On January 1st, 1898, Brooklyn officially became a part of Greater New York City. The consolidation of the five boroughs into one city, what many in Brooklyn called “The Great Mistake,” was now a reality. Brooklyn was no longer an independent city. There were a lot of good reasons to consolidate, as well as equally good reasons not to. One of the main reasons many Brooklynites did not want to be associated with Manhattan was political. Manhattan, throughout most of the 19th century, was run by Tammany Hall, the powerful and increasingly corrupt Democratic Party patronage machine.
To be sure, Brooklyn had its political corruption on both sides of the aisle, as well as its Tammany Hall bosses, but the Republicans managed to control the city from the end of the Civil War until the waning years of the 19th century, keeping Tammany Hall at bay. Everyone knew they ran Manhattan politics, and many prominent Brooklynites didn’t want to have anything to do with them. But it was not to be.
Consolidation had passed the legislature well before 1898, and the winner of the 1897 mayoral election always knew he’d be mayor of Greater New York City. Reformers eager to get rid of Tammany Hall put up wealthy Brooklyn businessman Seth Low as their candidate for mayor. He was the son of one of Brooklyn’s oldest and wealthiest merchant families, and was well respected as a man of integrity. Opposing him would be Robert Anderson Van Wyck, also a son of old New York stock. His Dutch ancestors had helped settle Brooklyn and Queens back in the 1600s.
Van Wyck, like Seth Low, was a Columbia College graduate, and a lawyer. He was a social animal, a member of many of the city’s best clubs, and was a prominent Freemason. He had gone into politics as a Democrat, and was elected Judge of the City Court of NY, and later Chief Justice of that same court. He resigned from the bench when Richard Croker, the Tammany Boss of NYC, picked him as the Democratic candidate for mayor.
Van Wyck might have liked to think that he was asked to be the Democratic candidate because he was the most qualified for the job, but the truth was that Tammany Hall picked him because they knew he wouldn’t give them any problems while Croker and cronies went about really running the city. He was a colorless and rather boring man with a big ego. With Tammany’s backing, he easily won the election, and became the first mayor of the metropolis of New York City. (more…)