Jimmy Walker May Have Been NYC's Most Corrupt Mayor

but Damn was He Fun

1/10 ● Avenue Magazine
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Walker is one of the most colorful rogues

in New York City history.



A Prohibition-era dandy who stuffed his pockets with bribes while proving to be a remarkably effective civic manager, Walker is one of the most colorful rogues in New York City history.

His reputational rehabilitation began almost the moment he was drummed out of town in 1932, hightailing it to Europe with his mistress.

Walker’s life inspired a 1969 Broadway musical, Jimmy

“I love this cockeyed city more than anything else in the whole wide world.”



In 1957 Bob Hope played him onscreen as a wise-cracking bounder with a heart of gold in Beau James, based on a biography of the same name.

“There’s only one reason I’d consider [running for mayor],” Hope says early in the picture, jabbing his thumb at the Manhattan skyline.

“I love this cockeyed city more than anything else in the whole wide world.”

A mix of populist and progressive policies

Pro social welfare, legalizing boxing, and allowing movies & baseball games on Sundays



He was for social welfare, legalizing boxing, and allowing movies and baseball games on Sundays, and against Prohibition and the Ku Klux Klan — caught the eye of Governor Alfred E. Smith, who backed him for New York City mayor.

He won the 1925 election by more than 400,000 votes.

Walker’s tenure in City Hall was lurid by any standards

Giving rise to another nickname: “the Night Mayor.”



Walker’s tenure in City Hall was lurid by any standards: his bribability, womanizing, and patronage of the town’s illegal speakeasies were an open secret, giving rise to another nickname: “the Night Mayor.”

While his wife stayed home and out of sight, the Ziegfeld Follies showgirl Betty Compton served as something of a public mistress.

Infamous for his frequent vacations

and short workdays



Walker was also infamous for his frequent vacations and short workdays, which often consisted of just a few hours beginning at 3 p.m.

When his political opponent and eventual successor, Fiorello La Guardia, attacked him for raising the mayor’s salary from $25,000 to $40,000, he quipped in response: “Why, that’s cheap.

Think what it would cost if I worked full-time!”

Even critics had to begrudgingly admit he got things done.

He invested in public utilities like waterworks and subway lines; created the departments of sanitation and hospitals, and greatly improved the city’s docks, parks, and playgrounds.

Robert Moses, that other great remaker of New York, said of him: “Jimmy was the extrovert, the spontaneous eccentric, the sidewalk favorite, the beloved clown, the idol of those who seek companionship and mercy above and beyond justice.” By his standards, that was a compliment.

Walker of Shame

The mayor gets his own police escort during corruption hearings in 1931



Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images.

The first domino to fall was the unsolved murder of a notorious mobster, Arnold Rothstein, in 1928, which shook up the underworld and humiliated the police. It didn’t help when investigators found records indicating the late capo had been “lending” money to his honor the mayor.

Next came the stock market crash of 1929, causing social unrest that swept through the city like a tidal wave. Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Hayes blamed the economic disaster on the mayor’s lax morality;

Then came the murder of a witness who had testified to the commission about police malfeasance

Walker resigned in September 1932.

He married Compton in Cannes, and adopted two children



it would not be a long union — he ended up being the third of her four husbands. Walker returned alone to the United States before the war, where he ran a record label and hosted a radio show.

End of Walker's Life

Succumbing to a brain hemorrhage in 1946 at the age of 65



“I have lived and I have loved,” Walker said near the end of his life. “The only difference is, I was a little more public about it than most people.”

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