"If we put corrupt men in office and sneeringly acquiesce in their corruptions, then we are wrong ourselves.”
— Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, 33rd Governor of New York.
Founded in 1614, Albany is among the oldest continuously occupied European settlements in North America, and the Dongan Charter of 1686 gives Albany the distinction of owning the nation’s oldest surviving city charter. It was not uncommon for the city’s founders to use their power to advance their own self-interest. From its earliest governance to the sophisticated political machines of the 19th and 20th centuries, corruption and political reform have been an important part of Albany’s history.
This walking tour is not strenuous and lasts about one hour. We advise wearing comfortable shoes as you journey through four centuries of history and meet the cast of characters that makes Albany a political historian’s paradise. To learn even more, we recommend following along with the Museum’s audio guided tour at:
Founded in 2013 and charted by the New York State Board of Regents in 2015. The Museum of Political Corruption is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. It is a member of AAM, the American Alliance of Museums, and MANY, the Museum Association of New York.
The Museum of Political Corruption and its Center for Ethical Governance is dedicated to educating and empowering the public by providing a better understanding of political corruption and encouraging solutions that promote ethics reform and honest governance.
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1. THE ALBANY EVENING JOURNAL. Southern Tower at SUNY Plaza, at the corner of Division Street & Broadway. The Albany Evening Journal was promoted as “The Only Republication Paper in Albany.” In the early 1900s, William “Billy” Barnes (1866-1930) was both the paper’s publisher and the last Republican Boss of Albany County. Barnes’ 20 year political control ended in scandal when misdirection of coal purchased by the city at favorable rates to party favorites was discovered. This, along with a lengthy transit strike allowed the Democrats to win in 1922. Note: The building’s tower is not part of the original D&H (Delaware & Hudson) complex, but was built by Barnes to blend into the overall design based on the architecture of the old Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium.
5. DELEVAN HOUSE. East side Broadway between Columbia & Steuben (Former Albany Union Train Station, now Peter Kieman Plaza), East side Broadway between Columbia & Steuben. On this site stood the opulent Delevan House, a popular lodging among lobbyists and politicians of both parties. This hotel was particularly noteworthy for bribery and graft among its guests during the Tammany Hall era. On March 1, 1868, the famous “Robber Baron” Jay Gould was arrested by the sheriff for contempt of court but paid half a million on bail. He spent the week in Parlor 57 at the hotel doling out money ($500,000), cigars, and champagne to NYS lawmakers trying to get a bill passed. In 1882, Teddy Roosevelt stayed at the Delavan as a young, 24 year old Assemblyman from New York City. Writing in his diary, he noted that some of his fellow legislators were “vicious, stupid looking scoundrels with apparently not a redeeming trait.” The DELEVAN burned on December 30, 1894. Around 20 politicians were staying there at the time. They escaped but 15 workers perished.
6. ALBANY TIMES UNION. 16 Sheridan Ave. The founders of the Albany Times Union vowed to be politically independent when it began in 1856. In 1913, Martin P. Glynn, editor, publisher & owner became the Democratic Governor of New York when Governor William Sulzer was impeached. Glynn refused to give up the paper while Governor and used his paper to attack the corrupt Tammy Hall organization. The paper leaned towards the Democrats and profited from advertising revenue from the O’Connell-Corning Machine. Patronage jobs went to retired and non-retired reporters. The TU changed when William Randolph Hearst purchased the rival Knickerbocker News in 1960 and went after the O’Connell-Corning machine. Gene Robb was brought in as the new Editor of the Times Union and, in 1959, hired Daniel Button to serve as executive editor. In scathing editorials, Button railed against the prevailing machine. Button left the paper in 1966 to run for congress, and against all odds --as a Republican in a heavily Democratic district -- he won (serving two terms). Later on, the Times Union did extensive investigative stories about the O’Connell-Corning Machine’s corrupt policies but was never able to bring it down. By then the TU had established its strong reputation as a champion of honest, nonpartisan journalism.
“The Fundamental idea of the Independence League is independence of boss rule, independence of corporate control, and independence of any party subjected to boss rule and corporation control. Its immediate object is to wrest the Government from the hands of the powerful financial interests that now possess it and return it to the hands of the typical American citizens who created it."
2. OLD CITY HALL. Broadway & Hudson Ave. (East side). — On this site stood the "Stadt Huys," Albany's first public building. It was small — resembling a residence and not a public building. The common council and the city and county courts held regular sessions here. In 1741 a larger three-story brick building was built to accommodate the needs of the growing city. It was here that one of the earliest colonial episodes of political reform occurred. In the summer of 1754, Benjamin Franklin met at City Hall with representatives from seven of the colonies’ representatives to propose his Albany Plan -- a roadmap for centralizing the colonial governments in North America. Ultimately, however, the colonial assemblies and the British government rejected it fearing too great an encroachment upon their authorities.
12. TEN EYCK HOTEL. NW corner State & North Pearl St. This urban corner is a site of national and local history. Philip Livingston, a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, was born here. In 1915, the second Ten Eyck Hotel was built on this site. It was known as the “Republican’s Hotel.” In the 1960s, reformer Dan Button had his congressional office here. It was also at the historic Ten Eyck that William Randolph Hearst addressed the Independence League on February 28, 1906. The Independence League (later the Independence Party) was created to offer a viable national alternative. Hearst’s words still resonate today:
3. ALBANY ARGUS NEWSPAPER. 412 Broadway at the corner of Broadway & Beaver. Only yards from Barnes’ Republican paper, the Albany Argus was the voice of local Democrats. It was taken over by Daniel Manning (1831-1887) as publisher in 1873. Manning’s Argus had lucrative printing jobs from the city and state. His son, James, took over the paper in 1887 and, three years later, became Mayor of Albany. Both Daniel and James Manning’s control of Albany was famous for vote buying and using local police to enforce his policies. “Repeaters” (thugs brought in from other areas to vote) were used by the boatloads, including Troy’s notorious “Bat” Shea, to vote in Albany elections. This corrupt practice continued with Judge D. Cady Herrick’s (1846-1926) political machine for a decade later.
The Museum of Political Corruption
10. THE STATE CAPITOL. Located at the top of State Street, this majestic symbol of State government took 32 years to build (1867-99) and represents two different architectural styles, Romanesque Revival and Neo-Renaissance. Countless lawmakers have walked these halls, which resonate with stories of corruption and reform efforts. It was here that Theodore Roosevelt waged war against the corruption of fellow legislators. As a member of the Cities Committee, Roosevelt observed this about his colleagues: “Altogether the Committee is just about as bad as it could possibly be…most of the members are positively corrupt, and the others are really singularly incompetent.” Yet political corruption at the Capitol is not relegated to the past. In 2016, Sheldon Silver, the once the powerful Democratic speaker of the NYS Assembly was found guilty for accepting nearly $4 million in illicit payments in return for taking actions on behalf of real estate developers and a cancer researcher (the conviction was overturned but reaffirmed in a second trial in 2018). Around the same time, the Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos was convicted on multiple counts of bribery, extortion, and corruption. At the height of their power, Silver and Skelos represented two-thirds of what was known as “Three Men in a Room.” This triumvirate (the third man being the governor), represented a longstanding power dynamic that suggested back-room deal making and a lack of transparency. While the scandals that enveloped Silver and Skelos were significant, they were not isolated. A 2016 New York Times study found that, “In the past decade, more than 30 current or former state officeholders in New York have been convicted of crimes, sanctioned or otherwise accused of wrongdoing.”
8. “THE COMMITTEE OF 13.” 25 North Pearl. The “Committee of 13” was a good government group founded in January 1881 by several Albany lawyers with Marcus T. Hun as the leader. This group investigated fraud and corruption in Albany and brought transparency into how local Albany government works. A smaller version, the “Committee of 3” included Hun, James Fenimore Cooper (grandson of the famed author) and Henry A. Peckham, son of Supreme Court Justice Rufus W. Peckham. The group published annual reports on their government reforms and corruption findings. In addition to exposing corruption, the Group introduced four reform bills: one provided a new method of selecting grand and petit jurors in the city; another gave the Recorder exclusive jurisdiction of misdemeanors; the third authorized actions to be brought by taxpayers against officers guilty of breach of official duties; and the fourth required all bills presented to the Board of Supervisors be printed before acted upon.
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4. STANWIX HALL. SE corner Broadway & Maiden Lane (where the current north end of the James T. Foley US Courthouse building now sits). Following remodeling in 1878, the Stanwix hotel became popular with local and state legislators while lobbying for State offices. The infamous Tammany Hall ring-leader William “Boss” Tweed, who bilked New York City out of millions of dollars, had room number 450 assigned to him. A few doors down, Room 454 was used by Albany County Democrats. Journalist Nellie Bly stayed here in 1888 on her trip to Albany to expose corruption, and the Anti-Monopoly League held meetings here in the 1880s. This group promoted a return to Jeffersonian ideas — that citizens have a civic duty to aid the state and resist corruption, especially monarchism and aristocracy.
9. ALBANY CITY HALL. 24 Eagle St. This beautiful Romanesque building built in 1881-83 and designed by H. H. Richardson was the home of four political machines: the Barnes, Manning, Herrick, and O’Connell-Corning machines. The O'Connell-Corning Machine was an unusual alliance between the working class Irish O’Connells and the aristocrat Protestant Corning families. Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd (1902-1983), was the longest termed mayor in America. The Corning-O’Connell machine withstood multiple probes from Federal and State investigations, including into alleged “slush funds,” protecting gambling operations, ballot box stuffing, domination of the judiciary, favored contracting, and juggling of real estate assessment. On November 18, 1938, Governor Dewey requested a legislative investigation of Albany’s Democratic administration calling it a “ruthless political monopoly.” Two hundred people were charged with illegal registration and voting. Yet the machine survived. Its few defeats came in 1966 when reformer Daniel E. Button won a seat in the House of Representatives. Two years later the machine lost the District Attorney, two Assembly seats and a State Senate seat. But even those reform efforts were short-lived. The century-long legacy of machine politics in Albany is among the most storied examples of machine politics found throughout the US in the 19th and 20th centuries.
7. KENMORE HOTEL. 74 North Pearl St. Built by former slave Adam Blake, the KENMORE was famous for political graft, its prohibition-era speakeasy the “RainBo Room,” and as the hang out for the notorious gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond (Diamond was killed in 1931 in a rooming house at 67 Dove St. Some historians believe that Albany Boss Dan O’Connell ordered the hit). Decades earlier, in 1888, the intrepid New York World reporter Nellie Bly went undercover at the KENMORE to expose corruption. She met with Mr. Edward R. Phelps, the “King of the Lobby” in Room 96. Bly posed as a lobbyist and agreed to pay Phelps $1250 to have a bill killed by the NYS legislature. The bill she selected was killed, but rather than pay Phelps, she returned to her paper, Pulitzer’s New York World, and wrote about her experience proving that many New York legislators were bribable.
11. THE DEWITT CLINTON HOTEL. 144 State St. Current Renaissance Albany Hotel. The DeWitt Clinton was known as the “Democrat’s Hotel” and was the center for state, county, and local Democrats who made deals in the famous Crystal Ballroom. Located just across from the Capitol, lobbyists and lawmakers would mingle in the lobby with drink in hand. Meetings held in back rooms were often used to broker local, state, and national deals. Albany Boss Dan O’Connell had an office here. In 1946 the Saturday Evening Post published an article that portrayed Albany in a negative light. Fearing bad publicity, O’Connell had his people purchase every copy in the city and stashed them at the DeWitt.