Home>Campaigns>Here’s the story of the last former Hudson County congressman who ended his career in local office. It involves Frank Hague, of course

Reps. John J. Eagan (D-Weehawken), left, and Cornelius A. McGlennon (D-East Newark) purchase Irish Liberty Bonds at the U.S. Capitol in 1920. (Photo: Herbert E. French/Library of Congress).

Here’s the story of the last former Hudson County congressman who ended his career in local office. It involves Frank Hague, of course

John Eagan spent ten years in Congress — he regained his seat after losing in 1920 GOP wave — and then got tossed by Hague’s Hudson Democratic machine. But he had a second act as Weehawken’s elected tax collector

By David Wildstein, December 05 2022 8:44 am

If Albio Sires is successful in his bid to bid to become mayor of West New York in 2023, he will become the first former congressman from Hudson County to hold local office since John J. Eagan became a Weehawken school board member in 1932 and was elected tax collector in 1941.

Sires did not seek re-election this year to the House seat he has held since 2006.  Instead, he wants to run for mayor, the job he held from 1995 to 2006.

Eagan, a 40-year-old banker and  former Union City tax collector, went to Congress in 1912 after reapportionment gave New Jersey two extra House seats – and a third for Hudson County.

Rep. Archibald Olpp. (Photo: Herbert E. French/Library of Congress).

He served four terms before Warren Harding’s 1920 coattails – Harding won 67.6% statewide and 59.6% in Hudson County, swept Republican Archibald Olpp, a 38-year-old physician from Union City, into Congress by a 55%-43% margin.  In a resounding loss for Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague’s political machine, Republicans swept all eleven Hudson County Assembly seats that year (and lost all of them twelve months later), two congressional seats,

In the 1922 midterms, Eagan returned to Congress, unseating Olpp by a 2-1 margin.

Eagan had allegedly promised to serve just one more term if he had the chance to return to Congress, but by 1924 he denied his pledge entirely and sought re-election.  That created a problem for Hague, who had promised the seat to Hudson County Freeholder Oscar Auf Der Heide, a former mayor of West New York and assemblyman.

Hague was unable to dissuade Eagan from running again, so he was forced to put the weight of his Hudson County Democratic machine behind Auf der Heide.    Auf der Heide defeated Eagan in the primary by more than 6,3000 votes, 62%-38%.

Auf der Heide won Jersey City’s Second Ward, which was in his district, with 98% of the vote; Eagan received roughly 60 votes out of nearly 2,900 cast.  He also won 78% of the vote in West New York and 71% in North Bergen.  Eagan carried Weehawken with 77%; he won West Hoboken and Union Hill, which merged to form Union City the following year, with 60%.   Auf der Heide won Secaucus by about 110 votes and Guttenberg by about 70 votes.

While Eagan refused to endorse in general election, Auf der Heide still won with 60.5%, and was re-elected four times.

Hague faced an intra-party war led by North Bergen Mayor Julius Reich, West New York Mayor Charles Daume and other North Hudson Democratic leaders in 1934 and the Hudson Democratic boss viewed Auf der Heide as allied with the faction trying to dump him.

A campaign button for the West New York town commissioner slate led by Oscar Auf der Heide in 1914. (Photo: Library of Congress). 

In retaliation, Hudson County Prosecutor Daniel O’Reagan led a raid on West New York’s Mid Town Bar, a tavern owned by Auf der Heide.  That came just three months after the ratification of the 21st Amendment that repealed Prohibition.   While Auf der Heide was not charged, the prosecutor insinuated that there was illegal gambling going on in the tavern.

To run against Auf der Heide, Hague recruited Edward J. Hart, a 41-year-old Jersey City assistant corporation counsel.

Auf der Heide decided not to take on the Hudson Democratic machine and retired, giving Hart a free pass in the Democratic primary.   After leaving Congress in 1935, Hague picked him to become the new postmaster for West New York; in those days, local postmasters were political appointments.

Hart went on to serve 20 years in Congress, followed by five years in Gov. Robert Meyner’s cabinet as president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.  He also served as Democratic State Chairman.

Eagan returned to public office in 1932 when Weehawken Mayor John Meister appointed him to replace Henry Paul on the Board of Education, and spent several years as board president.   He served as a school board member until 1940 when he was appointed Collector of Taxes and Custodian of School Monies.

Following the death of Weehawken Tax Collector Marguerite Callery in late 1940, Meister appointed Eagan to fill the post.

In those days, Weehawken and other many other New Jersey municipalities elected their tax collector, so Eagan had to mount his first bid for public office in 1941, his first since losing the primary to Auf der Heide seventeen years earlier.

His opponent was an independent, Marie Hagen, who had been the assistant tax collector and ran the office during Callery’s extended illness; she had expected Meister to give her the job.

In the 1941 general election, Eagan defeated Hagen by about 400 votes, a 54%-46% margin.   After a scare in 1951 – he was re-elected by just 50 votes against Republican Michael Cahill – he declined to seek re-election in 1955, when he was 83-years-old.   He died the following year, with his political career lasting eight years after Hague was essentially forced out as mayor.

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