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Saturday, March 14, 2009

"HONEY FITZ"

In Boston when St. Patrick's Day rolls around you'll sometimes here the stories
about the legendary Irish politicians of the city's history, and among them none
loom larger than James Michael Curley and John Fitzgerald. Both of them were
political bosses of the old school, always ready to help a friend or exact revenge
on an enemy. I've written a bit before about Mayor Curley, so in this post I'll
talk a bit about "Honey Fitz."

John Fitzgerald rose first to prominence in Boston's North End in 1892 when he
ran successfully for the state senate. He was keenly aware of his constituents' lives,
their weddings and funerals, and he mingled with them at dances and dinners. His
supporters were known as "Dearos" because he frequently referred to the "Dear Old
North End" in his speeches. Two years later he won election as congressman and served
three terms before running for Mayor of Boston and defeating an opponent from
the old Yankee establishment in 1905. His administration was famous for cronyism,
and Fitzgerald lost his bid for re-election but regained the office two years later when he
defeated another "Yankee", James J. Storrow. (I'm not certain but I think Storrow Drive
is named after him.)

One night during a rally of that campaign, a band was hired to play during Mayor
Fitzgerald's entrance. They finished two songs, "The Star Spangled Banner" and
"The Wearing of the Green" while Fitzgerald tried to make his way to the platform
through the crowded hall, then began playing "Sweet Adeline". When Fitzgerald
finally climbed up on the stage, he led everyone in singing the song and it became his
trademark. He'd perform the song at every event or rally he was invited to speak at.

"Honey Fitz" was also well known as a man with an opinion on nearly everything. In fact,
someone even wrote a poem about it:

"Honey Fitz can talk you blind
On any subject you can find.
Fish and fishing, motor boats
Railroads, street-cars, getting votes
Proper ways to open clams
How to cure existing shams
State Street, Goo-Goos, aeroplanes,
Malefactors, thieving gains,
Local transportation rates,
How to run nearby States;
On all these things, and many more,
Honey Fitz is crammed with lore."

There were other Irish political bosses in Boston. One was P.J. Kennedy from East
Boston, with whom Fitzgerald had ties through the marriage of his daughter Rose to
Kennedy's son Joseph. Another was James Michael Curley from South Boston who
eventually challenged "Honey Fitz" in 1913. Curley ran a tough campaign and
spread a rumor that Fitzgerald had an affair with a cigarette girl named "Toodles".
He even scheduled a public "lecture" entitled "Great Lovers from Cleopatra to
Toodles". Rather than put his wife through the wringer of such a campaign, Mayor
Fitzgerald withdrew from the race. He never again held an elective office.

But he did live long enough to see his grandson John Fitzgerald Kennedy win the
Congressional seat he himself once held. And when JFK was elected President of the
United States, he named the presidential yacht the Honey Fitz in honor of his beloved
grandfather.

Written for the 12th edition of The Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture.

1 comment:

Ro Pettiner said...

Yes, according to the two biographies (all I could find)of Honey Fitz, Storrow Drive is named after Mr. Storrow, who was highly regarded by all Bostonians. On this eve of St. Pat's Day, it is good to be reminded of the most Irish of Irish Boston politicians, Honey Fitz...there will never be another like him. R.P.