Capital Region Scrapbook: Not politics as usual (with photo gallery)

One hundred years ago this week, former church pastor George Lunn became Schenectady's first and onl

On a Monday night exactly 100 years ago this week, two men knocked on the front door of 17 Jay St. in Schenectady. They wanted to see George Lunn.

A former minister at the First Reformed Church, Lunn was running for political office, and the next day he would be elected the city’s first and only Socialist mayor. First, however, he had to play ball with the bosses of his newly adopted political party, and that meant signing an agreement the night before the election assuring Socialists everywhere, but particularly those in New York state, that he would follow the dictates of the party leaders or give up the mayor’s office.

Lunn was handed a blank resignation form that read in part: “. . . to the end that my official acts may at all times be under the direction and control of the party membership.” He didn’t like it, and let it be known to the two gentlemen at his front door, but he signed the paper, later saying that he was hoping to “avoid a squabble,” and that he thought it was “child’s play and illegal.”

The election of 1911 provided many firsts for the citizens of New York state. Along with Lunn, eight Socialists were elected as aldermen to Schenectady’s City Council and Herbert Merrill, a General Electric employee and union boss there, became the first Socialist to win election to the state Assembly.

The first decade of the 20th century had been a rapidly changing time in Schenectady, with immigrants flooding into the city to take jobs with General Electric and the American Locomotive Co.

“It was an era in which people believed there was a positive role for government,” said University at Albany professor Gerald Zahavi. “The late 19th century led to great material progress but also class warfare, and flagrant abuses of human and worker rights by employers. People were starting to look for government to control this.

“Lunn was a great orator who could carry an audience,” added Zahavi. “He brought together a coalition of disgruntled immigrant workers, many of whom were social progressives in their political view, who were strong unionists and active Socialists, and an equally disgruntled group of middle-class supporters who were interested in progressive reforms and ‘good government.’ ”

Lunn lost to a fusion candidate of the Republican and Democratic parties in 1913, but ran again in 1915, again as a Socialist, and won. It was during that second term that he left the Socialist party and became a Democrat. He went on to serve a two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives, would be mayor again for two more terms and also was elected lieutenant governor of New York in 1923 with Al Smith.

Lunn was born near Des Moines, Iowa, came to Schenectady in 1904 to preach at the First Reformed Church and finished his political career as the state’s public service commissioner. He died in 1948 in California at the age of 75.

Categories: Life and Arts

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