The Mayor of Bushwick Avenue
I am certain a number of my friends to the south are familiar with this strip of row houses. They are located on Bushwick Avenue between Menahan And Bleecker Street. In fact, I imagine a number of subway patrons pass these nondescript buildings every day as they commute via the J train. What they probably do not know is a mayor of New York City once lived in one of them.
His name was John F. Hylan. He was the 96th Mayor of New York City and this modest domicile (at 959 Bushwick Avenue) was his home. Here’s an incredibly concise biography of “Red Mike” (as he was known) from Wikipedia:
Hylan was born in Hunter, New York a town in upstate Greene County where his family owned a farm. Hylan married young, became dissatisfied with farm life and moved to Brooklyn with his bride. He found work on the Brooklyn Union Elevated Railroad and rose through the ranks to become a locomotive engineer. Ambitious, he studied law even as he worked on the railroad. He was fired after allegedly taking a curve too fast, endangering a supervisor who had been preparing to cross a track. Hylan always contended that he was wrongfully discharged (Some versions of the story have him reading his law book at the same time as driving).
Despite his industriousness, he was described, even by his friends, as a mediocre intellect. Nevertheless, he became a judge in the Kings County (Brooklyn) county court and was in that position when he was tapped by Tammany Hall as a dark-horse candidate for Mayor, running as a Democrat, through the promotion of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who shared with him a desire for municipal ownership of utilities.
Hylan defeated the reformer John Purroy Mitchel in the 1917 mayoral election, restoring the power of Tammany at City Hall. He easily won re-election in 1921 but was defeated for re-nomination in 1925 by State Senator James J. “Jimmy” Walker. Walker later appointed Hylan to the municipal judiciary.
As mayor, Hylan railed against “the interests” and put in motion the building of a publicly owned and operated subway system, which became the IND division of the New York City Subway. Hylan Boulevard on Staten Island was named for him.
Interested to learn more about Mr. Hylan the Mayor I dug around the New York Times online archives. Most of what I found was exceptionally dull. I suppose this shouldn’t have been too surprising: even his own friends conceded the 96th mayor of New York City was a bit of a dolt. Or was he? Read the following article from the April 23, 1916 edition of the New York Times (dating from Mr. Hylan’s tenure as a Kings County judge) and draw your own conclusions.
…Are we now to be deprived of our personal liberty, the privacy of family and home, by a spy system imposed on us by public officials? If this is to be tolerated, what will the end be?
Excellent question Mr. Hylan. It is (almost) 100 years later and I find myself asking this very question.