State senator William Tweed was riding high in the early months of 1871.
By Terry Golway
Just a few months earlier, he had pushed through a new charter for the city, creating a four-member board that oversaw the city’s finances. Tweed himself was a member of the new board, along with his allies, Mayor A. Oakey Hall and the city’s comptroller, Richard Connolly, known to his friends and critics as “Slippery Dick.”
Tweed’s control over the city was just about complete. Not only did he have allies in high places in City Hall, but he ruled the Democratic Party of New York County, headquartered in a new building on 14th Street called Tammany Hall, on the northern edge of Lower Manhattan.
A new courthouse was under construction on Chambers Street behind City Hall, and Tweed and his friends were growing rich on fraud and graft. A friendly carpenter raked in more than $300,000 for a month’s work—some of that cash no doubt was kicked back to Tweed and his friends.
There was one powerful institution in New York that Boss Tweed did not control: the press.
More specifically, The New York Times. And beginning in the summer of 1871, The Times began printing story after story showing how Tweed and his friends were looting the city of millions through bribes and corruption. Thanks to a disgruntled clerk, The Times obtained access to the city’s books, and what they found was shocking. The city was borrowing millions for capital projects, but much of the money went to Tweed and his Tammany cronies.
The extent of Tweed’s thievery was astonishing. Although Tweed had an unsavory reputation, many civic elites, like the legendary reformer Peter Cooper, thought Tweed’s charter was a step forward for good government. But they never suspected that Tweed would use the city’s new powers to enrich himself, his friends and the organization he led, Tammany Hall.
William Tweed is the Rewind subject of DOWNTOWN’s Spring 2014 edition. If you would like to continue reading the entire article featuring the state senator, you can find it in our latest issue on newsstands now!