Tammany Hall — shorthand for the faction that controlled Manhattan’s Democratic Party for most of a 150-year period — has a well-deserved place in the annals of urban misgovernment in the United States. It stole elections, it intimidated political antagonists, and it shook down contractors and vendors. It produced the very face of political corruption, William M. Tweed, known to friend and foe as “Boss.” And it was at best indifferent to the grievances of African-Americans and, later, Hispanics in New York.
But there’s more to the story. Tammany Hall’s leaders delivered social services at a time when City Hall and Albany did not. They massaged justice at a time when the poor did not have access to public defenders. And they found jobs for the unemployed when the alternative was hunger and illness.
……..Tammany Hall certainly was guilty of many of the offenses arraigned against it. But those flaws should not overshadow Tammany’s undoubted virtues. The machine succeeded not simply because it could round up votes. It succeeded because it was unafraid of the grunt work of retail politics and because it rarely lost touch with its voters.
As I keep saying, the factory where time and circumstance build state capacity and accountable democratic government is a nasty place.