Growing up with Albany's Democratic Machine

Twentieth century politics in Albany, New York were dominated by the Democtratic Machine created and controlled by Dan O’Connell.

Dan O’Connell was Chairman of the Albany County Democratic Committee. In most parts of the country, few voters know the name of the chairman of their local political party committee. Not so in Albany. Dan O’Connell’s name was familiar to everyone.

From 1919 when he was elected County Assessor until his death in 1977, Dan O’Connell controlled politics in Albany.

At times, there were more registered voters in Albany than there were eligible voters. At other times there were more votes cast in elections than there were registered voters.

Indeed, Mario Cuomo once told a story of how Dan O’Connell and another man were stranded on a desert island with only a single coconut between them. The two voted to decide who would get to eat the coconut and Dan O’Connell won, 110-1.

While growing up in Albany, I recall that my family had frequent interactions with our Democratic Ward Leader. When my father wanted to have the damaged sidewalk in front of our house repaired, he contacted our Ward Leader. When my mother applied for a job as a keypunch operator with the County, our Ward Leader stopped by the house to congratulate her on getting the job.

In today’s political landscape, I hear Democrats associated with such phrases as “out-of-touch with mainstream America”, “tax-and-spend”, and “radical left”. The Democrats with whom I grew up were anything but. The Democrats among whom I was raised were mainstream America: blue-collar workers struggling to make ends meet.

I have to admit, I grew up in an unusual political environment. After my tenth grade class wrote a letter to Erastus Corning II, the mayor of Albany, expressing our concern for the environment, the mayor came to our classroom to discuss the city’s commitment to the environment. Governor Hugh Carey’s children attended my high school. Representatives to the state legislature lived on the blocks surrounding the house where I grew up and, on Halloween, we would shout “Good luck in the election!” instead of “Trick or treat” when we reached their houses. And, once, I was asked to make a presentation on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America to Lieutenant Governor Malcolm Wilson (who later bacame governor of New York when Nelson Rockefeller was named vice-president of the United States).

The Albany Democratic Machine has a firm place in the memories from my youth. Even with all the faults of the machine, I think my youth was richer because of my exposure to the political process when I was young.

Written for the Carnival of Genealogy.

Copyright © 2008 by Stephen J. Danko

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Growing up with Albany's Democratic Machine

  1. Peter L Nelson says:

    Does anyone else remember the small afternoon circus performances that the O’Connells would put on in Albany neighborhoods during the 1930s, probably during election years. I saw them on Hackett Blvd between Cardinal and Van Schoick Avenues. If I remember right, we got free hot dogs too!

Comments are closed.