4. Tweed was an Innovator in Delivering Social Services for the Poor

Tammany-Hall_Union-Square_NYC_Untapped-Cities-01-Bryan-Garcia The Union Square East view of the former Tammany Hall headquarters, which now serves as the campus for the New York Film Academy and houses the Union Square Theater.

Yes, the Tammany machine depended on the reliable votes of new immigrants, but as Terry Golway writes in Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics “Earning and keeping the Irish vote was more than simply a matter of naturalizing immigrants and sending them on they way into the alien streets of New York, it required constant attention.” (Incidentally, Tweed was of Scottish descent.)

While Irish recruitment had begun before Tweed’s tenure as Grand Sachem, Tweed poured unprecedented amounts of taxpayer money into schools, hospitals, poor houses and local infrastructure. Did he do so efficiently or fairly? Of course not! However, later Tammany alums like Al Smith later took the early welfare models and executed them at the state level, creating a safety net and economic rights for all New Yorkers, not just Tammany voters.

You can still see a remnant of the Tammany era too – the New York Film Academy Building in Union Square was formerly the Tammany Society.

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