Rep. Birmingham defended his friend Daniel H. Coakley of Brighton as an outstanding citizen of the Massachusetts who is loyal to the Democratic party and the people of the state, the Boston Herald reported (April 2, 1931, p. 2 via Genealogy Bank).
Birmingham’s defense was in response to an attack by Rep. Timothy J. Cronin, a Democrat from Cambridge, who called Coakley a “gang man dictating the votes of a large group of legislators” and a "wrecker of young men’s lives” by his “sinister operations,” the paper reported.
The controversy surrounding Coakley emerged during April 1 House debate over the Lehan bill, which would have permitted Mayor Richard M. Russell of Cambridge to fire City Treasurer Henry F. Lehan. The bill was overwhelmingly defeated by the House. Lehan was a holdover from the previous administration against the recommendation of the mayor.
Coakley "could poll a scant 2,000 votes in an election for mayor of Boston and yet has sufficient influence to dictate to the House of Representatives,” said Cronin. He added that he and his wife had received threats over the telephone and charged that Coakley, who opposed the bill, was behind the threats.
Birmingham said he regretted that Coakley had been dragged into the debate and said that he had never been asked by Coakley to deviate from the honest and honorable performance of his duties.
Birmingham said he voted against the bill because it was special legislation introduced into the legislature to settle a local political fight.
Rep. Birmingham criticized the Legislative Power and Light Committee for dragging its feet on legislation to regulate holding companies in the Massachusetts power and light industry, during an April 29 committee hearing, the Springfield Daily Republican reported (April 30, 1930, p. 14 via Genealogy Bank).
Birmingham said that “only last week the Koppers interests secured control of the Charlestown Gas & Electric, while we discuss the advisability of restraining such mergers.”
Birmingham cited the testimony of W. Rodman Peabody, vice president of Western Massachusetts Companies, a holding company operating the power and light companies in the western part of the state, opposing the legislation.
He asked the committee: “If that company is as pure as snow, why is Mr. Peabody up here opposing this bill? Will Mr. Peabody say he is opposed to a consolidation of his company with the New England Power company? The Western Massachusetts might be the best holding company in the state today, and by tomorrow, because of control by New England Power, might be the worst.”
Birmingham backed the Boston municipal government’s takeover of Edison Electric Illuminating Company and the supply of electricity by Edison to the new post office in Boston. He also urged Boston city officials and the U.S. government to “join with us in attempting to have rates reasonable instead of trying to save a few dollars.”
Testifying against the legislation, Frank D. Comerford, president of the New England Power Association, said that his company was proud of the vastness of his company. He noted that city and town officials had not appeared before the committee to advocate for regulation of the power and light industry. He said regulation was being pushed by a few overzealous persons, apparently referring to Birmingham.
Comerford said his company is a “legal vehicle by which 50,000 investors loan their savings to 8,700 employees and expect those employees to use the money so as to give them a reasonable return on their investment and to do New England a service by furnishing adequate facilities for light and power.”
Rep. Birmingham accused the Republican majority in the House of “hypocrisy” for taking credit for workmen’s compensation legislation that passed the House on May 23, 1935, the North Adams Transcript reported (May 24, 1935, p 5, via Newspaper Archives).
Birmingham argued that it was the Democrats in the House who had pushed for legislation protecting workers, not the Republicans. He focused his ire on Rep. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., of Beverly, a Republican member of the House who was praised by members of both parties for his work on the legislation.
The legislation package was made up of three bills. The first provided a minimum weekly wage of $7 during the period when the employee was unable to work because of a work-related accident. The second provided a minimum weekly wage of $10 for an employee who lost a limb. The third denied any compensation for an employee injured because of misconduct, but granted compensation to the family in the case of the employee’s death.
The three bills were passed on a vote of 206 to 2 for the first bill, 198 to 5 for the second, and 168 to 28 for the third.
Defending his party from Birmingham’s charge, John E. Hallwell of New Bedford, a labor union member, asked if the Democrats wanted to take credit for all of the progressive legislation passed by the Republican-controlled House since 1915. “If they would, I would defend my party against the opposition at any time,” he said.
Lodge took a more conciliatory tone. He noted that Birmingham was absent when he had publicly complimented the efforts of Sen. James P. Meehan, a Democratic from Lawrence, for the work he had done on behalf of labor.
Rep. Birmingham represented Gov. Joseph Ely as the principal speaker at the centennial celebration of Lowell High School held on Dec. 1, 1931, at the Memorial Auditorium. Other speakers included Frank W. Wright, director of secondary education at the state Department of Education, and Judge Arthur L. Emo, representing the alumni association, the Lowell Sun reported (Dec. 1, 1931, p. 1, 9, via Newspaper Archives).
Below are excerpts from Birmingham’s speech:
“I believe that on an anniversary of this kind we should go back 300 years to the settlement of the Massachusetts Bay colony in this country. Those settlers left their native shores, not as exiles or convicts, but as intelligent men and women settling a land where they might establish society on their own basic principles. They came here that they might have liberty which was deprived them in their native land; they came that they might find a place where they could, unmolested, worship God in their own way.
“They faced the hardships of this new country with courage, foresight and perseverance. Their advance forward was immediate, and in 1636 their first school was found in Newtowne, now Cambridge. In 1647 permission was given the individual towns to support schools by taxation if they desired. Third among all communities to take advantage of this offer was Lowell. You, therefore, should feel proud to study in a school built on sacrifice and on the noble deeds of men and women of Lowell long since dead. Their task in founding your school was not simple.
“The educational system then established could not have existed if the children had not been taught the [sic] to God and country that had imbued their forefathers.
“And may I speak a word to the parents who are here today. They have cause to rejoice in seeing their children attending such a splendid institution. And they should constantly remember the unselfishness of the teachers who care for their children the greater part of the day.
“I am not exactly a stranger in your city; I know many Lowell men, and I have the greatest respect for my friends here. For the past five years I have been friendly with your mayor-elect, Charles H. Slowey, and I can well understand why the thinking people of your city placed him in office. I well know the keenness of this intellect and the soundness of his judgment. But my knowledge of Lowell is given a new inspiration today by the sight of this assembly and the nature of the exercises.
“Although we are now in times of stress and unemployment, remember that bright and happier days are coming. Remember that this country was built on sacrifice—and let us become imbued with that spirit. Let nothing shake you, my young friends, as you carry forward the banner in the same manner in which you received it.”
Rep. Birmingham and Rep. John P. Lyons of Brockton nearly came to blows in the House of Representative lobby after a June 29 debate over a bill to increase the size of the state detective force, the Lowell Sun reported (June 29, 1934, p. 18, via Newspaper Archive).
The Ways and Means Committee had recommended against a bill proposed by Birmingham that would have increased the state detective force by 10 men. Lyons, a member of the committee, had led the fight against the bill.
However, Birmingham was able to convince the full House to reject the committee’s recommendation by a vote of 68 in favor of the recommendation to 124 opposed, the newspaper reported.
After the vote, the House recessed. The two men met in the lobby and continued their argument over the bill. They separated, but then they began shouting at each other. Lyons charged Birmingham ready to hit the minority floor leader. However, spectators and other House members intervened and separated the two men until their tempers cooled.
In April 1929, Rep. Birmingham opposed a bill that would indicate the race of a candidate on the ballot of Quincy municipal elections.
Rep. Edward Sandberg of Quincy supported the bill, arguing that Quincy does not want to be like Boston, where voters do not know whether they are voting for a black man or a white man, reported the North Adams Transcript, April 12, 1929, p. 6 (Newspaper Archives).
Birmingham opposed the bill, saying that Boston does not care whether a man is black or white if his heart is in the right place. He noted that Abraham Lincoln believed that and he could see no good purpose in the bill.
On a voice vote, the bill was ordered to a third reading. On rising vote, the result was 63 in favor and 77 against. The roll call was refused, the newspaper explained.
Rep. Birmingham decided to cancel a meeting of Democratic members of the legislature scheduled to be held July 28, 1930, before the conference called by the Democratic State Committee to consider the party’s ticket for the next election.
In a statement explaining the cancellation, Birmingham said that he was concerned the purpose of the meeting might be misunderstood, the Boston Globe reported on July 26, 1930, p. 2.
Below is Birmingham’s statement:
“After further consideration I deem it advisable to cancel the tentative plan made for a gathering of the Democratic members of the Legislature before the meeting called by the Democratic State committee for Monday, July 28, in Worcester. I do this because it seems to me, after contemplation of the matter, that best service can be rendered by having the members of the Democratic party present their individual opinions at this meeting in Worcester.
“To avoid the appearance of any element of contention or compulsion on the part of the Democrats which might arise in the general minds by such a prior gathering of the representatives of their ranks, I think it wiser to abolish the plan which was, in fact, only partly formulated. Otherwise the very aim which we desire to accomplish might, by misunderstanding of our sincere motive, be brought to defeat.
“By a cancellation of this separate meeting before the coming together of all eligible members it will be apparent that the ideas of members expressed are not imposed upon them but simply disclosed frankly. Their unbiased opinions of the policies which they believe will be for the best interest of the Democratic party [sic].”
Rep. Birmingham backed the appropriation of $200,000 to build a municipal building in East Boston, one of a number of projects proposed by Mayor James Michael Curley in an $18 million Boston construction program submitted to the state legislature for approval.
However, during a March 31 executive session, the Committee on Municipal Finance recommended only to fund a $250,000 park in the West End, the Boston Herald reported on April 1, 1932 (JMC Scrapbooks Vol. 73, p. 5).
The raft of projects not approved by the committee included $600,000 for construction of Porter street, $600,000 for a public works building, $400,000 for a Charles River Basin playground, $1 million for sewer extensions, $2 million for City Hospital expansions, $200,000 for the East Boston municipal building, $10.1 million for new school construction and renovation of existing schools, $1 million for street reconstruction, and $500,000 for Dorchester Municipal Hospital.
The committee decided to fund the West End park because an existing playground was eliminated as the result of the city’s widening of Charles Street, the newspaper reported.
In explaining the gutting of Mayor Curley’s construction program, Committee Chairman Sen. Samuel H. Wragg of Needham said in a statement: “No city or town has been permitted to exceed its debt limit this year and it was the consensus of the committee that no exception should be made in Boston’s case. The single bill reported probably would not have been recommended had not the committee members been convinced that the city is under a moral obligation to make some provision for the playground eliminated by the Charles street widening.”
Rep. Birmingham, who was a member of the committee, joined with Rep. Edward J. Kelly of Worcester, Rep. George C. McMenimen of Cambridge, and Rep. John P. Higgins of Boston in dissenting from the committee’s recommendation not to fund the East Boston municipal building.
Rep. Leo M. Birmingham, House Democratic Floor Leader, supported an investigation into the financial operations of the Curley administration that was being considered by the House, according to the Boston Traveler, Feb. 12, 1933, and other Boston newspapers (JMC Scrapbooks, Vol. 88, p. 5, 14, 26, 60, 70).
The Committee on Rules held a hearing on Feb. 10, 1933, to consider a petition to investigate Boston's financial operations under Mayor James Michael Curley. Based on the petition, signed by 7,200 individuals, Sen. Parkman introduced a bill calling for a probe of Boston’s financial affairs. Birmingham indicated that he would dissent if the committee recommended against conducting an investigation, while Sen. Joseph Finnegan said he would dissent if the committee recommended a probe.
One of the petitioners, Mrs. Hannah M. Connors, secretary of the Massachusetts Real Estate Owners’ Association, had alleged that James Roosevelt, the son of the president-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, had received commissions on insurance policies he had written for the city. Curley had supported FDR over Al Smith in the Democratic presidential primary and had worked with James Roosevelt in promoting FDR’s candidacy in Massachusetts.
James Roosevelt vehemently denied profiting from any type of business transactions involving the city of Boston. In a letter sent to the Sen. Erland F. Fish of Brookline, chairman of the rules committee, Roosevelt said: “In order that the record may be correct, may I state to you and through you to the rules committee that never at any time have I received one cent of commission for insurance or any other business from either the mayor or the city of Boston.”
Boston City Councilman Francis E. Kelly of Dorchester, who supported an investigation, filed a statement with the committee charging “graft and corruption during the present administration.”
An investigation into city finances was supported by the Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Boston Real Estate Exchange, the municipal research bureau, the Massachusetts Real Estate Owners Association, the Massachusetts Tax Association, the Good Government Association, and other civic organizations.
In addition, Sen. Parkman criticized Frank A. Goodwin, chairman of the Boston Finance Commission, for not aggressively investigating waste and corruption in the Curley administration.
Rep. Birmingham testified in favor of a proposal to extend the Boylston subway line beyond Kenmore Square under Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street for a cost of $3 million, Boston newspapers reported on March 20, 1930 (JMC Scrapbooks, Vol. 20, pp. 3, 5, 10).
During March 19 testimony before the House Committee on Metropolitan Affairs, Birmingham argued that the subway extension was necessary to ease traffic congestion.
The bill proposed to extend the Boylston line under Beacon Street to just east of the railroad bridge and under Commonwealth to opposite Temple Israel.
On behalf of Mayor Curley, Corporation Counsel Samuel Silverman testified in favor of the bill, saying that the extension was necessary to ease traffic around Governor Square.
Silverman said the extension would cost $3 million and would be financed by Boston city bonds. The city would charge Boston Elevated an annual rent of not less than 4.5 percent.
Any deficit in in the operation of the subway extensions would be paid for by an assessment on the cities and towns in the Metropolitan Transit District (MTD). This was a point of contention for the surrounding towns in the MTD.
Representatives of the Newton, Belmont, Milton, Somerville, and other communities testified against the bill, arguing that it was only intended to ease traffic problems in Boston, and therefore they should not be required to contribute to the extension.
Newton City Solicitor Joseph W. Bartlett said that the assessment would set a precedent in which his city might be expected to pay for future subway improvements that did not benefit Newton.
Bartlett also argued that subway expansion should be decided by the Metropolitan District Council, instead of through legislation.
Belmont Town Counsel Amos L. Taylor agreed, arguing that a decision on the extension should be postponed until voters determined the future ownership of the Boston Elevated, which was scheduled for the fall.