• U.S.

NEW JERSEY: Rice Pudding — with Raisins

2 minute read

For 13 months, Municipal Auditor William Sternkopf Jr. had delved into Jersey City’s past, hoping to uncover fresh lore about the quaint folkways of old Frank Hague and his crumbled Hudson County political barony. Last week Auditor Sternkopf announced happily that he had tracked down full details of one of the most significant rituals of Boss Hague’s time—an institution known as “Rice Pud ding Day.”

Once a year, and twice every fourth year when there were municipal elections, collectors would circulate among the 8,000 or 9,000 lucky people who made their living off Frank Hague’s Jersey City and Hudson County payrolls. Each public employee would hand the collector an amount approximating 3% of his annual salary. As that day approached, Jersey City banks and small loan companies did a big loan business.

Just about everybody on the public payroll pitched in, from the municipal cuspidor cleaners to the foreman of vacuum cleaners at the county courthouse. Women were exempted, apparently because the Hague machine never gave anything but small jobs with niggardly salaries to women; policemen below the rank of detective were assessed a flat $60 instead of a percentage of their pay.

Auditor Sternkopf collected affidavits from 2,500 employees who had contributed or collected money for the machine. His report covered only a third of the Hague payrolls and only the last two years of Boss Hague’s 32-year reign (when nephew Frank Hague Eggers was allowed to be mayor), but that limited corner of the pudding alone added up to about $360,000. The rice pudding was supposedly collected for legitimate campaign purposes, but only a teaspoonful—$2,280 to be exact—was ever officially reported to the county, state or national Democratic Party coffers.

All in all, the Sternkopf report indicated that Hague’s collectors must have raised at least $15 million, perhaps more than $20 million, in the 32 years of Frank Hague’s raisiny rule.

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