By Joe Dorinson
Our house, the Bible teaches, is one of many mansions. Frank Sinatra whose 100th birthday we celebrate this Saturday, December 12, 2015 began his great ascent to the room at the top in 1935 when he broke into show business on Major Bowes’s Amateur Hour. His rise, over Judy Garland’s rainbow, personifies the American Dream. His achievements have earned this self-styled saloon singer a permanent perch among the icons in our pantheon. Most studies of Sinatra, however, pay little attention to his politics; hence this effort to shed some light on a neglected but important subject.
Sinatra’s political education started at home in Hoboken, New Jersey where his mother, Dolly Graventi Sinatra functioned as a ward-heeler. In return for favors extended to recent immigrants who flocked to Hudson County, she garnered votes for the Democratic machine. Realizing that politics is the art of accommodation, Dolly filled a vacuum that our Founding Fathers and their progressive children in rigid deference to their waspish values had created. Thus, when semi-literate indigent newcomers needed coal to heat their cold-water flats, turkeys to feed their hungry children at Thanksgiving or jobs for family survival they turned to the urban bosses. High-minded sentiment and lofty sermons on rugged individualism, moral responsibility and civic duty did not suffice. Following in the wake of Irish politicians, Dolly Sinatra was always there: to help as well as to reap rewards. She got her husband Marty a job in the local fire department and opened a saloon during the era of prohibition. And in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, she bought a four-story house.