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Political Action: Boro Democrats once heavily influenced by Tammany Hall

Here in Queens, both major political parties, although they work with and cooperate with the four other city counties and the other 61 statewide counties, have in recent years exercised a degree of independence in the selection of city and state candidates for public office, in addition to other issues.

That has not always been the case, though, especially in the city Democratic Party. Up until September 1961, the five city counties were led and strongly influenced by Carmine DeSapio, the Democratic Party chairman of Manhattan. The Democratic Manhattan organization at the time was known as Tammany Hall, dating back to the end of the 18th century, when our nation first began. During the 12-year period from 1949-61, it was DeSapio and his inner circle of political advisers who were instrumental in choosing city and statewide candidates and most of the Democratic Party organizational structure supported their choice of candidates.

To give one major example, it was the strong endorsement of Tammany Hall in 1953 and 1954 that led to the election of Robert Wagner as mayor and Averell Harriman as governor.

In 1961, a strong liberal insurgent movement known as the Reformers challenged DeSapio and Tammany Hall all over the city in a series of primary elections. The result was that Reformers defeated the regular organization, particularly in Manhattan, using the main issue of bringing an end to boss rule and having a more democratic organization.

After the fall of DeSapio and Tammany Hall, there was constant conflict within the city Democratic Party over what policies the party would follow. In fact, during the next 10 years there was continuous intra-party warfare for control of leadership positions in the form of primaries for district leader and county committee. The name “Tammany Hall” was dropped and it became the regulars against the reformers. It can be said that the social and political disruptions of the 1960s began in New York City in 1961 with the battle between Tammany Hall and the reformers.

By the end of the 1970s, the intra-party battles had subsided — although regular and reform Democratic Party clubs still maintained their existence.

Today, as we look at the Queens political landscape, the Democratic Party controls all the congressional, state Senate and state Assembly seats. The Republicans have only three City Council members. That being the case, when the Democratic county organization, led by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) designates candidates, they are simply endorsed incumbent office holders seeking re-election. Therefore, within the Queens Democratic Party, there is less of a tendency for discord over the selection of candidates.

Within the ranks of the Queens Republican Party, they must constantly choose new candidates every election, especially during the even years when U.S. congressional, state Senate and Assembly offices are being contested. In some districts, party primaries may develop when the candidates not chosen by the county organization decide to challenge the official Republican Party designated candidate. This, in turn, could lead to continual party conflicts, as has happened in the Queens Republican Party in recent years.

Last year, Republican County Chairman Phil Ragusa fielded 17 candidates for public office. It was a larger group of candidates for these offices than in recent past years. This year, aside from the office of Queens district attorney and a few judgeships, there will be no election for public office. All elections within the Republican Party this year will involve party positions of district leader and county committee.

The year 2012 is being prepared for, both at the county and state levels, as a crucial test between the Queens Republican and Democratic parties.

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