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last impression made upon a disinterested spectator is, that this most expensive body, even if every member were an honest man, would be absolutely useless. A competent street inspector, properly aided by the police, could do all the real work that is left to them to do; for such has been the flagrant abuse of
h their power, that, by degrees, they have been deprived by the State Legislature of a great part of the authority they once possessed ; but the power to do mischief remains. This “ honorable body" can still waste, give away, and steal the money of their constituents.
The only way in which we can convey to the reader's mind a lively idea of the character of the city legislature is to relate, as simply as possible, a few of their acts of last summer, which we witnessed ourselves and recorded on the day of their perpetration. There is no “mystery of iniquity” in the business; to understand the game which the majority of this body are playing, it is only necessary to sit out two or three of their ordinary sessions. We own it is a trial to the patience. There will be moments when a person of vivacious turn of mind will feel an almost irresistible impulse to throw something at the head of those insolent young bar-keepers, who have contrived to get their hands into the public pocket, and are scattering wide the hard-earned money of good citizens and faithful fathers of families.
At almost every session we witnessed scenes like the following. A member proposed to lease a certain building for a city court at two thousand dollars a year for ten years. Honest Christopher Pullman, a faithful and laborious public servant, objected on one or two grounds;— first, rents being unnaturally high, owing to several well-known and temporary causes, it would be unjust to the city to fix the rent at present rates for so long a period ; secondly, he had been himself to see the building, had taken pains to inform himself as to its value, and was prepared to prove that twelve hundred dollars a year was a proper rent for it, even at the inflated rates. He made this statement with excellent brevity, moderation, and good temper, and concluded by moving that the term be two instead of ten years. A robust young man with a bull-neck and of ungrammatical habits said, in a tone expressive of impatient
disdain, that the landlord of the building had “refused” fifteen hundred dollars a year for it. “Question!” “ Question!” shouted half a dozen angry voices. The question was instantly put, when a perfect war of noes voted down Mr. Pullman's amendment. Another hearty chorus of ayes consummated the iniquity. In all such affairs, the visitor notices a kind of ungovernable propensity to vote for spending money, and a prompt disgust at any obstacle raised or objection made. The bull-necked Councilman of uncertain grammar evidently felt that Mr. Pullman's modest interference on behalf of the tax-payer was a most gross impertinence. He felt himself an injured being, and his companions shared his indignation.
We proceed to another and better specimen. A resolution was introduced, appropriating four thousand dollars for the purpose of presenting stands of colors to five regiments of city militia, which were named, each stand to cost eight hundred dollars. Mr. Pullman, as usual, objected, and we beg the reader to mark his objections. He said that he was a member of the committee which had reported the resolution, but he had never heard of it till that moment; the scheme had been “sprung" upon him. The chairman of the committee replied to this, that, since the other regiments had had colors given them by the city, he did not suppose that any one could object to these remaining five receiving the same compliment, and therefore he had not thought it worth while to summon the gentleman. “Besides," said he," it is a small matter anyhow";- by which he evidently meant to intimate that the objector was a very small person. To this last remark, a member replied, that he did not consider four thousand dollars so very small a matter. “ Anyhow," he added, "we oughter save the city every dollar we kin." Mr. Pullman resumed. He stated that the Legislature of the State, several months before, had voted a stand of colors to each infantry regiment in the State ; that the distribution of these colors had already begun; that the five regiments would soon receive them; and that, consequently, there was no need of their having the colors which it was now proposed to give them. А member roughly replied, that the colors voted by the State Legislature were mere painted banners,“ of no account.” Mr. Pullman denied this. “I am," said he, “ captain in one of
our city regiments; two weeks ago we received our colors. I have seen, felt, examined, and marched under them; and I can testify that they are of great beauty and excellent quality, made by Tiffany and Company, a firm of the first standing in the city.” He proceeded to describe the colors as being made of the best silk, and decorated in the most elegant manner. He further objected to the price proposed to be given for the colors. He declared that, from his connection with the militia, he had become acquainted with the value of such articles, and he could procure colors of the best kind ever used in the service for three hundred and seventy-five dollars. The price named in the resolution was, therefore, most excessive. Upon this, another member rose and said, in a peculiarly offensive manner, that it would be two years before. Tiffany and Company had made all the colors, and some of the regiments would have to wait all that time. “ The other regiments," said he, “ have had colors presented by the city, and I don't see why we should show partiality.” Whereupon Mr. Pullman informed the board that the city regiments would all be supplied in a few weeks; and, even if they did have to wait awhile, it was of no consequence, for they all had very good colors already. Honest Stephen Roberts then rose, and said that this was a subject with which he was not acquainted, but that if no one could refute what Mr. Pullman had said, he should be obliged to vote against the resolution. Then there was a pause. The cry of “ Question !” was heard.
and noes were called. The resolution was carried by eighteen to five. The learned suppose that one half of this stolen four thousand dollars was expended upon the colors, and the other half divided among about forty persons. It is conjectured that each member of the Councilmen's Ring, which consists of thirteen, received about forty dollars for his vote on this occasion. This sum added to his pay, which is twenty dollars per session, made a tolerable afternoon's work.
Any one witnessing this scene would certainly have supposed that now the militia regiments of the city of New York were provided with colors. What was our surprise to hear, a few days after, a member gravely propose to appropriate eight hundred dollars for the purpose of presenting the Ninth Regiment of New
York Infantry with a stand of colors. Mr. Pullman repeated his objections, and recounted anew the generosity of the State Legislature. The eighteen, without a word of reply, voted for the grant as before. It so chanced that, on our way up Broadway, an hour after, we met that very regiment marching down with its colors flying ; and we observed that those colors were nearly new. Indeed, there is such a propensity in the public to present colors to popular regiments, that some of them have as many as five stands, of various degrees of splendor. There is nothing about which Councilmen need feel so little anxiety as a deficiency in the supply of regimental colors. When, at last, these extravagant banners voted by the Corporation are presented to the regiments, a new scene of plunder is exhibited. The officers of the favored regiment are invited to a room in the basement of the City Hall, where city officials assist them to consume three hundred dollars' worth of champagne, sandwiches, and cold chicken, - paid for out of the city treasury,while the privates of the regiment await the return of their officers in the unshaded portion of the adjacent park.
It is a favorite trick with these Councilmen, as of all politicians, to devise measures the passage of which will gratify large bodies of voter's. This is one of the advantages proposed to be gained by the presentation of colors to regiments, and the same system is pursued with regard to churches and societies. At every one of the six sessions of the Councilmen which we attended, resolutions were introduced to give away the peoples' money to wealthy organizations. A church, for example, is assessed a thousand dollars for the construction of a sewer, which enhances the value of the church property by at least the amount of the assessment. Straightway a member from that neighborhood proposes to console the stricken church with a “donation" of a thousand dollars to enable it to pay the assessment; and as this is a proposition to vote money, it is carried as a matter of course. We select from our notes only one of these donating scenes. A member proposed to give two thousand dollars to a certain industrial school, - the favorite charity of the present time, to which all the benevolent most willingly subscribe. Vigilant Christopher Pullman reminded the board that it was now unlawful for the Corporation to vote
money for any object not specified in the tax levy, as finally sanctioned by the Legislature. He read the section of the act. which forbade it. He further showed, from a statement by the Comptroller, that there was no money left at their disposal for any miscellaneous objects, since the appropriation for “ City contingencies” was exhausted. The only reply to his remarks was the instant passage of the resolution by eighteen to five. By what artifice the law is likely to be evaded in such cases, we may show further on. In all probability, the industrial school, in the course of the year, will receive a fraction of this money, perhaps even so large a fraction as one half. It may be that, ere now, some obliging person about the City Hall has offered to buy the claim for a thousand dollars, and take the risk of the hocus-pocus necessary for getting it, — which to him is no risk at all.
It was proposed, on another occasion, to raise the fees of the inspectors of weights and measures, who received fifty cents for inspecting a pair of platform scales, and smaller sums for scales and measures of less importance.
Here was a subject upon which honest Stephen Roberts, whose shop is in a street where scales and measures abound, was entirely at home. He showed, in his sturdy and strenuous manner, that, at the rates then established, an active man could make two hundred dollars a day. “Why," said he, “a man can inspect, and does inspect, fifty platform scales in an hour.” The cry of “Question !”
The question was put, and the usual loud chorus of ayes followed.
As it requires a three-fourths vote to grant money, - i. e. eighteen members, – it is sometimes impossible for the Ring to get that number together. There is a mode of preventing the absence or the opposition of members from defeating favorite schemes. It is by way of “reconsideration.” The time was, when a measure distinctly voted down by a lawful majority was dead; but by this expedient the voting down of a measure is only equivalent to its postponement to a more favorable occasion. The moment the chairman pronounces a resolution lost, the member who has it in charge moves a reconsideration; and, as a reconsideration requires only the vote of a majority, this is invariably carried. By a rule of the Board, a reconsideration VOL. CIII. — NO. 213.