Thursday, September 17, 2009

To the Victor go the Spoils

"To the victor go the spoils". I heard that phrase a few times after the Deerfield Beach Commission meeting last Tuesday. Every commissioner has the right to appoint whomever they want to the various advisory boards. The members with allegiance to former commissioners get removed and the commissioner appoints a newbie.

Alternates who, when appointed, assumed that they would move up to a permanent position are disappointed when someone who has served far less time than they are bumped up. They fail to realize that there is no rhyme or reason to the appointments and no one should expect it; not even merit.

It is nice if an appointee has some expertise in the area, but the main criteria are loyalty to the commissioner who appoints them and, I would surmise, the willingness to take orders on issues, or more hopefully, an agreement with the philosophy of the appointing commissioner.

Alternates are only appointed to the full time position when they are the sitting commissioner’s cronies and it looks good to say “they have been an alternate for years and deserve to be promoted”; never mind that they had only 5 years as an alternate and others have been alternates for 7 or more. It sounds good to say.

Mayor Noland followed this practice when she got rid of Marty McGeary from the Planning and Zoning board and appointed Bobby Brown. Marty is a member of the OSOBs and a friend of former commissioner Pam Militello who appointed her, and Peggy has been heard to say she “Hates the OSOBs”. So, no big surprise here, I was only surprised that Peggy waited until Marti’s term ran out before giving her the ax, and pretended it was not planned all along.

While musing on this topic, I wondered where the phrase “To the victor go the spoils” originated. So, as I am wont to do when an idle question takes up residence in my head, I Googled it.

And I found that:

During a Congressional debate in 1831 a New York senator, William L. Marcy, used the phrase "to the victor belong the spoils." This saying accurately described the spoils system of appointing government workers. Each time a new administration came into power thousands of public servants were discharged and members of the victorious political party took over their jobs.

Senator Marcy's remark was largely in defense of Andrew Jackson, whose campaign against President John Quincy Adams, in 1828, was seen partly as a vendetta against Adams, and whose conduct and remarks when taking office seemed to justify the association of Jackson with the spoils system which has so sullied the reputation of most politicians in the U.S.

Adams was the last of the non-partisan or bipartisan breed of politicians that characterized U.S. politics during the "Founding Fathers" era.

One story is that the day of the inauguration or shortly after the White House was so besieged by office-seekers that they were climbing in the windows.

The system reached a peak under the presidency of Ulysses S Grant (1869–77).

In the 20th century, civil-service posts in large cities were often filled on the recommendation of newly elected political leaders. The system was epitomized by the Democratic Party ‘machine’ of Richard Daley (1902–76), mayor of Chicago.

After the assassination of
James A. Garfield by a rejected office-seeker in 1881, the calls for civil service reform intensified. The end of the spoils system at the federal level came with the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883, which created a bipartisan Civil Service Commission to evaluate job candidates on a nonpartisan merit basis.

While few jobs were covered under the law initially, the law allowed the President to transfer jobs and their current holders into the system, thus giving the holder a permanent job. The Pendleton Act's reach was expanded as the two main political parties alternated control of the White House in every election between 1884 and 1896.

After each election the outgoing President applied the Pendleton Act to jobs held by his political supporters. By 1900, most federal jobs were handled through civil service and the spoils system was limited only to very senior positions.

The separation between political activity and the civil service was made stronger with the
Hatch Act of 1939 which prohibited federal employees from engaging in political activities.
The spoils system survived much longer in many states, counties and municipalities, such as the Tammany Hall ring, which survived well into the 1930s when New York City reformed its own civil service. Illinois modernized its bureaucracy in 1917 under Frank Lowden, but Chicago held on to patronage in city government until the city agreed to end the practice in the Shakman Decrees of 1972 and 1983.


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