While much of the report is a rather dry recounting of the management and financing of Manhattan government, portions show such practices as excessive patronage hiring, acceptance of poor quality street paving work, and skirting the law with respect to soliciting bids for major expenses. It suggested that William Dalton, Commissioner of Public Works in Manhattan was an unqualified party hack. And, it suggested that Borough President Ahearn used a variety of means to raid the public treasury. On November 24, 1906, The New York Times reported:
It so happened that at this same time Ahearn was in conflict with Mayor McClellan. McClellan proposed that Governor Hughes investigate Ahearn’s administration. Governor Hughes kicked the ball back to McClellan saying that he had the authority to investigate, which he then did. Ahearn refused to cooperate with the investigation or attend hearings. However, he did fire Dalton. Dalton, in turn testified that Ahearn offered him business opportunities in exchange for serving as a scapegoat. District Attorney William Jerome became involved and pressured Dalton for more testimony. Bad news continued through the spring and early summer of 1907 with Commissioner of Accounts (and future mayor), John Purroy Mitchel, taking up yet another investigation. In July, McClellan referred the matter back to Hughes while the City Club asked the governor to remove Ahearn charging “misconduct, incompetence, neglect and waste of city moneys.” Hughes then conducted and additional investigation and on December 9, removed Ahearn. The aldermen then promptly reelected Ahearn as Borough President overriding the Mayor’s ruling that he was ineligible. The Mayor barred him from the Board of Estimate. By December he was sued first by New York State Attorney General Jackson and then by the City Club and the Citizens’ Union each seeking to permanently remove him from office. In 1909, the courts finally and permanently removed him.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of City Betterment, newly converted into a separate organization renamed the Bureau of Municipal Research, conducted other investigations and made more reports suggesting more corruption. Mayor McClellan, who, after all, was still a member of Tammany, did not always act as the Bureau requested. Tammany, was not so fond of this organization. Consequently in 1909, Parks Commissioner, Henry Smith referred to it as the “Municipal Besmirch Society,” which soon became the “Bureau of Municipal Besmirch.” The Bureau of Municipal Research embraced this attack, labeling it free adverting. It flourished under different names for the better part of the next century. Its archives were donated to Baruch College in 2009 and recently become accessible for research. You can search them here.
Daniel W. Williams is a Professor at Baruch College, CUNY.
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