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Odd Wisconsin Archive

"For the Love of Karl Marx...!"

In 1910, when Emil Seidel became the first socialist mayor in the U.S., he faced a tough challenge. He took office in Milwaukee with a wealth of progressive ideas for reform -- and passionate adversaries who opposed them. He quickly found himself battling his predecessor's appointees, including the city's police chief, fire chief, and health commissioner, over political issues. Then his own supporters turned against him.

When it came time to hire a commissioner of public works, Seidel decided to conduct a nationwide search for the best candidate. Milwaukee socialists who had helped elect him didn't like this at all, and their support for him began to wane. Unable to find an outside expert who would take the job for the small salary Milwaukee offered, Seidel finally appointed Harry Briggs, a local school teacher, "who proceeded to hand out jobs until the city service commission called a halt."

Seidel himself had trouble fending off the many requests for patronage jobs. Disappointed applicants, most of whom were fellow socialists, often went over his head to party leader Victor L. Berger. Berger was then on the city council, and reportedly fielded a call from one rejected supporter during a tense council meeting. His opponents in the council room heard him shout into the telephone, "For the love of Karl Marx, I didn't promise every man who voted the Socialist ticket a job in the city hall!"

Years later Seidel told a reporter that his time in office included many missed opportunities due to his lack of patience with people who disagreed with the socialist platform. "We should have reasoned with them more," he admitted, adding sarcastically, "they might have been converted; not all of them, of course, but some who were not absolute dumb-heads."

:: Posted in Curiosities on March 4, 2010

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