New Orleans Public Library
|Administrations of the Mayors of New Orleans|
John Fitzpatrick (1844-1919)
John Fitzpatrick was born at Fairfield, Vermont, May 1, 1844 while his mother was on a visit to that city, and the age of six months he was brought to New Orleans. While still a small boy, he and his two brothers, James and Michael became orphans and were given shelter in the St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum. Years later he became President of that institution. He received his education in the public schools and started his career as a newspaper boy, later becoming a carpenter and working at this trade for a number of years. He was a resident of the Third Ward where he gained great influence with the labor class which supported him solidly in later years.|
Captain Fitzpatrick’s record as a leader in political life of the city and state has few equals in the history of this country. It was from his political life that his friends cited the one action on his part which they claim forms the true index to his character.
The incident occurred in 1907 when Charles Letten, a deputy tax collector under Fitzpatrick, defaulted for $116,000. Captain Fitzpatrick’s bond as tax collector was only $35,000. He could not have been held for more that that amount, yet he paid back to the State every cent of the $116,000. It took his entire personal fortune to do so, leaving virtually a poor man.
His first political office came in 1872 when he was elected Clerk of the First District Court. In 1874, he was appointed Clerk of the Superior Criminal Court, holding that office until elected Criminal Sheriff in 1878. Under Mayor Guillotte, in 1884, he was elected Commissioner of Public Works. In 1892, after four years of reform rule under Mayor Shakspeare, Captain Fitzpatrick led the regular organization to victory.
The new administration took office on April 25, the inauguration ceremonies were of the simplest. In the new mayor’s inaugural message to the Council, Fitzpatrick called attention to the numerous contracts given out by the previous administration. He promised to lend his best efforts to see that the obligations thus created were carried out. The history of his administration is greatly a matter of the execution of these contracts.
The City Council, during his administration, was accused of corruption and several of its members were convicted of bribery and sentenced to the penitentiary.
On February 1, 1893, New Orleans for the first time, rode in cars powered by electricity. The experience proved delightful, safe and successful. All of New Orleans had known for many months that the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company had been busily engaged in changing their railway system from the slow mule to the progressive power of electricity.
In 1896 Mayor Fitzpatrick founded the present public library system, establishing a library at Camp and Lafayette Streets. He also gained for himself the name of “Father of the Sewerage and Water System.” Nothing definite had been accomplished along those lines until he raised a fund and had surveys made.
During that same year, 1896, a new city charter was made. It reduced the number of members of the council from thirty to seventeen who were to receive a small renumeration for their services. This Charter also created the Civil Service Commission which established merit as the sole qualification for obtaining public jobs. The board began its work in January, 1897.
In 1898, after having served his term as mayor, Fitzpatrick was elected to the State Legislature, and in 1899 a campaign for governor was started for him. However, at the State Convention, a deadlock developed between three candidates, Mr. Fitzpatrick, Lieutenant Governor Snyder and Senator Lawrason. As a compromise, W. W. Heard was finally agreed upon.
After being elected, Governor Heard appointed Captain Fitzpatrick as Tax Collector for the First District. In 1904, Governor Blanchard re-appointed him and he remained in that office until the time of his death.
Fitzpatrick although foremost as a politician was also a well known sportsman. His activities in boxing circles date back to the days of bare-knuckle fights, he acted as referee at the famous John L. Sullivan-Paddy Ryan contest and also referred the Sullivan-Kilrain battle, as well as many other important prize-ring battles in the vicinity of New Orleans.
In fraternal organization work he was one of the city’s leaders. He was at one time exalted ruler of the order of Elks, State President of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, founder of the present Choctaw Club and one of the organizers of the Knights of Columbus. He was a member of the old Continental Guard and was identified with the old Volunteer Fire Department of this city for many years. At the time of his death he was honorary Vice-President of the Police Mutual and Benevolent Association.
Mayor Martin Behrman said “The death of John Fitzpatrick is a distinct loss to New Orleans. He carried with him to the grave, a reputation for integrity and strength of character suppressed by none.”
Captain Fitzpatrick died at his home, 2024 Canal Street, at 3:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, 1919, survived by his widow, nee Mathilde Goethner, (or Gaerthner), one son, Lieutenant John J. Fitzpatrick, a graduate of Annapolis, who had served in the U. S. Navy during the World War, and three daughters, Mrs. John P. Sullivan and the Misses Louise and Matilde Fitzpatrick. He lies buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
|Members of the Fitzpatrick Administration|
April 25, 1892-April 27, 1896
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