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Flynn, Edward J.


Longtime boss of the Bronx, Edward (Ed) Joseph Flynn (September 22, 1891–August 18, 1953) helped Franklin D. Roosevelt rise to power and then served as his presidential campaign organizer and chief political advisor on urban machine politics.

Unlike most city bosses, Flynn came from a comfortable background. The son of a college-educated Irish immigrant father, Flynn was born in New York City in 1891. He earned a law degree from Fordham University in 1912 and quickly became a successful Bronx attorney. Flynn's name recognition brought him to the notice of the Tammany Hall machine, a Democratic organization that had controlled New York City politics for decades. Tammany Hall pushed Flynn into running for the New York State Assembly in 1917. He served two terms and then in 1921 was elected sheriff of Bronx County. In 1925, Mayor James J. Walker named Flynn as New York City chamberlain. Already one of the mightiest men in New York City, Flynn showed more interest in politics than power. In 1922 he became chairman of the Bronx County Democratic Executive Committee—in effect, the political chief of the county—a position that he retained until his death thirty years later.

Quiet, reserved, and more comfortable with books than people, Flynn proved to have a flair for behind-the-scenes politics. As boss, he tightened up the Democratic organization in the Bronx by running an efficient borough, judiciously distributing patronage, and avoiding the corruption scandals that had plagued earlier administrations. In 1928, he campaigned hard for Roosevelt's successful New York gubernatorial campaign and earned the loyalty of the rising star. Upon taking office in 1929, Roosevelt appointed Flynn to be secretary of New York state, a post that he held for ten years.

After setting his sights on the White House, Roosevelt relied on Flynn to gather the support of Democrats in big-city machines throughout the nation. Flynn, a pragmatic liberal who appreciated creative solutions to vexing problems, emerged from the campaign as one of Roosevelt's closest advisors. Always a loyalist, Flynn supported the president even when the two disagreed over political matters, such as Roosevelt's support of New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

Roosevelt appointed Flynn to positions as regional administrator of the National Recovery Administration public works program and as U.S. commissioner general to the New York World's Fair, but Flynn's political actions were more significant. In the mid-1930s, Flynn joined other politicians who advised Roosevelt of the potential importance of the African-American vote and of the need to take action to bring black voters into the party. Flynn also assisted James A. Farley with the second presidential campaign and then, as a proponent of Roosevelt's third presidential bid, replaced Farley in 1940 as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. After Congress rejected Flynn's 1943 nomination as ambassador to Australia, he gradually withdrew from national politics, although he continued to serve as chairman of the Bronx County Democrats. Flynn succumbed to a heart attack while visiting Dublin.



Dorsett, Lyle W. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the City Bosses. 1977.

Flynn, Edward J. You're the Boss. 1947.

Caryn E. Neumann

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