UNION—On Monday, May 17, at 7 p.m., the Union Public Library will host a presentation on two of New Jersey’s most famous and colorful political figures of its past: Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague, and Atlantic City Mayor Enoch L. “Nucky” Johnson. Presenting the program will be award-winning journalist Steven Hart, author of the acclaimed book “The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder and the Construction of America’s First Superhighway.”
Hague and Johnson were political bosses in the classic mode. They reigned over their respective realms for three decades – Hague starting in 1917, and Johnson from 1911. Both hobnobbed with presidents and wielded national influence. Both were stupendously venal. Yet in many ways they were mirror images.
Hague was a Democrat, Johnson was a Republican. Though he tolerated graft and bootlegging, Hague was moralistic; he tolerated no vice in Jersey City. Johnson ran Atlantic City as a wide-open town, with every vice catered to.
Hague was content to let gangsters run booze in his backyard so long as they paid their way, but didn’t hobnob with them. Johnson was one of the “Group of Seven” that controlled the East Coast rum-running during Prohibition, and he personally hosted a gangster convention attended by Al Capone and mobsters from all over the country.
Hague was a frequent target of reformers, but nobody laid a glove on him; Johnson was jailed for several years, then returned to Atlantic City upon his release.
By the time their mayoralty ended – Hague’s by self-imposed retirement in 1947, Johnson’s by his Federal imprisonment in 1941 – New Jersey’s political landscape, if not its seeming propensity for corruption, had forever changed.
New Jersey native Steven Hart is a veteran journalist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and other publications and on-line venues. His book “The Last Three Miles,” about the brutal history and political machinations surrounding the building of the Pulaski Skyway, was published by The New Press in 2007.
Admission to the program is free, and refreshments are provided. The Main Library is located at 1980 Morris Avenue in Union, New Jersey. For more information, call the reference department at 1-908-851-5452.
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