Thursday, January 03, 2008

Historical understandings of a one party town -- and the carpet

Dan Sullivan uploaded an article by Frank Chodorov in the July 1940 *Freeman*, based on his interview with William McNair, who had been mayor of Pittsburgh from 1933 - 1935.

People will probably need some background to fully appreciate this article, so here goes:

Pittsburgh was a one-party town. Every mayor but one had been Republican from 1856 through 1932. Serious Democrats didn't want to even try a race there, so McNair became a "perennial candidate" in order to have a soap-box for his Georgist and libertarian doctrines.

The previous non-Republican mayor, elected in 1906, abolished a corrupt assessment system and ushered in a change in property taxes, so that land values paid a tax rate twice as high as the rate on improvements (buildings). McNair wanted to abolish the building tax altogether and put it all on land. There were no other city taxes at that time.

In a strange alignment of forces beyond McNair's influence, he was swept into office. Part of it was that the coat-tail effect of FDR's tremendous popularity carried down to McNair, even though McNair was denouncing FDR's proposals as socialist and totalitarian.

Another was that the Mayor Kline, the Republican incumbent, had just been indicted on an issue that would be considered trivial by today's standards (or lack thereof) but was scandalous at the time. It seems that Kline had the city pay his brother-in-law to recarpet the mayor's office with a very expensive oriental carpet. (That carpet was still looking good in the 1980s, and Democrats would stand on it and say, "Buying this carpet was the best thing old Kline ever did.")

Anyhow, Kline resigned under pressure and was replaced, as both the mayor and the Republican candidate for mayor, by a politically weak councilman named Herron. McNair beat Herron to become mayor, and not one non-Democrat was ever elected to a Pittsburgh office again.

Chodorov, who had taken over the editorship of *The Freeman* from Albert Jay Nock, was, as Nock had been, a proponent of Henry George's land value tax as the foundation of a free-market libertarian system. He was also the director of the Henry George School of New York at the time of this article, but shortly thereafter was fired from the school because he was opposing our involvement in World War II, and opposing related policies like the draft.

Anyhow, that's the main cast of characters, and all the background information one would need to appreciate the article. However, I do want to call attention to the last eight paragraphs, which contain McNair's advice that reformers should educate the public rather than seek office. That advice comes near the bottom of the article. The following URL will link to it directly:

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