Bernard McFeely became Hoboken’s political boss in 1925.
Five years later he won the mayoralty. He would control the city, and its fortunes, for the next 17 years.
Bernard McFeely
Hoboken Mayor
Mayor Bernard McFeely had been Hoboken’s undisputed political boss for over a decade when the poormaster was killed in City Hall. Like other machine bosses across the United States, McFeely had outfoxed, bullied, enticed or beaten all who stood in his path. And like them, he had relied on patronage to secure his power. But the half-time jobs and favors McFeely bestowed upon loyalists were minor compared to the public sums he seized. In the years leading up to the Great Depression, Bernard McFeely stuffed his personal bank account with “campaign donations” from vulnerable city workers, and assumed the city garbage contract for his family’s cartage company—in perpetuity—by rewriting a local ordinance.

When the economic crisis struck, Boss McFeely and his clan continued to feed off the public trough, even as the poormaster claimed taxpayer funds were inadequate to meet the needs of the city’s jobless and hungry. Unrestricted by civil service, the mayor installed over six-dozen relatives in municipal posts, including his brother as Chief of Police. By 1937, the city budget allowed just $16,000 for aid to the poor, while $39,000 was allotted to the salaries of just fifteen of the Mayor’s kin.

The killing of the Hoboken poormaster brought this corrupt regime under intense scrutiny. How could the mayor afford a $750 rug for his office when his neighbors were begging the poormaster for a nickel’s worth of coal? In building a case for the accused, defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz vowed to expose McFeely’s corruption and the siphoning of public funds that could have sustained the city’s poor.

“The McFeely Plum Tree,” just 15 of at least 72 McFeelys or McFeely kin on the city
payroll. The average annual income in New Jersey was then less than $500.
Judge Charles DeFazio was a McFeely supporter during the 1930s and worked in the city’s law department. He later aligned himself with a team that overthrew McFeely in the 1947 election, signaling the transfer of city power from the Irish to Italians. Listen to DeFazio’s recollections of the McFeely regime.

Mayor Bernard McFeely, center, in boater hat. Far right: Charles DeFazio.