Plunkitt: On Money in Politics

What also emerges from Plunkitt's mouth is vivid testimony to the enduring power of money and the relative impotence of reformers.

"The fact is that a reformer can't last in politics," he said. "He can make a show for a while, but he always comes down like a rocket. Politics is as much a regular business as the grocery or the dry-goods or the drug business. You've got to be trained up to it, or you're sure to fail."

On the subject of money in politics, Plunkitt was not shy:

"If a corporation sends in a check to help the good work of the Tammany Society, why shouldn't we take it like other missionary societies? Of course, the day may come when we'll reject the money of the rich as tainted, but it hadn't come when I left Tammany Hall at 11:25 a.m. today."

I've been readin' a book by Lincoln Steffens on The Shame of the Cities. Steffens means well but, like all reformers, he don't know how to make distinctions. He can't see no difference between honest graft and dishonest graft and, consequent, he gets things all mixed up. There's the biggest kind of a difference between political looters and politicians who make a fortune out of politics by keepin' their eyes wide open. The looter goes in for himself alone without considerin' his organization or his city. The politician looks after his own interests, the organization's interests, and the city's interests all at the same time. See the distinction? For instance, I ain't no looter. The looter hogs it. I never hogged. I made my pile in politics, but, at the same time, I served the organization and got more big improvements for New York City than any other livin' man. And I never monkeyed with the penal code.

     "Understand, I ain't defendin' politicians of today who
 steal. The politician who steals is worse than a thief. He
is a fool. With the grand opportunities all around for the
man with a political pull, there's no excuse for stealin' a
 cent. The point I want to make is that if there is some
stealin' in politics, it don't mean that the politicians of
1905 are, as a class, worse than them of 1835. It just
means that the old-timers had nothin' to steal, while
 the politicians now  are surrounded by all kinds of
 temptations."