Tonawanda News


December 2, 2013

BOOK NOOK: Not much changes in the political climate

Tonawanda News — You may wonder why state governments — how should I put this — sometimes tend to give the impression they seem to be corrupt, or at least occasionally resemble something of a murky swamp of dishonesty. Read a book that tells a story about New York’s, and that of William “Plain Bill” Sulzer, turn-of-the-last-century governor and the only one ever impeached in the state’s history, and you’ll wonder even more.

Jack O’Donnell’s “Eye of the Tiger” explains a slice of machine politics as it was, circa 1900-1915, Sulzer is undermined by Tammany Hall politics. A reform-minded congressman and governor is accused of diverting campaign contributions to buy investments for himself, accusations designed to get him out of the picture. Sulzer becomes an obstacle to the political machine, and is railroaded out of his elected office — he bravely came back, and was elected to the state assembly — on splinter-party tickets.

A good story. A typical story, a contemporary story if you could only include the cigar smoke, a cloak-and-dagger politics-as-usual story. Julius Caesar had similar problems. The book has insights for those unfamiliar with the situation, and that, in a way, is its saving grace.

O’Donnell has set up his narrative to read more like a mystery story than a history book, so the intrigue tends to be more palpable than the broad sweep of events. It should be noted that the author is a lobbyist by profession (and Canisius College and UB Law School graduate); involving himself in state politics likely comes naturally, and he has presented a book with the feeling of a fan’s notes disguised as a novel.

That’s not easy, incidentally. The bibliography suggests research was done, but the book is largely fact and interpretation offered in a page-turning, now-what style, which makes it less the definitive story of Tammany Hall’s influence on state politics and more a gateway book for readers, perhaps in high school, interested in this sordid, fascinating era of American history.

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