Working Overtime: Multiple-Office Holding in New Jersey

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Working Overtime: Multiple-Office Holding in New Jersey

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Title: Working Overtime: Multiple-Office Holding in New Jersey
Author: Martel, Frances I.
Citation: Martel, Frances I. 2009. Working Overtime: Multiple-Office Holding in New Jersey. Bachelor's thesis, Harvard College.
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Abstract: The residents of Union City, NJ— a 1.2 square mile metropolis across the Hudson from Manhattan—are fond of taking to the task of adorning their city streets on their own. In the business sector of the city (that is to say, most of it) the business owners garnish their windows with red, white, and blue, and more often than not their decoration is accompanied by the uncomfortably warm smile of a middle-aged bespectacled Irish man. The man, so comically out of place in the majority Spanish-speaking, 82.3% Latino city, is referred to interchangeably as Mayor and State Senator Brian P. Stack. On the city’s border is official proof of his status on the “Welcome to Union City” sign, mirrored by its North Bergen, NJ counterpart and the name Nicholas Sacco: mayor, state senator, assistant superintendent of North Bergen schools, and principal of Horace Mann Elementary.
For decades, New Jersey politicians have viewed multiple office holding as an integral part of the urban power structure. To rise up in the totem pole, one must collect public office jobs until rising to one high enough to stand on its own. While not particularly common in the less populated areas of the state, urban centers like the aforementioned Hudson County, Newark, and Camden have a tradition of sending their leaders off to Trenton without making them relinquish their jobs at home. And yet it was these very state legislators that passed a ban on the practice into law in February 2008. Supported by senator-turned-governor Jon Corzine, the ban passed with the support of political leaders like Stack and Sacco. On paper and in the pages of the New York Times it read like a rare and barely believable victory for political morality in what longtime NJ political journalists Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure call “The Soprano State”. If it sounded barely believable, it is probably because in practice it was not. A grandfather clause in the law keeps those currently in two positions of power safe from the wrath of the law. And since elections were held in between the passing of the law and the enacting of it, there are actually more dual office holders in the Legislature today than there were when the law was passed according to state newspaper the Star Ledger.
This study intends answer several questions regarding the phenomenon of multiple office holding and its sudden “extinction” in New Jersey. I hypothesize that the introduction of such a law was merely cashing in on a long-standing bit of political credit that, due to the highly salient role of the practice in building machines, could not be touched. As the number of political bosses engaging in this practice diminished, and as the need to hold various offices lessened because of an increase in income and power from other sources, dual office holding became an obsolete relic of the 1990s political machine structures. Thus it became feasible to ban the practice with a grandfather clause for those that had established themselves through this old system, with much credit in the field of ethics to be gained by all involved—every dual office holder, legislator, and the governor himself.
On a micro level, it aspires to investigate why early 2008 was an opportune time for such a law and where this grandfather clause arouse from and why. Although the tradition has existed previously in less populated areas of New Jersey, especially in the 1940s, at some point (peaking in the 1990s) dual office holding became an essential component in the structure of an urban political machine. On a macro level, this study seeks to explain the place of such a practice in the creation and maintenance of the traditional urban political machine, a structure with a lush history in New Jersey that is still alive and kicking today. It attempts to begin a dialogue with existing literature on urban politics centered around the practice of dual office holding.
To do this, the study needs to paint as vivid a portrait as possible of the modern urban political machine, its bosses, and every gear that moves its structure. For this it will heavily rely on literature describing the initial development of political machines of Tammany Hall and similar structures around the country, paying especial attention to the impact of immigration, given that preliminary research is showing a pronounced impact on the system from the wave of Latino immigrants beginning with the rise of the Cuban Revolution in 1958. This new wave of immigrants appears to have jump-started the machines and replenished them with an entire new wave of fodder ready to be introduced to the patronage system post-naturalization (a matter of five years’ time). Of particular note in this body of urban political research is Steven Erie’s Rainbow’s End, which I have discovered to be the definitive work in the field of immigration and its impact on urban political machines.
Working with this broad field of urban politics in mind, I also intend on illustrating in detail the specific political machine structures of the three largest urban communities in New Jersey: Newark, Camden, and the general Hudson County area (as the cities of Hudson County tend to be about 1-2 square miles in area excepting Jersey City, there is little that distinguishes one from another culturally and politically). In order to do this, I must work with data specific to the state, beginning with a database of multiple office holders over time. I have constructed this database over the course of several decades and am currently developing it in the 1930s using biographical sketches in the New Jersey Legislative Manuals published yearly in the New Jersey State Archives of Trenton. Unfortunately, this means that my research is limited to multiple office holders who have one job in the state legislature, but as all signs point to most dual office holders preferring to have a state and local job rather than two of either, I do not believe this will seriously hinder my research. Supplementary research will also come from personal stories, which I plan on gathering from interviews with those deeply involved in urban politics. The study will include interviews with multiple office holders from these regions themselves, as well as those close to them—journalists, chiefs of staff, and those receiving patronage and practicing loyalty to the leaders.
The goal of this study is to shed some light on the dark, backroom world of urban politics through the lens of this one common practice among the machine leaders. This one practice, currently a topic of much controversy due to this recent law, could very well be the key to understanding the development of machines, their power over citizens and their ability to maintain themselves over such extended periods of time.
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