Community Power in a Postreform City: Politics in New York City

By Robert F. Pecorella | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Community Politics in Context: Machine
and Reform Governance

This chapter traces the evolution of two political regimes in New York City history: machine rule under Tammany Hall and the reform regime that replaced the machine. Although these two regimes were markedly different in their political orientations, they experienced quite similar evolutions: each was initiated in the wake of a fiscal crisis that discredited the previous ruling coalition and resulted in the rise of a fiscally conservative political leadership; each regime matured during a period of relative economic stability, which allowed the leadership to consolidate power by balancing the need for fiscal restraint and the demands for public spending; each was weakened by internal conflicts and external challenges that forced the leadership to broaden the regime's political base to maintain electoral support; and each regime lost dominance as a result of fiscal pressures with which the regime, fragmented by political conflict, could not cope.

The evolution of Tammany Hall is a classic illustration of the principle that organizations survive by adapting to their environments. Originally established as a social society, Tammany Hall evolved over the course of the nineteenth century into a powerful urban political machine. Tammany was far from being the political monolith of urban folklore, however; its longevity was a function of its continued accommodation of economic and political forces in New York City.1 Even during its era of organizational maturity and regime consolidation, from the 1890s through the 1920s, Tammany's rule was continually challenged by internal conflicts and organized reform opposition.

Coming to power as a result of the "bankers' strike" of 1871, the machine was replaced by a reform regime in the wake of the depression of 1929. Prior to achieving power, reformers had challenged Tammany rule for decades, winning control of city government for brief periods. Like its counterparts in other cities, the New York reform movement was largely a creation of upper-income interests; it incorporated both socially progressive and elitist values, and it sought to implement those values through structural reform of city government.

Brought to power after the fiscal crisis generated by the depression, a reform regime ruled in New York for roughly three decades. New York City's adminis

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