The longstanding New York tradition of "investments in legislators"

new york state senate chamber bw

Among the many paths used to influence in this chamber over history: "the society of young ladies."

By Carl Johnson

Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders are expected to officially announce a collection ethics reforms today. In a late Friday press conference about the deal, Cuomo called the proposals "tough and aggressive."

Advocates of legislative ethics reform can take pride in being part of a long tradition. Nothing is new under the sun -- and even less is new in the New York State legislature.

Hudson C. Tanner, official stenographer of the New York State Senate from 1876 to 1885, retired to the safe distance of Oswego and wrote a tell-all book of his experiences "with a view of creating a public sentiment strong enough to elect honest men to the Legislature."

The book, The Lobby and Public Men from Thurlow Weed's Time, is more than 400 pages of naming names and telling stories that illustrated the need for changes to the bribery law. His descriptions of lobbyists and legislators were more sly than cutting, but he got his point across just the same. For example, he said of one lobbyist that he "never speculated in stocks or grain, confining himself to permanent investments in legislators."

Tanner tells the story of a senator, unnamed, from the southeastern part of the state, "one of the ablest Senators New York State has had in the Legislature during the last 25 years," who was unalterably opposed to a bill the lobby wanted passed. Being an honest man, the lobby could not change his mind, and greatly feared his influence, believing his opposition in the chamber would carry the day.

But there are influences besides money, and so the lobby contrived to have the senator introduced to a young lady. "The only weakness the Senator had, if any, was for the society of 'young ladies'..."

On the day of the vote, "the couple were seen bowling out on Washington Avenue as the Senate was about to convene and it was soon known that they were out at Hurst's Hotel" -- an establishment located about where New Scotland Ave meets Whitehall Ave today (map), well away from the Senate chamber, and sitting down to a cocktails and dinner when he should have been preparing to vote. At some point the young lady dropped her pretense and, as Tanner tells it, "greeted him with her choicest Bowery vocabulary: 'You old duffer, if you dare go back and vote or speak against that Bill, I'll snatch what little hair is left on the top of your head and wipe the Delavan with you!'"

Perhaps fearing more what this "lady" might do to his reputation more than he feared being dragged about downtown's most prominent hotel by his hair, the Senator accepted defeat, and effective lobbying moved another piece of legislation.

"If the feast of corruption is to continue, the time will soon be at hand when the honest sentiment of the country may cry a halt!" Hudson Tanner wrote in 1888.

Carl Johnson writes about history and other fun stuff at Hoxsi.org and mynonurbanlife.com.

More Carl on AOA:
+ A future in plastics and billiard balls
+ The Moses fountain in Washington Park
+ The highway that was almost buried under Washington Park

photo: National Park Service via Wikipedia

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

What's All Over Albany?

All Over Albany is for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. In other words, it's for you. It's kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who can help you find out what's up. Oh, and our friends call us AOA.

Search

Recently on All Over Albany

Thank you!

When we started AOA a decade ago we had no idea what was going to happen. And it turned out better than we could have... (more)

Let's stay in touch

This all feels like the last day of camp or something. And we're going to miss you all so much. But we'd like to stay... (more)

A few things I think about this place

Working on AOA over the past decade has been a life-changing experience for me and it's shaped the way I think about so many things.... (more)

Albany tightened its rules for shoveling snowy sidewalks last winter -- so how'd that work out?

If winter ever gets its act together and drops more snow on us, there will be sidewalks to shovel. And shortly after that, Albany will... (more)

Tea with Jack McEneny

Last week we were fortunate enough to spend a few minutes with Jack McEneny -- former state Assemblyman, unofficial Albany historian, and genuinely nice guy.... (more)

Recent Comments

My three year old son absolutely loving riding the train around Huck Finn's (Hoffman's) Playland this summer.

Let's stay in touch

...has 4 comments, most recently from mg

A look inside 2 Judson Street

...has 3 comments, most recently from Diane (Agans) Boyle

Everything changes: Alicia Lea

...has 2 comments, most recently from Chaz Boyark

Thank you!

...has 24 comments, most recently from Erik

A few things I think about this place

...has 13 comments, most recently from Katherine