Boss Hague, King Hanky-Panky of Jersey
By Jack Alexander
Originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on October 26, 1940
The Honorable Frank Hague, the perpetual mayor of Jersey City, is perhaps the most eminent mugg in the United States. Hague was a mugg when he was expelled from the sixth grade at thirteen as a truant and dullard, and be was a mugg when he started learning politics the bare-knuckles way in the tough Horseshoe district of Jersey City in the 1890’s. He was still a mugg when he was elected mayor of that dreary human hive in 1917, in which capacity he has held the center of the stage ever since with the grim determination of a bad violinist. Hague will probably he known to history as a strong character who, despite all temptations to belong to other classifications, loyally remained a mugg to the end. This is a remarkable achievement when you analyze it, for Hanky-Panky, as his admirers sometimes call him, has walked with the great and good, and their only noticeable effect on him has been to give him a taste for expensive haberdashery. At heart and in practice, he is a strong-arm man today, tricked out by a clever tailor to look like a statesman.
As a wood carver fashions puppets, Hague has created governors, United States senators, and judges of high and low degree. He has been backslapped cordially by the President and by men who wanted to be President. He has bossed the state of New Jersey almost as long as he has ruled Jersey City. He has mingled intimately with leaders of medicine and the clergy and, in a famous civil-liberties case, was firmly kneaded and processed by the august Supreme Court of the United States. He is listed in Who’s Who in America and, as vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, he is a leader in the Party of Humanity.
From time to time, in his twenty-three years as mayor, he has enjoyed the investigative attentions of committees sent by the United States Senate and the New Jersey legislature and of agents of the Justice and Treasury departments. He has been a frequent guest at the baronial Duke Farms in Somerville, New Jersey, and he has dandled a teacup in the parlor of Mrs E. T. Stotesbury, the widow of a famous Morgan partner. Yet, in spite of all these softening influences, he persists in saying, “I have went,” and in using singular subjects with plural verbs, and vice versa. In conversation he bellows oracularly and jabs a long finger into his listener’s clavicle to emphasize his points, most of which boil down to his favorite argumentative phrase, “You know I’m right about that!” His language, when he is aroused, is that of the gin mill. He rules his city by the nightstick and the state by crass political barter. He is loud and vulgar and given to public displays of phony piety during which his enemies are dismissed as “Red,” or worse.
At sixty-four, he is still erect and muscular, and he is not above physically assaulting a quailing civil employee whom he has called on the carpet. None dares to hit back, for fear of being harassed by Hague’s police or being held up to public disgrace in some devious way.
A legislative committee once determined that during a seven-year period when Hague’s salary, admittedly his only source of income, totaled $56,000, he purchased real estate and other property for a total outlay of nearly $400,000. This was done through dummies, and payment was made in cash. Hague has always shied from bank accounts. Although his salary as mayor is only $8000, has never exceeded $8500 and has been as low as $6520, Hague lives like a millionaire. He keeps a fourteen-room duplex apartment in Jersey City and a suite in a plushy Manhattan hotel. He owns a palatial summer home in Deal, New Jersey, for which he paid $125,120 – in cash – and he gambles regularly on the horse races. Before the present war began he went to Europe every year, traveling in the royal suites of the best liners. Now he spends more time in Florida and at Saratoga Springs, where he flashes a bank roll, held together by a wide rubber hand, which always contains a few $1000 notes, a denomination of which Hague is childishly fond. Hague’s public squanderings have brought Jersey City’s municipal finances to a dangerous pass. Wholly dominated by Hague, Jersey City is the worst mess of unpunished civic corruption in the forty-eight states.