McFeely Muscle: The Campaign to Ruin George Harper


  • Holly Metz The Hoboken Oral History Project



The twenty-two-year reign of Hoboken political boss Bernard N. McFeely (including seventeen as mayor) has long been under-reported in the national press and almost completely overlooked by historians. Bernard McFeely's extensive FBI file, recently released under the Freedom of Information Act, provides an opportunity to remedy this lapse, and to consider his rule (1925-1947) alongside other post-World War I urban political machines. Unlike his over-boss, Jersey City mayor and statewide machine leader Frank Hague, or machine bosses in Boston, Memphis, and Kansas City, all of whom retained power by matching bullying with programs that gained the affection of poor and working class constituents, McFeely was stingy with public funds and mostly relied on force to secure his hold. The coercion and beatings attributed to McFeely and his cohorts in oral histories and court records are detailed in his FBI file. This article focuses on one series of documents, relating to a 1937-1938 campaign to ruin the milk business of George Harper, who was said to have displeased then-mayor McFeely by consorting with his political opponents. Harper provided the FBI with daily records of the enforced boycott of his business; they provide a blow-by-blow account of McFeely bossism in action.

A version of this talk was originally delivered at the NJ Forum Conference, Kean University, on November 22, 2014.