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Joseph Mruk’s 1949 Mayoral Election

  • AddressBuffalo, New York

Joseph Mruk and “the Republicans are basing their hopes for victory [in East Buffalo] strictly on a racial appeal basis. I am confident Buffalo’s citizens of Polish descent who always have voted Democratic will not be misled by any such narrow appeal” – Paul E. Fitzpatrick, State Democratic Chairman. October 23, 1949.

PAC 29 1949 Mruk Election Pic 1By the spring of 1949, Joseph Mruk was a well-known political figure. He had already served on Buffalo’s Common Council and in 1942 was elected congressman from the 41st District. Back on the Walden District’s Council, Mruk, a jeweler by trade, began thinking about making a run for mayor of Buffalo. For him to win, he would first have to secure the Republican nomination and then find a path to city hall. Joe hoped that path would be found along Broadway, Fillmore, Clinton, and Amherst Streets, the hearts of Buffalo’s Polish community. The question on Mruk’s mind was, would his fellow Poles support him, or vote Democrat as they had for generations? Is blood thicker than party?

As councilman, Joe was already in the middle of Polish happenings in east Buffalo. In May, the Polish National Alliance selected Mruk as grand marshal of their I Am an American Day rally. This gave him the ear of 25,000 celebrants at Humboldt Park and some early exposure. Because of events like this and popular support, Mruk had the GOP endorsement by the time of the Republicans Picnic in the summer. When the primary was held on September 6, 1949, Chief Judge John D. Hillery secured the Democratic line and Joseph Mruk was the Republican candidate by a 2 to 1 margin.

PAC 29 1949 Mruk Election Pic 2Within a month the Democrats healed the wounds from the primary and the Hillery camp came up with a strategy to secure the Polish Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Wards, to have Assemblyman Philip V. Baczkowski campaign on behalf of the judge. That may have been the plan, but it would be Mruk at the center of Pulaski Memorial Day and as it became clear to everyone that the Poles were coalescing around him, Mruk began campaign for the other Republicans in the East Side. With Mruk, politicians like U.S. Senator John Foster Dulles and Judge Bruce Bromley were able to hold rallies at the normally closed off Polish Union Hall. When the voter registration numbers started to come in, the Democrats began to realize the Poles were organizing themselves regardless of the political leaders.

Desperate to regain the Polish population that was turning against them, Hillery sent out “invitations” to 45 prominent Polish Americans so they could support Hillery and “stand up and be counted on their loyalty to the party or to their national origin.” When the meeting was held, 35 Poles showed up. Among the missing were Hillery’s primary opponent Steven Pankow and Assemblyman Philip V. Baczkowski.

Things went from bad to worse for the Democrats when Local 36 of the AFL Grain Millers endorsed Republican Joseph Mruk. It was the first time a Buffalo labor group endorsed a Republican candidate. Losing major support from all around him, Judge Hillery made a desperate move. His team calculated that he had a better chance of winning if he ran as an Independent. This way he would keep most of the Democrats, he could steal away Republicans who disliked Mruk, and he could attack the Polish community head on. On October 25, Hillery began his assault. He first slandered the Polish press, saying it would have a Russian-like influence if Mruk were elected, attacked Joseph’s theme song, the “Mruk Polka,” suggested his Republican opponent wasn’t an American, and finally he accused the Polish Union of wrongfully denying him access to the hall for a rally. While Hillery was lashing out, Mruk was outlining how he planned to secure more federal funds for the city.

Everything came to a head November 8, 1949, when Buffalo went to the polls. The turnout was unprecedented and when the votes were counted, Mruk had won by the largest margin in Buffalo’s history. The Polish community united behind their true son of Polonia with the Polish Wards voting in favor of him as much as 14 to 1. On January 1, 1950, Joseph Mruk was sworn in as Buffalo’s first Polish American mayor.


"25,000 Expected At Park Program." Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 14 May 1949: 5. Print.
"45,000 Pack Republicans' Annual Picnic." Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 7 Aug. 1949: n. pag. Print.
"Dulles, Mruk Will Address GOP Rallies." Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 9 Oct. 1949: 25-A. Print.
"Freedom Greatest Thing In World, Hanley Says at I Am An American Rally."Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 16 May 1949: n. pag. Print.
"Grain Millers' Local Votes To Support Mruk." Buffalo Courier-Express[Buffalo, NY] 19 Oct. 1949: 9. Print.
"Hillery Camp Puts East Side Group on Spot." Buffalo Courier-Express[Buffalo, NY] 12 Oct. 1949: 9. Print.
"Hillery Lashes At Tactics Of Rival's Backers." Buffalo Courier-Express[Buffalo, NY] 25 Oct. 1949: 22. Print.
Kobielski, Milton J. Millennium of Christianity of the Polish People, 966-1966: Buffalo Diocesan Observance. [Buffalo]: Millennium Committee of the Diocese of Buffalo, 1966. Print.
Leckie, Robert. "Mruk Outlines Plan to Obtain Federal Funds." Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 25 Oct. 1949: 26. Print.
Mullen, William A. "City Registration Study Leaves Analysts Puzzled." Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 17 Oct. 1949: 6. Print.
Mullen, William A. "Hillery Drive Planned By Polish Chiefs." Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 19 Oct. 1949: 8. Print.
Mullen, William A. "Hillery Group Bars Mahoney From Counsels." Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 25 Oct. 1949: 1+. Print.
Mullen, William M. "Hillery, Mahoney Camps Planning 'Peace Feast'" Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 24 Sept. 1949: n. pag. Print.
Mullen, William A. "Hillery Makes Strong Attack on Opponent." Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 28 Oct. 1949: 26. Print.
"Mruk Elected By Record Vote." Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 9 Nov. 1949: 1+. Print.
"Pulaski Declared Second Only to Gen. Washington." Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 3 Oct. 1949: 6. Print.
Rizzo, Michael F., and Genevieve M. Kenyon. Through the Mayors' Eyes: Buffalo, New York 1832-2005. Buffalo, NY: Old House History, 2005. Print.
"Use of Hall Refused, Says Hillery Aide." Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 1 Nov. 1949: 7. Print.
Warren, Lucian C. "Both Party Leaders See Sure Victory." Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY] 23 Oct. 1949, Six sec.: 1. Print.

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