Wednesday, July 29, 2009

James J. Walker: will they still love him?

Walker on the cover of Time. Image from

Despite being targeted by an investigative commission that had been uncovering corruption in New York City for years, mayor James J. Walker was nonplussed when he was finally called to court to give some answers in 1932. There were even flowers spread on his path into the courthouse, certainly an unusual display for a public official accused of graft. A roaring '20s dandy, Walker is a prime example of personality trumping political competence.

James John Joseph Walker was born in Greenwich Village, New York in 1881. He entered the New York Law School in 1902, but left three years later. Walker aspired to be a songwriter, and met with some success. In 1908, he wrote the lyrics for the hit song "Will You Love Me in December As You Do In May." When he failed to produce additional hits, Walker returned to law and was admitted to the bar in 1912.

Prior to that, in 1910, Walker was elected as a Democrat to the New York state assembly, with backing from the Democratic Party machine Tammany Hall. He served until 1914, and the next year he was elected to the state senate. He became the minority leader in 1921. As a state politician, Walker certainly solidified his popularity with the electorate by supporting measures to ease restrictions on sports and entertainment, including allowing movies and baseball games to take place on Sundays.

Most notably, he fathered a bill in 1920 to legalize professional boxing in New York. The legislation called for the major players in the sports, such as the fighters and referees, to be licensed. A state board of commissioners would have the power to revoke licenses if necessary. The sportswriter W.O. McGeehan encouraged passage of the bill, using something of an unfortunate example when he told Governor Al Smith that the sport was "conducted as honestly as American politics and I venture to say more honestly than the stock market." The bill was signed into law in May of 1920.

In 1925, Tammany and Smith backed Walker as their candidate for the mayor of New York City. The only catch was that a Democrat, John F. Hylan, had already been in office for two four-year terms. Not willing to go quietly, the introduction of Walker led to what Smith referred to as "a little family quarrel" but what was in fact quite a nasty bout of mudslinging. Smith said Hylan had a "blind subservience to a super-boss" and also accused him of secretly meeting with members of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1924 Democratic National Convention. Hylan shot back that Walker would allow thieves and prostitutes to run rampant in the Big Apple; he also described the party as a family, if something of a dysfunctional one. "The Governor has walked deliberately into our city and made trouble in a happy family," he declared. "A few grafting politicians, Wall Street, and the traction gang have tried to get your mayor by the throat, but I have stood like the Rock of Gibraltar running the city for the interests of all the people."

Hylan dropped out of the race in September, leaving Walker to face off against Republican candidate and fountain pen manufacturer Frank D. Waterman. Walker's platform included the advocacy of new highways, expansion of subway system, and maintenance of the subway's five-cent fare; Smith also stumped for him, touting Walker's work for housing, child welfare, soldier bonuses, and other issues. Perhaps more influential, Walker's support of entertainment initiatives earned him plaudits from movie stars, musicians, and sports fans. Irving Berlin wrote him a campaign song which featured the lyric "Win with Walker, he's a corker."

The campaign was also not without its dirty tricks, including one that left Waterman fending off accusations of anti-Semitism. Staffers sought to make a reservation at a hotel Waterman owned in Florida using the false name of Robinowitz. The hotel sent a written reply explaining, "Our clientele is such that the patronage of persons of Hebrew persuasion is not solicited." Walker easily won the general election.

Walker's inauguration in 1926 was notable for a few reasons. In the first of several incidents of tardiness that would earn him the nickname "The Late Mayor," Walker was one and a half hours late for the event. He was also the first mayor to have his inauguration speech broadcast by radio. When he abandoned the microphone to help a woman who had fainted in the crowd, many New Yorkers worried that the dead air signified that he had been assassinated.

Walker's tenure in office was marked by a lackadaisical attitude toward schedules and duties, and historians have offered the opinion that his legislative experience did not adequately prepare him for the administrative tasks of the mayor's office. He also earned the nickname "The Night Mayor" for his propensity to hit the night life, including a well-known but generally ignored affair with a showgirl named Betty Compton. In one incident, Walker is said to have been with Compton in a Montauk casino when the joint was raided by police, and managed to escape by running into the kitchen and disguising himself with a cook's outfit.

The two nicknames directly corresponded with one another. Time reported that Walker "seldom appears before noon, if at all." Sometimes he arrived hung over, and, suddenly a stickler for punctuality, would be short with visitors if they spent more than their allotted five minutes proposing a measure for the city. Needing a break from whatever work he did manage to do, Walker took seven vacations totaling 143 days during his first two years in office. In 1927, he traveled to Italy and personally met the country's dictator, Benito Mussolini.

Walker had made no promises to end the graft and proliferation of speakeasies that were thriving in Prohibition-era New York, the latter thanks in part to police officers willing to take payoffs to turn a blind eye to the establishments. The citizens of New York, if not the nation, seemed to take a similar attitude toward Walker's laziness and affair with Compton. When he went to Philadelphia in November of 1926 as part of a New York City delegation to the Sesquicentennial Exposition, crowds there declared him "our next President."

Walker was known for having an easygoing charm that was able to boost the adulations. His sayings included, "A reformer is a guy who rides through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat" and "I'd rather be a lamppost in New York than mayor of Chicago." When the Republican candidate Fiorello La Guardia challenged him in 1929, he made the accusation that the city's judges were corrupt and the District Attorney, Thomas Crain, was a dolt. He also criticized the mayor's decision earlier that same year to boost his salary from $25,000 to $40,000. "That's cheap!" Walker responded. "Think what it would cost if I worked full time!" Walker won re-election.

Walker's turn in court was still several years away, but the events that would lead to that event began a month after the election. Then, magistrate Albert Vitale was honored at a dinner attended by judges, city officials, and mobsters. The event did nothing to help Vitale, as he had already admitted to taking a $19,500 loan from mobster Arnold Rothstein, who was murdered in November of 1928. It helped spur the formation of an investigative committee, headed by Samuel Seabury, an anti-Tammany Democrat and unsuccessful candidate for the 1916 gubernatorial election.

The investigation focused on the legitimacy of 50 magistrates in Manhattan and the Bronx under the committee's jurisdiction. Seabury assembled a team of young lawyers who he felt would not be corrupted by Tammany Hall, and the commission heard from over 1,000 witnesses in 1930. Magistrates were questioned in private, and many resigned when asked if they would repeat their testimony publicly. One, George Ewald, paid Tammany $10,000 to get his seat. Others had been appointed in exchange for favors. "This evidence presents a situation which is a scandal and a disgrace, as well as a menace, to the City of New York," said Seabury. The investigation also targeted Crain for his practice of letting people charged with serious crimes plead to misdemeanors. The commission determined that Crain was merely incompetent, not corrupt.

Reverend John Haynes Holmes and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, acting on behalf of the City Affairs Committee, charged Walker with ignoring corruption, appointing incompetent officials, and poor administration of the city government. Walker's own response to the assessment was that the City Affairs Committee was subject to Socialist influences. Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, hoping to secure Tammany backing for his own political ambitions, was at first reluctant to take on corruption in the city and declared that there wasn't enough evidence to remove Walker. However, when the Republican-controlled legislature called for an investigation into the city administration in March of 1931, Roosevelt approved $250,000 for a committee. Seabury joined the effort again as counsel.

The most disturbing aspect of the city government uncovered by the investigation was the outright framing of innocent people by the police department's vice squad. Most of the victims were women accused of prostitution. It was made clear to them that their options were to go to jail or fork over enough cash for their freedom. Other officials were found to have amassed much more money than they should have. Sheriff Tom Farley resigned after it was found that he had accumulated $400,000 after six years in an $8,000-a-year job. Russell T. Sherwood, a financial agent who shared a lockbox with the mayor, fled the city after he was subpoenaed to explain how he had made $700,000 after serving five years with a $10,000 annual salary.

When Seabury looked into the mayors financial records, he declared Walker's letters of credit "the fatal blow to Tammany Hall." He discovered that politicians and businessmen in the city had maintained a slush fund for Walker in exchange for favors, and that the club kept Walker's name off the record by referring to him as the "boyfriend." On one occasion, publisher Paul Block opened a Wall Street brokerage account with Walker, earning the mayor $246,692.72 even though the mayor never invested any money in it. On another, he received $26,535 in bonds from a stock broker interested in taxicab securities. John A. Hastings, a Democratic state senator and one organizer of the Equitable Coach Company, paid for one of Walker's vacations while aiming to gain control of the city's bus routes. Walker was also found to have accepted other gifts, such as the renovation of his childhood home on St. Luke's Place and a railroad car.

When Walker was summoned to court to answer questions about the finances, his popularity was still going strong. Time opined that his admirers "really would not care if it were proved that 'Jimmy' had stolen the Brooklyn Bridge." Walker's charm might have kept the galleries wooed, but it didn't work on Seabury; in fact, he had been warned against looking directly into Walker's eyes to help escape whatever wiles the mayor would employ. Seabury resolutely kept up the questions about the shady financial dealings in the city, and Walker's confidence slipped. Not long after the proceedings, he was booed at a baseball game at Yankee Stadium.

Seabury recommended to Roosevelt, by now the Democratic nominee for the 1932 Presidential election, that Walker was unfit for office. Walker sent his own defense to Roosevelt in the form of a 27,000 word letter in which he said the prosecution was politically motivated. "I have lived my life in the open. Whatever shortcomings I have are known to everyone--but disloyalty to my native city, official dishonesty or corruption, form no part of these short-comings," he said. It was also reported that Walker would seek the Democratic nomination for Governor if he were to be ousted. Ultimately, Walker unsuccessfully tried to get a court injunction in his favor and resigned from office on September 1, 1932, with a single sentence: "I hereby resign as Mayor of the City of New York, said resignation to take effect immediately."

Not long after his resignation, Walker took off for Europe with Betty Compton, whom he would later marry. Another Tammany man, John P. O'Brien, took his place, but the Seabury commission essentially marked the death blow for the political machine. In 1934, La Guardia was elected mayor with backing from Roosevelt, and the city slipped from Tammany's grasp. Roosevelt's New Deal program further weakened the institution, making people less dependent on Tammany for jobs. The machine had something of a recovery in the 1950s, but ultimately faded out of existence in the 1960s.

Walker's flight was a handy way of taking another European expedition while letting the controversy and his own tax status return to manageable levels. He returned to New York in 1935, doing law work and hosting a short-lived radio program. In 1937, he got a job as an attorney with the city's Transit Commission to prosecute grade crossing infractions. Seabury also happened to be on the commission as a judge, and suggested that Walker be on the payroll for 60 days before claiming a pension, saying it was not to be used as a "refuge from disgrace."

The next year, Walker visited FDR in the White House. In 1940, La Guardia named him labor arbitrator of the Manhattan garment industry. He continued his devotion to boxing by regularly speaking at the annual dinners of the Boxing Writers Association; he received the Edward J. Neil Memorial Award for Outstanding Contributions to Boxing, and in 1940 received another award for his years of service to the sport. Following his death, the award would be named after him.

Walker also briefly returned to the musical world, becoming president of Majestic Records in 1945. The next year, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Ultimately, he remained a popular figure. A movie about his life starring Bob Hope was produced, and in 1992 he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Sources: The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, The National Parks Service, The Political Graveyard, "Paints Hylan Klan Servant" in the Evening Independent on Aug. 28 1925, "Word Battle Grows Hotter" in the Evening Independent on Aug. 31 1925, "Hylan May Run On Independent Ticket" in the Evening Independent on Sept. 16 1925, "Hylan Won't Run" in the New York Times on Sept. 30 1925, "Hail Mayor Walker As 'Next President'" in the New York Times on Nov. 13 1926, "Again, Walker" in Time on Mar. 5 1928, "Subway Jam" in Time on May 14 1928, "His Honor's Honor" in Time on Jun. 6 1932, "New York's Mayor Assails Accusers" in the Evening Independent on Jul. 29 1932, "Walker, If Removed, To Run For Governor" in the New York Times on Aug. 1 1932, "Walker Again" in Time on Aug. 30 1937, "Jimmy Walker, Tsar" in Time on Sept. 16 1940, "Former Mayor To Head Majestic Records" in the Christian Science Monitor on Feb. 16 1945, "The Late Mayor" in Time on Nov. 25 1946, A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring '20s by Roger Kahn, The Boxing Register: International Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book by James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt, New World Coming: the 1920s and the Making of Modern America by Nathan Miller, Big Town, Big Time: A New York Epic edited by Jay Maeder, The Epic of New York City: A Narrative History by Edward Robb Ellis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom by Conrad Black, Mackerals in the Moonlight: Four Corrupt American Mayors by Gerald Leinwand

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

John W. Dawson: shovel-ready governor

Image from

As John W. Dawson told it, his stagecoach was at its first stop on a cross-country journey on New Year's Eve of 1861 when he found that several items of clothing had been taken. While waiting in the coach for the return of his physician, the driver made insulting remarks to him and Dawson chose to take his leave. As he was walking to a nearby house, the former Governor of the Utah Territory was attacked and beaten by the driver and other ruffians, an incident that punctuated Dawson's disgraced exit from the land.

Dawson was born in 1820 in Cambridge, Indiana. He worked as an office clerk and studied at Wabash College and Transylvania College. Further working as a lawyer and farmer, he eventually settled into the position of editor of the Fort Wayne Times and Union. Through the newspaper, Dawson supported public schools and temperance and criticized Catholics and abolitionists. He was especially vehement in this latter attitude when the Civil War broke out, saying the abolitionist movement only gave advocates of the Confederacy arguments to use in support of secession. Dawson's basic argument was that the preservation of the Union was a more important goal than the abolition of slavery. He asked if William Lloyd Garrison, a New England newspaper editor and prominent abolitionist, if he would admit "that this war is not a Godsend war for the abolition of negro slavery, but to maintain the supremacy of the Union and the Constitution, and that you will henceforth be silent on the wrongs of the slave and the atrocities of slaveholders, until throughout all the land the federal laws are freely obeyed?"

Like his working career, Dawson dabbled in a variety of political parties in a series of unsuccessful bids for public office. In 1854, he ran for the state house of representatives on the People's Party ticket. Two years later, he was back on the ballot running for Indiana secretary of state. This time, he was on a fusion ticket supported by the Republican and Know-Nothing parties. In 1858, he ran for the House of Representatives as a Democrat. In the election of 1860, however, he backed Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate, in his paper.

Given his relative lack of political experience, it is unclear how Dawson got the nod to be Governor of the Utah Territory. Some have suggested that he was a man of loose morals and an embarrassment to the Republican leaders in Indiana, and the distant desert territory seemed to be a proper point of exile. The post was also not the most popular one up for grabs, and Dawson's willingness to serve probably played in his favor. After Governor Alfred Cummings chose not to seek re-appointment, Lincoln appointed Dawson as the third Governor of the Utah Territory on October 3, 1861.

Dawson did not arrive in the territory until December 7, and took the oath of office on the 10th. It didn't take long for him to irk the predominantly Mormon population. In his first address to the territorial legislature, he urged them to pay a $26,982 annual tax to support Union war efforts. Doing so, he explained, would show that the Mormons were supportive of the country, not disloyal as had been alleged.

On December 17 and 18, the legislature passed a bill calling for a convention of delegates to create a constitution and organize a state government. Territorial secretary Frank Fuller of New Hampshire, who had served as acting Governor while waiting for Dawson to arrive, had already given his support for the measure. Dawson, however, vetoed it. He said the proposed date of the convention (January 6, 1862) was too close to submit the bill to Congress or notify the people of the territory. He also said the bill sought to fix the state's boundaries, which Congress would have to do. The rejection of the bill again did nothing to endear Dawson to the population.

On New Year's Eve, having served less than a month, Dawson suddenly packed up and began a journey back east. He left Fuller to take over the Governor's duties. A variety of reasons were given for Dawson's departure. Fuller said he had received a note saying Dawson was leaving for health reasons. The Deseret News said Dawson was leaving "under circumstances somewhat novel and puzzling," and alleged that the Governor had gone "distressingly insane."

The newspaper also mentioned the more prevalent theory behind Dawson's hasty retreat. He was accused of making indecent proposals to Albina Williams, his housekeeper and a Mormon widow in Salt Lake City. As the story went, Williams was so offended that she chased Dawson out of her house with a fireplace shovel. Dawson was also accused of trying to pay Williams $3,000 to keep quiet about the incident, and threatening to shoot Mormon newspaper editor Thomas B.H. Stenhouse if he published anything on the matter.

Stenhouse may have been sufficiently intimidated, though he also later left the church; in an account published in 1873, he said Dawson "was almost immediately a victim of misplaced confidence, and fell into a snare laid for his feet by some of his brother-officials." Catherine Van Valkenburg Waite, writing in 1867, also took this point of view. She argued that the incident was entirely fabricated as a way of expelling Dawson, since he was not as lenient toward Mormon leader Brigham Young as his predecessor. John Hanson Beadle, editor of the Salt Lake Reporter, also implied that the charges may have been false but clearly had no sympathy for Dawson. In an anti-Mormon book he wrote in 1870, Beadle said Dawson's later beating was "richly deserved for his cowardice, and, if the charge above be true, for his detestably bad taste."

Whatever the case, Dawson was fearful enough of assault that he took a hired guard to accompany him out of the territory. According to a statement Dawson later wrote for the Deseret News, he was told by Ephraim Hanks, station master at the first mail stop on the route, that some people might intend to rob or assault him. Dawson asked Hanks to accompany him, but Hanks said he was unable to and sent a man named Moroni Clawson to act as protection. Dawson said he gave Clawson five dollars for his troubles.

After the stagecoach stopped at Hanks' mail station at Mountain Dell, Dawson said, the crowd at the stopping point had supper and proceeded to get drunk and rowdy. When he checked on the coach, he found that it had been relieved of several blankets and "an elegant beaver robe." It was after this discovery that Dawson said the driver, apparently a relative of the scorned woman, began insulting him. Dawson insisted he had not provoked the men who attacked him after he exited the coach. In the statement to the Deseret News, he identified seven men who attacked him, including Clawson ("the traitor") and other men who had been hired to protect him.

According to one account, Dawson's injuries were "nearly emasculating," leading to rumors that he had been castrated as well as beaten. Dawson was quick to use the attack to characterize the Mormons as a lawless and detestable bunch. In a letter to Lincoln, he accused the population of disloyalty and said their push for statehood was only an effort to remove federal authorities from the territory and give polygamy "sovereign protection." He added, "The horrid crimes that have been committed in this territory & which have gone unpunished, have no parallel among civilized nations." Young, meanwhile, continued to push for statehood, saying the goal was "to no more endure the imposition of such men as...Governor Dawson." Though the convention seeking to create the state of Deseret went forward, Utah would not be admitted as a state until 1896.

Though they were no fans of Dawson, the Mormons did not want the attack to further inflame public opinion against them. Of the seven identified by Dawson, three were shot dead while trying to escape from police. Lot Huntington was killed on January 16, 1862. Clawson and a man named John P. Smith were killed the next day. The other attackers were captured and brought to justice.

In an interesting side note, the attack on Dawson indirectly led to the capture of an infamous grave robber. After Clawson was killed, he was buried in a Salt Lake City cemetery after his body was not initially claimed. When his family asked that Clawson be exhumed to be relocated to a family cemetery, they found that Clawson had been stripped of his clothes. The investigation found that a gravedigger, John Baptiste, had collected clothes, shoes, and personal effects from some 300 grave robberies. Baptiste was ultimately isolated on Fremont Island on the Great Salt Lake, but disappeared later in 1862, never to be seen again.

Dawson returned to find that the Senate had ultimately rejected his appointment, apparently based on the allegations that had come up against him. The incident also made Dawson quite unpopular in his home state, if he had ever garnered much favor to begin with. "He is a poor, despised, and hated ruffian, without a solitary friend of any influence on earth, outside of his own printing office," one letter to the People's Press of Bluffton, Indiana, declared. "This is not the first time that the community has been sickened and disgusted with the infamy and crime of John Dawson."

Not much is known of Dawson's post-gubernatorial activities. Most notably, he helped elevate the legend of Johnny Appleseed by writing the first accounts about him in 1871. Dawson had met the John Chapman, the person the legend is based on, when he was younger. In 1877, Dawson passed away in Indiana.

Sources: Utah History To Go, "The Governor of Utah Territory: A Significant Sign" in The Democratic Watchman on Nov. 21 1861, "Executive Communications" in the Deseret News on Dec. 25 1861, "Governor Dawson's Statement" in the Deseret News on Jan. 22 1862, "What The Public Journals Say About John W. Dawson" in the Deseret News on Feb. 26 1862, "Scandals, Shame, & Skeletons In The Closet" in Salt Lake Magazine in April 2009, It Happened In Utah by Gayen and Tom Wharton, Church Chronology: A Record Pertaining to the History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Andrew Jenson, Improvement Era edited by Joseph F. Smith and Edward H. Anderson, Popular History of Utah by Orson F. Whitney, Abraham Lincoln and the Western Territories edited by Ralph Y. McGinnis and Calvin N. Smith, The Story of the Mormons: From the Date of their Origin to the Year 1901 by William Alexander Linn, The Rocky Mountain Saints: A Full and Complete History of the Mormons by Thomas B.H. Stenhouse, Life in Utah; or, The Mysteries and Crimes of Mormonism by John Hanson Beadle, The Saints and the Union: Utah Territory during the Civil War by Everette Beach Long, The Mormon Prophet and His Harem by Catherine Van Valkenburg Waite

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Wayne L. Hays: money for nothing

Elizabeth Ray and Wayne Hays. Image from Jet.

In April of 1976, Wayne Levere Hays was preparing for a second marriage and holding a wedding reception in the House Administration offices. The 14-term Ohio congressman had invited his staff to the ceremonies, with the exception of a buxom 33-year-old blonde named Elizabeth Ray. When she showed up anyway, Hays got into a heated argument with her and summoned the Capitol Police to escort Ray from the building. Hays' blunt attempt at damage control ultimately did more harm than good; immediately after the incident, Ray went to a phone booth and placed a call that kicked off a series of events leading to Hays' resignation.

Hays was born in Bannock, Ohio in 1911 and graduated from the Ohio State University at Columbus in 1933. He taught in the cities of Flushing and Findlay in his home state between 1934 and 1938 while also doing agricultural work on the side. His first political appointment came in 1939, when he was elected mayor of Flushing; according to his congressional profile, he held the post until 1945, though the profile also mentions that he served in the state senate in 1941 and 1942. Hays became a member of the U.S. Army reserve corps in 1933, and was called to active duty the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. He served until the next year, when he received a medical discharge. From 1945 to 1949, he was a commissioner of Belmont County.

In 1948, Hays was elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat, and managed to keep the seat for the next 28 years. During his time in Congress, he chaired a House delegation to the NATO Parliamentarians Conference and was president of the conference in 1956 and 1967. From 1969 to 1970, he was president of the North Atlantic Assembly.

Hays' first notable actions were his open mockery of a special House committee on which he served in 1954. The so-called Reece Committee, named for chairman Brazilla Carroll Reece (a Tennessee Republican), was formed to investigate several tax-exempt organizations for ties to Socialist or Communist movements. Included in the discussions was the research of human sexuality by Alfred Kinsey, which had been partially funded by the Rockefeller Institute. The committee soon drew criticism for its selective use of witnesses, as nine of the 10 witnesses that were ultimately called were employees of the committee.

On one occasion, Hays led a Democratic walkout from the committee, saying San Francisco lawyer Aaron Sargent had accused Democratic Senator Paul Douglas of Socialist ties; for good measure, Hays threatened to punch out a man who heckled him during the exit. In a ruse to demonstrate that statements were being taken out of context, Hays asked the committee's assistant research director, Thomas McNiece, for his opinion on three quotes advocating fair wages and relief for the poor. When McNiece said the quotes were consistent with Communist literature he had encountered, Hays retorted that they had actually been taken from the Encyclical of Pope Pius IX.

Ultimately, the committee fell apart after eight weeks when Reece declared that the hearings would end and the tax-exempt organizations could submit written statements to the congressional inquiries instead. Reece said both that Hays' actions had obstructed the committee and that the written statements would expedite the process. Hays' own opinion was that the witness testimony "was so utterly nonsensical and without basis in fact that it fell of its own weight, it seems to me that the action taken today was the least embarrassing way that Mr. Reece and his staff could get offstage.''

Over the years, Hays gained a reputation for his temper; Democratic Congressman Phillip Burton of California described him as "the meanest man in Congress." Periodically, Hays appeared in the news for some incident where these characteristics were at play. In 1956, Hays said he'd heard that the U.S. Immigration Commissioner, Joseph M. Swing, might inhibit his efforts to get citizenship for his adopted daughter and said Swing "will not be able to physically hold the job from then on" if that happened; Swing was defended by New Jersey congressman Alfred Sieminski, who suggested that he and Hays take it outside. In 1966, Hays was cited for speeding, unsafe operation, and failure to comply with the lawful order of a police officer after driving away from a traffic stop. Hays said he was offended by the cop, who had patted his holstered pistol while they talked, so he simply took off and refused to pull over again until the officer gave up the chase.

Most notably, Hays was criticized in 1963 for taking the head waiter of the House of Representatives, Ernest Petinaud, to London and Paris with a congressional delegation that he headed. Petinaud's transportation, room and board, and other expenses were paid for by the government. Hays said that the waiter served as a messenger during the trip; he also said Petinaud was invited in part because he was black, and also because he was a nice person who deserved a break.

Hays had a feud with Democratic Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. of New York going back to at least 1956. In that year, Powell supported Dwight Eisenhower for President because he preferred Eisenhower's stance on racial integration. Hays requested that the Democratic caucus strip Powell of his committee assignments, and headed the 1966 probe into Powell's possible misuse of funds for travel. As has been noted, Powell replied in his autobiography that Hays' junket with Petinaud made him guilty of the same impropriety.

Following the 1970 elections, Hays became chairman of the Committee on House Administration and the Joint Committees on Printing and the Library. The House Administration committee controlled such functions as travel vouchers, office expenses, committee budgets, and other matters related to the House. He also chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which distributed campaign funds to House members and candidates.

Hays was accused of using his power on the House Administration committee to bully other congressmen and House employees. Among his orders were the removal of jump seats from the elevators so the operators would have to stand and banning tips for House barbers. After the 1974 elections, a reform effort aimed to remove Hays from this position, but he retained the chairmanship in a 161-111 vote. Meanwhile, in January of 1976, Ohio secretary of state Ted Brown accused Hays of abusing the congressional privilege of free mailing by sending out 160,000 letters to constituents opposing four state bond issues.

Hays was popular enough in his home district that there were rumors that he would seek a higher office, namely the Democratic nomination for the 1976 presidential race, or perhaps enter the Ohio gubernatorial race in 1978. He supported the public financing of presidential races, but not congressional ones, arguing that such regulation would lead to a glut of candidates. He helped craft a campaign finance reform act along these lines in 1974.

There were hints of Hays' possible infidelity prior to the incident in April of 1976. Earlier in the year, Hays divorced his wife, Martha, to whom he had been married for 38 years. His second marriage occurred quite close to the termination of his first, and to a woman some 30 years younger than him: Patricia Peak, the personal secretary in his Ohio office. Five weeks after the marriage, the scandal broke.

Elizabeth Ray had previously had a chance encounter with Marion Clark, a Washington Post reporter, on a train that had been delayed by a paint factory explosion. As the passengers swapped stories, Ray said that she had had quite a few sexual escapades in the nation's capital, including with congressmen. Clark tried to keep in touch with Ray, but lost track when Ray briefly went west to try to make it as an actress. Ray remembered Clark, however, and was eager to spill the beans on Hays after she was thrown out of his office.

Ray said that she had been working on Capitol Hill since 1972, starting as a hostess and then working for a few congressmen. She began working for Hays in April of 1974 as a clerk for the House Administration Committee. As Ray told it, though, "work" was too strong a term for what she did. Basically, she told the reporters, she was a hired mistress, coming in only a few hours per week to have sex with Hays and receiving $14,000 a year for the administrative duties she never performed. "I can't type. I can't file. I can't even answer the phone," she said.

Ray said she knew of other girls working for congressmen who also had to submit to sex to keep their jobs, and made references to "orgies" at the Capitol attended by congressmen. She said that on one occasion, Hays referred to the Fanne Fox incident by saying that any woman that embarrassed him in such a way would be "six feet under."

Clark and Post reporter Rudy Maxa took Ray up on the story and personally witnessed her dinner dates with Hays on a couple of occasions. Ray also allowed them to eavesdrop on a phone call from Hays. When Ray asked what the state of their relationship would be after Hays' wedding, Hays replied, "If you behave yourself, we'll see." He also advised her to start coming into work more often, since he was afraid that Bob Woodward, one of the two Post reporters who had managed to crack open the Watergate scandal, was after him (Woodward was looking into Hays on restaurant expenses, but not the Ray affair). Ray asked, "Do I still have to screw you?" Hays answered, "Well, that never mattered."

The Post ran the story on May 23, 1976. It included Hays response to the question of whether he had been having an affair: "Hell's fire! I'm a very happily married man!" However, the personal witness accounts of the reporters, including a transcription of the phone call, made the denial ring hollow. The story also accused another committee staffer, Paul Panzarella, of living with Hays' niece and receiving a paycheck for doing virtually no work. In later investigations, Hays was accused of giving two other men annual salaries of $25,000 and $10,000 for minimal contributions to the committee.

Two days after his denial, Hays admitted to having a "personal relationship" with Ray but maintained that she had done work for the committee and had not been hired solely for sex. Time opined that Ray was not the most sympathetic character, described by past boyfriends as "nutty, spacey, neurotic, or dim," but that Hays' overall crustiness made him a particularly worthy subject to be knocked down a peg or two. In July of 1976, the Ohio Black Political Assembly called for Hays' expulsion, saying the House had set a precedent for expulsion for misconduct with the Powell decision and needed to be consistent. Noting that Powell, dead since 1972, had said he could come back to haunt those who had removed him because they were guilty of the same sins, a lawyer later referred to Ray as "the ghost of Adam Clayton Powell."

In June, Hays was hospitalized after taking an overdose of sleeping pills, an action he insisted was accidental and not a suicide attempt. The same month, he resigned from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Committee on House Administration, an action that automatically removed him as chair of the Joint Committee on Printing. He said he was resigning due to the accusations and the state of his health, but that he was convinced he would be exonerated and possibly restored. In fact, Hays was easily able to win the Democratic nomination for the 1976 election that month.

Instead of proceeding, Hays announced in August that he would not seek re-election. "The polls show I'd win, but I don't want to give that woman another chance to make an appearance," he said. By this point, a book on the affair entitled "The Washington Fringe Benefit" had been published under Ray's name. Ray herself said she regretted her actions and that she had not intended to bring about Hays' downfall; she even declared, "He's suffered enough. He's gone through enough torture."

On September 1, Hays resigned. The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct immediately dropped its investigation, since they no longer had jurisdiction in the matter. Hays had reportedly asked for the ethics committee to look into the matter in order to show that Ray had actually worked for her salary, though other sources say the resignation was explicitly to escape the committee's investigation.

The matter was not a simple matter of infidelity, however; there was still the question of whether Hays had thrown away government money on useless employees. For a time, the Justice Department looked into whether Hays could be charged with conspiracy to defraud the government or conversion of public funds to private use. In October, three lawsuits seeking to recover Ray's salary were dismissed, and in December the Justice Department closed their investigation without pressing charges. An anonymous source said there was a lack of evidence against Hays, and that Ray's credibility was also an issue.

Douglas Applegate, the Ohio state senator chosen to replace Hays as the Democratic nominee, won the 1976 election and served until his decision to not run for re-election in 1994. Hays' marriage survived the uproar and he returned to his farm in Ohio, where he raised cattle and horses. Only two years after the scandal, he ran for the state house of representatives; his Republican opponent, George Contos, tried to use the scandal against Hays but without success. Hays served one term before being defeated in a re-election attempt. In 1980, he became chairman of the Belmont County Democratic Party, and the next year he was elected to the Belmont County Board of Education. In 1989, he died at a hospital in Wheeling, West Virginia after suffering a heart attack.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "McArthur Inquiry Sought In Capital" in the Toledo Blade on Jun. 25 1949, "Democrats Walk Out of House Probe" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on May 25 1954, "The Lesson" in Time on Jun. 21 1954, "Report Card" in Time on Jul. 12 1954, "Work Done" in Time on Apr. 2 1956, "Ohio Congressman Walks Out of Ike's Middle East Huddle" in the Daily Collegian on Jan. 9 1957, "Hays, Headwaiter Return" in the Toledo Blade on Nov. 12 1963, "Ohio Mayor Says Lawmaker To Find Law Is Not A Joke" in the Toledo Blade on Feb. 20 1966, "Powell Acts May Bring Prosecution" in the Eugene Register-Guard on Dec. 22 1966, "Patman Pushed Out As Panel Chairman" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jan. 23 1975, "Hays Is Charged With Misuse of Mail Privilege" in the Bryan Times on Jan. 5 1976, "Milestones" in Time on Apr. 26 1976, "Closed Session Romance On The Hill" in the Washington Post on May 23 1976, "Indecent Exposure On Capitol Hill" in Time on Jun. 7 1976, "Hays' Resignation Accepted" in the Ellensburg Daily Record on Jun. 21 1976, "How The Washington Post Got The Goods On Wayne Hays" in New York Magazine on Jun. 21 1976, "Liz Ray Could Be 'Adam Powell's Ghost:' Lawyer" in Jet on Jul. 15 1976, "Black Group Wants Hays Expelled" in the Bryan Times on Jul. 27 1976, "Study Reveals Third Marginal Hays' Staffer" in The Ledger on Aug. 5 1976, "Hays Quits Race, Hopes That Finishes Miss Ray" in the Eugene Register-Guard on Aug. 13 1976, "Wayne Hays Is Replaced" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Aug. 17 1976, "One Incumbent Loses" in the Bryan Times on Nov. 8 1976, "Elizabeth Ray" in the Boca Raton News on Sept. 1 1976, "Hays Resigns House Seat" in the Spokesman-Review on Sept. 2 1976, "Capitol Hill's Sex Scandal All Worn Out" in the Eugene Register-Guard on Dec. 9 1976, "Scandal Ads Backfire in Hays' Ohio Contest" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Oct. 21 1978, "Wayne Hays Elected To Ohio School Post" in the Spokesman-Review on Nov. 3 1981, "Wayne L. Hays of Ohio Dies at 77" in the New York Times on Feb. 11 1989, Ohio Politics by Alexander P. Lamis and Mary Anne Sharkey, The Betrayal of the American Right by Murray N. Rothbard and Thomas E. Woods, Philanthropic Foundations In The Twentieth Century by Joseph Charles Kiger, Encyclopedia of White-Collar and Corporate Crime by Lawrence M. Salinger

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Page Morris: hit and run

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Robert Page Walter Morris, more commonly known as either Page Morris or Robert P. Morris, might well be the least scandalous figure to appear on this blog so far. With a long career as a teacher, lawyer, congressman, and judge, Morris was never implicated in any crime or official misconduct. However, his position did earn him more attention for an incident later in his life than he would have otherwise received.

Morris was born in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1853. He attended the College of William and Mary and graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1872. He stayed at the school to become an assistant professor of mathematics for a year, then moved on to teach mathematics at the Texas Military Institute from 1873 to 1876. Morris also became a professor of applied mathematics at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas from 1876 to 1879.

At some point, Morris turned his attention to law, and he was admitted to the bar in 1880. He returned to his hometown to open a private practice. Morris made his first attempt at office in 1884, running for the House of Representatives in 1884 as a Republican, but was unsuccessful. He moved to Duluth, Minnesota, in 1886 and three years later became a municipal judge in that city. In 1894, he became city attorney, and in 1895 he was appointed district judge of Minnesota's 11th district. He resigned this position the next year, when he was elected to the House of Representatives.

Morris won the next two elections as well before declining to run for renomination in 1902. His most notable achievement came in his last term, when he introduced a bill that came to be known as the Morris Bill. The Nelson Act of 1889 had sought to relocate Indians living in Minnesota and take control of the vacated lands. By the turn of the century, the Chippewa Indians had ceded some three million acres to the federal government. However, the government had advanced more money than it had received from timber sales, and so the Indian treasury (overseen by the government) was in deficit. The main problem with the Nelson Act was that it allowed for widespread fraud to take place in the timber sales, thus reducing the amount of money that went into the government coffers.

The Morris Bill sought to prevent such fraud by having the government take on the supervision and logging responsibilities. It changed the measure of timber sales to the quantity after a cut, as opposed to the previous method where the timber was estimated and sold based on the stumps. The bill also had the pine sold by sealed rather than open bid, eliminated a section on dead and downed wood, and created a 225,000-acre forest reserve that was the basis for the Chippewa National Forest. The bill was passed into law in 1902, and one estimate said two to three times as much money would go toward the Indian treasury under the new system.

In February of 1903, one month after Morris left Congress, he was nominated by President Theodore Roosevelt to be U.S. District Court judge for Minnesota. The Senate confirmed the appointment the next month. Morris would hold the position for the next 20 years, occasionally handling cases that showed up on the national scene. In one, he sentenced a man who had sent a threatening letter to Roosevelt to a year in prison; the man said he had been under the influence of cocaine at the time.

Morris himself became the subject of the news in October of 1921. The New York Times reported that he had been sitting in Salt Lake City, Utah around that time; however, he had made his way over to California for some reason. There, in Pasadena, Morris accidentally struck a pedestrian named Elizabeth Holmes with his vehicle. Luckily, Holmes was only slightly injured, but Morris only stopped after motorcycle officers had given chase for seven blocks.

Morris was arrested for failing to stop and render assistance to Holmes, and pleaded not guilty to a charge of reckless driving. A trial was set for November, but Holmes ultimately admitted to a reduced charge of failing to give a traffic signal. He avoided jail and paid a $10 fine.

The accident did not affect Morris's appointment as federal judge, but by April of 1922 he had announced that he would be retiring. He did so in 1923, relocating to Pasadena. In 1924, he died in Rochester, Minnesota.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, The Federal Judicial Center, "A Year For Threatening Roosevelt" in the New York Times on Apr. 7 1905, "Federal Judge Arrested" in the New York Times on Oct. 21 1921, "Accuses Judge of Reckless Driving" in the New York Times on Oct. 22 1921, "Judge Fined in Minnesota" in the New York Times on Nov. 27 1921, Forestry and Irrigation for January 1906 by the American Forestry Association, Law Notes for April 1922 published by the Edward Thompson Company, The White Pine Industry in Minnesota: A History by Agnes M. Larson