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Tammany Hall — shorthand for the faction that controlled Manhattan’s Democratic Party for most of a 150-year period — has a well-deserved place in the annals of urban misgovernment in the United States. It stole elections, it intimidated political antagonists, and it shook down contractors and vendors. It produced the very face of political corruption, William M. Tweed, known to friend and foe as “Boss.” And it was at best indifferent to the grievances of African-Americans and, later, Hispanics in New York.

But there’s more to the story. Tammany Hall’s leaders delivered social services at a time when City Hall and Albany did not. They massaged justice at a time when the poor did not have access to public defenders. And they found jobs for the unemployed when the alternative was hunger and illness.

Barbara Porges, a Tammany district leader years before women won the right to vote, prided herself on knowing the names and predicaments of peddlers who worked on Orchard Street in the heart of her district. When one of them, an onion seller, contracted tuberculosis, Ms. Porges raised money to send him to a drier climate. Nobody saw reason to ask how this was achieved...

The Forgotten Virtues of Tammany Hall - NYTimes.com

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