James John Walker, often known as Jimmy Walker and colloquially as Beau James (June 19, 1881 – November 18, 1946), was the mayor of New York City from 1926 to 1932. During a corruption scandal he was forced to resign.
Life and career
Walker was the son of Irish-born William H. Walker, a Democratic assemblyman and alderman from Greenwich Village, belying certain accounts of Walker's childhood that stated he grew up in poverty. Before entering politics, the young Jimmy Walker worked as a songwriter, his most popular composition being "Will You Love Me in December (as You Do in May)?" He attended Xavier High School (New York City), and New York Law School.
Walker was a member of the New York State Assembly from 1910 to 1914, and of the New York State Senate from 1914 to 1925. He was President pro tempore of the New York State Senate from 1923 to 1924.
In 1926 he became Mayor of New York City, having defeated incumbent John F. Hylan in the 1925 Democratic primary with the help of Governor Alfred E. Smith and Tammany Hall. The initial years of his mayoralty were a prosperous time for the city, with many public works projects. However, Walker's term was also known for the proliferation of speakeasies during the Prohibition era. His affairs with "chorus girls" were widely known, and he left his wife, Janet, for showgirl Betty Compton without impairing his popularity. He managed to maintain the five-cent subway fare despite a threatened strike.
Walker won re-election by an overwhelming margin in 1929, defeating Republican Fiorello La Guardia and Socialist Norman Thomas. Walker's fortunes turned downward with the economy – due to the stock-market crash of 1929. Patrick Joseph Hayes, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, denounced him, implying that the immorality of the mayor, both personal and political in tolerating "girlie magazines" and casinos, was a cause of the economic downturn.
Increasing social unrest led to investigations into corruption within his administration, and he was eventually forced to testify before the investigative committee of Judge Samuel Seabury, the Seabury Commission. One of the specific allegations against him was an extortion scheme which utilized the court system as its enforcer. Innocent people were pulled off the street and accused of crimes they had not committed. "Professional witnesses" would testify falsely to their guilt, forcing the victims to either pay bribes or go to jail.
Facing pressure from Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Walker resigned from office on September 1, 1932, and promptly left for Europe until the danger of criminal prosecution appeared remote. There, he married Betty Compton.
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