A Mayor of all the People

ISAAC F. MARCOSSON IN WORLD’S WORK July 1 1906

A Mayor of all the People

ISAAC F. MARCOSSON IN WORLD’S WORK July 1 1906

A Mayor of all the People

ISAAC F. MARCOSSON IN WORLD’S WORK

Already considerable fame attaches to the name of James N. Adam, the new mayor of Buffalo, who is conducting the municipal government of that city just like a big business establishment is conducted. He has studied in the school of experience and has learned his trade after years of successful labor.

EVERY morning a carriage drawn by two spirited horses dashes up to the Buffalo City Hall. A man with white hair and beard and wearing a silk hat and frock coat steps out. A newsboy rushes up to hold the door and says: “Good morning, M. N."

“Good morning, lad,” says the man. Then he steps briskly into the big grey building. It is long before eight o’clock and the scrub women are washing the tile floors. As they see him they say :

“Good morning, ‘J. N.’

“Good morning, ladies,” is the reply. It is too early for the elevators to be running and he goes up the steps to the second floor and enters a stately room hung with portraits of Grover Cleveland and other mayors of Buffalo. Here a group of people — peddlers, hucksters, merchants—is already waiting and they too greet him as “J. N.”—familiarly but with respect. “J. N.” is James N. Adam, the new Mayor of Buffalo. Nobody there bothers to address him or to refer to him by his full name ; it is always “J. N.” Yet for twentv-five years that name has been linked with the highest commercial integrity of the city; and to-day it has come to be a symbol for clean and efficient city government, Formerly the saying in Buffalo was, “Go to ‘J. N.’ and get your money’s worth;” now it is, “Go to ‘J. N.’ and get a square deal,” and the peonle get it. He has made a fortune in business with clean hands : he has

achieved success in politics without being a politician. He has sacrificed a well earned leisure and comfort for the duties of an office that he has made the busiest and most fruitful perhaps in its history. Under him the municipal government has become a great business establishment with the citizens as stockholders. There are no “insiders.”

This hard-headed but kindly mayor was raised in a grim Scotch school. He was born sixtv-three years ago in Peebles, twentv miles north of Edinburgh. His father, the Rev. Thomas Adam, was such a strenuous preacher that it was said of him “he danged the goots out of twa Bibles” every Sunday. He was noted for his directness of speech, a quality that his son inherits. The minister put a round stone on his father’s grave, whereupon a neighbor remarked that it was a fitting symbol of eternity.

“Na,” was the reply. “It shows he was a wheelwright.”

J. N. Adam grew up in a pious, intellectual atmosphere, supplementing a meagre schooling with much reading. At twelve he was an apprentice in an Edinburgh dry goods store, making one dollar a week. One of his very best friends was Alec Barrie, brother of J. M. Barrie, the novelist, who was a pupil of Mr. Adam’s sister. Meanwhile his brother, Mr. R. B. Adam, had come to Buffalo and established a dry goods business. He persuaded “J. N.” to come to America, which he did in 1872, and started a store in New

Haven. In 1881 he was visiting his brother in Buffalo. The latter said, “ ‘J. N.,’ there is to be a dry goods store in the new White Building. I'd as soon have you as competitor as any one else. Why don’t you take it ?" “J. N." did take it and found-

ed the firm of J. X. Adam & Co., which became Buffalo’s greatest department store. He laid down this rule for his clerks : “Never misrepresent anything; keep your promises no matter what the cost." There was nothing that his clerks could do that he could not do better, from wrapping a bundle to selling a household outfit. This store became known as “J. N.’s," to distinguish it from his brother's which was across the street. He was proud to be called a merchant. Every Summer he went to Scotland, where he had built a home for his sister at Bowden.

One day in 18U5 some Democratic politicians were conferring about nominations for the council at the Iroquois Hotel. It was hard to get good men to run—-besides, a Democrat had little chance to win. One of the men looked out the window and said ;

“There goes ‘J. XT’ Let’s nominate ;him." He rushed out and brought the merchant in. On being told their purpose he at first protested, saying :

“What do I know’ about politics ?

I am only a business man."

But he ran and was elected in an iron clad Republican ward. For years he was the only Democrat in the council but he was an unterrified minority. He began a systematic study of municipal affairs and acquired a vast fund of statistical information. When he became councilman he sold what corporation stock he had. “I don’t want my invest-

ments to influence my vote," he said. His colleagues said that he was “hard headed and positive," and that he “poked into things too much," but his honesty became a city tradition. W7hen he completed his fiftieth year in business in 1904 he retired. He was then, as now, the third largest tax payer in Buffalo and a millionaire for, like the late Marshall Field, he believed real estate was the best investment. He had public duties and a fine library to engage his mind, ample means, and an honored name, and he settled down to enjoy the remaining years of his life.

For years a corrupt Republican administration had plundered the city. The county, for example, bought an abandoned cemetery for an armory site and a favored contractor got the job to haul away the bones. He was to receive a fixed sum for each skeleton. But every bone was billed as a “skeleton" and the bill was paid. There was. a foreman for nearly every employe in the department of public works. Graft was rampant. Last Fall the Democratic politicians looked around for a candidate for mayor. They wanted a man strong enough to swing the rest of the city and countv ticket in with him. “ ‘J. NT’ is the man," they said. Mr. Norman Mack, Democratic National committeeman, asked him by cable to accept the nomination and when he could sail, for he was in Scotland, this characteristic cable was the reni v :

“Yes 26 Adam."

When Mr. Adam was nominated the opposition said : “ TJ. XT’ is honest but he is an old man." But he surprised them. He upset all electioneering precedents. He spent no money. He had no headquarters. “I

carry them in my hat,” he said. At a little table in a corner of his old office at J. N. Adam & Co., he transacted all his campaign business. His platform was “Honesty vs. Graft.” What he did was to send a frank letter to every voter guaranteeing a business administration and saying :

“I pledge myself, if elected, with whatever ability and experience I may have, to work for your interests, and to see that every man, woman and child of this city enjoys, for the next four years, an honest administration of affairs, and that every one, big or little, gets a fair, square deal.”

His opponent, a lawyer and much younger man, started a “whirlwind” speech-making campaign. Mr. Adam sat back and did nothing. His friends became alarmed. “ ‘J. N.’ you’ll get beat,” they said.

But the old man smiled and replied : “Have you ever stopped to

think that it is only about two weeks before the election that people really become interested ?” So he waited while his opponent talked. When ht did start campaigning he proved that he was the youngest old man in town. He spoke four or five times a night. His speeches were filled with hard business sense and abounded in epigram. Some of them, like the following, stuck in the people’s minds :

Graft is non-partisan.

The way to climb upward is not to live downward.

A public office is not a private graft.

Economy is not parsimony but efficient administration.

The trail of the political dollar should be as publicly known as the

route of the Empire State Express.

He was elected by a majority of 10,000. Instead of resting he at once visited a dozen large cities throughout the country, studying municipal conditions. He appointed Mr. Victor Speer, a well known newspaper man, as secretary, and more thau doubled his salary out of his own pocket. He did the same with the official stenographer. “You cannot get efficiency with small salaries,” he declared. “Men who are inadequately paid find it hard to resist temptation.”

His first message to the common council has become a sort of classic in municipal documents. Near the beginning he said :

“I desire to make clear at the outset that as there is no authority in law there will be no toleration in private practice or political interests to direct or control the transaction of municipal business. The affairs of our city are not a question of parties or of politics, but of business pure and simple. In his own business, a man does not submit his affairs to the dictates of political or outside parties. He manages it so that each dollar spent brings in the fullest return. The rule of private business is simplv the law of public business. We are employed by the people to work for the public interest. We are not paid by individuals to work for private or corporate interests. Let us all bear this constantly in mind, thereby obviating any future necessity for mv impressing it upon your memories.”

The mayor declared for municipal ownership; for lower taxes, adding : “What is fair for an individual tax payer is equally fair for a corporation tax payer. The less it costs a contractor to get a city contract, the less it costs the city for the

work done under that contract. Further, the less paid in private transactions, the more paid in public taxes.” In closing he said :

“I believe graft should be scotched by not only arresting and trying, but by convicting and imprisoning the grafter, whether he be an office holder or not. Disguise should not be permitted to keep a thief out of jail, and a grafter is a thief in disguise. I will do all in my power to put any grafting public official not only out of office, but into jail. I will do all in my power to expose and punish bribery or corruption or any attempt to wrongfully control or influence the conduct of our public affairs, no matter how high or low the wrongdoer may be.”

So great has been the demand for the message from all parts of the world that it has been reprinted twice.

When the people read the message they said : “It’s ‘J. N/ all over.”

He had practiced in business what he preached in office. His appointments startled the professional office holders. He wiped out party lines, and recognized no creed. “Office holding is not an occupation but a service,” he said. There had been mismanagement of the police pension fund, so he appointed a leading bank president police commissioner. To the civil service commission, which audited pay rolls and examined into the fitness of men to hold public jobs, he named, among others, a prominent merchant, an eminent physician, and a union printer. The doctor, for example, takes time from his rich and extensive practice to examine a policeman and a fireman, and the result is that the city gets efficient servants.

“The c-itv charter is old and ham-

pered by useless and contradictory amendments,” said the mayor, so he appointed a charter commission to frame a new charter. The first man he named on it was his Republican opponent for mayor.

Being a business man, Mayor Adam at once set to work to organize the city on a business basis. He said, “I believe in single heads of departments with a definite and fixed responsibility. In a great private business the various departments are not headed by a committee ranging from two to seven members. Each has a single competent and responsible head.” He pointed to the case of the great railroads, saying : “Has the Pennsylvania

Railroad a commission of motive power ? No. It has a superintendent.” He had a measure for single head departments drawn and put through the council, and it has been introduced before the Legislature at Albany.

There are 60,000 Poles in Buffalo. They sent a delegation to Mayor Adam asking him to recognize the race by appointing one of their number a license clerk. He looked at them squarely and said : “License clerk—name your two biggest men and I will give them high positions.” One of them, a doctor, will be deputy health commissioner.

Yet he will defy public opinion if he believes he is right. Recently the council passed an ordinance authorizing the sale of a strip of land that had been part of the old Hamburg Canal. A big price was offered and most of the citizens thought it was good business. But the mayor vetoed it with a vigorous message that showed his foresight. He saw that the development of the strip by a private corporation would result

in damage suits against the city that would cost more than the price paid. I heard a leading business man say : “Well, if H. N.’ is against that sale, it is a good reason why I should be.”

The mayor believes in frank discussions. When half a dozen railroads and as many corporations were in a controversy over a strip of water front he invited representatives from all interests to meet at his home and talk it over. They all agreed to reach a settlement in three weeks.

When he was in business, Mayor Adam worked harder than any of his clerks : He now does more work

than anv two city officials. He is at his office before eight o’clock, he sees personally every letter that comes and dictates the instructions (often with the law or precedent) for those that go to various departments. Every letter is acknowledged the day it is received. He knows the system and details of every branch of the city service. Heads of departments are constantly going to him for advice. “I want the people to come to me with their grievances,” he says. When his big reception room fills up he does what President Roosevelt does, goes out

among the visitors, greeting them cordially, answering with firm “Yes” or “No,” never changing his decision and passing quickly from one to the other. The old negro seeking from him permission to wash buggies in front of the city hall gets the same courtesy as a millionaire merchant. The mayor’s secretary keeps a record of every visitor and all business transacted in the office in a red book that Mr. Adam scans at the end of the day. His working day runs far into the night, for he takes his official papers with him to his home out in Oakland Place. There his big library becomes the workroom. But his firm Scotch mind is not always intent on business and the strenuous affairs of men. It shifts to the pleasant highways of literature, too. He has been a prodigious reader. He knows his Browning almost as well as his Burns, and often to illustrate a point he will lapse into a verse from a Scotch poet or quote a sentence from the addresses of the Rev. Frederick W. Robertson—“Robertson of Brighton,” so he calls him—a brilliant, fearless and eloquent preacher of democracy in England fifty years ago. The mayor can discuss the writings of James Bryce as easily as those of John Burroughs.

He who defers an unpleasant duty does it twice. Anticipation of it may become a continued torture. It is wise to be done with it in the first place, and then contemplation of it becomes a pleasure.