• U.S.

WISCONSIN: Marxist Mayor

13 minute read

(See front cover)

Mr. & Mrs. Daniel Webster Hoan live in a cheap little frame house in Milwaukee’s unfashionable 17th Ward. They have lived there for 18 years. The Hoans’s living room overflows with overstuffed furniture, a radio, a phonograph, a piano. On the piano stand photographs of Mrs. Hoan, her mother, the Hoans’s son Daniel Webster Jr., their daughter Agnes at 2 and at 18. A picture of the Hoans, looking stiff and uncomfortable after their wedding in 1909, hangs in the stairway hall.

Mr. Hoan’s hero is Abraham Lincoln. There is a bust of him in the living room, as well as a photograph, a statuette and pair of bookends of him in Mr. Hoan’s study. Mr. Hoan is built on the Lincoln line—a tall, lanky, restless Midwesterner with a high twangy voice, a shaggy mop of mouse-colored hair, a heavy mustache. He and Mrs. Hoan go to the cinema occasionally, spend a good many evenings playing bridge, usually with the same neighbor couple. Sometimes plump, jolly Mrs. Hoan plays at the Elks Club. She never misses a Sunday at her Roman Catholic Church. Once in a while Mr. Hoan goes with her. Mr. Hoan thinks Mrs. Hoan is the best cook in the world.

Last week certain people in Milwaukee were saying, as they have said many a time in the past, that Mr. Hoan wants to destroy the U. S. Home. For Mr. Hoan is not a wholesale grocer or an insurance salesman but the longtime Socialist Mayor of the twelfth city of the land.

Whereas city reform movements commonly wither after a single victory at the polls, Dan Hoan is a reform Mayor who has lasted for six terms, spanning 20 years. He represents a party which has only some 3,000 paid-up members in a city of 578,000 people. He counts the city’s bankers, utilities men and big real estate owners his sworn enemies. The Press, except for a small Socialist sheet, is solidly against him. Republicans and Democrats have virtually lost their separate identities in uniting to oppose him. Yet Daniel Webster Hoan remains one of the nation’s ablest public servants, and under him Milwaukee has become perhaps the best-governed city in the U. S.

Supposedly Milwaukee would be eager to have Dan Hoan as its Mayor as long as it could. But last week, as city elections neared, Milwaukee was seeing Red, and Mayor Hoan was battling for his political life in the bitterest fight of his lively career.

Socialist Start. U. S. Socialism is a German importation, brought by the political exiles of 1848 who started Milwaukee on its way to becoming a German metropolis. Even there Socialism might have remained no more than heady beer-table talk if it had not been for two facts. One was the organizing power of the late great Socialist Victor L. Berger, onetime (1911-13, 1923-29) U. S. Representative. The other was that, even in competition with those of New York, Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco, Milwaukee’s city government was distinguished for its laxity and corruption. In 1904-06 more than 200 Republican and Democratic officials were indicted for graft. In 1910 disgusted citizens put a whole Socialist slate into office, including 29-year-old Daniel Webster Hoan as city attorney.

When the old-line parties got together and beat the Socialist Mayor at the next election, it looked as if Milwaukee had gone the way of other night-blooming reform movements. But popular young City Attorney Hoan, whose term was for four years, was re-elected in 1914, meantime kept the Socialist organization alive & kicking. In 1916 he got himself elected Mayor.

Good Things. Under Mayor Hoan, Milwaukee has grown famed as a paragon of cities. Among cities of more than 500,000 population, only Baltimore has a lower per-capita cost of government, only St. Louis has a lower per-capita bonded indebtedness. Throughout Depression it has kept notably solvent, has not once defaulted on a payroll or interest payment. It has set up an amortization fund which at the present rate of growth will wipe out its entire bonded indebtedness by 1943, put all city operations on a cash basis.

Its election system insures absolute honesty. Under rigidly-enforced civil service regulations, the merit system holds good in all city departments. Last year Milwaukee had only one murder, one manslaughter. Famed for incorruptibility, its police department, under a non-political chief removable only for malfeasance, has rid the city of gangsters, given it rock-bottom burglary insurance rates. Its fire department and fire prevention program have reduced fire losses from an average of $1,440 to about $256 per fire, secured for its building owners about the lowest fire insurance rates available.

Milwaukee’s 107 superbly equipped and managed schools provide ordinary, vocational and leisure education for every citizen over 4 years of age. It claims the biggest & best part-time vocational school in the world, the nation’s largest municipally-owned educational museum, the largest per-capita adult night-school enrollment in the U. S. It has a magnificent system of 67 city parks, 68 city playgrounds, 21 city social centres, produces outdoor opera, maintains free bathing beaches, operates dance halls in the parks, uses 47 of its school buildings every night for drama clubs, bridge games, chess tournaments.

Is It Socialism? Conceding the excellence of a government which has produced these results, observers may well wonder what Socialism has to do with it. The answer is that Socialism as an economic doctrine has nothing to do with it.

The majority of Milwaukeeans decidedly do not want Socialism. Out of about 250,000 voters there are only about 35,000 who vote the straight Socialist ticket, and hence presumably believe in the Party doctrines. Never until 1932 did Mayor Hoan have a Socialist colleague in one of the city’s other three major elective jobs. The city has never given him a working majority of the Common Council; he has had one since 1932 only because two opposition members went over to his side. The votes which have returned Dan Hoan to the City Hall five times have come from conservative citizens who wanted him there in spite of his Socialist ideas.

Socialism, as no one knows better than Mayor Hoan, is a job for the state and nation, not for the city. Let Milwaukee move to confiscate big incomes and inheritances or take over private industry and it would be stopped dead in its tracks by the U. S. Constitution.

About the only step a city can take toward genuine Socialism is to acquire its public utilities. Milwaukee lags behind hundreds of other U. S. towns & cities in that respect. Its only ventures which even smack of Socialism are: 1) a 14-year-old co-operative housing project of 105 homes; 2) a municipal waterworks, sewage plant, stone quarry, harbor facilities and street lighting equipment; 3) a system of financing itself without banks by issuance of $1 to $100 scrip bonds. Socialist Mayor Hoan, lacking a Socialist administration, handicapped by an antiquated city charter, able to put over most of his reform measures only by enlisting public opinion through ceaseless campaigning, has only this year felt ready to demand that Milwaukee buy its city power system.

Kitchen Boy’s Creed. Dan Hoan’s father, son of Irish immigrants, was the blacksmith and town radical of Waukesha, Wis.—a Democrat turned Populist and then Socialist. He died when his son was 14. Young Dan went to work in the kitchen of a nearby resort hotel, drifted on through several hotel kitchens in Milwaukee and Chicago. At 19, he went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison to earn his way by cooking at hotels and fraternity houses, find out whether his father’s Socialistic ideas were wrong. He hoped they were, since his elders had warned him that holding them would hinder his advancement in the world. Most of what he learned about them he had to dig up for himself; his professors seemed never to have heard of them. But after stumbling on the teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. he left the University convinced that his father had been right.

After a fling at running a restaurant on Chicago’s State Street, Dan Hoan got a $6-per-week law clerkship, studied nights at Kent College of Law. In 1908, aged 27, he opened a Milwaukee law office. As counsel for the State Federation of Labor, a job he owed to Victor Berger, he led a winning fight for the first state Workmen’s Compensation Act in the U. S. In 1910 Victor Berger pushed him into politics as Socialist candidate for city attorney.

When Dan Hoan gives Karl Marx the credit for his municipal success, he means about what Abraham Lincoln did when he said he owed everything to his mother, or what a pious tycoon means by declaring that he has made his way in the world by trying to solve his problems on Christian principles. Mayor Hoan has a good working knowledge of Marxist economics. But he bears about the same relation to the hair-splitting theorists of his clan that a modern medical missionary does to a medieval monk. More significant than his profession of faith in Karl Marx’s teachings is his worship of Abraham Lincoln. He subscribes to Marxist doctrines because he thinks they are the ideal means to his ends in life. Meantime he works toward those ends as best he can under the current system. He has won office year after year, while other Socialists failed, not only because of his reputation for personal honesty and administrative ability but because he is a colorful campaigner. He talks his audiences’ language, knows how to make them laugh and cheer, keeps them fascinated by the way he thumps a table, shakes his finger, wrinkles his face, hunches his shoulders, strides up & down, leaps in the air.

Milwaukee Sees Red. During most of his career, Mayor Hoan’s Socialist ideas have hardly furnished a campaign issue. But since 1932, with a Socialist-controlled Council and a Socialist city attorney also in power, Milwaukee has begun to see Red. Since Depression, say his opponents, Dan Hoan has swung left. Before, they cry, he only talked Socialism; now he wants to put it into practice. That cry had by last week heated Milwaukee to its highest political fever in 20 years, brought out a record registration.

Chief factual basis for the Red scare is the Hoan proposal for public ownership of the city electric company. A referendum on that issue will accompany next week’s elections. Businessmen make much of the facts that Milwaukee had 107 strikes in 1934, that the Mayor’s secretary and one of his chief organizers have marched in picket lines and made fighting speeches to strikers, that the Mayor himself was reported to have said to a group of strikers: “We must demand our rights. God bless you, I hope you win.” They were aghast when Socialist City Attorney Max Raskin refused last year to prosecute a group of Communists arrested for creating a disturbance at a reception for German Ambassador Hans Luther. They profess vast alarm over an anti-strike-violence ordinance passed by the Common Council last autumn. This ordinance provides that if an employer refuses to bargain with his striking employes, thereby causing 200 or more resentful citizens to demonstrate around his plant for one hour on two successive days, the Mayor or chief of police may, if they and a citizens’ committee agree that the peace of the city is endangered, close the plant.

The president of Lindemann & Hoverston Stove Co. has threatened to move his $1,000,000-per-year payroll out of the city if the Socialists are kept in power next week. Other businessmen, say anti-Socialists, are canceling expansion plans or preparing to move because of the Red nightmare. New business, they assert, is being frightened away from Milwaukee.

Final source of conservative alarm is the Wisconsin Socialist Party’s merger, effected last winter, with La Follette Progressives in a Farmer-Labor Progressive Federation, pledged to a ”production for use” program. By this deal Progressives are to support Socialists in Milwaukee; Socialists, who cast only about 10,000 votes outside Milwaukee County, will support a Federation slate composed chiefly of Progressives in State elections. First test of Federation effectiveness will come at Milwaukee’s polls next week. For Mayor Hoan, who has made a more than local name for himself not only by his Milwaukee record but by his leadership in the U. S. Conference of Mayors, the Great Lakes Harbor Association and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, the new alliance seems to open the way toward the U. S. Senate, where he would one day like to sit. Ominously, however, Governor Phil La Follette had not, up to this week, opened his mouth on the subject of Hoan for Mayor.

Chief effect of the Federation to date has been to win Milwaukee’s Socialists a kiss of death from their city’s tiny, impotent Communist Party. Mayor Hoan, who hates revolution and dictators with all his Midwestern soul, has vehemently disclaimed the Red endorsement. But William Randolph Hearst’s Milwaukee Wisconsin News was screaming last week: “A MAJORITY OF MILWAUKEE WOMEN DO NOT INTEND TO LONGER’ TOLERATE A COMMUNIST-ENDORSED CITY ADMINISTRATION! . . . COMMUNISTS WHO OPENLY DEMAND THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FAMILY, THE HOME AND THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION!”

Next week, as it has been in every election since his first, it will be Dan Hoan against the field. After the Socialist landslide of 1910, Republicans and Democrats wangled through the Legislature a State law requiring municipal primaries and elections to be nonpartisan. No party designations may appear on ballots. Only the two biggest primary votegetters may compete in elections. Thus it is assured that every non-Socialist vote will be an anti-Socialist vote.

The Mayoral candidate behind whom anti-Hoan forces are massed is Joseph John Shinners, 54, a 6-ft. 4-in., 255-lb. Irish Democrat who was a first-rate rough-&-tumble policeman in Milwaukee’s old days, went into the trucking-&-warehouse business in 1912 and since 1932 has been the able sheriff of Milwaukee County. A Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus and father of ten, Candidate Shinners is expected to draw a strong Catholic vote. He is also backed by the American Legion and the Nazi Friends of New Germany. Asked whether it is true that he never got past the fourth grade in school, he replies, “I’m still going to school.” Though he admits that municipally-owned public utilities might be practical in small communities, he wants no reform in Milwaukee.

“The chief plank in my platform,” says Candidate Shinners, ”is to coax big industries to come to Milwaukee and take people off the streets and keep them out of the penitentiaries.”

Many a citizen who has never heard of Daniel Webster Hoan and his municipal achievements knows Milwaukee as a great brewing town, home of Pabst, Blatz, Miller and of Schlitz, “The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous.” The current Socialist campaign slogan: KEEP MILWAUKEE FAMOUS.

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