NIGHTS AND DAYS OF A WARD BOSS
FRANK (BANJO) HANLEY has outlasted the men he admired most—Duplessis and Houde—and is still outsmarting the men who admire him least. Here's how he runs his polyglot political kingdom on the seedy side of Montreal
JUST TWO DAYS BEFORE LAST ST. PATRICK'S DAY, Montreal City Councilor and Quebec MLA Frank Hanley spoke in Montreal West town hall at a luncheon meeting of the Westward Rotary Club. The peppery little politician, who looks like a younger and thinner edition of Fd Wynn, proposed as an answer to Quebec separatism that the Irish of Quebec band together to form the Republic of Hanley. He would be the prime minister, and the flag of the republic would feature his face on a green background. Hanley would put his country on a paying basis by joining the Common Market and running a wide-open community, with dancing girls, gambling and other unspecified entertainment for the tourists. The Rotarians all had a good laugh; Hanley surely had imagination and a witty tongue.
The really surprising thing about this fanciful picture, though, is that to all intents and purposes the Republic of Hanley exists. Hanley’s domain is a seamy stretch of downtown Montreal known as St. Ann’s; it runs north from the St. Lawrence River, bounded on the west roughly by Atwater Avenue, on the east by Bleury, on the north by St. Antoine Street, with one thin finger poking up Park Avenue to prod the wealthy mountain dwellers at Pine. Here the reign of Frank Hanley in both civic and Quebec provincial politics is today unchallenged.
In the past it has often been challenged, with little success. Both major parties have tried repeatedly and vigorously to oust Hanley; so has that knight on a white charger. Mayor Drapeau. All have failed. Even the courts have failed; just before one election Hanley was roundly castigated by a judge for having a loose regard for his oath, and the newspapers splashed the judge’s criticism and wrote their own editorial epitaphs for Hanley’s dead career. He won the election with an increased majority.
Today Frank Hanley, called “Banjo“ by admiring Montrealers, drapes over his natty shoulders the muddy mantle of the late Camilien Houde. of whom he still speaks in reverent terms. Houde. under whose regime Montreal probably saw' its wildest and most open days of vice and corruption, is in Hanley's eyes the greatest figure to emerge on the municipal scene in the last half-centurv. Similarly Hanley sticks stubbornlv to his belief that the late Maurice CONTINUED ON PAGE 52
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The Robin Hood of this blighted, downtown forest
Duplessis was a great Canadian. “He was a sincere man; 1 am sure he knew nothing about it,” Hanley says of the recent evidence that Duplessis’ regime was distinguished by bribery and corruption.
This is not to say that Hanley has ever allowed his heart to get in the way of his head. During the Duplessis regime, although elected as an Independent, Hanley was a fervent supporter of the Union Nationale. He frequently defended this support by contending that Quebec was enjoying the best of all possible worlds. But when the Liberals succeeded the Union Nationale in I960, Hanley was soon embarrassing them with his support. Similarly, in municipal politics, though he loved Houde dearly, he loves St. Ann’s more. The current Drapcau-Saulnier regime, bitterly opposed to everything that Houde stood for, has in Hanley an earnest champion. In between these regimes Hanley wangled more concessions for St. Ann’s from what he calls “the worst administration Montreal ever had,” the recent Fournier-Savignac administration, than he ever got from either Houde or Drapeau. A versatile farmer, Hanley can till the stoniest political soil for a bumper crop.
Frank Hanley has survived charges of being a tool of racketeers and a porkbarrel politician, of winning elections with the aid of baseball bats and goon squads, and of telling lies under oath. He has been repeatedly and forcibly ejected from the Montreal City Council chambers. He was once hauled before a vice probe, and recently staged a free-swinging brawl with another MLA in the elegant lobby of the Chateau Frontenac Hotel in Quebec City. Hanley — at five-foot-four and 138 pounds — was outweighed by nearly 100 pounds, but he managed to hang a shiner on his bulky opponent and wrestle him to a draw.
Along with these activities. Banjo Hanley has distributed more of the spoils of politics to his constituents than any other politician in the recent history of Montreal. St. Ann’s was and for the most part still is an unappetizing mixture of slums, warehouses, antiquated industrial plants, slaughterhouses, docks and dumps, crisscrossed with railway tracks and canals. In recent years, though, the district has been sprouting parks, recreation centres, slum clearance and housing developments, and Frank Hanley claims a major share of credit. In that polyglot population made up largely of French-Canadian, Irish, Italian and middle-European nationalities and including most of the city’s Negro and Chinese population, Hanley is on a firstname basis with more of his voters than any other politician in Montreal. A morning spent following Hanley around his constituency convinced me that his personal popularity is no myth. It is based upon his affable Irish manner and his zeal in finding jobs for voters, getting them out of jail, and otherwise spreading his reputation for being the Robin Hood of this blighted forest. It is a role that he never attempts to deny, even when it’s put to him bluntly.
In the course of the Montreal vice probe in 1952, Pacifique Plante asked Hanley to recall a conversation in which Hanley reproached Plante for being honest, saying that honesty would get Plante nowhere in politics. Hanley denied he'd said it. However, Pierre DesMarais, a former chairman of the powerful Executive Committee
of Montreal City Council, told me that Hanley once made precisely the same remark to him. enjoining him: "Get smart. You’ve got brains and you could go a long way if you weren’t so naïve.”
Frank Hanley smartened up a long time ago. Where he is going is still a matter for speculation.
Francis Hanley was born in a workingclass flat in St. Ann’s on April 5. 1909. the first of five children fathered by an Irish brewery worker. At twelve he was expelled from school for riding a pony in the St. Patrick's Day parade when the rest of the school had to walk. After that he held a succession of jobs, from messenger boy to jockey, and picked up the 109pound amateur boxing championship of the province. During the depression years, now married, he was on relief, and he frequently refers to the experience today to prove that he has the common touch. Hanley finally saved enough money to start a garage, which soon became a favorite gathering spot for truck drivers and other people with problems and grievances. He formed the Point St. Charles Businessmen and Citizens Association and entered politics, first in 1940 in Montreal civic affairs and then, in 1948, in the provincial arena.
Flections were fought with goon squads and vote telegraphers in those days, and in the beginning Hanley fought his opponents with the traditional tactics. In recent years, though, his majorities have been so large that he could afford to invite McGill students to come to his district "to sec hew a clean election should be conducted.”
Hanley got his first newspaper headlines in the early Forties by calling vigorously for an end to vice scandals and racketeer pay-offs to politicians. At that time he was still an outsider looking in. It wasn't until 1948. when he entered provincial politics, that he began to make regular headlines in the daily press. Since then he has hardly dared to look back.
He announced his candidature in that year’s election with a resounding declaration that for more than thirty years St. Ann's had not been represented in the Legislature by "a native and resident of the division.” The day after the election he was able to trumpet:
"I have been elected without the official support of any political party, in fact in spite of the official and strenuous opposition of all parties. I therefore go to Quebec owing allegiance to absolutely no party whatsoever, prepared to obey only the instructions of my electors and the dictates of my conscience.” Nobody realized then that Hanley’s conscience was caked Duplessis. but Hanley soon put himself or> record: "I am convinced that the premier of this province is sincere, courageous and progressive and he has never failed to keep foremost in his mind the economic, social and religious interests of our province, in all circumstances, regardless of race, creed or language.”
At home in Montreal. Hanley had already denounced the agitation that led to the celebrated vice probe. He declared flatly that all the awful things that had been rumored and said about Montreal were untrue and unfounded, and he declared that the city “today is cleaner than it has been in the past twenty-five years.” He blandly ignored his own strictures of a few years before, along with the gangland killing of racket boss Harry Davis, which had brought the whole ugly mess of Montreal gangster rule in City Hall out into the open.
In City Council Hanley sponsored the nomination of his good friend Richard Quinn to the well-paying sinecure of the Montreal Transportation Commission, thereby replacing Quinn on the Executive
Committee that runs Montreal. When his role in this back-scratching episode was questioned in the local press, Hanley said indignantly:
"1 personally have never been so insulted in my ten years in council.” Later, his skin toughened.
In 1952 the vice probe finally got around to Hanley himself. He was called to testify regarding his knowledge of disorderly houses, which were known to just about every office boy in the city. Hanley flatly disclaimed any knowledge of them and he repeated his denial under oath, causing Judge Caron to say, “It’s your oath, not mine, and I’m glad it’s not mine.”
When barbote — a notoriously popular gambling game in Montreal — was mentioned, Hanley asked innocently if it were played with dice or cards.
"Did you think it was played with a skipping rope?” the judge asked.
Hanley appeared before the probe on July 2. The provincial elections took place on July 17. Hanley polled more votes than all his four opponents combined.
The other day I asked Hanley why he testified as he did. "The Liberals were out to get me." he explained. "I wasn’t going to fall into their trap. It was a smear.”
Not many months later Hanley told the probe that all his accusations in 1940 and 1941 about gambling pay-offs in Montreal had been untrue and made for publicity. "1 was quite irresponsible regarding these statements,” he declared with winning candor. Shortly after, Hanley took a long rest on his doctor’s advice.
In the autumn of 1954, just before the municipal elections, the findings of the vice probe were made public. The Court said flatly that it did not believe Hanley’s evidence and that he had treated his oath with a flippancy that shamed a public figure.
Hanley replied obliquely by claiming that big money interests were attacking him below the belt but that he was determined to defend himself only in "a refined, gentlemanly and sportsmanlike manner, for that is the way of our people.”
Of course he headed the polls in the municipal election, and though the new mayor. Jean Drapeau, as counsel for the vice probe, had been a bitter enemy, Hanley at once announced that he was prepared to co-operate with Drapeau’s administration. One of his first public state-
ments following the election was an appeal for municipal reform. The Montreal Star was a little surprised that Hanley had waited fifteen years to raise this issue.
Between statements lauding Duplessis as French Canada’s greatest leader, Hanley roused the indignation of Mayor Drapeau by declaring that he had been condemned by Judge Caron in the vice probe because he favored provincial lotteries. Drapeau pointed out that Hanley had been condemned for his lack of regard for his oath. It just didn’t make sense to Hanley.
In the 1956 provincial elections Hanley was reluctantly forced to denounce the Civic Action League for “gutter tactics” in urging the voters to turn him out of office. At the same time candidates René C haloult and Pierre Laporte issued a joint statement denying that they supported Hanley. "This is surely the worst humiliation we have suffered in the election campaign up to now. To beat Fra k Hanley would be a matter of public interest.” they said. Drapeau also spoke against Hanley, who swamped his strongest opponent to date, Daniel O’Hearn, by 6,432 votes.
When the Drapeau-DesMarais administration refused to build a civic playground centre in his district, Hanley threatened to ask his good friend, Maurice Duplessis, to form a new civic administration “if justice is not rendered for all classes.” And a few months later he declared that Montreal’s civic administration (the first honest one in living memory) was dooming the metropolis of Canada to bankruptcy, holding the City Council in utter contempt, and hampering progress. He asked the provincial authorities to intervene. In the next civic election a unique combination of Union Nationale. Liberal and racketeer elements combined to defeat the common enemy, the Drapeau-DesMarais Civic Action League.
At first, in 1959. Hanley clashed with the new Fournier-Savignac regime. In January he refused to stop talking in Council and was ejected by a policeman. In April he was forcibly removed from the chamber in a heated scene in which he managed to rip a button from the mayor’s coat. This time his ouster came for attempting a one-man filibuster against a proposed tax cut. "It took three constables to throw me out," he said. “Me, a man of my weight.”
A week later, when he learned that he had been included in the latest edition of the Social Register of Canada, Hanley beamed: “My great-grandfather was an Irish cop in Dublin. My paternal grandfather was employed by a Montreal brewery. My maternal grandfather distributed newspapers and worked on snow removal and road maintenance. My father was a laborer.” And he concluded: “This is a great honor for the working people of St. Ann’s.”
In I960 Hanley made the first of a series of forays into the universities. He spokí to McGill students and invited them to serve as returning officers in his disj wetterThey could see how clean the elections were there. His invitation was accepted, and then the students challenged him to demand a royal commission to investigate the state of political morality in Quebec. Hanley wanted the facts. “You give me a pamphlet and quotations from newspapers. What I want are affidavits of facts," he said virtuously. Some students
suggested that the facts would be provided by a royal commission.
It was in March of I960 that his siugfest with Union Nationale member Lucien Tremblay took place in the lobby of the Chateau Frontenac. Both participants have refused to discuss the reason for the fight, though Tremblay admitted next day that he had been “joking” with Hanley and had "gone too far.”
Hanley also addressed a boisterous gathering of Sir George Williams University students, contending that the corrupt provincial police and the discredited Montreal Police Director Albert Langlois were a credit to the citizens.
“Plead the Fifth Amendment, Frank,” someone shouted.
“I’ve never pleaded the Fifth Amendment in twenty years anil I’m not starting now,” Hanley answered with dignity, if not with clarity.
In the I960 provincial elections Hanley picked up two thirds of the 15,000 votes in his riding to bury his Liberal and Unie>n Nationale opponents. His election was featured by the appointment of a nun as deputy returning officer "to set an example" of a clean election for other districts.
By October he was launched on his civic election drive with the usual music, parades, refreshments and carnival atmosphere. And, as usual, he topped the polls in his district as the new Drapeau-Saulnier administration swept into office.
Hanley bearded the young lions of Sir George Williams University again, and the students proved no match for the wily old pro. He went there to advocate a year of compulsory military service as part of a physical fitness program, and he did ten push-ups to show how fit he was at fiftytwo.
One student heckler wanted to know
what military experience Hanley had. It looked like a pretty good question, for a moment or two.
Hanley seemed to hedge. “Always there’s a joker in the house. Always there’s an embarrassing question,” he temporized, apparently in confusion. Then he went on:
"What experience have 1 had in the army? I was taken away from my mother’s apron strings when 1 was a boy and sent 175 miles to a military camp.” And he drew out a yellowed newspaper clipping which revealed that seven-year-old Frank Hanley had been mascot to the 60th Bat-
talion at Valcartier training camp in World War I. Maybe the answer wasn't logical, but it was greeted with applause.
Another unwary student wanted to know what authority Hanley had to lecture at universities, since he had left school at twelve.
"I’ve been through McGill twice.” Hanley assured his startled listeners. Then he added as an afterthought: "Once in 1931. when as a truck-driver I delivered five tons of coal, and again ten years ago when I delivered a million-dollar cheque on behalf of the city.”
At this point there were cheers and cries of "Hanley for prime minister!” Every now and again Frank Hanley lets his mind linger on prospects in the federal field. Its international scope fascinates him. There is little doubt that he could win the federal seat of St. Ann’s any time he wanted it. 1 asked him how he felt about federal politics.
"We elected this guy Loisellc as an Independent. and what does he do? He joins the Liberals,” said Hanley, the old independent who has never yet been independent on the wrong side, W