The Downfall of Jimmy Walker: Judge Seabury Cleans Up New York
In 1930 Judge Samuel Seabury began a series of investigations into New York City corruption that still stand as a landmark in municipal housecleaning. The widespread and shocking exposures reached their climax two years later with the cross-examination of gay Mayor Jimmy Walker by Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. HERBERT MITGANG,a journalist for the New York TIMESand author of LINCOLN AS THEY SAW HIM, has written a lively biography of Judge Seabury which will be published next March by Lippincott under the title THE MAN WHO RODE THE TIGER.
AN HOUR before midnight, on August 26, 1930, the telephone rang in Judge Samuel Seabury’s suite at the Carlton Hotel in London. A reporter for an American wire service was calling. Was it true that he had been named to investigate the magistrates’ courts in New York? Did he have any statement to make about his appointment, about corruption, about Mayor Jimmy Walker? The judge, puzzled, answered: no comment, not a word until he received official notification. He replaced the phone on the hook, pondered the cryptic information for a few moments, and then went back to reading The Just Lawyer, a rare first edition printed in 1631 that he had tracked down after years of searching all over the British Isles. As was his custom, he stayed up reading well alter midnight.
The following morning a cable arrived from the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court. It informed Seabury that he had been appointed referee to conduct an investigation of the magistrates’ courts of New York City and that the appointment order had come at the request of Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt.
He handed the cable to his wife, Maud, and explained a little of the background of the trouble that was brewing in Manhattan’s criminal courts. He said that they would have to cut short their vacation and return to the United States at once. Maud, as usual, agreed with him. They arranged to take a fast boat, the Aquitania, home to New York.
When the ship arrived in the Narrows, September 5, 1930, the Seaburys received the first inkling of the importance of the investigation. Shipboarding reporters demanded statements, and photographers asked for just one more. What was his plan? Would it include just the magistrates under fire for buying their seats on the bench or all of them? Did he intend to look under the dome of city hall?
Judge Seabury played it close. He said that any statement would have to come from the Appellate Division, which had appointed him. He said he would consult with the justices of that court, if possible, that very afternoon. He would not comment on any of the magistrates under fire, but he promised to make his moves known publicly in due time.
In the following weeks, before plunging into the actual investigation, Judge Seabury delved into the circumstances that had led up to his appointment. All the currents and crosscurrents of city, state, and national politics flowed beneath this investigation. The grand sachems of Tammany and the illustrious figures in the state — Franklin Roosevelt, governor and presidential office seeker; Al Smith, defeated presidential candidate and symbol of Tammany respectability; Jimmy Walker, mayor and beloved cloak of Tammany rottenness; Fiorello La Guardia, congressman and sidewalk reformer — would all be affected by this man Seabury.
The fifty-seven-year-old reformer in pincenez, a namesake and descendant of the first Episcopal bishop of the United States, had begun his career before the turn of the century, campaigning for Henry George, the Single Tax candidate for mayor of New York. As lawyer and judge, he had spoken like a muckraker, defending the trade unions and advocating municipal ownership of public utilities. He became the youngest supreme court judge and later resigned from the court of appeals to run for governor on a pro-Wilson Democratic ticket in 1916. But Tammany knifed his campaign. The judge (the title remained — and matched his mien — long after he returned to private practice) never forgot that Tammany had eclipsed his career.
Now Tammany was again riding high. The city was cut up into profitable enclaves, each ruled by local club leaders, who could be in on the take so long as they played the game of delivering votes and dividing loot. While Mayor Walker had his basic salary increased by subservient city legislators to $40.000 a year (this at a time of depression, when the relief rolls swelled daily), eighty-five district leaders received token salaries of more than $7000 a year each for jobs not requiring their presence, such as county clerk, register, deputy sheriff, and keepers of various records and seals. Beneath the leaders were roll calls of clubhouse fixers who did such welfare tasks as killing traffic tickets, on the lowest level, to arranging for judicial “contracts” and departmental licenses, on the highest. A nice steamship pier on the Hudson, perhaps? Fifty grand.
If there was an indictment to be quashed, whether of a juvenile robber or a businessman violating fire laws, the normal place to go for the fix was the Tammany clubhouse. There smart young attorneys with political ambitions did the menial chores of repairing human failings. The attorneys loyally giving such free legal aid, under the watchful eye of the district leader, could look forward to rich rewards. They went up through the noncommissioned ranks — assistant district attorney, secretary to a judge, city councilman — to officers’ ranks of state assemblyman or senator with a refereeship on the side, magistrate or municipal court judge, city, county, and supreme court judges. For most offices there would be a sizable contribution to “the club.” Part of this was legitimate — to defray the cost of a political campaign; part of this might not be — the club leader’s accounting was personal. Some officials and appointees paid outright, and according to close students of New York’s judgeship deals, Republicans as well as Democrats were involved. The going rate for magistrate was said to be $10,000, for a general sessions or supreme court judge about $25,000 — paid in crisp, undeclared currency.
MURDER, robbery, a mysterious disappearance of a philandering supreme court judge, and bribery to pay for the position of a Manhattan magistrate all were links in a chain that led to, directly or circuitously, Tammany Hall. Big-time gamblers operated inside some of the major clubhouses, and gambling led to all the felonies in the book.
The unsolved murder of gambler Arnold Rothstein dogged Walker’s administration. Congressman La Guardia had made the Rothstein case a campaign issue in the fall of 1929, during his unsuccessful effort to wrest city hall from Walker. He charged that Magistrate Albert H. Vitale, who was lining up the Italian vote for Walker in the Bronx, was a friend of Rothstein’s and had borrowed $19,600 from the gambler. The revelation could not defeat the idolized “night mayor of New York,” but it did eventually bring an investigation by the Bar Association which led to Vitale’s downfall. A month after the election, a seriocomic incident took place that proved Magistrate Vitale’s underworld connections were of the finest.
It happened at a testimonial dinner of the Tepecano Democratic Club in the Bronx. The guest of honor, the Honorable Albert H. Vitale, stood up and began to acknowledge the plaudits of the crowd gathered at the Roman Gardens. Suddenly six masked men, pistols drawn, entered the private dining room and lined up the guests against the wall. A city detective present handed his revolver to the robbers without attempting to use it. Vitale slipped off his diamond ring and hid it in his pants; a former magistrate, Michael Delagi, hid his diamond ring in his shoe. The six masked men took thousands of dollars from the guests. This unscheduled piece of entertainment embarrassed the honorary presidentfor-life of the Tepecano Democrats, especially since it came in front of his friends in the middle of his speech. Vitale left the Roman Gardens at 2 A.M. and dashed to his Democratic clubhouse. Within two hours, Vitale saw to it that the detective’s stolen gun was returned. He also rounded up all the money and jewelry that had been stolen at his party and restored the loot to the rightful owners. Magistrate Vitale knew how to reach “the boys.”
In the same month that Judge Seabury was appointed referee to investigate the magistrates’ courts, a supreme court justice, Joseph Force Crater, stepped into a taxi in front of a restaurant on West Forty-fifth Street, waved good-bye with his Panama hat to two friends, and was never seen again. Crater eventually became Case No. 13595 on the records of the Bureau of Missing Persons, and the subject of a search that cost an estimated quarter of a million dollars.
The judge’s disappearance was concealed for nearly a month, and then some extrajudicial matters about his off-bench activities were brought out. That night he had waved good-bye to Sally Lou Ritz, a striking Follies girl; Crater had a name as a big spender and roué who played the Ziegfeld chorus line. The chorines supplemented the divorcee he kept for seven years in a midtown apartment. Downtown, on lower Fifth Avenue, he lived the role of the happily married man. Crater was close to the New York Democratic machine. He had served as president of a Tammany club on the West Side of Manhattan and as Senator Robert Wagner’s law secretary. Governor Roosevelt took the advice of Senator Wagner and other Tammany stalwarts and appointed Crater to the supreme court. The special grand jury looking into Crater’s finances for clues to his disappearance discovered a shady real-estate deal in his past. They also ran down a rumor that when he was appointed, there had been a shift in his bank account of $22,500, and, by a coincidence, this was equivalent to one year’s salary. In a time of bought judgeships, the conclusion was drawn that Crater had paid Tammany for the opportunity to dispense justice.
It looked as if Mayor Walker’s underlings were trying to steal the town. The Depression was not affecting Tammany’s district leaders and political judges. The living was easy under the loose code of Walker morality.
SEABURY made his first moves quietly. The revelations by the grand jury and his own behindthe-scenes talks with the Appellate Division justices caused him to enlarge the scope of the inquiry immediately. He insisted — and the power was granted — that not only the magistrates but the attorneys practicing in the lower criminal courts be investigated for “corrupt, fraudulent, unlawful or unprofessional” conduct. And he appointed as his chief counsel Isidor Jacob Kresel, on the unanimous advice of the city’s bar groups.
Kresel, who was later forced to resign because of Tammany’s counterattack, was one of the titans of the New York bar. He had been an assistant district attorney at the age of twentythree, in 1901, under William Travers Jerome. He was counsel to the New York Assembly during the impeachment of Governor Sulzer. He would frequently give up his lucrative private practice as a trial lawyer in order to help the Bar Association carry out a crusade. Only the year before he had prosecuted and caused to be disbarred dozens of lawyers involved in ambulance chasing. For an immigrant from Galicia who had gone through college by helping to tutor less gifted young men at Columbia, he had lifted himself to the top of his profession.
The imperious Seabury and the diminutive Kresel (the crack was made that “he could run under a table wearing a high hat”) made a formidable combination. It was Kresel who set down the pattern for the investigation. He knew where the bodies and figures were buried from long experience as a prosecutor. He knew that neither juries nor Tammany judges could dispute records. His technique, therefore, was to perform the unspectacular job of research where it hurt: incometax returns, bank deposit slips, savings accounts of an accused’s family, brokerage statements, real-estate and other filed papers.
The first public hearing was conducted by Seabury a little over a month after he had received his designation as referee. Anyone expecting sensational revelations was disappointed. Seabury simply defined the scope of the inquiry and promised that preliminary investigations would precede public hearings. Then he looked around the room and added something whose significance would affect the lives of a score or more of younglawyers in the next years. “Especially to the junior members of the Bar, from which the necessary legal staff must largely be recruited, I say: Give me your services in this work and you will have no cause to regret the sacrifices you may make, because your labors will be contributory to promoting justice in a judicial tribunal where the interests of the poor and helpless are primarily affected.”
The response to his plea for service to the bar and to the city of New York was not overwhelming; large numbers of attorneys did not turn up at Judge Seabury’s law office or at the state building on Centre Street the next day. But, one by one, Judge Seabury began to assemble a group of young attorneys he would forevermore call “my boys.” Some seemed to come in almost casually; others by careful scouting and recommendation. Most were under thirty-two years of age, and a few were barely out of law school. Each was interviewed privately by Seabury, and, as they recalled it, the test was more enthusiasm for the cause than experience. They proved to be inspired and oftentimes brilliant as legal bird dogs and general roustabouts in municipal affairs. In later years, Seabury’s boys marveled at the quiet way in which he brought out their best work and instincts. And loyalty.
Few of his associates and assistants knew this man Seabury intimately, then or ever. Few were aware that the curtain was about to go up on not one but three investigations: the magistrates’ courts, the office of the district attorney, the affairs of the entire city of New York. These fullfledged inquiries, culminating in the resignation of Mayor Walker and leading to the Fusion government of Mayor La Guardia, would last two years. Certainly only Seabury’s intimates knew that his whole life’s righteousness was the fierce brief he was about to bring to bear against Tammany.
THE magistrates’ courts inquiry almost immediately uncovered a terrible story in which innocent women were framed as prostitutes by an unholy alliance of police officers, bondsmen, lawyers, assorted court clerks and fixers, magistrates, and, inevitably, the politicians in power responsible for political appointments around the lowest criminal courts in New York City. The most notorious tale was told by a stool pigeon, Chile Mapocha Acuna, thereafter the subject of a limerick in which he was called the “Human Spittoona.” Acuna was only one of a handful of Runyonesque characters who hung around the police department vice squad, acting as agents provocateurs in false arrests.
As Acuna began to tell his story on the witness stand before a packed courtroom, Judge Seabury ordered all women present to leave. The story, he knew, was too sordid for delicate ears. He had heard it in private after Irving Ben Cooper, one of his assistants, had persuaded Acuna that he would be protected.
Acuna testified that his job of framing women in vice raids paid him about $150 a week in 1929. He always received a cut of the take on raids of real houses of prostitution whose addresses he furnished. When business was slack, the vice squad swooped down upon the Negro section of Harlem, crashed flats, and made arrests at random. But the vice squad’s main histrionic talent was used in staged raids in which Acuna or one of the others was “caught” passing money to an innocent woman. As the stool pigeon named twenty-eight vice-squad police who had employed his services, Seabury asked him if any were present. Daringly, Acuna stepped down from the witness stand and, walking through the audience, identified twenty-eight cops by name. Police Commissioner Edward P. Mulrooney, in court, took down the names of the implicated police (who had performed these acts before he headed the department). The vice cops squirmed uncomfortably, but none volunteered to dispute Acuna.
“Tell us,” suggested Kresel, “how you went about gathering evidence in these cases.”
“Well,” said Acuna, “we usually ate about 1 P.M. and 9 P.M., while the roll was being called in the station houses. Then we’d stroll around in front, where a detective friend would meet us. If we had any addresses, we gave them to him. He would give us five or ten dollars in marked bills. Then we would all set our watches together. We would arrange it so I would just have time to give the marked bills to a girl and watch where she put them, so the detectives could get the evidence. Then, when the policeman entered, they would go through their little comedy with me. They would insult me and accuse me of everything they could imagine, and I would deny it all, insisting that the woman was my wife and I had been there for days.
“Then they would take me into another room and pound on the wall, to make it sound as though they were beating me, but it was just more of the comedy. Finally I would give them a fictitious name and address and hurry back to the station house. They would always bring in the girls as prisoners. The next day the case came up in the magistrates’ court the officer would testify that the man in the case was unknown and could not be found. I was always the unknown man.”
“Did you always succeed in getting the evidence you went after?” Kresel asked.
“Oh, no,” Acuna said, smiling. “Lots of times, thirty or forty times, there was no evidence.”
“Now, this is important,” Kresel broke in. “Tell us whether you informed the arresting officer in those cases that there was no evidence.”
“Yes, lots of times the police would come before I had time to get the evidence. Once I was standing in the doorway arguing with a woman when they came in. I told them I had not had time to get the evidence and gave them back the marked bills. They kicked me out and made the arrest anyway.”
The police officers were permanently exposed. After dismissal from the force, some were jailed for income-tax evasion. The swollen bank accounts of the vice-squad officers resulted in various double-talking explanations — and the first of the famous “tin box” tales.
The thoroughness of the Seabury-Kresel technique was shown when more than a hundred patrolmen, officers, and members of their families were checked through birth certificates, marriage licenses, and other public records. Two thousand banks and brokerage houses were served with blanket subpoenas to see who held accounts. One cop banked $90,000 in five years; a lieutenant in the same period was able to deposit $184,000 in his own and his mother’s name.
Lieutenant Peter J. Pfeiffer had the historic honor of being the first person during the Seabury investigations to claim the existence of a magical tin box in a bank where he kept his cash and insurance papers. A check showed that he made five visits a month to the vault. The lieutenant explained that he did so not to put in cash but to inspect, over and over, his insurance papers. Officer James Quinlivan kept his money at home in a box and a trunk. He had won $9000 on a horse named “Flora Belle,” on a tip given to him by a drunken jockey, but when Quinlivan was pressed for details, neither the unnamed jockey nor the named horse could be discovered. Officer Robert E. Morris had a wonderful “Uncle George” who handed him forty $1000 bills on a street in Coney Island and thereafter dropped dead somewhere in California.
“Where did you keep the forty thousand dollars?” Kresel asked.
“Right in the house,” Morris replied.
“Where in the house?”
“I had it in a box.”
Referee Seabury interrupted to ask innocently, “In a tin box?”
“In a tin box,” Morris said, in the reply that was becoming a standard joke.
BUT Judge Seabury was after bigger game. The revelations in the magistrates’ courts and district attorney investigations implicated many of the district leaders holding token city offices that were convenient places where they could be on the take; their twisted lines of municipal government inevitably led to the Honorable James J. Walker’s office. Tammany Hall was indignant, calling Seabury a motivated politician; worse, he was insulting the good people of New York by maligning their democratically elected officials. But there were growing numbers of New Yorkers who refused to let the soft soap of chauvinism blind them to what was emerging before their eyes. Reform organizations, the pulpit and press began to demand a full-scale investigation of all the departments in all the boroughs of the city of New York.
However, there were Republican and Democratic complications. Early in 1930 an attempt was made in the Republican-dominated state legislature to push through an investigation of the Democratic-dominated city. But the word was quickly passed around that Governor Roosevelt might not be averse to an investigation of Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk, and the upstate Republican counties, too. In spite of threats of retaliation, the Republicans chanced an investigation — which Governor Roosevelt immediately vetoed.
The veto did not endear Roosevelt to Seabury. As Roosevelt’s referee and commissioner in two other investigations, he maintained a judicious silence. But among his intimates, he could not help but deplore the governor’s stand.
A year later, on March 23, 1931, the senate and assembly adopted a joint resolution for the appointment of a committee for “the investigation of the departments of the government of the City of New York.” This time the governor did not interfere. Fresh evidence of corruption had emerged nearly every day; the city could no longer avoid a full surveillance. Governor Roosevelt approved a $250,000 appropriation, which later swelled to $500,000, and backed Judge Seabury as counsel. The most far-reaching investigation in New York City history was about to be written into the record.
The place was the County Court House, the time the early fall of 1931, the tribunal the Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate the Affairs of the City of New York. In the witness chair was the Honorable Thomas M. Farley, sheriff of New York County, president of the Thomas M. Farley Association, leader of the Fourteenth Assembly District, and Tammany Hall sachem. He was being asked, with great politeness, how he had managed to accumulate nearly $400,000 in six years when his job paid $8500 annually. Facing the sheriff was Samuel Seabury, counsel. Salient parts of their dialogue were about to add new phrases to the American political vocabulary:
SEABURY: ‘Where did you keep these moneys that you had saved?”
FARLEY: “In a safe-deposit box at home in the house.”
SEABURY: “Whereabouts at home in the house did
you keep this money that you had saved?”
FARLEY: “In the safe.”
SEABURY: “In a safe?”
SEABURY: “In a little box in a safe?”
FARLEY: “A big safe.”
SEABURY: “But a little box in a big safe?”
FARLEY: “In a big box in a big safe.”
SEABURY: “Was the big box in the big safe fairly full or
crowded when you withdrew this money?”
FARLEY: “I didn’t withdraw it all at once. That is,
money that was in the safe-deposit box — ”
SEARURY: “When you first drew it, Sheriff, was the
box then crowded or very full?”
FARLEY: “Well, it was full and plenty in it.”
SEABURY: “More and plenty?”
SEABURY: “And, Sheriff, was this big box that was safely kept in the big safe a tin box or a wooden box?”
FARLEY: “A tin box.”
SEABURY: “IS it the type of tin boxes that are specially manufactured and designed to serve as a receptacle for cash?”
FARLEY: “It is.”
SEABURY: “Giving you the benefit of every doubt on sums from your official vocation and other gainful pursuits, the $83,000 extra you deposited in 1929 came from the same source that the other money came from?”
FARLEY: “It did.”
SEABURY: “Same safe-deposit vault?” FARLEY: “Yes.”
SEABURY: “Same tin box, is that right?” FARLEY: “That is right.”
SEABURY: “NOW, in 1930, where did the extra cash come from, Sheriff?”
FARLEY: “Well, that is — My salary check is in there.”
SEABURY: “NO, Sheriff, your salary checks are exclusive of the cash deposits which during the year you deposited in those three banks.”
FARLEY: “Well, that came from the good box I had.” (Laughter.)
SEABURY: “Kind of a magic box?”
FARLEY: “IT was a wonderful box.”
SEABURY: “A wonderful box.” (Laughter.) “What did
you have to do — rub the lock with a little gold, and
open it in order to find more money?”
FARLEY: “I wish I could.”
Big Tom, one of the more delightful gentlemen in the tin-box brigade that marched before Judge Seabury, eventually was removed from his shrievalty by order of Governor Roosevelt. The fact that he had once contributed $20,000 to Roosevelt’s campaign fund as an upstanding Democrat did not save him, but it was a consolation to know that he had been a thrifty official who had put away something for a rainy day. In subsequent years his memorable phrase has been misquoted in song and story as a symbol of municipal hands in the till. This does an injustice to Sheriff Farley and history. He did not claim to have a measly little tin box, but “a big box in a big safe.”
IN THE summer of 1908, when Building Commissioner Walker’s son, Jimmy, was a pointy-shoed character around Tin Pan Alley, resisting his father’s efforts to send him to law school, he wrote a hit song, “Will You Love Me in December as You Do in May?” Now another May was here, May of 1932, and the songwriter was His Honor, the mayor, a beloved man of fifty, with a subpoena in his hand. It had been served at the behest of Seabury.
Judge Seabury and his staff had prepared for the encounter as if this were the deciding joust in an ancient tournament of knightly foes. They polished their weapons; tipped their lances in the poison of evidence. Even the prodigious power of Walker to charm was taken into account. “Don’t look him straight in the eyes when he’s on the stand,” one of his associates advised Seabury. “He has an uncanny ability to stare yon down. Once he’s caught you, you’re liable to be stunned and confused.” Seabury smiled and said that he had interrogated thousands of witnesses as attorney and judge; nevertheless, he said he would bear the warning in mind. Later, his staff noticed that he stood sideways toward Walker and did not face him unnecessarily.
The case that was built up against Walker by Seabury and his assistant counsel was worth the year of careful preparation. “By the time we were ready to present the evidence we knew all about his finances and financial dealings,” George Trosk, Seabury’s chief assistant, later recalled. “Perhaps more than Walker knew about himself.”
Judge Seabury was determined not to commit the error of merely filing general accusations against the mayor if real evidence of personal corruption behind the Walker way of life could be uncovered. Was it not possible that the mayor, too, had a tin box? To find out, Seabury’s legal sleuths examined subpoenaed accounts of Walker and other public officials. For months they sifted records, trying to discover some clue to Walker’s real wealth. They were unsuccessful, until —
James T. Ellis, an accountant diligently searching the records of the Chase National Bank on behalf of Judge Seabury, had just about decided to give up. Although he had subpoenaed all forms of records, he could find nothing to implicate Walker. Then one of the tellers at the bank said to him, “This will probably cost me my job, but you fellows left out one thing on your subpoena.” “What’s that?” asked Ellis. “Letters of credit,” said the bank employee.
Ellis immediately ran to the state building at 80 Centre Street. “I may be onto something,” he told Louis Molloy and Phil Haberman. “Quick, make out a subpoena for letters of credit.” They did so, and the trio went back to the Chase Bank. For the first time in their dealings, they got a runaround from one of the executive officers of the bank. At about three in the afternoon, after the bank had officially closed for business, they rushed back to their headquarters and burst into Judge Seabury’s office. They told him the story, and for a moment he became very excited. Then he sat thoughtfully while they wondered what his next move would be.
“I will make a suggestion,” Seabury finally said, his composure regained. “If you think well of it, why don’t you go over to the Chase right now, present my compliments to Mr. Winthrop Aldrich, and say that if there is such a needed document in his bank and it is not in my possession by tonight, his bank will not be open tomorrow.”
His assistants questioned him, and Seabury told them that he would subpoena every teller and officer so that it would be impossible for the bank to open its doors for business.
Molloy, Haberman, and Ellis went back to the bank and asked to see Mr. Aldrich. He was not available. They asked for the first vice president. He was not available. They asked to see any vice president. Sorry, but they were all with Mr. Aldrich.
“It was obvious,” one of Seabury’s assistants recalled, “that the impregnable Chase Bank was scared to death.”
At this point, the young men turned to the secretary who had been giving them this information and gave her Judge Seabury’s message for the head of the bank. She disappeared into the conference room, and a few moments later a vice president emerged and handed them a letter of credit record of $10,000 signed by Mayor Walker.
They rushed with it all the way back to their office and handed it to Judge Seabury.
“This is a fatal blow to Tammany Hall,” he declared.
That letter of credit had been given to Mayor Walker out of a slush fund maintained by a group of politicians in New York and businessmen in other states who were involved in a fantastic scheme to take over all the bus lines of New York City in the name of the Equitable Coach Company, a company which did not own a single bus. Hidden beneath layers of concealed transactions was the fact that His Honor had signed a purchaser’s agreement for the letter of credit and then taken off for one of his many “much-needed rests” in Germany, Italy, and France for August and September, 1927.
Judge Seabury pressed his staff for additional facts on this and other Walker deals and income. Clearly, his high living — keeping Mrs. Walker, his mistress, Betty Compton, and his own reputation as “night mayor of New York” — could not be served merely by his official salary.
Still another “beneficence” — the mayor’s genteel word for bribes — came from Paul Block, an ambitious newspaper speculator who sometimes fronted for Hearst while gobbling up dailies. Block owned the Brooklyn Standard-Union, but his principal fame came from the reason that he gave for deciding to subsidize the mayor of the city of New York. His story went that he was walking along Fifth Avenue with his ten-year-old son when the bright young fellow questioned his father about the mayor’s personal finances. “Well,” the boy said, “can he live on what he gets?” This altruistic query inspired the father with an original thought. “I was going to try and make a little money for him,” Block explained innocently to Seabury later. A joint brokerage account was opened, “P.B. and J. J. W.,” with the latter not putting up a penny. Walker received $246,693 over a two-year period on an investment of nothing but friendship. The money came to him in cash or checks, and he either put it in his safe at home, gave it to Mrs. Walker, or to “an unnamed individual,” who was, of course, Betty Compton, coyly shielded from indelicate mention on page three of the tabloids. And what made Block so generous, other than the fact that he listened to his ten-year-old son’s advice? At the time, Block was heavily interested in a company seeking to sell tiles to contractors building the city’s subways. Buses, cabs, subways — there was no doubt that Jimmy Walker, riding around in his Duesenberg, had the people’s transportation ever in mind.
Finally, a “tin box” was discovered, a joint safe-deposit box held by the mayor and Russell T. Sherwood, his financial agent. Sherwood had been a bookkeeper in Walker’s law office, and between 1924 and 1931, before he fled to Mexico rather than testify before Judge Seabury, had handled the mayor’s checkbook and accounts. More important, Sherwood was the anonymous agent through whom Walker hid his money from public scrutiny. One of their accounts was with the brokerage house of Hornblower and Weeks, simply designated as “Investment Trustee Account.” Walker’s name never appeared, but Sherwood, who was a $3000-a-year bookkeeper, had opened the account with a deposit of $100,000 in cash. Another $161,000 was added to it, all without a stock being traded. Judge Seabury and his associates accumulated evidence from bank and brokerage records that from January 1, 1926, when Walker took office, to August 5, 1931, Sherwood deposited the staggering total of $961,255. Then Sherwood Bed.
AT LAST the inevitable approached; the confrontation between Seabury and Walker. On May 23, 1932, a subpoena duces tecum of the joint legislative committee was served upon the mayor, calling for the production, on May 25, 1932, of all records of his personal financial transactions from January 1, 1926, when he began his first term. The scene was to be the county courthouse off Foley Square; the audience, the city and country.
That morning, Walker’s valet laid out a spiffy court costume for the big show. The mayor put on a one-button double-breasted blue suit, blue shirt, blue tie, and matching blue handkerchief. “Little Boy Blue is about to blow his horn — or his top,” he kidded. Then he stepped outside from the Mayfair and into his limousine. “Drive carefully,” he told his chauffeur. “We don’t want to get a ticket.”
Judge Seabury, that morning, dressed early, had breakfast with Maud, and stepped into his limousine. He wore a gray suit, white starched shirt, and conservative dark tie. During the ride downtown to 80 Centre Street, his chauffeur, Nick Livingston, hinted that he would like to see the action from inside the courtroom, and Judge Seabury provided him with a ticket. He would be one of the few in the packed audience not cheering raucously for the mayor. Five thousand persons were outside, one thousand inside, when Judge Seabury arrived at the courthouse, flanked by his assistants, carrying briefcases and exhibits. There was a smattering of applause and a sibilant undertone of hisses as he mounted the steps. Judge Seabury raised his hat with a courtly gesture to the one and ignored the other.
At a quarter to eleven, the mayor’s limousine pulled up before the building. As the huge crowd cheered and whistled, a grin broke out on the face of the mayor. In his light-gray fedora, with its brim rolled down on one side, he looked like some cocky Italian condottiere. He refused to move quickly or protect himself from the crowd. Unlike Seabury, he was one with these people. The police inspector in charge suggested that he enter a side door, but he snapped back, for the benefit of reporters, “I’m used to traveling in crowds.” A number of persons wore ties advocating “Beer for Prosperity,” and some had already had theirs that morning. “Good luck, Jimmy,” “Atta boy, Jimmy,” “You tell ‘im, Jimmy,” they shouted, and the mayor acknowledged their encouragement by clasping his hands overhead in the gesture of a prizefighter. Someone looking closely noticed that the ring on his little finger had a matching blue stone.
Inside, the committeemen, led by Chairman Samuel H. Hofstadter, moved to their judicial chairs. Judge Seabury and his assistants already were at the counsel table. As Mayor Walker entered, cheers and applause broke out, interrupting State Senator Hofstadter’s remarks to the audience, and he cautioned them that he would clear the room if they disturbed the proceedings. At eleven o’clock, he turned to the counsel. “Judge Seabury, the committee is ready, if you are,” Senator Hofstadter said.
“Mr. Mayor, would you be good enough to take the stand,” Seabury said, and Walker sat down in the armchair to the right of the committee. Seabury leaned against the railing and said, “Since the immunity laws were passed, it has been our habit here to tender to witnesses that are called a waiver of immunity. In making the tender it has been my practice to say, in accordance with the fact and the law, that the mere fact of tendering a waiver to any witness carries with it no implication. May I, in the light of that statement, tender a waiver of immunity to you.” The mayor put on his horn-rimmed spectacles, looked at the document, and signed.
Judge Seabury asked the mayor if he had produced any papers in response to his subpoena duces tecum. The mayor said, “I have,” and handed Seabury a box. It included canceled check vouchers from his account with the Chatham & Phoenix Bank & Trust Company for one month in 1930 and three and a half months in 1931, and stub checkbooks for the same account for one month in 1930 and eleven months in 1931-1932. When Judge Seabury asked him why he had not produced check stubs or vouchers for the years 1926-1929, he stated that if any records were in existence they were in his old law office, but he had not personally made inquiry about them. (Ten days later, the mayor did produce some more vouchers.) No records were brought from any of the mayor’s brokerage, savings, safe-deposit, or other accounts.
Now Seabury got down to business, questioning the mayor about the Equitable Bus deal, which had led to his receiving a $10,000 letter of credit. Seabury pressed him to recount the details and asked why he had used his influence in the Board of Estimate to renew the franchise of the bus company without buses which intended to take over all the surface transportation in New York. The mayor reminded Seabury that all he had was three votes, and it took twelve to vote a franchise. Seabury asked Walker if it was not true that the mayor had strongly urged his colleagues to vote with him, and Walker innocently replied, “The mayor never has in six years asked a member of the Board of Estimate to vote for or against anything.” Seabury asked Walker if he had not argued for Equitable, and the mayor admitted he did so, but only for the city’s good. Seabury said the Board of Estimate record challenged the mayor’s contention that the Equitable franchise was sound.
“Mr. Chairman,” Walker said, turning away from Seabury, “I don’t believe that your counsel or you have any legal right to inquire into the operations of an executive’s mind or to crossexamine him about why he reaches his conclusions, any more than I have a right or you have a right to examine the governor as to why he makes an appointment or why the President of the United States vetoes a bill.”
Walker was beginning to feel the audience respond to his remarks, his diversions, and his indignation. He resorted to a series of tricks — breaking into Seabury’s questions, jabbing lightly, asking for more and more details before answering, and then declaring that the question was so complicated that he dared not trust to his memory because it was all in the record, anyway. When Seabury patiently went along with these tactics and built his facts into another question. Walker would then ask him to repeat the question. But Seabury, having encountered this obvious ruse many times in court, refused to repeat any questions himself, turned his back, and had court stenographers read his remarks from the record.
When the mayor was finally backed to the wall with contradictory facts from the Board of Estimate records, showing how hard he had worked on behalf of the Equitable Bus group, he merely said that he could not be expected to remember what he had said specifically at meetings. Seabury asked him if he considered that an answer, and Walker replied, “No, it is not, and you are not going to make it an answer.” But then he refused to answer, adding sharply, “Remember, I am still the mayor of the city of New York.” And again the strap-hangers in the courtroom applauded while Chairman Hofstadter banged the gavel and threatened to clear them out.
Mayor Walker was a brilliant entertainer delivering his lines. He hid his anger better than did Seabury. His replies ranged from wisecracks to acidly phrased retorts. Since the complex transaction involving the Equitable Bus franchise was hidden beneath concealed financing, dozens of different names, and promised sums in the millions, the courtroom found the details hard to follow, but they responded instantly to the punch lines that the mayor threw out. He left them laughing.
Walker and the Democrats on the legislative committee who were sympathetic to him stated that the whole investigation was a Red plot. This line did not surprise Seabury, who had been accused of radicalism many times in the past as a reform Democratic campaigner. When the faithful applauded one of Walker’s wisecracks, Seabury said, “You have an appreciative audience, Mr. Mayor.” Senator John J. McNaboe, one of Walker’s cronies, broke in, shouting, “You have had Communists and Reds in here!” The mayor followed this line with the remark, “Every day there is agitation here somewhat like that which frequently happens by our Communistic friends —" McNaboe later continued, “I want you people to go on record as approving prying into a person’s private affairs, particularly his wife. I want a ruling, to find out whether this is the United States or Russia.” When the minority members continued to drag in the red herring, Seabury uttered one word for the record. “Bosh,” he said, contemptuously.
THE following morning and afternoon, Walker was on the witness stand again. This time he tried to laugh and cry Seabury out of court. He wore an air of hurt pride, humility, and civic indignation to begin with, acknowledging that his “day in court” had not been all pleasant and excusing himself for any discourtesy. He reminded the committee that he was “still a bit human’ and “subject to human emotions.” The crowd, on this second and final day of his testimony, lapped it up, cheering and applauding the common-clay touch. He elaborated on the Tammany line that the investigation was not authorized and, even if it were, his beloved city was being hurt. “ This investigation,” the mayor said, “has done much to undermine the value of New York City securities and has done much to make it difficult to market them.”
But these tactics did not stop Seabury from continuing to spread the Walker finances on the record. Seabury pressed him to explain why he had received nearly a quarter of a million dollars over a two-year period from a joint brokerage account with Paul Block, the newspaper publisher interested in selling synthetic tile to the municipal subways. The mayor replied weakly, “Mr. Block for several years had manifested a very genuine friendship for me. Mr. Block’s life has been characterized by generosity and a very unusual friendship for a great many people. He has always kept his charities as far from publicity as he could. The regret is that any publicity was given to any beneficence.” Here was the mayor of New York admitting that he had been a recipient of a businessman’s charity and handouts.
Seabury also obtained an admission about the joint safe-deposit account with the missing Sherwood, in which the latter had put nearly a million dollars. “Didn’t you have a safe-deposit box jointly with him?” Seabury asked, and Walker said, “I did not.” Seabury rephrased it, “Didn’t you sign an application for such a safe-deposit box?” Walker said, “I apparently did.” He explained that the box was maintained to hold some papers from an old law case, but that he never went to the box. As Seabury unfolded the facts about Sherwood’s secret accounts, the mayor cracked, “I hope he proves it is mine. I will try to collect it.”
Again the mayor was in good retort form. Following Seabury’s denial of an antagonistic attitude, Walker said: “I am here on an inquiry, but it looks as if somebody wants my life.” When Seabury asked whether he remembered shaking hands with J. A. Sisto, a taxicab financier who had presented the mayor with a gift of $26,000 in bonds, Walker replied, “Due to the activity that I have been in since 1910, I do shake hands with a great many people I don’t know, and try to make them believe I do, but please don’t tell them about it.” To Chairman Hofstadter, who displayed great patience and impartiality during the hearings, and the members of the state committee, Walker announced: “The mayor of the city of New York has a great many things to do. Will you please not keep me in this room any longer than you have to, away from the duties I have to perform?” This was the first time anyone had ever heard Mayor Walker complain that he had to go to work while at stage center.
On another occasion, he stood on his dignity. When Seabury scored a point, Bill Mulligan could not help grinning. Walker suddenly turned toof the New York City Charter provided that the mayor could be removed by the governor in the same manner as sheriffs. Since Governor Roosevelt had removed Sheriff Farley in this very room, the analogy struck home hard.
Governor Roosevelt made it clear that this was his hearing, and not a higher-court rehearing of all the evidence that had been accumulated by Judge Seabury and his lieutenants. He made it known that he did not intend Mayor Walker’s counsel to re-call more than a hundred witnesses to Albany for cross-examination, but that he would subpoena “upon due consideration” any witness he felt necessary to protect the mayor and in the “spirit of justice.” This matter of witnesses caused the first dispute between John J. Curtin, the mayor’s counsel, and Governor Roosevelt. There was no love lost between them. Curtin disliked Roosevelt for defeating his good friend Al Smith in his effort to gain the Democratic nomination for President again. Furthermore, Curtin saw the defense of Walker as an opportunity to express his dislike for Samuel Seabury, who had defaced the mottled image of Tammany.
Attempting to damn two years of work, Curtin told the governor: “The testimony before the Hofstadter committee has not better legal value than the story of Robinson Crusoe or Grimm’s fairy tales.” Walker followed this up by condemning Seabury’s charges as a private citizen: “Seabury submitted his conclusions not to the legislative committee that engaged him but gratuitously, voluntarily, to Your Excellency.” When Governor Roosevelt asked Seabury if he had any comment to make at the start of the hearing, he replied: “In view of my letter of June 8, 1932, the analysis of the evidence that accompanied it, and the evidence itself, the answer of the mayor of the city of New York in reply and his rejoinder, I feel that as to specific matters or details, unless Your Excellency desires anything, I should not add anything further to it.”
This was to be Seabury’s tactic for the next two weeks. Having presented his evidence in writing, having examined Walker and often been frustrated by the mayor’s evasions, he was more than willing to have the governor discover for himself whether or not honest answers were being given.
NOW Governor Roosevelt personally swore in Mayor Walker — as a witness — and immediately discovered that he intended to continue what he had done with Seabury: address himself to the people instead of the issues. While Seabury sat back in silence as an interested onlooker, Walker went into his personal routine. “Now I must have my twenty-three years in public office snuffed out without an opportunity of looking in the faces of the men who would tear up my past, present, and future,” Walker said. “I can’t be unlike every other human being in the world. I can’t be so different than the rest of the human family.” And he threw in the same red herring that he had used when Seabury had cross-examined him earlier in the year, saying, “I haven’t been transported back to Russia.”
Governor Roosevelt patiently said, “It is to give you a square deal, Mayor, that I am going to ask questions.” Roosevelt did so, basing the questions on Judge Seabury’s evidence and conclusions, and Seabury seldom interrupted. With almost every reply came a speech and a lecture by the mayor’s counsel.
John Curtin insisted that the governor’s hearing be conducted like an ordinary trial, including the right of cross-examination and confrontation of witnesses. Walker had warned his lawyer not to get “Frank’s Dutch up,” but Curtin did so when he patronized Roosevelt about his knowledge of the law. On the second day, there was an exchange of this nature between Roosevelt and Curtin that had the country laughing. Roosevelt had the last word — a wisecrack.
“May I add one more word, and I dislike in some ways to refer to this, but perhaps it won’t be amiss,” Curtin said. “The earliest record — so far as I know — instance of the value of crossexamination is contained in the Bible itself. You may recall one of the Apocryphal books, the story of Susanna and the Elders: Susanna, a beautiful lady, and two of the Elders, enamored of her. She repulsed them, whereupon, to get square, they accused her of impropriety with some other third person. And these Elders were men of good standing in that community, and they swore definitely before the counsel that this lady committed this impropriety, and there was nobody to gainsay that, except the lady herself, who met it with tears and denial. There is nothing dramatic about a denial. And she was condemned to death, under the laws of Moses. And then Daniel arose and said. ‘Not so fast’ — I am not quoting accurately — ‘Not so fast. Let me examine these Elders.’ And he put them both out, then brought in one of them, and said, ‘You are sure this thing happened?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Did you see this thing happen?’ He said. ‘Yes, and I am sure of it.’ ‘Where did it happen?’ ‘Under the mastic tree.’ He was sent away. And the other fellow was brought in. ‘You are sure this thing happened?’ ‘Yes,’ ‘You saw it with your own eyes?’ ‘Yes, and I couldn’t be mistaken.’ ‘Where did it happen?’ ‘It happened under the yew tree.’ Whereupon the committee put to death not Susanna but the accusers.”
Curtin added, “I am speaking to you as one lawyer to another, although I am not speaking to you in the capacity of a lawyer in your capacity.”
After a suitable pause, Governor Roosevelt replied, “You have referred to the testimony before the legislative committee as ‘minutes.5 I consider it evidence. You have referred also to the interesting case of Susanna and the Elders. I think it is a very apt case. You are in the position of the Prophet Daniel. I will not say that His Honor,” Roosevelt said, smiling, “is in the position of Susanna.”
Seabury and his assistants joined the courtroom spectators in laughter. Curtin uttered a few words of protest, and Walker claimed that he felt that he was indeed like the innocent Susanna. But the biblical tale had boomeranged, and Roosevelt pressed his own cross-examination of Walker.
The Seabury evidence and analysis formed the basis of the governor’s hearing. Whenever Walker departed from the script, or Curtin tried to upstage Roosevelt, Seabury would interrupt courteously and ask for permission to interpose the record of his own investigation. Sometimes he would call upon George Trosk, or one of his other assistants, to cite chapter and verse to contradict Walker’s memory. If Roosevelt leaned in a direction, it was toward Seabury, for he, too, soon recognized the difficulty of trying to get straight answers from Walker. At one point, Seabury read a letter giving certain details about Walker’s secret accounts in which he received large sums from a friend hoping to sell his product to the city of New York. The exchange that followed illustrated Seabury’s respectful tone, Curtin’s lecturing manner, and Roosevelt’s pique and ability.
“One minute,” Curtin protested, “I would like to know if that paper is in evidence that Judge Seabury is going to read.”
“It is not in evidence,” Seabury said.
“Well, then, it cannot be used, I am sure of that. I don’t know what it says, but it can’t be used.”
“It can be marked for identification,” Governor Roosevelt suggested.
“Yes, for identification,” Seabury agreed.
“Identification, whatever form is used in marking,” Curtin objected, “it is in evidence. Let someone say that they know something about it, through his own knowledge, and testify about it under oath.”
Governor Roosevelt stopped Walker’s attorney. “Mr. Curtin, I happen to be a lawyer, and remarks of that kind are wholly unnecessary to the governor of this state.”
“I assume that you do know that,” Curtin said. “Still, when a lawyer makes a statement as to what the —”
“All right,” Roosevelt broke in. “Don’t try to instruct me about the difference between putting a thing into evidence and marking it for identification.”
ON THE other side of the fence, Walker and his attorneys knew they were having a difficult time. “The charges against Walker were couched in such clever, overlapping technical language that they were unanswerable,” Reuben A. Lazarus later recalled. Walker had a high regard for Lazarus’ ability (so did Seabury) and had him assigned to John Curtin. “The charges were the joint work of Judge Seabury and his highly competent staff. If one of the charges was denied, Walker was trapped into a confession on one of the others. My advice to Walker, under these circumstances, was to resign and resubmit himself to the electorate in the fall. His popularity at that time was so great that he probably would not have failed to be re-elected. The then leader of Tammany Hall, John Curry, overruled me.”
Meanwhile, the central character in the hearings, Governor Roosevelt, was feeling his own pressures mounting as the Democratic Party’s candidate for President. Brave as he was in the courtroom, he was extremely cautious about his political position. He was receiving all sorts of advice from the press, the politicians, and the public.
“The old gay Mayor, he ain’t what he used to be,” cracked F.P.A. in his column. But he was no joking matter to a national candidate. More soberly, Walter Lippmann wrote in his column, “I continue to believe that the problem before Governor Roosevelt is essentially the same: he must not only do justice as a judge but he must convince the people as a leader that justice has been done.”
James A. Farley, Roosevelt’s national campaign manager, served as one link between the governor and the mayor. Walker met privately with Farley and John F. Curry, the Tammany Hall leader, presumably only to arrange for matters of procedure during the hearing. Farley did admit that he brought the case to Roosevelt’s attention personally on two occasions, once to try to get the hearings postponed. But the Walker case was too hot and too open for any tampering, regardless of friendship. One thing was certain: Farley did not like Seabury, calling him “dour but thorough.”
Political experts apart, Roosevelt’s mail ran overwhelmingly in favor of a tough but fair trial. “Your friends in Dutchess County and throughout the United States are proud of you,” he read in one letter. “You may lose a few Tammany votes but gain many independent votes.” Another correspondent wrote him, “Your cousin Theodore Roosevelt would do the courageous thing.” People west of the Hudson wanted a show of force against wicked New York corruption; a man of Roosevelt’s keen sensibilities got the message.
TOWARD the end of August, the sessions in the executive chamber intensified, some carrying over almost to midnight. Roosevelt, following the Seabury brief, pursued Walker’s strange financial deals and odd code of public conduct. He questioned Walker about the “disappearance” of Russell Sherwood, his fiscal agent who had fled to Mexico. “I wish Sherwood were here today,” Walker said, and the governor answered, “So do I.” What Roosevelt could not understand was why Walker made no effort to locate the man with whom he shared a safe-deposit box. Nor could Roosevelt understand how Walker received large sums from Paul Block without paying income taxes; Walker’s statements that his taxes were paid “at the source ” by Block from their joint account sounded like a course in nightmare accounting. “The most extraordinary business proposition I ever heard of,” Roosevelt exclaimed.
Judge Seabury interjected some questions about Walker’s payments to the “unnamed person,” his mistress, when Walker became evasive in his replies to the governor. Immediately, Walker stood on his dignity. He complained that Seabury was playing for “newspaper values” and that he was making “hourly summations” after “fourteen months of parading.” When the governor pointed out that a letter of credit had been issued to “this person” and asked the mayor if he knew anything about it, Walker replied. “I do not.” This, despite the fact that the mayor had revealed the unnamed person’s sex by referring to her as “she.” The governor as well as Judge Seabury went along with the gentlemanly pretense by speaking of Miss Compton as “this person" or “the person.” When one of the tabloids mentioned her name, the governor lectured the press against doing so again. “It is contrary to the rules under which this hearing is being conducted,” he declared, “and contrary to common decency.” Chivalry took precedence over corruption.
The mayor’s attorney summed up by saying that Judge Seabury’s “grueling investigation” had cost New York City and State $750,000, with the only result being “a clean bill of health” for Walker’s administration. “You have now the living testimony of the mayor,” Curtin said. “He has met each charge by a very clear, full — and I may say, by a very vigorous examination conducted by Your Excellency. Are you going to say, ‘Because an answer was not given as might have been expected, as Judge Seabury charged, that he was evasive’? Evasive in that manner means that Judge Seabury didn’t trap, or otherwise get him into positions that he would regard as fatal, or hurtful to the mayor.”
Governor Roosevelt then turned to the man who had brought the mayor of New York — in his own name — to the gubernatorial bar of justice. “Do you wish to be heard, Judge Seabury?” Seabury arose, bowed in courtly fashion to His Excellency, ignored the steady gaze of Walker and Curtin, and responded: “It seems to me that there is nothing that he has said that can result in any mistake on the part of Your Excellency, who knows the facts of this case. This day and a half of oration that we have listened to here isn’t proof. That isn’t evidence. That’s only an effort to explain away the facts that are established by this record. Unless Your Excellency particularly wishes it, I do not think that I ought to put upon you the burden of going over each of these particular charges in reference to the evidence that has been presented. Nothing has been shown which would justify the dismissal of a single one of these charges.”
At 4:02 P.M. on August 26, the hearing was adjourned until Monday evening, August 29. On that day Governor Roosevelt announced that he had received information of the death of Mayor Walker’s brother, and the next hearing date was set, instead, for September 2, 1932.
Backstage, the three main actors in the drama went about their business. Presumably, more witnesses would be called, more evidence introduced, more charges and countercharges filed as the case continued into September. Roosevelt, Seabury, Walker — each stopped for a moment to catch his breath.
“I am confident that it is best I should not give them any chance to say that I am railroading the case,” Roosevelt informed Felix Frankfurter as the end was still not in sight. Frankfurter had been summoned to Hyde Park before the hearings and had discussed the legal problems involved. “I worked out with Roosevelt,” he later claimed, “the legal theory on which Jimmy Walker had to go; the theory being that when a public official has acquired money during the time that he was in public office, the presumption of wrongdoing lies there unless he can explain why he suddenly came into money that he couldn’t have got merely through his salary.” Actually, Samuel I. Rosenman, Governor Roosevelt’s counsel before the Walker case, had applied a similar test, resulting in the removal of Sheriff Tom Farley.
Roosevelt met with his closest political and judicial advisers, alone and in groups. Once he turned to Raymond Moley and, half to himself. said, “How would it be if I let the little mayor off with a hell of a reprimand?” And Moley remembered that Roosevelt answered himself, “No, that would be weak.”
But some of the political professionals were still trying to save Walker. Friendship and the big city vote motivated them. Tammany Hall’s frantic leaders conferred with Walker at the Plaza Hotel, and then one of them asked Farley to plead Walker’s case with Roosevelt. Walker himself was downhearted. On September 1, he attended his brother’s funeral services, and later told a friend, “I think Roosevelt is going to remove me.” Walker asked Al Smith’s advice, and the former governor replied. “Jim, you’re through. You must resign for the good of the party.”
IN THE governor’s mansion that evening, a group of intimates sat around a table in Roosevelt’s study, discussing the effects of the case nationally. Samuel Rosenman and Basil O’Connor were there; so were Frank Walker, Arthur Mullen, national committeeman from Nebraska, and Jim Farley. The pros were advising that he should not remove Walker but, instead, end the case with a severe reprimand. As the discussion grew hot, O’Connor lit a cigarette, flicked the match at Roosevelt, and angrily said, “So you’d rather be right than President!” And Roosevelt replied, “Well, there may be something in what you say.”
Dramatically, the phone rang that evening in Roosevelt’s study. Walker had resigned. He had sent an official message to the city clerk: “I hereby resign as Mayor of the City of New York, the same to take effect immediately.”Everybody in the governor’s study was relieved by the news; it solved a political dilemma.
Judge Seabury was in his house on East Sixtythird Street, preparing his material for the resumption of the hearings in Albany the following afternoon. After midnight, he heard the news from one of his associates. At three in the morning, Seabury called Trosk; at five, that morning of September 2, Trosk and Seabury sat in the kitchen of the judge’s house, drinking coffee and discussing what moves, if any, came next. “We were to go deeper into Walker’s finances,” Trosk later said, and the details would have completely destroyed him.”
Early that morning the reporters called on Seabury for a statement. He said, “All I care to say tonight about the mayor’s resignation is: The charges against the mayor were fully proved and corroborated in many instances by documentary evidence which was undisputed, and by the admission of the mayor. The mayor’s resignation in the face of this record is equivalent to a confession of guilt. No intelligent person will be misled by the mayor’s attempt to substitute for a defense an assault upon the good faith and motives of the legally constituted authorities to review his acts while in office. It is highly significant that this excuse is availed of by the mayor on the eve of the governor’s inquiry into relations between the mayor and his fugitive agent, Sherwood.”
At 1:30 on the afternoon of September 2, 1932, Governor Roosevelt sat at his desk in the executive chamber and read a statement that in view of the resignation of the mayor, the proceedings before him were terminated, and therefore the hearings were closed. What had begun as a liability and possible embarrassment for Roosevelt had turned into an asset and victory.
Walker was a tired and embittered man. His domestic life, as well as his political future, was confused. When he issued an angry statement calling Roosevelt “unfair” and his hearing “unAmerican,” when he promised to take his case to the people and run again for mayor, he sounded pathetic. Nobody yelled, “You tell ‘em, Jimmy! ” any more; never again would roses be strewn at his feet. He was still beloved by many and disliked by few; more charmer than rogue; yet a man leashed by the tiger of his times. He had learned, sadly, that December was not May; who knew better than the mayor, who had written the lyrics of his own swan song?
In 1933, a grateful Appellate Division thanked Judge Seabury for his achievements. They offered him a fee of $75,000 for his two years of work as referee in the magistrates’ courts investigation. He declined payment, saying, “I prefer to give my services without any charge to the city of New York, as a contribution which the profession of which I have the honor to be a member rendered in the effort to remedy the gross injustices which prevailed in that court.”
That year, too, he performed one other act which affected the future of municipal reform in the United States. He insisted that the Fusion candidate for mayor be a fiery man who despised Tammany as much as he did — Fiorello H. La Guardia.