- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Seldom has a national political party held a nominating convention so deep in enemy territory. From the northern Bronx to Brooklyn’s Coney Island boardwalk, from eastern Queens to the liberal fortress of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, New York City is wall-to-wall Democrats.

It’s been that way for about 170 years.

Among about 50-plus mayors during that time, only five have been Republicans. George Opdyke was elected during the Civil War; no other reached City Hall until Fiorello La Guardia in 1934. Even the current mayor, Republican Michael Bloomberg, was a Democrat who switched parties to avoid a primary he had no chance to win. The last Republican that New York City supported for president was Calvin Coolidge in 1924.

How did a city that was founded by the conservative Dutch in the 17th century and which disdained the American Revolution in the 18th become a Democratic stronghold in the 19th? One word: immigration.

Created in the 1830s, the New York Democratic Party’s rise to power closely paralleled the city’s role as receiving point for millions of immigrants, people needing help to start new lives from scratch.

Germans, Irish, Jews, Italians and other Europeans who funneled through Ellis Island’s immigration halls — along with blacks arriving from the South before and after the Civil War, and more recently Puerto Ricans and Dominicans — gravitated toward politicians who delivered.

That was the Democratic Party, says Bronx-born former Mayor Edward Koch.

“New York built safety nets before any other government, as far as I know — at least that’s the way we see ourselves — and that means concern for the other person,” said Mr. Koch, a lifelong Democrat who served in Congress and for 12 years at City Hall.

Ever the maverick, Mr. Koch is now backing President Bush for re-election, putting him at odds with his fellow New York Democrats, who outnumber Republicans by more than five to one.

From the mid-1800s, the Democrats exercised power through Tammany Hall, a political machine that had been around for decades but enjoyed its heyday under William “Boss” Tweed, who united rival factions, dispensed patronage — and stole millions in public funds.

“Tammany Hall would help get you a job, and you would help Tammany Hall by giving your vote,” said Kenneth Jackson, a Columbia University professor of history and social sciences. “The Republicans were more concerned about taxes.”

In 1868, the actual Tammany Hall on 14th Street was the setting for the Democratic National Convention, the first of five the city has hosted, most recently in 1992. The Republicans have never hosted a convention here until now.

In the early 1900s, as Tammany influence waned, the city’s Democrats found common cause with the growing organized labor movement. Spurred by the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire that killed 146 female immigrant workers, Democrats joined with unions to forge new safety laws for the New York-based garment industry and other workplaces.

Robert F. Wagner and Alfred E. Smith, who led the Triangle fire investigation, became liberal crusaders on urban issues — Wagner as a judge and U.S. senator, Smith as New York governor and the Democratic presidential nominee in 1928.

While the Irish, Italians and Jews still traded power at City Hall in postwar years, Harlem Rep. Adam Clayton Powell was the forerunner of a black political establishment that produced David Dinkins, the city’s first black mayor, and is led today by Harlem Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide