Page images

The extent to which such practices prevail in political conventions and defeat the will of party majorities is of course a matter for conjecture, but of the reality of the abuse and its frequent recurrence there can be no doubt.

Local Party Organization and Methods Leaving out of account the congressional district organization, which, save in rare instances, is of no considerable importance in state politics, the basic unit in the state party machinery is the county organization. It consists of a chairman, a committee, and the conventions that are held periodically. The county convention is composed of delegates from lower units — towns, townships, precincts or election districts as the case may be. tives from certain local subdivisions, and the chairman is either chosen at the convention or by the committee. The county organization runs even into the great cities: the Cook county organization in Chicago, the New York and Kings county organizations in New York City, and the Suffolk county organization in Boston are already famous in the history of our local politics.

Perhaps the most famous of them all is the organization of the Democratic party in New York county - the central portion of the great metropolis — popularly known as Tammany Hall but officially known as the Democratic Republican organization. The governing body in that organization is the county general committee, which is composed of representatives from each assembly district in New York county — the ratio of apportionment being one to every twenty-five Democratic voters. This makes an enormous committee, numbering at the present time more than 8000. It is theoretically a most democratic institution, for its members come from close contact with small units of party voters; but as a matter of fact its great size makes it an unwieldy body, so far as actual control over party business is concerned. Its size is defended on the practical ground that it enlists among the official workers of the party one man out of every twenty-five, and on the still more practical ground that it brings some $80,000 a year into the party funds — each member of the county committee being assessed $10 annually.

The real management of the business in this county organiza

[ocr errors]

tion is in the hands of an executive committee composed of one leader from each of the thirty-five assembly districts. This leader is chosen theoretically by the members of the general committee for his district, but as a matter of practice any member of the Democratic party in New York county who wants to be an assembly district leader ascertains the number of members to which his assembly district is entitled under the ratio of one to every twenty-five voters and then proceeds to make up his slate" a primary ticket containing his name first, followed by the names of his supporters; and if his ticket wins at the primary, his slate thereupon theoretically proceeds to the formal task of naming him “executive member." In order to centralize control in the hands of the executive committee, a rule has been adopted that each new member of that committee must be approved by the retiring committee, and if he is not so approved, the retiring committee may itself select an executive member in his stead in other words, an executive committee once in power may perpetuate its control.

The executive committee and the men intimately associated with it, although often unofficially, virtually control the government of the party and the City of New York whenever the party is in power. They control the finances of the county organization, disburse the funds, agree upon the distribution of city offices, and decide the policies of the board of aldermen and other branches of the city administration. Prominent in the councils of the executive committee are the leaders and officials in the social organization known as Tammany Hall.3

The Democratic county organization has its regular officials, president, treasurer, secretary, and other minor officers, but the directing power in the organization is usually in the hands of some astute leader who may or may not occupy an official position in the party, but must control" a majority of the executive committee.

For the purpose of making county nominations, the Democratic organization of New York county holds periodical conventions composed of delegates from each assembly district. The convention is called to order by the president of the county general

1 See above, p. 473. 2 For Mr. Croker's famous description of the system, see Readings, p. 567. 3 See above, p. 135.

committee, who acts as chairman unless a majority of the convention direct otherwise. As a matter of practice, the business of the county convention is for the most part determined in advance by the leaders in the executive committee and the convention merely ratifies the nominations made by that body. So formal are the proceedings of the county convention that as a rule it is able to transact all its business within not more than two hours.

The New York county Republican organization is, in many respects, modelled on that of the Democratic system. There is a general committee composed of delegates elected from each assembly district at a ratio of one to every 200 Republican voters a ratio which makes a much smaller general committee than that of Tammany Hall, the number at the present time being about 650. There is also an executive committee, composed of one member from each of the thirty-five assembly districts into which the county is divided, and elected by the voters at the primary. The general committee has a president, and the executive committee has a chairman. The chairman of the executive committee has the power of appointing and removing election inspectors, poll clerks, and ballot clerks- each of the two great

parties being assigned a certain number by law. The election officers are suggested to the chairman by his district leaders, and where the district leader is not in sympathy with the chairman he is likely to have his inspectors removed if there is a fight at the primaries.

Ward Politics The basic unit of the county organization is the precinct, ward, or election district, — the lowest political subdivision of the state, - the unit in which the polling place is stationed and in which party delegates to the conventions of the larger units are chosen.' Here it is that the party workers come into immediate contact with the voters; here it is also that public opinion may be organized to bring pressure to bear upon the party machinery. It is of fundamental importance, therefore, that the party should have in each precinct, ward, or election district, as the case may be, at least one loyal and tried worker, personally acquainted

1 In the city of New York two election districts are combined to make a primary district.

with a large number of the voters and trained in the art and science of winning votes. If this party worker, in the lowest political subdivision, represents the interests and aspirations of the party voters in his district, we have a representative party organization. If, on the other hand, the ward leader is appointed, sustained, and financed by some body "higher up," the whole party organization may be lifted out of popular control and vested in the superior officers who are in charge of the base of supplies. Vote-getting "pays" in the economic sense of the word, for the man who can deliver votes can exact the price from those who are willing to pay for the delivery, and it has therefore come about, in too many instances, that party members, engrossed in the struggle for livelihood, neglect to do their share in party work and the organization falls into the hands of those who make it their business to be always on guard.

In New York City, each county is divided into assembly districts, each of which has a committee, composed of the committeemen serving for the district in the county committee, and also an assembly district leader who is at the same time a member of the county executive committee.

The assembly district is in turn divided into election districts, and in each election district there is an election district captain who is almost always actually appointed by the assembly district leader, who is, as noted above, at the same time a member of the county executive committee, which directs the general business of the county organization. Thus a political hierarchy is organized, running down from the state committee through the county executive committee to the election district captain, an organization which is financed, as a rule, not by innumerable small contributions from the party workers of each district, but by large contributions from men who generally exact a price from those whom the party nominates and places in governmental offices.

1 Organizations once created and controlling sources of power tend to perpetuate themselves and become institutions. Mr. Herbert Spencer relates an amusing story of a society founded in England for the purpose of securing the enactment of certain legislation by Parliament. It had its president, secretary, treasurer, paid workers, and generous contributors, and after a long season of agitation it succeeded in securing the passage of the bill which it had been advocating. Mr. Spencer, in calling at the headquarters of the society, expected to find general rejoicing, but to his surprise

[ocr errors]



The prime qualification of the loyal election district captain is subserviency to the leader of the assembly district. The latter is the “executive member" from the district, and at the county meetings, his influence is measured by the vote his district casts and by the union existing among the election district captains of his district. He is the official distributor of the patronage which is allotted to his district, and unless he is supported by a united force of election district captains, the patronage may be withheld to “cause no hard feelings” among the rank and file. Therefore, before a name is placed on the ticket for “president,” i.e. captain, of the election district, the person bearing that name must swear loyalty to the district leader, and his promise must be obtained to support that leader should there be any fight at the primaries.

In return for this support, the election district captain is designated as inspector at the various elections. To him is intrusted the selection of poll clerks and watchers, and any money that may be sent throughout the election district is distributed by him.

This is a most important task of the election district captain, and the proper distribution of the money held by the county officers for campaign purposes is a difficult task. Each election district captain endeavors to have his allowance as much as possible, and desires that he shall receive no less than any other election district captain. The captain is permitted to recommend persons in his district for vacancies in the civil service, and is at liberty to recommend candidates for the minor elective offices. He is a member of the assembly district cabinet, and at local conventions heads delegations from his election district. The chairmanship is his because all delegates to the conventions are selected by him before being placed on the primary ticket. The wise captain does not take it upon himself to name all the delegates, but in some convenient "watering place,” he calls a meeting of all the voters of his district and allows them to make suggestions as to who should be the delegates.

It is the last-mentioned power that gives the election district captain his place. He is the party official who stands closest to the people, and by wise methods leads the voters in his district to believe that

he found universal sorrow, for the achievement of the purpose for which the society was founded abolished the lucrative offices which it had maintained. The same principle often applies to political organizations.

? This description of the work of an election district captain applies generally to a certain party organization in Kings county, New York (Brooklyn), but it is fairly applicable to similar organizations in large cities. The description is furnished by an experienced party worker who has personal knowledge of the matters of which he writes. For additional illustrations, see Readings, pp. 579 ff.

« PreviousContinue »