Jimmy Walker

Last updated

Jimmy Walker
James Walker NYWTS crop.jpg
97th Mayor of New York City
In office
January 1, 1926 September 1, 1932
Preceded by John F. Hylan
Succeeded by Joseph V. McKee
(Acting)
Member of the New York Senate
from the New York County, 13th district
In office
January 1, 1919 December 31, 1925
Preceded by James D. McClelland
Succeeded by John J. Boylan
Member of the New York Senate
from the New York County, 12th district
In office
January 1, 1915 December 31, 1918
Preceded byJacob Koenig
Succeeded by Elmer F. Quinn
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the New York County, 5th district
In office
January 1, 1910 December 31, 1914
Preceded byJohn T. Eagleton
Succeeded byMaurice McDonald
Personal details
Born
James John Walker

(1881-06-19)June 19, 1881
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedNovember 18, 1946(1946-11-18) (aged 65)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s)Janet Walker (m. 1912; div. 1932)
Betty Compton (m. 1933; div. 1941)
ChildrenJames J. Walker Jr. (adopted), Mary Ann Walker (adopted)

James John Walker (June 19, 1881 November 18, 1946), known colloquially as Beau James, was mayor of New York City from 1926 to 1932. A flamboyant politician, he was a liberal Democrat and part of the powerful Tammany Hall machine. He was forced to resign during a corruption scandal.

Contents

Early life and political career

Walker was the son of Irish-born William H. Walker (1842–1916), a carpenter and lumberyard owner who was very active in local politics as a Democratic assemblyman and alderman from Greenwich Village, belying certain accounts of Walker's childhood that stated he grew up in poverty. Walker was not the best of students and dropped out of college before eventually graduating from New York Law School in 1904. Walker's father wanted him to become a lawyer and politician. Walker at first decided that he would rather write songs and be involved in the music industry but he eventually entered politics in 1909 and subsequently passed the bar exam in 1912. [1]

Walker was a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co., 5th D.) in 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913 and 1914. He was a member of the New York State Senate from 1915 to 1925, sitting in the 138th, 139th, 140th, 141st (all four 13th D.), 142nd, 143rd, 144th, 145th, 146th, 147th and 148th New York State Legislatures (all seven 12th D.); and was Minority Leader from 1920 to 1922; Temporary President of the State Senate from 1923 to 1924; and Minority Leader again in 1925. In the Senate he strongly opposed Prohibition.

Running for mayor, 1925

After his years in the Senate, Walker set his sights on the 1925 election for Mayor of New York. Beginning with the 1925 Democratic primary for mayor, Walker knew that to ultimately win the mayoral election he had to defeat the mayor, John Francis Hylan. Walker's reputation as a flamboyant man-about-town made him a hero to many working-class voters; he was often seen at legitimate theaters and illegitimate speakeasies. Walker was a clothes horse: his valet packed 43 suits for his trip to Europe in August 1927. [2] On the other hand, his reputation for tolerating corruption made him suspect to middle-class and moralistic voters. Governor Alfred E. Smith was his mentor. [1] Smith was a staunch supporter since Walker backed many social and cultural issues that were considered politically important, such as social welfare legislation, legalization of boxing, repeal of blue laws against Sunday baseball games, and condemning the Ku Klux Klan. Their mutual opposition to Prohibition was especially important in their political relationship. [1]

Smith knew the secret to how Walker could win the mayoral race and overcome his tarnished reputation was for Smith to guide Walker's every move. Smith used his base in the strong political machine of Tammany Hall to secure victory. Finally, Walker himself had to be willing to change some of his more unscrupulous ways or at least provide a cover for his indiscretions. As with many things in Walker's life, he chose the latter. Instead of ending his visits to speakeasies and his friendships with chorus girls, he took those activities behind the closed doors of a penthouse funded by Tammany Hall. [3]

Walker defeated Hylan in the Democratic primary, and after defeating Republican mayoral candidate Frank D. Waterman in the general election he became mayor of New York.

Mayor, 1926–1932

In his initial years as mayor, Walker saw the city prosper and many public works projects gain traction. In his first year, Walker created the Department of Sanitation, unified New York's public hospitals, improved many parks and playgrounds, and guided the Board of Transportation to enter into contract for the construction of an expanded subway system (the Independent Subway System or IND). Under Walker's administration, new highways and a dock for superliners were also built. [4] He even managed to maintain the five-cent subway fare despite a threatened strike by the workers. [3]

Walker's term was also known for the proliferation of speakeasies during Prohibition. It is a noted aspect of his career as mayor and as a member of the State Senate that Walker was strongly opposed to Prohibition. As mayor, Walker led his administration in challenging the Eighteenth Amendment by replacing the police commissioner with an inexperienced former state banking commissioner. The new police commissioner immediately dissolved the Special Service Squad. Since Walker did not feel that drinking was a crime, he discouraged the police from enforcing Prohibition law or taking an active role unless it was to curb excessive violations or would prove to be newsworthy. [5] His affairs with "chorus girls" were widely known, and he left his wife, Janet, for showgirl Betty Compton. The first U.S. arrival in New York City of best known Anastasia Romanov impostor, Anna Anderson, in 1928 and the eventual public denial of her by the exiled Romanovs and return to Germany in 1931 also occurred during Walker's mayoralty.

Walker was re-elected by an overwhelming margin in 1929, defeating Socialist Norman Thomas. Walker's fortunes turned downward with the economy after the stock-market crash of 1929. Patrick Joseph Hayes, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, denounced him, implying that the immorality of the mayor, both personal and political in tolerating "girlie magazines" and casinos, was a cause of the economic downturn. It was one of the causes that led to Tammany Hall's pulling its support for Walker. [6]

Scandal and resignation

Increasing social unrest led to investigations into corruption within Walker's administration, and he was eventually forced to testify before the investigative committee of Judge Samuel Seabury, the Seabury Commission (also known as the Hofstadter Committee). Walker caused his own downfall by accepting large sums of money from businessmen looking for municipal contracts. [6]

One surprise witness in the Seabury investigation was Vivian Gordon. She informed the investigators that women were falsely arrested and accused of prostitution by the New York City Police Department. Police officers were given more money in their paychecks. After her testimony, Gordon was suspiciously found strangled in a park in the Bronx. That demonstrated to New Yorkers that corruption could lead to terrible consequences and that Walker might ultimately, in some way, be responsible for her death. [7]

With New York City appearing as a symbol of corruption under Mayor Walker, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt knew he had to do something about Walker and his administration. Knowing that the state constitution could allow an elected mayor to be removed from office, Roosevelt felt compelled to do so but risked losing Tammany Hall's support for the Democratic nomination for President. On the other hand, if Roosevelt did nothing or let Walker off, the national newspapers would consider him weak. [7]

Facing pressure from Roosevelt, Walker eluded questions about his personal bank accounts, stating instead that the amounts he received were "beneficences" and not bribes. [1] He delayed any personal appearances until after Roosevelt's nomination was secured. It was then that the embattled mayor could fight no longer. Months from his national election, Roosevelt decided that he must remove Walker from office. Walker agreed and resigned on September 1, 1932. He went on a grand tour of Europe with Compton, his Ziegfeld girl. [3] He announced on November 12, 1932, while aboard the SS Conte Grande, that he had "no desire or intention of ever holding public office again." [8] Walker stayed in Europe until the danger of criminal prosecution appeared remote. [6] There, he married Compton.

The grave of Jimmy Walker in Gate of Heaven Cemetery Jimmy Walker.JPG
The grave of Jimmy Walker in Gate of Heaven Cemetery

Later life and legacy

After his return to the United States, Walker acted as head of Majestic Records, which included such popular performing artists as Louis Prima and Bud Freeman. [1] In 1940 he had his own radio series on WHN, Jimmy Walker's Opportunity Hour, with Henry Gladstone serving as announcer. [9] He died at the age of 65 of a brain hemorrhage. [10] He was interred in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.

When Walker was a member of the New York State Senate, he sponsored the "Walker Law" to legalize boxing in New York. He was honored a number of times over the years by the boxing community. Walker is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and was given the Edward J. Neil Trophy in 1945 for his service to the sport.

He also spent many summers in Atlantic Beach, NY, sometimes during his term as mayor, and after, as he was friends with its founder, William Austin.

A romanticized version of Walker's tenure as mayor was presented in the 1957 film Beau James , starring Bob Hope. This was a somewhat accurate depiction of Walker, who during his time as mayor had become a symbol of the jazz age romanticism. [6] The film was based on a biography of Walker, also titled Beau James, written by Gene Fowler. A song by Dean Martin, similarly titled "Beau James", presented a highly idealized and romantic interpretation of his tenure as mayor. A book was also the basis of Jimmy , a stage musical about Walker that had a brief Broadway run from October 1969 to January 1970. The show starred Frank Gorshin as Walker and Anita Gillette as Betty Compton. [11] There is also a song about Walker in the stage musical Fiorello! , "Gentleman Jimmy". [12]

Footage of Walker is used in the 1983 Woody Allen film Zelig , with Walker being one of the guests during Zelig's visit to William Randolph Hearst's mansion in San Simeon, California.

The 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here , by Sinclair Lewis, lists the exiles in Paris as "Jimmy Walker, and a few ex-presidents from South America and Cuba". [13]

Walker was referenced in "Last Call", the December 6, 2010, episode of the ABC television series Castle .

The political and criminal activity surrounding Walker's 1929 campaign features heavily in Tom Bradby's 2009 novel Blood Money.

See also

Related Research Articles

Fiorello La Guardia American politician

Fiorello Henry La Guardia was an American attorney and politician who represented New York in the House of Representatives and served as the 99th Mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945. Known for his irascible, energetic, and charismatic personality and diminutive stature, La Guardia is acclaimed as one of the greatest mayors in American history. Though a Republican, La Guardia was frequently cross-endorsed by other parties, including the rival Democratic Party, under New York's electoral fusion laws.

Al Smith American statesman and governor

Alfred Emanuel Smith was an American politician who served four terms as Governor of New York and was the Democratic Party's candidate for president in 1928.

Tammany Hall New York Democratic political organization most influential in the 19th century

Tammany Hall, also known as the Society of St. Tammany, the Sons of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order, was a New York City political organization founded in 1786 and incorporated on May 12, 1789, as the Tammany Society. It became the main local political machine of the Democratic Party, and played a major role in controlling New York City and New York State politics and helping immigrants, most notably the Irish, rise in American politics from the 1790s to the 1960s. It typically controlled Democratic Party nominations and political patronage in Manhattan after the mayoral victory of Fernando Wood in 1854, and used its patronage resources to build a loyal, well-rewarded core of district and precinct leaders; after 1850 the vast majority were Irish Catholics due to mass immigration from Ireland during and after the Irish Potato Famine.

James Farley American businessman and politician

James Aloysius Farley was an American politician from New York State and a member of the Democratic Party. He simultaneously served as chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Postmaster General under the first two administrations of President Franklin Roosevelt. A business executive and dignitary and a Knight of Malta, Farley was commonly referred to as a political kingmaker, and he was responsible for Roosevelt's rise to the presidency. Farley was the campaign manager for New York State politician Alfred E. Smith's 1922 gubernatorial campaign and Roosevelt's 1928 and 1930 gubernatorial campaigns as well as Roosevelt's presidential campaigns of 1932 and 1936. Farley predicted large landslides in both, and revolutionized the use of polling data.

Robert F. Wagner American politician

Robert Ferdinand Wagner I was an American politician. He was a Democratic U.S. Senator from New York from 1927 to 1949.

Carmine DeSapio American politician (1908–2004)

Carmine Gerard DeSapio was an American politician from New York City. He was the last head of the Tammany Hall political machine to dominate municipal politics.

Robert F. Wagner Jr. American diplomat and politician

Robert Ferdinand Wagner II was an American politician who served three terms as the mayor of New York City, from 1954 through 1965. When running for his third term, he broke with the Tammany Hall leadership, ending the reign of clubhouse bosses in city politics.

The Hofstadter Committee, also known as the Seabury investigations, was a joint legislative committee formed by the New York State Legislature on behalf of Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt to probe into corruption in New York City, especially the magistrate's courts and police department in 1931. It led to major changes in the method of arrest, bail and litigation of suspects in New York City. It also coincided with the decline in Tammany Hall's political influence in New York State politics.

Governorship of Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected governor of New York in 1928 and served from 1 January 1929 until his election as President of the United States in 1932. His term as governor provided him with a high-visibility position in which to prove himself as well as provide a major base from which to launch a bid for the presidency.

James Joseph Hines was a Democratic Party politician and one of the most powerful leaders of Tammany Hall in New York City.

Beau James is a 1957 film based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Gene Fowler. The film stars Bob Hope in a rare dramatic role as Jimmy Walker, the colorful but controversial Mayor of New York City from 1926–32.

1914 New York state election

The 1914 New York state election was held on November 3, 1914, to elect the governor, the lieutenant governor, the secretary state, the state comptroller, the attorney general, the state treasurer, the state engineer, a U.S. Senator and a judge of the New York Court of Appeals, as well as all members of the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate, and delegates-at-large to the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1915.

1917 New York City mayoral election

The 1917 New York City mayoral election replaced sitting mayor John P. Mitchel, a reform Democrat running on the Fusion Party ticket, with John F. Hylan, the regular Democrat supported by Tammany Hall and William Randolph Hearst.

Samuel Seabury (judge) American judge

Samuel Seabury was an American lawyer and politician from New York. Seabury is famous for dedicating himself to a campaign against the corrupt Tammany dominance of New York City politics. He later presided over the extensive 1930–32 investigations of corruption in the New York City municipal government, which became known as the 'Seabury Hearings'. Seabury became a Georgist after reading Progress and Poverty.

<i>Jimmy</i> (musical)

Jimmy is a musical with a score by Bill Jacob, lyrics by Patti Jacob, dance arrangements by John Berkman, and a book by Melville Shavelson and Morrie Ryskind. The musical describes the rise and fall of New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker, whose career was marred by corruption. It was a romanticized version of Walker's tenure as mayor, as presented in the 1957 film Beau James, starring Bob Hope. The film came from a biography of Walker, also titled Beau James, written by Gene Fowler.

John H. McCooey American politician

John Henry McCooey was an American politician most notable for his involvement as a political boss in the Democratic Party political machine of Brooklyn. McCooey served as chair of the Kings County Democratic Party from 1910 until his death in 1934.

John Ambrose Hastings was an American politician from New York.

Samuel Harold Hofstadter was an American lawyer and politician from New York.

Al Smith 1928 presidential campaign

Al Smith, Governor of New York, was a candidate for President of the United States in the 1928 election. His run was notable in that he was the first Catholic nominee of a major party, he opposed Prohibition, and he enjoyed broad appeal among women, who had won the right of suffrage in 1920.

Al Smith, former governor of New York and the 1928 Democratic presidential nominee, ran an unsuccessful campaign for the party's 1932 presidential nomination. He ultimately lost to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his one-time political ally, who would go on to win the general election.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Connolly, James. "Walker, James J.", American National Biography , Oxford University Press, February 1, 2000.
  2. David Wallace, Capital of the World: A Portrait of New Your City in the Roaring Twenties (2011) p. 11
  3. 1 2 3 Young, Greg. "Mayor Jimmy Walker: a finer class of corruption". The Bowery Boys: New York City History . Retrieved May 27, 2009.
  4. Allen, Oliver E. (1993). The Tiger: The Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall . Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. p.  237. ISBN   0-201-62463-X.
  5. Michael Lerner, Dry Manhattan (2008). pp. 160–70
  6. 1 2 3 4 Jackson, Kenneth T., Keller, Lisa; Flood, Nancy, eds. The Encyclopedia of New York City 2nd ed. Yale University Press, 2010.
  7. 1 2 Golway, Terry. "The Making of F.D.R., 1932: A Rollicking New York Tale", The New York Observer , October 1, 2000. Retrieved November 3, 2013.
  8. United Press, "Walker Quits Political Life", The San Bernardino Daily Sun, San Bernardino, California, Sunday 13 November 1932, Volume 39, page 2.
  9. Ackerman (March 16, 1940). "Radio Review: Program Reviews - James J. Walker". Billboard . 52 (11). p. 8.
  10. "Former Mayor Walker Of New York Dies". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette . November 19, 1946. Retrieved March 17, 2010.
  11. Jimmy at the Internet Broadway Database
  12. Fiorello!: Production Songs on the Internet Broadway Database
  13. It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. p. 349.
New York State Assembly
Preceded by
John T. Eagleton
New York State Assembly
New York County, 5th District

1910–1914
Succeeded by
Maurice McDonald
New York State Senate
Preceded by
James D. McClelland
New York State Senate
13th District

1915–1918
Succeeded by
John J. Boylan
Preceded by
Jacob Koenig
New York State Senate
12th District

1919–1925
Succeeded by
Elmer F. Quinn
Political offices
Preceded by
James A. Foley
Minority Leader in the New York State Senate
1920–1922
Succeeded by
Clayton R. Lusk
Preceded by
Clayton R. Lusk
President pro tempore of the New York State Senate
1923–1924
Succeeded by
John Knight
Preceded by
Clayton R. Lusk
Minority Leader in the New York State Senate
1925
Succeeded by
Bernard Downing
Preceded by
John F. Hylan
Mayor of New York City
1926–1932
Succeeded by
Joseph V. McKee