These are grim times for New York political bosses. Former Speaker Sheldon Silver’s corruption trial ends on Monday. Former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ corruption trial has just begun. Former Kings County Democratic Chairman Vito Lopez is dead.
Today is an anniversary celebrating a rare win for New York reformers: on November 19, 1871, William “Boss” Magear Tweed was arrested. Here are some fun and surprising stories you may not have known about the infamously corrupt Boss Tweed:
1. Tweed Launched his Career as a Volunteer Firefighter
Firefighter’s Procession in 1858 past Niblo’s Garden, a theater on Broadway. Illustration via NYPL
Who doesn’t like firefighters? Until 1865, New York’s firefighters were all volunteers, which had its problems – often drunk, they struggled to actually put out fires. But firefighters were still loved in the community, and Tweed, who exhibited a charismatic touch, was recruited by Tammany to run for Alderman (today’s City Council). He quickly was elected to Congress, but utterly bored, he returned home after one term to take a series of party machine posts like Deputy Street Commissioner. The streets of New York were paved with patronage gold.
The history of the city’s firefighters is well-documented at the New York City Fire Museum on Spring Street.