Tuesday, January 19, 2010


"He [Tweed] did everything on a grand scale and left a trail of clashing images: the outgoing, backslapping leader uniting the city and helping the poor; the conniving schemer lining his pocket and monopolizing power; the victim of politically driven prosecutors; the guilty architect of the largest municipal fraud in history. Tweed proudly insisted he had always kept his word, even while fixing a vote or skimming a contract. In the end, even after his epic crimes becasem public knowledge, people respected his integrity, especially in facing his accusers, serving time in jail, and, in the end, confessing his guilt. It made him an oddly moral man for the most outrageous thief of his generation." (Ackerman, Kenneth D., Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conconceived the Soul of Modern New York, New York: Carrol & Graf Publishers, 2005).

Polarizing. I just finished Ackerman's excellent study on the life of William Tweed. In a general look back in history, all we see is a man who stole millions (today's billions) in graft & illegal contracts. A man who destroyed the financial structure of New York City. A man who died in prison - a place he earned a placement in. Yet, as the book pointed out - there is far more to the man, myth, and legend of Boss Tweed. His perceptions on politics, leadership, corruption, and people were ingenious if not outright devious most of the time. I found myself strangely supporting the guy even as I read accounts of his thievery. On one hand, I cheered some of his actions on, while on the other hand I supported Tilden & Co. for bringing him to justice. In the end, I am left looking at a guy who not only polarized politics in 19th century New York City - but also polarized the inner feelings of people then and now alike. If nothing else, we learn that charisma, wit, and personality go a long ways in winning the hearts of people. And that is the greatest path towards success.