Hay! Krajewski! Hay! Hay!

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:20

    It closes with an essay on a colorful independent presidential candidate. One contemplates the traditional, even classical images of our presidents' youths: Washington surveying the Virginia frontier, or Lincoln reading law by candlelight after working in the fields.

    Then there is Henry B. Krajewski slopping hogs in Secaucus.

    The pigs got him into politics. Until the early 1950s, Secaucus was a big pig farming town, with some 75,000 pigs on 35 farms within its borders?more pigs than people. Drivers emerging from the Midtown Tunnel immediately sensed they were in Secaucus from the stench: not of pigs (which are cleanly animals) but their feed: tons of rotting scraps from New York City and Newark restaurants.

    The oldest of 11 children, Krajewski was born in Jersey City's Second Ward, the home of Democratic party boss Frank "I am the law in Jersey City" Hague. He pronounced his last name as Kray-ef-ski, although he was tolerant of people pronouncing it as it is spelled. As was written in one of his campaign fliers, he had "been a messenger boy, errand boy, drove farm trucks, worked as a farm hand, sold newspapers, worked as a slaughter and skin man in the local piggeries and has also chopped wood for a living. He speaks and understands six languages and plays piano, accordion, guitar, banjo, organ, drum, and bugle." He also had inherited a five-acre farm with 4000 pigs and Tammany Hall, a bar in the heart of the pig-farming district.

    New Jersey Gov. Alfred Driscoll claimed Secaucus farmers could raise pigs without raising a stink. Krajewski denounced him: "Before he picks on the pig farmers, he'd better clean up other sections of Jersey that smell worse than Secaucus," he said indignantly. "Take the industrial area near the Pulaski Skyway?it smells like embalming fluid..."

    Local officials started hassling him. In 1950, he was arrested for selling liquor to a minor in his tavern. He was only cleared of all charges after 10 years of hearings and trials before the State Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission and the state courts. Not unreasonably, Krajewski felt this was a political prosecution because he would not roll over for Gov. Driscoll. Thus, as William Lowndes Yancey said of Jefferson Davis, the man and the hour were met.

    The New York Times called Krajewski "a six-foot-tall, 240-pound mountain of a man." Thayer described Krajewski as "...Runyonesque... He was highly individualistic; he spoke with a classic Jersey City accent; he made ample use of his hands whenever he described something; he was soft-hearted and he had a rough-and-tumble wit."

    Getting into politics was easy. New Jersey is a sewer of corrupt elections with liberal ballot access laws. Nearly anyone can get on the ballot in New Jersey, provided they don't expect a fair count. Rejecting the two major parties as "boids of a feather," he organized his own, consisting entirely of himself. In 1949, running as the candidate of the Poor Man's Party, Krajewski was defeated for town council; the following year, he came in ninth of 34 candidates for Hudson County freeholder, and a year later was defeated in the Secaucus municipal elections.

    Now he was ready for the big time. He met Max Rosey ("a swell fella"), a public relations consultant, who promoted Krajewski free of charge. First Max gave him an image: a bandanna for his neck and a piglet under his arm. He advertised in the newspapers for a running mate, and chose one Frank Jenkins, a printing press operator from Rahway, of whom nothing else is known.

    He called for "no piggy deals in Washington." By contrast with the established parties' "New Deal, Fair Deal, and raw deal," he offered voters a square deal. He favored a one-year tax moratorium on all persons making less than $6000 a year, cutting taxes on gasoline and liquor, and chopping foreign aid to the bone. He also favored lowering the age for Social Security eligibility from 65 to 60.

    He sought to eliminate youth crime by forcing all young people to work on a farm for a year. "Let 'em rock 'n' roll with the pigs and chickens at five o'clock in the morning," he told Thayer. "By the time the sun goes down they would be tired enough to go to sleep and not spend their time thievin' and driftin' around the streets at night lookin' for mischief..." Speaking purely for myself, after one summer working on an uncle's farm in upstate New York, nothing, absolutely nothing, has seemed like work since.

    When Krajewski filed his nominating petitions for president in 1952 (he was on the ballot only in New Jersey), he carried a small black-and-white pig under his arm to the courthouse. He was quoted in The New York Times saying, "The Democrats have been hogging the Administration at Washington for 20 years, and it's about time the people began to squeal." The court was filled with civil servants, candidates, bystanders and members of the press. Thayer noted that these proceedings were somewhat disrupted when the pig relieved itself on some documents. He wrote, "Krajewski told me that it definitely was an accident and that he had not planned it that way. He added that the looks of dismay on the faces of the state officials were most evident."

    Then Max organized a parade in his honor down Broadway. "Krajewski was the center of attraction," wrote Thayer, "with a fashion model on each side of him and a 200-pound pig on a leash." In September, he again campaigned in Manhattan for write-in votes, orating from a metal beer keg at Broadway and 96th St.

    Because he had neither money nor organization, Krajewski sought political gain through publicity. Whenever there was a campaign, the press showed up at his home and asked him for a photo with the bandanna and pig. "I didn't want to look silly," said Krajewski, "but that was the only way the press would pay attention to me."

    Later in the campaign, he was invited to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. The students were holding a mock convention. A faction wanted to celebrate "Krajewski Day." Finding him appealing, the students gave him an enthusiastic welcome. "Them kids," he told Thayer, "were so good to me it wasn't funny. When I left, I cried like a baby." In the school's mock election, Krajewski placed second, behind Eisenhower.

    The real results in 1952 were different. Eisenhower polled 33,936,234; Adlai Stevenson, the Democrat, polled 27,314,992; then followed the Progressive, Prohibition, Socialist Labor, Socialist, Christian Nationalist and Socialist Workers candidates, and finally Henry B. Krajewski, who polled 4203. When The New York Times asked what he thought of his showing, he replied, "It wasn't enough."

    In early 1953, the state of New Jersey condemned his pig farm by eminent domain. In outrage, he ran for governor, staging a huge rally in front of Tammany Hall. The crowds gobbled 20,000 ears of corn, 800 gallons of clam chowder and 30 barrels of birch beer. He came in fourth, polling some 12,000 votes. In 1954, Krajewski made his best showing, 35,000 votes for U.S. senator as the only McCarthyite candidate against Clifford Case, an anti-McCarthy liberal Republican and Charles R. Howell, a machine Democrat.

    The following year, Krajewski was defeated for mayor of Secaucus. Undaunted, he again threw his Stetson in the ring in 1956. He held a pig roast across the street from a $100-a-plate dinner for Eisenhower at Madison Square Garden. He had a big sign made that read: "Walk across the street and save $98.02. Pig roast $1.98 for Poor Man's Party candidate." Thayer suggested the Republican dinner in Madison Square Garden was little more than a fancy box lunch: According to Krajewski, "As soon as the $100 dinner was over, our place was mobbed! All them rich Republicans came over and pulled that pig apart, bones and all!"

    After a press conference in which he pointed out that Eisenhower and Stevenson had each received free tickets to the World Series, the Yankees gave him a ticket to the first game. Ike threw out the first ball; Henry was in the stands. Then Pravda denounced him as a "swineherder from the prairies of New Jersey," and in a fit of snobbery, chastised the United States for allowing such a man to be a candidate.

    Eisenhower was reelected by 35,590,472 to Stevenson's 26,022,752. The States' Rights, Socialist Labor, Prohibition, Constitution, Socialist Workers, Mississippi Black and Tan Grand Old Party, and Socialist candidates also ran. Then came Krajewski, who polled 1829. He did not come in dead last: Gerald L.K. Smith, an anti-Semitic rabble-rouser running as a Christian Nationalist, polled eight write-in votes in California.

    On July 15, 1959, he celebrated his 47th birthday by announcing that he would run for president in 1960. He made a cross-country speaking tour, picketing both major party conventions, and, as one might expect, was shoved around by Democrats who lacked a sense of humor. But, as the Bible tells us, "A man's foes: Shall be they of his own household." In 1960, the state of New Jersey disqualified him from the ballot on technical grounds. One state official said, off the record, that his disqualification was due to his "lack of dignity." (Given our Mayor's penchant for appearing in drag and the leading Republican presidential candidate's free admission that he was not a virgin on his wedding night?although questions about his alleged youthful narcotics use are too personal to answer?one wonders what would constitute a lack of dignity today.)

    Despite the stunts, jokes and good humor, Krajewski was serious. He wanted to prove to America and the world that a poor man could be president. Perhaps this was absurd. More important was his knack for caricature. Thayer noted Krajewski's "uncanny eye for all that is ludicrous, ironic, and idiotic about American politics." His gross exaggerations of conventional politicians' antics mocked their absurdities. Thayer suggests that the press missed the point and wrote off Krajewski as just another pleasant screwball. However, the Jersey politicians who kept him off the ballot apparently found him a burlesque of themselves, which they did not appreciate.

    Thayer thought Tammany Hall, Krajewski's tavern in Secaucus, "was the best reflection of his political career." It specialized in Polish beer and kebasy, with straw hats nailed to the ceiling. An unending stream of men paced around its battered pool table. "Framed on the walls," Thayer wrote, "were Krajewski's political memorabilia: newspaper clippings, photographs, bumper stickers, and campaign literature. Among these mementos was a 45-rpm record of campaign music called 'Hay! Krajewski! Hay! Hay!,' by Bernie Witkowski and his Silver Bells." He advertised his tavern and his campaigns with an old white box trailer in his parking lot, visible to passengers on the old Pennsylvania Railroad mainline nearby, that read: "Politicians are Jokers."

    When Thayer interviewed him in late 1965, Krajewski was suffering from diabetes. His right leg had been amputated above the knee in August 1965, which had slowed his gubernatorial campaign (he was running on the Jersey Veterans Bonus ticket, urging a nationwide lottery to finance a veterans' bonus). Yet he remained warm, good humored and high-spirited.

    In 1966, he tried one more time, running for U.S. senator on an anti-sales tax platform. But his health collapsed and he died of heart failure on Nov. 8, 1966?Election Day.