SEPTEMBER 11, 1961
HYDE PARK—The remarkable results of the New York City primary last Thursday, won by Mayor Wagner and his running mates, may well have wide repercussions in the Democratic party. I am frank to say that though I had expected Mayor Wagner and his team to be successful, the result was far beyond my expectations.
Reform groups everywhere may take encouragement from the defeat of Tammany leader Carmine De Sapio. There had been great confidence that Jim Lanigan's group would defeat De Sapio in his own district in Greenwich Village, but one could never be entirely sure. To have the reform groups here and in the other districts come through so well strengthened confidence for the future and showed that a very uneven battle can nevertheless, if persisted in, be carried through successfully. This should mean much in other parts of the country where reform groups may want to start a fight against entrenched bosses. It may seem a hopeless task, but here in New York it has been proved that it can be done.
Interest now focuses on the election in November. The Republican candidate will doubtless claim that Mayor Wagner's record does not entitle him to reelection. There are plenty of things, of course, that have gone wrong. On the other hand, I think it will be recognized that Mayor Wagner's appointments on the whole have been remarkably good in spite of the fact that they were not endorsed with enthusiasm by the party machine. Health Commissioner Leona Baumgartner has done a very good job, and so has Dr. Anna Kross, Commissioner of Correction, both of them women. Dr. Kross had a particularly difficult time because many of her staff were old-timers who held allegiance to the party machine. Still, she has accomplished a great deal for the city's correction system. This is not to say that everything is perfect. Very much remains to be done, as both these commissioners will be the first to tell you.
The most obvious flaw is that the Mayor's administrative eye has not been suspicious enough, with the result that scandals in building, in schools and repairs still exist and come to light. But the common sense of the people of New York will tell us, I am sure, that a man of experience who knows what has worked well and what has worked badly is a better bet for good government in the future than a Republican who will be dominated by his party machine. Hence I believe we will go on to a November victory.
Meanwhile we will use the time not only to fight a good campaign but to plan on what can be done to rebuild and revitalize the Democratic party in the city and state. One obvious trouble is that few people want to take the tough and unrewarding jobs of state and city politics. Organization is essential, but not bossism. Hence people must be found who really care about good government and who realize that these jobs can be made stepping stones to wider service in the future. A good state chairman can build a Democratic party which will be a fighting party in every county. The time has come to lead, and it should be done. The city government can be made responsible to the people's needs especially if we heed Commissioner Allen's call for a new state education law. The city should deal with its own problems and the whole of education in city and state should be gone over with great care. Actual reorganization, however, must wait till the election is past. In the meantime we can wholeheartedly congratulate the Mayor, Mr. Screvane and Mr. Beame, and above all Senator Lehman, whose stout campaigning helped immeasurably to win the primary.
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A Southern woman sends me a newspaper clipping datelined Monticello, Georgia, which states that a 15-year old Negro boy has been sentenced to the electric chair on September 22. He was convicted last August by an all-male, all-white Jasper County Superior Court jury, which deliberated 45 minutes, for murdering a 70-year old white farmer. The boy is quoted as saying in an unsworn statement that he shot the farmer last June because he was scared of him as they had quarelled over some fish.
Evidently Georgia law permits the execution of children. Georgia is considered a very enlightened state, and it was a surprise to me to find that its laws permit this type of punishment for a minor child. But Georgia is part of the U. S., no matter how much we may wish to conceal the fact, and there is going to be worldwide feeling that this is unenlightened penal legislation. I think that there also ought to be a reaction in the whole of the U. S. against allowing any youngster to be electrocuted at the age of 15, regardless of whether his skin is white or black. Everyone should wire the Governor of Georgia asking for clemency in this case, and I hope that not only clemency but reeducation will be given this child so that he may eventually become a useful citizen. If it is found that he cannot be either capable or responsible, then he should be properly taken care of where he can do no further harm to society.