Officials: Personnel of the City Government 1875 Part II


The most important office under the city government is that of Controller. It is now held by Samuel S. Powell. The duties of the office are onerous and responsible. The Controller is the head of the Finance Department, and as such has the direction and management of the accounts and finances of the city. He is required to render to the Common Council, as often as desired, a full and detailed statement of all the receipts and disbursements of the city government, specifying the amount expended and unexpended on each appropriation made by the Common Council, and the state of accounts, together with a general statement of the liabilities and resources of the city, and such other information as may be necessary to a full understanding of the financial affairs of the city. The Controller also prescribes the forms and methods of keeping and rendering all city accounts, the forms of accounts and pay rolls used in the various departments and offices, the manner in which all salaries shall be drawn, and the mode by which all creditors and employees of the corporation of Brooklyn shall be paid.

Samuel S. Powell

Samuel S. Powell, the present head of the Finance Department, is one of Brooklyn's best known and most honored citizens. He was born in the City of New York sixty years ago. His father was engaged in the North Carolina trade. Powell came to Brooklyn and went into the tailoring business, being employed by old Stillwell, Front street, near Fulton. He became connected with the Fire Department as a member of No. 4 Engine, which laid at the corner of Front and Fulton streets, where the Long island Safe Deposit Company's building now stands. The engine company was composed of quiet, respectable young men, and Powell was one of its most active members. Before he was thirty years of age Mr. Powell had become fully identified with local Democratic politics, and in 1842 he loomed up into greater prominence as a "stump" candidate for Congress against the regular Democratic nominee, Henry C. Murphy. The district then embraced all of Long Island and Richmond County, and the issue upon which Powell ran was hard money as against banks.

Mr. Murphy did not support President Van Buren in the establishment of the sub-Treasury, and he was charged with being connected with a local bank, which was a great offense in the eyes of Powell and his adherents. The political meetings at that time were held at the old City Hall, on Fulton street, between Nassau and Concord streets, and at one of these gatherings, says an old Brooklynite, who used to take a hand in politics in those days, Powell's friends pressed Murphy so hard that the latter was compelled to get up and deny that he was connected with any bank. Whatever strength Powell may have had as a candidate, it did not appear when the day of election arrived, for he received less than a thousand votes. Murphy was triumphantly elected. Powell quietly went back to business, and four years afterward, in 1846, he again entered the political arena as candidate for Alderman of the Second Ward.

The Fall from Congress to Alderman was pretty heavy, but it would seem that the ambitious young man was determined to begin at the lowest round of the ladder. He was elected Alderman and from that time he began to arise. Ten years afterward he was elevated to the Mayoralty and served two terms, retiring in 1861. His administration of the office was characterized by an ability and uprightness which gained fro him increased confidence and respect, and in the Fall of 1871, when his party again presented him for Mayor, he was again triumphant at the polls. He would have been renominated in 1873, had it not been that the Democratic leaders, in their desire to promote the greatest possible harmony and please the Committee of One Hundred, given the nomination to John W. Hunter. Mr. Powell had been so uniformly successful that in the Convention of 1874, which nominated him for Controller, he was styled "the man who never had been and never would be beaten." He is certainly the "Old Reliability" of the party always strong at the polls.

As Controller he is faithful and efficient; never out of the office during business hours and always the true gentleman that he is. Mr. Powell is a married man. The term of office of Controller is two years; the salary $10,000 per annum.

Corporation Counsel

The Corporation Counsel, or the head of the Law Department, has the "management, charge and control" of the law business of the city. The position is now held by Mr. William C. DeWitt, who has held it for the last six years. Mr. DeWitt was born in Paterson, New Jersey, on the 25th of January, 1840, and is, therefore, 35 years of age. He came to Brooklyn when he was 5 years of age, and has lived here ever since, with the exception of three years during his boyhood, when he resided in Saugerties, Ulster County. He attended the common schools of Brooklyn, and subsequently passed through a collegiate course at Fort Plain Seminary and at Claverack, finishing his education when he was sixteen years of age. Immediately thereafter, he entered upon the study of the law with Ten Brook & Van Orden, and James R. Whitney, Chas. H. Glover & Ambrose. While with the latter frim, in June, 1861, he was admitted to the bar, and began practice immediately in the City of Brooklyn. He soon gained practice and advanced steadily in his profession, until he took a position among the leaders of the Kings County bar.

Mr. DeWitt, in his professional and social relations, was brought in contact a great deal with the leading politicians of both the County and State, and the result was that he entered into politics himself. He was first brought into prominence in 1863, as the regular Democratic candidate for Assembly in the District, then composed of the Fourth and old Tenth Wards. It was a strong Republican District, and Mr. DeWitt was defeated. His personal popularity at that time was shown by the fact that he ran two hundred votes ahead of the State ticket. He continued in the practice of his profession, and was retained "in many large cases. He was engaged in the defense of John Devlin, the distiller, Collector T.B. Callicott, Gonzales and Pellicier, the murderers of Senor Otero, and others. He also had and still has the conduct of the law business of the EAGLE-a paper which has never paid a cent in all the litigation which has been brought against it for alleged libel during the past fifteen years. In 1869, Mr. DeWitt was elected Corporation Counsel, and has since held the office, having been re-elected three times. He has been remarkably successful in his administration of the office. Among his most important triumphs were the following cases: Establishing the constitutionality of the section exempting the city from liability for damages through the negligence of any of its officers; the case of the City Railroad Company, maintaining the terms of the compact by which the Company obtained the privilege of laying tracks on the streets, holding them to the original compact; compelling the City of New York to contribute to the payment for the damage done by the draft rioters in this city; the civil suits against ex-Tax Collector Badeau and ex-City Treasurer Sprague, and the assessment bill passed by the last Legislature.

During all this time Mr. DeWitt has taken an active part in Local and State Politics. He has been a delegate to nearly every State Convention of his party during the past ten years, and was temporary Chairman of the Rochester Convention in 1870. He was also Chairman of the Kings County delegation to the Judiciary Convention, which met in the Spring of 1870 to nominate judges of the Court of Appeals. Mr. DeWitt is an orator as well as a lawyer, a refined and cultivated gentleman and a faithful and upright official. He renders invaluable assistance to the heads of the various other departments, and has made very many important contributions to the literature of the municipality. The duties of Corporation Counsel are arduous and responsible. Mr. DeWitt has them systematized in the most admirable manner. He is married and has a family. The term of office of Corporation Counsel is two years; the salary $10,000 per annum.

Website: The History
Article Name: Officials: Personnel of the City Government 1875 Part II
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle 7/31/1875
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