William Hamlin Childs' Case
( Originally Published 1921 )
The case of William Hamlin Childs, head of the Fusion Committee that supported Mayor Mitchell, has become one of great importance as an instance—perhaps the only one in our history—in which an attempt has been made to drive out public spirited men from matters of municipal government, and we record it here as an item to interest future New Yorkers as well as ourselves. Mr. Childs was indicted on the single technical offense of paying out for speakers a certain sum "without mentioning their names," an offense—if offense it may be called —committed by' subordinates and for which Mr. Childs
was held responsible as Chairman of the Executive Committee. In a statement to the press, Mr. Childs says :
The present phase of this matter before the courts is to test the strict legality of the proceedings of a partisan District Attorney and to determine whether, as matter of law and irrespective of the two facts, the charges made by him constitute any offense against the statutes. In all this I am, of course, in the hands of my counsel and must be guided by their judgment.
After the election in November, 1917, and during the winter of 1918, the District Attorney's office gave out misleading and distorted statements of the terrible disclosures the Grand Jury was going to uncover in its exhaustive examination of the Fusion records.
Now, what are the facts? The Grand Jury found that the records of the committee were kept with most unusual care and exactness ; that no money was improperly received or improperly expended; that a total of $1,080,000 was expended in a strenuous effort to continue the best administration New York ever had (the failure of which efforts many of its opponents now sadly regret).
Upon the advice of the District Attorney, the Grand Jury brought in three indictments, based upon a single doubtful technical point, viz.: That in making the final report of expenditures two items—$5,000, paid to Mr. Sulzer, and $6,500 paid to Mr. Appelbaum—were reported as paid out for "speakers and meetings," without mentioning their names.
As Chairman of the Executive Committee, it was claimed that I was generally responsible for the actions of subordinates, and I was indicted for this technical offense.
I am quite alive to the importance of protecting elections with all proper safeguards, but it must be borne in mind that in respect to this so-called failure to comply with the strict terms of the statute I not only did not do it, but did not even know that it was done, until this report was willingly shown to the District Attorney, and his conscience was so badly shocked that he published it.
Note these facts :
I was not an officer of the committee filing this report. I was not even a member of this committee. I not only did not sign the report, but I have never even seen it. Neither Sulzer, Appelbaum nor Newcomb had any knowledge of its form, and I never had any conversation with either of them about it. There was no motive in concealing the names of Sulzer and Appelbaum twenty days after the election. I gave only one instruction about the report, and that was that it should receive the approval of our counsel before filing. That was done, and our counsel still contends the report was filed properly.
The Democratic reports, which were at the same time in the close possession of the District Attorney, are full not only of gross technical errors, but show clearly illegal contributions by corporations, and, upon the same reasoning that has been applied against me, by individuals concealed under the name "John Doe." But the Democratic District Attorney has failed to call anyone to account. The significance of that circumstance, and the attitude he has assumed in my case, is so apparent as to require no explanation.
I mean to fight this thing out to its conclusion, not only in my own interest, which, of course, I am bound to do, but in the interests of public-spirited men of affairs whom it is sought to drive out from participation in matters of municipal government.
I am sustained by the consciousness that I have done no wrong, by the assurance that those who know me know that I would not wittingly violate any law, and who, with myself, do not believe that in this matter I have violated any law, and with the hope that those who do not know me will appreciate the real purpose of the vicious attacks made upon me in certain newspapers.