The Office Of The Mayor Of NYC 1915 Part III

By John Purroy Mitchel

There is still, perhaps, the chance that it will not pass that house of the legislature. It will come to me if it does pass, and I am required under the law to give a hearing on that bill. I suppose theoretically I should not take a position with regard to it until after that hearing; but I know a vicious piece of legislation when I see it, and I am going to veto that bill if it comes to me. And then it will go back. No doubt the legislature may be-asked to pass it over my veto; and whether it does or not will depend very largely on the extent to which the voice of the people of this city interested in the effective administration of these laws makes itself heard
in the senate and assembly chambers at Albany. The mayor has a like veto upon ordinances enacted by the board of aldermen, but there they may be over-ridden only by a larger vote. To that extent he has control, qualified control, over legislation both state and city affecting the administration and the conduct of the government of the city of New York.

The mayor has under his control these twenty-nine administrative departments. He appoints their heads. He is responsible for the work that they do. If it be good or bad, he is responsible. The theory of the relation of the mayoralty to these departments in the past has been this: That the mayor should appoint the head of the department and send him out to make good, send him out to administer; if he got into trouble, then try to help him out; if he got into too serious trouble or failed to make good, or did something calling for such action, then remove him and appoint a successor. That theory has been due very largely to the enormous amount of time which the mayor must devote to the other duties of his office, to his participation in the work of these various boards and commissions, to the time that he must devote to interviews in his office. Everybody wants to see the mayor and see him personally.

People are not satisfied with seeing secretaries; they must see the mayor; and no matter how trivial the business, whether it is the restoration of a corporation inspector in a department who has been dropped for inefficiency, or whether it is the transfer of some minor clerk from one bureau to another, they feel they must see the mayor. He is called upon to keep the door of his office open to the public, and after all it is proper that he should, because the public ought to have direct contact with the mayor; people ought to have access to him, and he must reserve enough time to see the people who come to the office and want to see him. Then he has, if I may call them -such, a number of social duties to discharge. He must go out and attend functions and make speeches. They consume a great deal of time and take a good deal of effort; they consume energy. They are frequently disruptive of a business day. But he must discharge these duties.

Then the correspondence of the mayor's office is enormous, and you would be surprised to know how utterly inconsequential and ridiculous some of it is. But it must all be attended to. Whether it be the man who writes from Canada and wants the mayor's
office to find a wife for him, or whether it be the wife whose husband has lost employment and who writes for help, all this correspondence must receive attention, and that takes time. It takes the time of a very material proportion of the staff. There are a thousand things that consume time and effort, and there is not enough time left for the mayor to supervise the work of the departments and to be actually as well theoretically responsible for it. Therefore, the theory has prevailed that I have indicated.

Now, it has seemed to me that the mayor ought to be more than merely the head of the city government sitting in the City Hall ready to receive the public, appointing the heads of the departments and sending them out to make good independently, or to fail independently; that he ought to be really the business manager of the city of New York, that he ought to have the close contact that would enable him to become an effective business manager of the city of New York, that he ought to have the close contact that would enable him to become an effective business manager. There are problems of pure administration in the departments that ought to come back to the mayor for settlement.

There are problems of policy in the departments that ought to come back to him for settlement. He cannot give the time to them that he should. He needs an agency through which to keep himself in contact with those problems, through which to work
co-operatively with the heads of the departments in solving these problems and in building up constructively better administration and better control. I tried to create that kind of an administrative agency last year. I asked the legislature to make the office of the commissioner of accounts constructive in name and functions as well as investigative. I asked it to make that commission one-headed and to call it the department of administration, to keep the investigative functions, to add the constructive, to give me in short an agency which I could send out into the departments, analyzing their problems, working with their commissioners, building up co-operatively with them, but with the advantage of a detached point of view, a central point of view, the constructive plans of administration in those departments.

 Working through the office of the commissioner of accounts as it is now, and with the aid of the city chamberlain, we were able to cut down the cost in these departments by $2,000,000, or by $1,500,000 in my departments ; and we were able at the same time to give a greater measure of service and a better quality of service. If the mayor were  equipped with an effective administrative arm, through the reorganization of the office of the commissioner of accounts, which the legislature alone can authorize, he would have that means of maintaining contact with administration and control over it that he does not have to-day. I do not believe that we shall get the fully effective and economical administration of the departments of this city government that we all want, and that the people of New York are entitled to, until the mayor is equipped with that administrative arm through which to accomplish this result. I do not pretend that this review of the work of the mayor's office is complete. It has been extremely sketchy and rough in its outlines. It gives you no adequate comprehension of the problems that are presented to the mayor or of the work that he has to do; but perhaps it will suggest to you how some of them come up, how broad some of them are, and how complex is the whole organization through which they are attacked. No administration in New York will be successful that does not have continuous citizen support. I illustrated through the Lockwood-Ellenbogen bill how citizen support may be necessary at times.- There are a thousand cases in which it is necessary in order that the hands of public officials may be supported, and that they may be enabled to get the constructive results for which they are working. Citizen support can be developed and can be had only by keeping the citizenship of the city constantly apprised of the workings of the departments and constantly informed as to the facts. We are trying to do that under this administration, but we need the co-operation of the citizens. If we are to get the results, if you want to be well governed, you have got to take a continuous interest in the government of your city.

It may be trite, but it is true, that the people of a city or of a state or of a nation get government just as good or just as bad as they deserve. That means that they get government good in direct proportion to the interest that they take in it. If you take
an interest in your city government, if you study the facts, you will find out what we are trying to do, and whether we deserve your support or not. Then if you give us your support continuously from day to day, we shall be able to get for you the results which
the people of this city expect and to which they are entitled.

Website: The History
Article Name: The Office Of Mayor 1915 Part III
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Government of the City of New York: (A collection of addresses and discussions held in the City of New York. April 7 to 30, 1915) The New York State Constitutional Convention Commission 1915
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