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My Notes from The History of the New York City Legislature

by Frederick Shaw

Columbia University Press, 1954


CH 5 The Alderman and his Bailiwick

1904-1934. 5 county Democratic organizations. Heads of each organization picked by Tammany Hall boss Charles Murphy until his death in 1924. Tammany's strength then diminished.

County organizations did bidding of the county Executive Committee. District and County Leaders told Aldermen what to do.

p90. District Leaders and Aldermen picked by clubs and the County organization and then put into the primaries.

District clubs did just about anything to help constituents. These favors were called contracts. In return, people were expected to vote for the party.

Democrats and Republicans worked together.

p98. Minority parties more concerned with ideology. Socialists peaked in 1918-19 term but still small. After 1921 no minority parties elected without being supported by a major party.

p99. Aldermen "work seven days a week for Tammany Hall and 20 minutes a week for the city of New York for $4,600 a year."

p101. Silk stocking districts elected republicans since they couldn't stand all the expense graft their Republican representatives always voted against Tammany budgets. Men pressed for lower taxes and ladies pushed for civic minded stuff.

On the other hand, poor neighborhoods were the source Tammany's votes.

p103. LaGuardia took office in 1934 saying he'd keep commissioners from succumbing to Aldermanic demands.

p104. Local Improvement Boards used by communities to ask for parks, lighting etc.

CH 6 The Genesis of Reform

Simon Sterne published an American version of Thomas Hare's work on proportional representation in 1871. He formed a Proportional Representation Society. Pleaded with state Constitutional Convention in 1867. They accepted it but Gov. Hoffman vetoed it.

Next year NYC adopted "limited voting" which gave two votes for the three available seats per district plus four votes for the six at large reps per borough. Ended in 1882 to quell problems between democratic organizations.

p112. 1893 at the Chicago Worlds Fair, scattered groups from around the country formed the American Proportional Representation League and established Proportional Representation Review. 1896 Got close to getting state Constitutional Convention to adopt but the convention shied away.

p114. 1909 Progressive Era. Proportional Representation Review and Proportional Representation League were reconstituted. This time around they decided to focus on city governments. They wanted to have Councils deal with executive as well as legislative functions, so became linked with the City Manager Movement being worked on by the National Municipal League. The two organizations merged and worked on creating Model City Charters. Ashtabula, OH was the first to adopt them.

p117. Proportional representation gained notoriety in NYC after Seabury Commission's major investigation of Tammany Hall's corrupt practices. By 1936 only ten cities had adopted it and about half no longer used it. Still in place in Toledo, Hamilton, Boulder, Wheeling and Cincinnati.

p118. Cincinnati had a reputation as a corrupt and filthy city. The government in operation after PR took effect did a fantastic job of straightening things out.

pp114 & 120. Dr George Hallett was the major proponent in NYC. Hallett simultaneously served as Secretary of the Citizens Union and was the Associate Secretary of the National Municipal League.

Proportional representation didn't get much attention in NYC prior to 1924 because reformers were busy working to get home rule. Proportional representation supported eventually by Ruth Pratt, a staunch Republican, and Norman Thomas at the other end of the political spectrum.

p125. 32 Aldermanic District (Bronx) elected a Socialist in 1919.

p132. 1917 Socialists won seven seats on the Board of Aldermen. Then the Democrats decided they had to perform redistricting. In the next election, Socialists garnered the same number of votes, but won no seats on the Board.

By 1935 subways were moving tenement neighborhood residents to the outer boroughs, but no redistricting occurred.

CH 9 Writing the New Charter

p152. Socialist has consistently polled enough votes to form a small delegation though had not had anyone elected since 1919. American Labor Party was born during the campaign for proportional representation and also anticipated benefits from it.

pp155 & 158. Commission created in 1934 at the end of the legislative session. This Commission was filled with Tammany stalwarts.

p159. Smith Commission proposed devising a outline of the government, leaving most details up to local laws. They disbanded, but the legislature approved another commission, which's members were appointed by Mayor LaGuardia.

p160-166. The Thatcher Commission was representative of all parties plus it contained legal experts and civic leaders. They worked slowly and deliberately, taking two years in order to do a good job. They finally submitted their proposals in 1936. They created a Planning Commission, revised the Board of Estimate and Apportionment by making them managers and removing their legislative responsibilities. The Board of Aldermen, then responsible for ordinances, would be eliminated and replaced with a Council that would be in charge of laws.

p166-167. Thatcher Commission planned to have separate votes on their Charter revisions and proportional representation. If PR passed, there would be borough wide seats, with 7,500 ballots per representative, providing for 23 Council Members. If PR failed, the Council districts would be based on Assembly Districts plus three at large seats in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens in order to compensate for AD's not being redistricted since 1917, resulting in 32 seats total.

Enlarging districts would bring men of vision and stature.

Hare plan was favored by most, so voters could cross party lines, voting for individual candidates. Mayor LaGuardia supported a party list system.

p170. Wanted to have it on the '36 ballot because it was a Presidential election year, so would get a strong turnout. Small turnouts allow party machines undue influence. Conservatives who wanted new charter but not PR formed Citizens Charter Campaign Committee. Labor and independents supportive of both the Charter revisions and proportional representation created the Proportional Representation Committee. Made concerted campaign using radio, leaflets and speeches. Machine ignored it for quite a while, then tried to kill it in the courts but lost, then ordered all clubs to squash it. Both the charter and proportional representation were approved. Both the turnout and yes vote were large.

p174. Big support for President Roosevelt also. Someone described the new governmental structure as "New York's own New Deal." NY repealed PR during the first session of the first anti-New Deal congress.

CH 11 Five PR Elections and Repeal

p188. First election couldn't get voting machines due to late decision by courts. Paper procedures were held up by the politically appointed Board of Elections. Fraud was rampant. Canvassers were not checked ahead of time, many of which turned out to be criminals. Counting the ballots took 28 days. There were 232 candidates coming from all the boroughs.

p191. 1939 election brought in three independents: Alfred Smith Jr and Robert Strauss of Manhattan, and Genevieve Earle of Brooklyn. Ms Earle was also head of the Womens City Club and a member of the Charter Revision Commission. She spent twelve years on the Council. The new, independent candidates improved the overall intelligence and integrity of representatives.

p193. First election: 14% of ballots were blank or invalid. 30% of vote was ineffective in electing candidates. Since Consolidation [in 1898] 41% of votes cast elected no one.

p196. Communists couldn't get enough vote to meet quota. They put forth candidates which could obtain a broad appeal. Benjamin Davis Jr, a black, graduated from Amherst and Harvard, performed legal defense for Scottsborough boys and Angelo Herndon, plus he got American Labor Party and trade unions on his side. He made it onto the Council two times.


p205.
Newspaper Position on Proportional Representation
Herald-Tribune for
Post for
PM for
Daily Worker for
Mirror by 1947 against
Journal-American by 1947 against
World-Telegram by 1947 against
Times initial qualified for, gradually turned against
Daily News first election for, subsequently against
Sun always against

On the other hand, in 1936 near unanimous support for it. Elections of Communists in 1943 and 1945 caused a major commotion by 1947 when the Cold War was in effect.

The American Labor Party was branded as communist sympathizers though in 1945 backed the citywide Democratic ticket while Dems backed the ALP's Eugene Connolly for City Council.

The Citizens Committee to Repeal Proportional Representation obtained all its funds from the Democratic county organizations. The machine also poured major manpower on the street to overturn PR.

Used several excuses: complicated, confusing, unwieldy, expensive, fraud, lottery, eliminated neighborhood representation, racial/religious/alphabetical voting, destroyed two party system, splinter parties/blocks, undemocratic, unamerican. But the biggest strike was that it allowed Communists access to the legislature.

p210. American Labor Party endorsed the Wallace presidential campaign.


pp171 & 209

1936 Election For Against
Charter Changes 959,519 [61%] 603,072 [39%]
Implement PR 923,186 [62%] 555,127 [38%]
 
1947 Election For Against
Repeal of PR 935,222 [61%] 586,170 [39%]


pp127, 128, 196 & 245.
_ 1921 1923 1925 1927 1929 1931 1933 1935 1937 1939 1941 1943 1945 1949
_ no no no no no no no no PR PR PR PR PR no
Democrat
% Votes 54 58 62 63 63 65 51 66 47 66 64 53 59 53
% Seats 80 86 94 89 94 99 75 95 50 67 66 59 60 96
 
Republican
% Votes 35 34 33 32 32 26 41 26 9 8 7 22 15 22
% Seats 18 12 5 11 6 2 25 5 12 10 8 17 13 4
 
Fusion (Candidate endorsed by both Dem & Republican Parties)
% Votes 1 1 1 - - - - - - - - - - -
% Seats 2 2 2 - - - - - - - - - - -
 
City Fusion
% Votes - - - - - - 1 - 11 11 13 - - -
% Seats - - - - - - 0 - 12 10 12 - - -
 
Insurgent Democrat
% Votes - - - - - - - - 7 4 - - - -
% Seats - - - - - - - - 8 5 - - - -
 
American Labor
% Votes - - - - - - - - 21 12 12 11 10 12
% Seats - - - - - - - - 19 10 12 12 9 0
 
Liberal
% Votes - - - - - - - - - - - - 9 14
% Seats - - - - - - - - - - - - 9 0
 
Communist
% Votes - - - - - - - - 3 - - 14 7 0.2
% Seats - - - - - - - - 0 - - 12 9 0
 
Socialist
% Votes 10 8 4 5 5 8 4 4 - - - - - -
% Seats 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - - - - - -
 
Recovery
% Votes - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - -
% Seats - - - - - - 0 - - - - - - -
 
Other
% Votes 0 0.2 0.2 0.4 0.3 0.7 2 4 4 - 6 - - -
% Seats 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 4 - - -
 
_ 1921 1923 1925 1927 1929 1931 1933 1935 1937 1939 1941 1943 1945 1949
_ no no no no no no no no PR PR PR PR PR no


There are many vaguarities in these notes due to the book being poorly written. Sorry.

 


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