Newark is one of America’s most fascinating cities with a rich history of prosperity, downfall and finally rising within ranks once more. Before the war, Newark was a prosperous industrial hub with prominence and great wealth. After the war however, the situation changed tremendously for the city. Corruption infected the political class, industries were abandoned, the white community fled the city, crime, poverty, and racial conflict set in.
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In the early 1900, reformers considered that municipal governments were part of the woes that inflicted cities including “partisan politics, corruption, wasteful spending, and all manner of vice and immorality” (Tuttle 89). Galveston’s government for example was accused of political corruption in preceding years.
A group of its businessmen then, “suggested creating an orderly, corporate board-style commission to oversee rebuilding task” (Tuttle 90). This commission type of governance was then adapted by other cities as it was thought to be the solution to problems afflicting cities (Tuttle 90). The commissions comprised of five officials holding execute and legislative powers of the city collectively but one holding the mayor’s position.
At this time, a committee set up in Newark found out that the level of “prostitution, casual sex, gambling, drug abuse, and intermingling of races” (Tuttle 92) had risen sharply and they blamed the degeneration of the Newark moral code “lack of supervision of young women, the influx of immigrants, and corrupt or lazy policemen who refused to enforce the law” (Tuttle 93). To curb these vices, reformist business leaders and clergymen welcomed the Prohibition Act that was hence enforced throughout the era.
Newark adapted the national trend of adopting the commission government but some led by the mayor, Thomas Raymond opposed the commission out of fear that it could not root out corruption (Tuttle 92). However, the system was adopted and seemed to work in the initial years until it proved to be unsustainable for the city. Of the five commissioners that served Newark at that time, Commissioner Benn enchanted the majority of Newark residents with his unpartisan style of leadership.
The Prohibition law created more menace than was originally anticipated because it led to breaking of law and “underworld” corruption with cooperation of police and government officials.
This gave way to political connections and smuggling as beer was smuggled into Newark (Tuttle 97). It was risky business for smugglers because they faced frequent hijackings and arrests. One such audacious smuggler was Longy Zwillman and Reinfeld who were recognized as serious about their business (Tuttle 99). They sold “only top-notch whisky” unlike the other bootleggers.
They learned how, when and who to bribe to remain in business and as such, Zwillman was a target for the New York drug barons who wanted to expand their underworld business. Ruggiero Boiardo was an example who came to Newark to build his empire (Tuttle 102). All this while, there was prosperity in Newark as was characterized by the building of skyscrapers, flashy suburbs, and one of the busiest airports in the world.
By the elections held in 1929, everything was rosy and the “incumbent commissioners ran for reelection in May 1929 under the joint slogan ‘continued prosperity’” (Tuttle 104). All the commissioners were reelected but the stock market nose-dived after six months which led to the Great Depression. “Employment dropped in Newark by 25 percent between January and November of 1930” (Tuttle 104).
African Americans suffered the most but were finally accorded jobs in factories to meet the manufacturing demands but were categorized as unskilled labor. Although the number of African- American immigrants to Newark increased by 7,000, employment among the community dropped considerably (Tuttle 106).
Even in the midst of the Great Depression, the Newark airport broke the world record by the number of passengers in 1933. At this time, the political class including the commissioners grabbed land near the airport and was indicted of conspiracy to defraud the city (Tuttle 111). Apart from corruption and misuse of public property, there were also assassinations perpetuated by the underworld operatives.
Newark flourished under the commission style of government. The industrial boom brought a lot of prosperity and wealth but that was until when corruption in the government and crime changed the fortunes of Newark.
Tuttle, Brad.”How Newark Became Newark: the rise, fall, and rebirth of the American City.” New York: Rutgers University Press, 2009.Print.