Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tim Sullivan: King Of The Bowery

Tim's Funeral
I heard Richard Welch speak about his excellent book, King of the Bowery: Big Tim Sullivan, Tammany Hall, and New York City from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era at the Tenement Museum. One of the strong points he makes is that in studying LES history not enough research and interest has been devoted to this crucial pre 1900 and early 1900 time.
Tim Sullivan's bio, an excerpt from wikipedia
Timothy Daniel Sullivan (July 23, 1862 – August 31, 1913) was a New York politician who controlled Manhattan's Bowery and Lower East Side districts as a prominent figure within Tammany Hall. He was euphemistically known as "Dry Dollar", as the "Big Feller", and, later, as "Big Tim" (because of his large stature). During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he controlled much of the city's criminal activities between 14th Street and the Battery in New York City. He is credited as being one of the earliest ward representatives to use his position to enable the activities of criminal street gangs.
Born to Daniel O. Sullivan and Catherine Connelly (or Conley), immigrants from Kenmare, County Kerry, Ireland in the slum of Five Points. Daniel Sullivan, a Union veteran of the American Civil War, died of Typhus in October 1867 at the age of thirty-six leaving his wife to care for four children. Catherine remarried in 1870 to an immigrant, alcoholic laborer named Lawrence Mulligan, eventually having six more children.
At the age of eight, Sullivan began shining shoes and selling newspapers on Park Row in lower Manhattan. By his mid-twenties, Sullivan was the part or full owner of six saloons which was the career of choice for an aspiring politician. Sullivan soon caught the attention of local politicians, notably Thomas "Fatty" Walsh, a prominent Tammany Hall ward leader. In 1886, at the age of twenty-three, he was elected to the state Assembly in the old Third District.
That year, Sullivan had married Helen (née Fitzgerald). Gradually, he began building one of the most powerful political machines which controlled virtually all jobs and vice below 14th Street in Manhattan. His base of operation was his headquarters at 207 Bowery. By 1892, Tammany Hall leader Richard Croker appointed Sullivan leader of his assembly district of the Lower East Side.
Sullivan briefly served one term in the U.S. Congress from March 4, 1903 until his resignation on July 27, 1906. According to some accounts, Sullivan was dissatisfied with the graft and anonymity of political life in the Capitol prompting his resignation while remarking that "In NY, we use Congressmen for hitchin' posts." He was later elected to Congress in 1912, but due to ill health, never took his seat. (See, A.F. Harlow, Old Bowery Days). Instead, Big Tim chose to remain a state senator for most of his political career serving two terms in the New York State Senate from 1894-1903 and again from 1909-1912.
It could be said that Sullivan was one of the earliest political reformers and was aligned with women's rights activist Frances Perkins and sponsored legislation limiting the maximum number of hours women were forced to work; improving the conditions of stable and delivery horses and of course, gun control legislation euphemistically termed the Sullivan Law.
Despite his political and criminal activities, Sullivan was undeniably a successful businessman involved in real estate, theatrical ventures (at one point partnering with Marcus Loew), boxing and horseracing.
Along with various other Sullivans (Big Tim also branched out into popular amusement venues such as Dreamland in Coney Island, where he installed a distant relative, Dennis, as the political leader. Sullivan, whose control extended to illegal prizefights through the National Athletic Club, influenced the New York State Legislature to legalize boxing in 1896 before ring deaths and other scandals caused the law's repeal four years later.
Among other laws he helped pass was the Sullivan Act, a state law that required a permit to carry or own a concealed weapon, which eventually became law on May 29, 1911. However, with many residents unable to afford the $3 registration fee issued by the corrupt New York Police Department and guaranteed his bodyguards could be legally armed while using the law against their political opponents.
He was extremely popular among his constituents. In the hot summer months, tenement dwellers would be feted to steamboat excursions and picnics to College Point in Queens or New Jersey. In the winter months, the Sullivan machine doled out food, coal and clothing to his constituents. On the anniversary of his mother's birthday, February 6, Sullivan dispensed shoes to needy tenement dwellers. The annual Christmas Dinners were a particularly notable event covered in all of the city papers. Although he had a loyal following, his involvement in organized crime and political protection of street gangs and vice districts would remain a source of controversy throughout his career.

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