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Mobsters – Jimmy Walker – New York City’s Midnight Mayor
If New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker wasn’t so charming, he would surely be labeled a jerk.
Jimmy Walker was born on June 19, 1881, in New York City’s Greenwich Village, the son of Irish immigrants, and later became a political shaker and mover in Tammany Hall. Walker attended Xavier High School, a military school in Manhattan, and then New York Law School.
However, Walker’s first love was music. Walker fell in with the village’s bohemians, and instead of practicing law, he turned to songwriting. Two songs Walker wrote: “There’s Music In The Rustle Of A Skirt” and “Will You Love Me In December Like You Do In May?” The latter song made Walker an overnight sensation in Tin Pan Alley with a melodious rendition:
Will you love me in December the way you love me in May?
Do you love the old fashioned way?
When all my hair is gray,
Then will you kiss me and tell me
Do you love me in December and May?
In 1910, encouraged by his father and influenced by his mentor, Tammany Hall titan Al Smith (later Governor Smith), Walker ran for and was elected to the New York State Assembly, serving until 1914. Now ambitious for political power, Walker was later elected to the New York State Senate from 1914 to 1925. Walker was so popular in the Senate that he was elected president pro tempore of the New York State Senate in 1923-1924.
Throughout his tenure in the Senate, Walker was always smartly dressed and had a bright and outgoing personality. Walker was considered a well-rounded man, spending more time elbowing his way through the Senate than serving his constituents.
American journalist Robert Caro described Senator Walker as “a tight-waisted, one-button suit, the thinnest of breeches, a hundred shirts, pearl-grey silk buttoned around the ankles, toothpick toes sticking out.” “The Vigor of a Song and Dance Man” Pixie smile that brought him like a welcome breeze into the Senate Chamber “The Prince Charming of Politics…..” The complicated arguments of the lumbering men who sat around him with rapier-like wits. Beau James.”
In 1925, the current mayor of New York City, Al Smith, thought Walker would be the perfect mayor of New York City in the Roaring Twenties. Through Smith’s backroom and backroom maneuvering, Walker moved to unseat incumbent Mayor John Harlan, who was seen as quite capable, if not a little arrogant. Smith’s biggest obstacle was that he knew Walker more as a party animal than as a cunning politician. But “Beau James” Smith, as he was now called in the press, promised to straighten out his messy ways if he was elected to the city’s top office.
Harlan was a Democrat, and so was Walker, so Smith had to call on his best artists to win the Democratic nomination. That mission accomplished, Walker’s next obstacle was Republican Mayoral candidate Frank Waterman. Walker basically called Walker a crook and said that if Walker is elected mayor, the New York City subway system will be corrupted because of Walker’s crooked behavior in Tammany Hall. Laughing at Walker’s remarks, Walker said he was running for “People’s Mayor” because he liked the public’s favorite things to do: gambling and drinking illegal liquor during Prohibition.
During his campaign, Walker said, “I like the company of other people. I like the theater, I enjoy healthy outdoor sports, and because I like those things, I’ve reflected my attitudes in some of the legislation I’ve sponsored. – – 2.75 percent beer, Sunday baseball, Sunday movies, law boxing. But because I believe in personal liberty, wholesome entertainment, and wholesome professional sports, I will not for a second entertain anything immoral or unethical. Vice in New York.”
Yes, that’s right.
Walker ended his first four years as mayor in a blur. The public loved the new mayor so much that he left his wife Janet for showgirl Betty Compton, who was 23 years younger than Walker, without causing a stir. In 1928, Walker’s attack fell out of favor with Al Smith, and when his cool cat Walker Smith resigned to run for president, the new governor-elect, Franklin D. Reconciled with Roosevelt. Republican Herbert Hoover. After the Hoover loss, Smith’s power at Tammany Hall was greatly diminished. Roosevelt was a new Democratic force in New York state, and the wily Walker took advantage of it.
That’s not to say Walker hasn’t accomplished anything while serving as mayor. Walker consolidated New York City’s hospital system, bought thousands of acres of land for parks (such as the Great Kills on Staten Island), and expanded the city’s bus system. Walker’s popularity was not boosted by the fact that a few of his comrades were given exclusive rights to own city buses. In fact, no one said Walker was essentially part-time mayor. “Goo James” was rarely involved in business at City Hall, instead playing at a horse race, a fight, or one of the city’s 32,000 speakers. Walker imbibed his share of illegal booze while enjoying the nightlife. Walker’s favorite cocktail was the Black Velvet, champagne poured over a pint of Guinness.
In 1929, fiery reformer Fiorello LaGuardia challenged Walker. During one heated debate, LaGuardia was furious that Walker raised his salary from $25,000 to $40,000 a year. “Hell, it’s cheap. Imagine what it would be worth if I worked full time,” Walk replied sarcastically.
Walker disparaged La Guardia’s reputation as “reformers,” saying, “Reformers are guys who go through the sewers in glass-bottomed boats.” It means that a wise politician could look the other way when it was politically useful.
Walker didn’t know it at the time, but the beginning of his downfall was the stock market crash of 1929. When the city’s economy was booming, it was OK for people to be careless and gay, but people were out of work, some of them. Despite his hunger, Walker’s devilishly worried attitude began to wear thin.
Walker faced his first real embarrassment in July 1930 when the police raided a gambling house in Montauk, Long Island, with his friend Compton. As people were pinned to the wall and handcuffed, Walker yelled at police, “Hey, I’m the mayor of New York! You can’t arrest the mayor of New York!”
The police agreed and let Walker go. But being the girlfriend of the mayor of New York, there was no such interest. So the cops handcuffed Compton and took him to a local beat. It took several hours to get Walker to the right people to free Compton.
However, as this shameful event was published in the press, it was obvious that it left a huge wound in Walker’s reputation, because people were hungry, without work, sometimes without food and shelter. And damn New York City.
Things start to get bleak for Walker when the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Hayes, starts shooting at the mayor. Hayes claims that the New York City crash that led to the stock market crash of 1929 was Mayor Walker’s fault. Cardinal Hayes accused Walker of looking the other way when girls’ magazines were being sold by the hundreds on 42nd Street. Walker met Cardinal Hayes when he shot back, “I never knew a woman offended by a magazine.”
Cardinal Hayes continued to attack Walker, and soon the Cardinal’s insults reached the office of Roosevelt, who was preparing to run for President of the United States. As a result, Roosevelt was not happy with Mayor Walker and was looking for a way to get rid of Walker’s political embarrassment.
Walker had one foot in the political grave and the other on a banana peel, evident when he was called before the Seabury Committee, chaired by Samuel Seabury, a scoundrel who was disgusted by Mayor Walker’s excesses. The Seabury Commission was established to investigate police and political corruption in New York City.
On May 25, 1932, Walker appeared on the steps of the District Courthouse in Lower Manhattan, dressed as if he were going out. When he arrived, the well-wishers applauded and chanted, “Atta boy, Jimmy! You tell them Jimmy! Good luck!”
Walker flashed his million-dollar smile and raised his fists above his head like a professional boxer who had won a fight. Then he entered the lion’s den and faced Justice Seabury.
A terrible tension immediately arose between the two people, who could not have been more different in character and demeanor. For two days, Seabury spat questions at Walker, and Walker responded defiantly. At one point, Walker yelled at Seabury, “You and Franklin Roosevelt are not going to raise yourselves to the presidency over my dead body.”
While Seabury was putting tough questions to Walker, it became clear that “Beau James” had distanced himself from any direct political involvement. However, it was very embarrassing for Walker when he discovered that his girlfriend, Betty Compton, had been paid cash by some of the businessmen involved in New York City after a lucrative deal. That includes Walker
Additionally, Walker’s brother, Dr. William H. Walker, had a monopoly on Workers’ Compensation claims, apparently banking more than $500,000 over a four-year period. Seabury discovered evidence that William Walker had actually settled most of the Workman’s Comp claims and secreted the difference into his coffers.
Although Mayor Seabury could not have wronged Walker, it was clear that Walker had suffered a political blow from which he would never recover. As a result of Seabury’s investigation, Seabury wrote a recommendation to Governor Roosevelt that Walker should be removed from office for “gross misconduct and other political misconduct.”
Governor Roosevelt was only a few months away from the Presidential election. Walker still had many supporters in New York City, and Roosevelt did not know the best way to handle Walker’s situation, so on September 1, 1932, he announced his resignation, letting Roosevelt off the hook. Mayor of New York City.
Within days, Walker and showgirl Betty Compton boarded a cruise ship bound for Europe. In 1933, Walker divorced his wife and married Compton. For three years, Walker spent his exile in London with Compton, and when he returned to New York City, La Guardia was mayor, and Walker withdrew from politics altogether.
Abandoning politics, Walker returned to his first love, music, and became the head of Majestic Records, a big-band record label that featured such notables as Louis Prima and Bud Freeman. In 1946, two years after taking over the reins of Majestic Records, Walker suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died at the age of sixty-five. Walker is buried at Heaven’s Gate Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.
In 1957, comedian and singer Bob Hope appeared in the film Beau James, based on Walker’s life. The film is based on Walker’s biography, Beau James, written by Gene Fowler. The book was also used as the basis for the Broadway play Jimmy, which ran from October 1969 to January 1970. “Jimmy” stars Frank Gorshin as Walker and Anita Gillette as Betty Compton.
In 1959, the Broadway production of Fiorello! the musical “Gentleman Jimmy” is dedicated to New York City’s midnight boss Jimmy Walker.
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