Category: Archive

Fleming is keynote speaker at N.J. symposium

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Drew’s Christine Kinealy, Greg Tobin of Seton Hall and Irish Echo columnist and Kean University Professor Terry Golway are among the other speakers at the one-day event.
Fleming, whose latest book is “The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers,” was born in Jersey City in 1927. His father Teddy Fleming was a World War I veteran who became a senior figure in the Mayor Frank Hague-led political machine that dominated the state’s politics for 30 years.
Fleming will recall his early contact with the “Organization” in a paper entitled “Us against Them: The Irish in New Jersey.”
When he was just 7, his father introduced him to Hague on the opening day of the baseball season. “That was the day my commitment to the Irish side of my hyphen was born. By the age of 10, I was a passionate supporter of the Hague Organization,” he recalled. “I had the basic philosophy down cold. Us against them. Us against the two-faced, penny-pinching Irish-Catholic-hating Protestant Republicans in the rest of New Jersey.”
A vivid memory from that time was the Rev. Lester Klee’s 1937 bid for the governor’s office. “He was the personification of all our Irish fantasies about prejudiced Republicans,” Fleming said. “Not only was Klee a quintessential Protestant but he was a sanctified ordained one, who preached scathing sermons denouncing Irish political corruption.”
The close election led to a face-off between a squad of New Jersey state troopers and 30 to 40 well-armed Hudson County policemen. The latter group was protecting Jersey City ballot boxes after a judge had ordered them seized.
After a stand off lasting several hours, Fleming said, “the state cops went back to Trenton without the ballots.”
In time, the chief justice of the state supreme court, Thomas Brogan, the former corporation counsel for Jersey City, ruled that there was no evidence of widespread corruption. Klee conceded to the handpicked Hague candidate and the Organization retained its control of state appointments and state politics.
Fleming, who has written 25 novels and almost as many works of non-fiction, said that an in-law of his father’s sat on one grand jury after another to keep the Organization informed of any legal moves against Hague. The relative, a daily communicant, was clearly violating his oath of secrecy, according to the writer. “But ‘us against them’ gave him a moral exemption from taking his oath too seriously,” he said.
Jacqueline Collins Beusse and James Lowney, both columnists for the Irish Echo over many years, will be panelists at the symposium.
The $30 registration fee ($15 students) for “Understanding the Irish in New Jersey: Researching their History, Struggles and Diverse Contributions” includes breakfast, lunch and entertainment. Sign-in and registration begins at 8:30 a.m. For more information go to www.drew.edu/conferences/theirishinnewjersey.html.

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