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Republican Bosses and Machines

One of the main reasons that there was a need for Seventy was because the Republican bosses and machines had come to dominate Philadelphia government. It is important to first look at the Vare brothers. George, Edwin and William Vare had initially set up a small contracting business in South Philadelphia which quickly developed into a major street-cleaning operation. Between 1888 and 1921 they collected $18 million from fifty-eight street-cleaning contracts. In total, Vare interests received 341 public contracts worth more than $28 million. This profit gave the Vare brothers a chance to influence Philadelphia politics. For instance, William S. Vare and Joseph Klemmer donated their annual salaries of $10,000 and $5,000, as recorder of deeds and register of wills, respectively, to their organization’s coffers.

William Vare’s wealth allowed him to generate a lot of publicity and organize effective campaigns. “Service” became his personal slogan and in order to show the Organization’s readiness to accommodate the common citizen, its candidates promised everything and anything that would appeal to the populace. Whether it was better traffic conditions, a high school stadium, more efficient government, the return of the five-cent fare, and of course lower taxes, the Organization would promise it. These promises were made on a ward-by-ward basis, to further satisfy specific needs. 

The Republican Organization’s control of city government was almost complete. For example, of the 254 bills reported favorably by the Organization in 1912, only 4 were rejected and 200 were passed unanimously. With the exception of a few defeats between 1905 and 1911, the Republican Party secured all city and county offices in Philadelphia between 1887 and 1933 (except where a statue required minority party representation). It was also not unusual for the Organization to prevail by landslides in local elections. For instance, in 1899, 1903, 1919 and 1923, mayoral candidates Ashbridge, Weaver, Moore, and Kendrick all were credited with well over 80 percent of the votes cast.

In addition, in 1905, the Republican Organization managed to not only win all of the judicial elections, but by shifting 55,000 voters over to the Democratic Party, the Organization also undermined the City Party’s effort to be the second party in Philadelphia. One of the Seventy’s early members, George W. Norris, had observed in 1915 that even the Democratic Party had become little more than a bi-partisan adjunct of the Republican Organization. They basically traded votes in return for a few salaried positions. William Vare, in fact, paid the rent on the Democratic Headquarters.