It was the eve of one of the bitterest New York Democratic Conventions in memory. Delegates from all over the State milled through Brooklyn's Hotel St. George, checking in, registering, spilling over into nearby bars and grills. Late into the night they went for the big steaks and big gossip at the tables in Joe's Restaurant, Gage and Tollner's, Grogan's. They were waiting for the word.
Across the East River, in Manhattan's Biltmore Hotel, the party's leaders met behind closed doors in urgent conference. The table, set for 30, was decorated with gladioli. The food was good, the occasion momentous. Out of such small, private, convention-eve dinners had come the name of every Democratic candidate for Governor since 1921: Alfred E. Smith, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Herbert H. Lehman.
This time there was no harmony, no happy chitchat. Big Jim Farley, who had never come away from such a dinner the loser, was dead set on Attorney General John J. ("Jack") Bennett. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President and leader of the Democratic Party, was dead set on Senator James M. Mead. Farley had the votespromised by men who never yet broke a promise to Big Jim. The White House had the influence, the pressure, the big stick that local politicos hate to stand against.
No one gave an inch. The plates were cleared away, the men lit cigars. For nearly four hours they argued. Big Jim and his cohorts held their ground. So did Franklin Roosevelt's men: short, swart Governor Lehman; smooth, tough National Chairman Ed Flynn, a bumbling upstate leader named Terence J. McManus.
Finally Governor Lehman played his last desperate trump against Jim Farley's majority of votes. He had a letter from Franklin Roosevelt suggesting a way out: Mead and Bennett would both withdraw, a dark horse would be named, party harmony would be saved. Why not?
Big Jim Farley, who teethed on such offers, knew that such a peace was the peace of political death for him. He shook his head. The dinner broke up. Now it was up to delegates, pulled one way by loyalty to Big Jim, pushed another by White House pressure.
The convention opened in the St. George's white-walled, flag-draped ballroom. Up stepped Governor Lehman to make the keynote speech. There was only milk-mild applause at his mention of President Roosevelt. But when Jim Farley stepped to the microphone he got an ovation. So did his good friend, Boss Frank V. Kelly of Brooklyn, who could win the fight for Farley by holding his 193 delegates fast.
Farley had the votescould he keep them? The convention adjourned for jockeying. Mead's backers worked furiously; to all who went to their suite, they invoked the power and prestige of the White House.
But Big Jim worked too, plodding up & down the hotel corridors, talking to his men. He wanted no explanations; he just wanted to know if their word was still good.
The delegates looked at Jim Farley and thought of the man in the White House.
The Big Day. At 11 o'clock next morning, the delegates began to file back into the convention hall in a welter of excitement and rumor. The meeting was 45 minutes late starting; the leaders were all gathered behind the speaker's platform; nobody knew what was going on but everybody knew something was.