owned pier on the Hudson River. DeLorenzo, backed by a mob of four hundred longshoremen demanded that Murray give a long-term lease on Pier B, which was under his jurisdiction, to the McGrath Stevedoring
. . .
such power only comes after families are hurt, men are left unemployed, and bombs explode.

Claremont Terminal is but one lesson. The entire history of the Jersey City waterfront under Mayor Kenny is a sordid story of major proportions.

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