James Michael Curley, American Democratic Party politician and one of the best known and most colourful big-city Democratic bosses, dies in Boston, Massachusetts on November 12, 1958. He dominated Boston politics throughout the first half of the 20th century.
Curley never forgets the needs of new immigrants, and he owes much of his political success to serving those needs in exchange for votes. He enters politics in 1899, winning a seat on the Boston common council. In 1904 he is imprisoned briefly for impersonating a friend at a civil service examination.
Curley serves in a succession of elective capacities—as a state legislator, alderman, city councilman, and U.S. representative—before winning the mayoralty in 1914, resigning his congressional seat to assume the municipal office.
Curley centralizes the powers of patronage in his own hands and distributes public-works jobs in such a way as to retain the loyalty and support of his working-class electoral base. As mayor, he nearly brings the city to bankruptcy by spending enormous sums on parks and hospitals to satisfy his various constituencies. He is a gifted orator and a resourceful political campaigner. He loses his bid for reelection in 1918, wins in 1922, loses in 1926, and wins again in 1930.
Unable to win a seat in the Massachusetts delegation to the 1932 Democratic National Convention in 1932, Curley contrives by means he never explains to be elected a delegate from Puerto Rico. He supports the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but national party leaders look upon the controversial Curley as something of an embarrassment. As governor of Massachusetts from 1935 to 1937, he spends New Deal funds lavishly on roads, bridges, and other public works programs. He is out of elective office from 1938 to 1942, during which period he loses bids for the United States Senate, mayor, and governor. He wins a seat in the United States House of Representatives in 1942, however, and is reelected two years later. He follows with another tenure as mayor of Boston (1947–50) but spends five months of his term in federal prison following a conviction for mail fraud. President Harry S. Truman secures his release and, in 1950, grants him a full pardon.
Curley, who has foiled an attempt by the Republican Party to have him replaced while he is in prison, retires from politics after losing reelection bids in 1950 and 1954. His career inspires Edwin O’Connor’s popular novel The Last Hurrah (1956), and the next year Curley’s best-selling autobiography, I’d Do It Again, is published.
James Curley dies in Boston, Massachusetts on November 12, 1958. His death is followed by one of the largest funerals in the city’s history. He is interred in Old Calvary Cemetery.