Category: Archive

Hibernian Chronicle 68 Years Ago: Walker walks

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Edward T. O’Donnell

Sixty eight years ago this week, on Sept. 1, 1932, New York City was rocked by a political earthquake. James J. Walker, the outlandish Jazz-era mayor, resigned amid charges of graft and corruption in his administration. The incident not only ended Walker’s political career, but also signaled the coming demise of Tammany Hall, the Irish-dominated political machine that had towered over city politics for generations. It proved a disaster from which the once-mighty political machine would never recover.

Walker’s real love in life was show business, not politics. In fact, he earned a bit fame by writing a popular song ("Will You Love Me in December As You Did in May?") before his parents steered him toward law school. Law led to politics and the New York State Senate, where Walker became an important ally of Gov. Al Smith, a fellow Tammany pol. In 1925, he ran for mayor and won handily.

"Beau James," as some called him, was a hit as mayor at the height of the Roaring Twenties. Allegations of corruption abounded, but New Yorkers didn’t seem to care. Walker was one of the city’s Jazz-era celebrities. He dressed impeccably, sported a showgirl mistress, and fed the press a never-ending stream of memorable one-liners. "I’d rather be a lamppost in New York than mayor of Chicago," he once told them. After the City Council voted to double the mayor’s salary, Walker brushed aside criticism by quipping, "Imagine what they’d have to pay me if I worked full-time." When allegations of corruption were raised, Walker dismissed goo-goo reformers as "people who enjoy going through sewers in glass-bottomed boats."

By 1929, Walker and Tammany seemed invincible. A new, grand Tammany headquarters opened at Union Square. Built to replace the old one built by Boss Tweed in the 1860s, it embodied the machine’s confident outlook. To no one’s surprise, Walker breezed to reelection in November over an up-and-coming reformer named Fiorello LaGuardia. Like the hit song of the era, Tammany’s future seemed to hold "nothing but blue skies."

But Walker’s arrogance and carelessness soon caught up with him. So too did the reality of the Great Depression. Suddenly the slick, club-hopping mayor seemed strangely out of place in a city with thousands standing on bread lines. More to the point, Al Smith’s successor as governor, Franklin Roosevelt, authorized an investigation into allegations that Walker had accepted huge sums of money from contractors doing business with the city. Though Walker was never charged, the judge in the case recommended he be removed by the governor as unfit for the office. Rather than engage in a protracted legal battle, Walker called it quits and sailed for Europe with his mistress.

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The fall of Jimmy Walker marked the end of an era. Although Tammany would remain an influential factor in city politics until the early 1960s, it would never again dominate municipal government. One year after Walker walked, Tammany’s nemesis, Fiorello LaGuardia, won the first of three consecutive terms as mayor. He made good on his promise to purge city government of Tammany men and the organization grew weaker every year. Even its grand hall at Union Square was gone, sold at auction in 1942 after Tammany defaulted on the mortgage. After a long and storied run, the "Tiger," as the machine was known, was all but dead.


Sept. 2, 1931: "15 Minutes with Bing Crosby" debuts on CBS radio, launching the singer’s career.

Sept. 2, 1939: The Irish government declares its intention to remain neutral on the eve of World War II.

Sept. 4, 1607: Hugh O’Neill, Red Hugh O’Donnell, and 99 other earls head for the continent in the "Flight of the Earls."

Sept. 5, 1882: At the suggestion of labor leader P.J. McGuire, the first Labor Day holiday and parade was held in New York City.


Aug. 30, 1893: Louisiana Senator and populist Huey P. Long born in Winn Parish, La.

Aug. 31, 1945: Rock star Van Morrison born in Belfast.

Sept. 1, 1864: Nationalist Roger Casement born in Sandycove, Co. Dublin.

Sept. 1, 1842: Nationalist John Devoy born in Kill, Co. Kildare

Sept. 2, 1952: Tennis pro Jimmy Connors, in Belleville, Ill.

Sept. 4, 1917: Automobile magnate Henry Ford II born in Detroit.

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