❓ How did New Jersey earn its reputation for corruption?

❗ Italy had Machiavelli. New Jersey had Frank Hague

💰 Meet the father of government corruption in the Garden State

New Jersey has a long and storied history of dirty politics and political scandal.

Dozens of government officials have been sent to jail for their dirty deeds, yet there always seems to be another scandal right around the corner.

A poll released by Fairleigh Dickinson University in May 2023 found a staggering 80% of New Jersey residents believe the state's politicians were corrupt.

Poll Director Dan Cassino said simply: "This is Jersey. People expect some degree of corruption."

How did it become this way?

This is not unique to New Jersey, of course. Every state and every nation has their own brand of corruption.

Dating back to the Renaissance, Niccolò Machiavelli was teaching those in power how to stay in power using deception, treachery and crime.

New Jersey had its own Machiavelli: Frank Hague.

Frank Hauge ruled Jersey City for three decades from 1917 to 1947.

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Hague’s power and influence stretched far beyond Jersey City. His political machine was among the most powerful in the nation and had influence throughout New Jersey and into the top levels of government in Washington.

In 1938, Life Magazine did a profile on the man they dubbed "Boss Hague.”

They described him as “tall, lean, fit and, the owner of one of the most imperious and arrogant faces in the world.”

“A born leader since his boyhood days in Jersey City's toughest slums," the article continues, “He is loud, profane and ungrammatical, but he dresses with conservative elegance. Hague rules Jersey City by the old time boss methods of fear, force and favor.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Frank Hague
Jersey City's Mayor Frank Hague (4), vice chairman of the National Democratic Committee and Democratic leader of New Jersey, joined this crowd as it pressed close around President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s car during a political tour which started in Newark, New Jersey, and went through New York City on Oct. 28, 1940. Seated with the president (1) Gov. A. Harry Moore of New Jersey, and Charles Edison (3) former Navy secretary and now Democratic candidate for governor of New Jersey. (AP Photo/New York Daily Mirror)

Hague controlled the votes

The root of Hauge’s power was the way he controlled votes, not just in Jersey City and Hudson County, but for any statewide election.

On election day, Hague would hold off reporting vote totals from Hudson County.

If his endorsed candidate was losing, he made sure there were enough votes coming in to reverse the election results.

Examples of Hauge single-handedly flipping elections was included in a study of American political bosses done by San Jose State University.

Frank Hague
Mayor of Jersey City Frank Hague is shown leaving his private office to answer a summons in Jersey City, N.J., Nov. 22, 1928. Mayor Hague was placed under arrest by Frank Garrison, sergeant-at-arms of the New Jersey State senate, on a warrant issued by the legislature charging contempt. The Mayor was released in bail immediately after his arrest pending a hearing on a writ of habeas corpus. (AP Photo)

In 1919, Hauge supported Democratic state Senator and fellow Hudson County resident Edward Edwards for governor. Republican Newton Bugbee was ahead by 21,000 votes. Hauge turned in 35,000 votes for Edwards from Hudson County.

In the 1922 and 1925 gubernatorial races, Hauge’s candidates also trailed by large numbers. However, by the end of the night, Hudson County vote totals again swung the election.

Hague’s use of voter fraud to secure power was equally as legendary and brazen.
Records from 1937 show 147,000 residents were 21 years old or older, which was the legal voting age at the time. However, more than 160,000 registered voters were reported.

The legendary voter fraud is what caused the late Gov. Brendan Byrne to famously quip, “I want to be buried in Hudson County so that I can remain active in politics.”

Show me the money

His salary never exceeded $8,500 per year and he never reported any other legitimate income. Yet when he left office, Hauge had an estimated net worth of over $10 million.

He even had a special drawer in his office desk that he would push open toward a seated guest. The guest was supposed to drop money in the drawer.

Frank Hague
Alfred E. Smith, Jr., left, Mayor Frank Hague of Jersey City, center, and former New York Gov. Alfred E. Smith pose for a photo during Smith's vacation with his son in Deal, N.J., July 15, 1930. (AP Photo)

As Life Magazine noted in 1938, “Boss Hague lives luxuriously, has acquired a large personal fortune. But even when his refusal to answer questions got him arrested for contempt of New Jersey's Legislature during an investigation in 1928, he has steadfastly declined to specify the sources of his wealth. In 1930 he paid $60,000 to settle income tax troubles with the Federal Government.

What makes all of this even more spectacular is that Hague was never convicted of any crimes.

Frank Hague
Mayor Frank Hague of Jersey City is photographed leaving the White House after talking to President Roosevelt in Washington, Jan. 5, 1934. (AP Photo)

Then and now

While most New Jersey politicians are not nearly as brazen as Frank Hague, the political structures he created to influence elections and buy votes remain intact.

County political bosses still yield enormous power to hand select candidates and give the preferential placement on the ballot.

While cash money is not exchanged through secret deck compartments (we hope), the ability of politicians to influence decisions and policy that can result in personal enrichment remains. There is also leverage in terms of securing employment for friends and supporters.

Frank Hague
Mayor Frank Hague of Jersey City, center, throws out the first ball of the season before the opener in his city between the Buffalo Bisons and the Jersey City Giants in Jersey City, N.J., April 22, 1943. Hague is flanked by the managers of the two teams: Jersey City's Gabby Hartnett, left, and Bison Greg Mulleavy. (AP Photo)

All of the mechanisms to achieve wealth and power through politics can be traced back to Frank Hague.

Hague died in New York City on New Year’s Day 1956.

As his casket left the funeral home, news reports describe a woman who held an American flag and a sign that read, “God have mercy on his sinful, greedy soul.”

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