The History of the New York City Legislature

By Frederick Shaw | Go to book overview

2. AN INEFFECTIVE LEGISLATURE, 1902-1937

If only the Board of Aldermen would function! No one tried to prod it into action but me. . . . It was exactly like punching a stuffed bag. No comeback. No debate. No defense. No anything but a stencilled routine.--ALDERMAN RUTH PRATT1

THE NEW CHARTER failed to breathe life into the Board of Aldermen. From the very beginning the new body proved ineffective. Scarcely five years after it first convened, a commission reported that it had "signally failed" in the making of general ordinances--one of the principal reasons for its existence.2

Few of its enactments were of general interest. During the 1918 session, for example, the legislative mill ground out 541 measures. Yet only three were of popular concern: an ordinance regulating theatre ticket speculators, one requiring owners of abutting property to keep sidewalks in repair, and a third prohibiting the Red Flag at assemblies (a reflection of the current apprehension about radicals). Just one ordinance passed in 1919 was popular in nature--permission for ball clubs to play Sunday baseball.3

____________________
1
New York Evening World, March 29, 1929.
2
Report of the Charter Revision Commission of 1907 to the Governor of the State of New York, November 30, 1907, p. 32.
3
Perhaps the most careful analysis of the work of the board was made by the Citizens Union in a study of the 1918 session. Of the 541 measures passed in that year, 465 covered the following subjects: 171 permitted purchase by heads of departments without public letting; 79 requested the Board of Estimate to authorize the issue of special revenue bonds; 112, made jointly with the Board of Estimate, established, abolished, or changed the qualifications of city employees; 62 were drafts on the city treasury for minor contingent expenses; 41 appointed commissioners of deeds. The remaining 76 were miscellaneous items, as follows: 4 granted leaves of absence to city employees; 18 were concerned

-15-

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