City Bosses in the United States: A Study of Twenty Municipal Bosses

By Harold B. Zink | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
"BIG TIM" SULLIVAN

A place among American municipal overlords belongs to "Big Tim" Sullivan not because he actually dominated New York City, as did Tweed, Kelly, Croker, and Murphy, although perhaps he might have done so had he wished, but rather because no one else could hope to rule the city without his acquiescence. In spite of the fact that he had been christened Timothy Daniel, Boss Sullivan rarely heard himself so addressed, for "Big Tim" or "Big Feller" or "Dry Dollar" suited better the fancy of Bowery constituents and outside associates alike. The cognomen "Dry Dollar" held sway during early political days, when as a bartender he attracted attention by a habit of carefully drying the bar before handing out the change. "Big Tim" or the "Big Feller," applied on account of bodily size, were commonly used during the latter part of Sullivan's political career.

Born in the old Five Points district of the East Side of New York City on February 6, 1863, "Big Tim" embodied the life and traditions of that well-known section throughout his life, refusing to follow the rather common practice of bosses who, when success has been achieved, have removed from political bailiwicks and established homes in exclusive sections. His loyalty to old associations during the days of prosperity, when he might have left the sordidness, the din of noises, and all the derelicts of the Bowery behind, accounts in no small measure for the absolute political control which he exercised for so many years over the district.1

The Sullivan family possessed characteristics essentially Irish. The parents were natives of Ireland, and the children, of whom there were three, Timothy and two girls, grew up

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1
See the New York Tribune, September 29, 1901, sec. 5, p. 13.

-85-

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