Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened January, 1972
Oral History Interview with
January 21, 1969
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Roach, would you give me a little of your background for the record: Where were you born, where did you go to school, and what positions did you hold prior to your service with the Democratic National Committee?
ROACH: I was born in Chevy Chase, Montgomery County, Maryland, December 29, 1912. I went to parochial schools in Washington and in Maryland, I completed high school at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C.
While in St. John's High School, just by accident, I had my first and also very early entrance into national Democratic politics. I obtained a part-time, after-school job, and full-time summer job at the Democratic National Committee. This actually happened in June of 1929. I worked under the then national chairman, John J. Raskob, and had the grand and glorious title of copy boy, working with Charles Michelson, who was then director of publicity
This actually was a fascinating job to me, it helped
me in my school work, and facetiously enough I was the envy of a lot of my classmates, because in 1932, I attended my first Democratic National Convention, had the thrill of being in the basement of the old Chicago stadium at the time that Tom Gary, the famous "voice of the sewer" started the chant, "We want Roosevelt," which was the beginning of the stampede of delegates away from Alfred Smith to Roosevelt, who of course was later nominated.
I had the added thrill of being present when Franklin Roosevelt broke the first precedent by flying into Chicago to accept the nomination on the spot, rather than wait for the usual nominating committee to call on him at his home.
There were many thrills for a young man, more than I can think of at
the moment, in connection with that convention, but one of the heartaches
in connection with that convention, was that the day immediately after the
session ended, the new chairman, James A. Farley, notified all employees
of the Democratic National Committee that they were no longer employees
and in other words we were actually given pink slips and told to return to
our place of origin under our own steam, and we would be reimbursed later.
My salary at that time was $6.00 a week. I had to borrow enough money for
an upper berth on the
Railroad from Chicago to Washington, it took me about eight months to pay it off. However, much to my pleasure, I was rehired by the Democratic National Committee and served with them until I was loaned to the National Recovery Administration, along with Charles Michelson, the director of publicity, and was given the spot of supervisor of printing and publications, and supervised 400 people. I was a rather young man to have that much responsibility. I served in that capacity for almost a year after the NRA was declared unconstitutional, and it was in 1936 when I returned to the Democratic National Committee as a writer, writing speeches and press releases, and was taken to the 19 36 convention in Philadelphia. After that convention, of course, Roosevelt was re-elected for his second term.
I stayed with the national committee full-time, working in various capacities and fundraising, working on registration drives, and doing some speechwriting. In 1940, I was made assistant to the treasurer who was the director of the 1940 convention in Chicago, and this, of course, gave me added experience both in conventions and in fundraising, which I participated in following the 1940 convention.
In those days our presidential campaigns were run out of New York, so after the convention in Chicago in 1940,
I went to New York and served as chief clerk of the Democratic National Headquarters until the end of the campaign, and of course Roosevelt was re-elected for a third term. In 1940, this was my first experience in having anything to do with a presidential inauguration, in 1941, and at that time I worked with the chairman as liaison with the inaugural committee. In 1944, I was actually director of the convention, although Ed Pauley, who was national treasurer, had the title. He gave me the title of assistant director, and turned all the mechanics of the convention over to me, because I had had some little experience in the past. This was my first meeting with Senator Truman, at the 1944 convention. Shortly after the so-called Wallace stampede on the convention floor the night we were nominating for Vice President, the next day I met Senator Truman for the first time. After the convention, of course, we set up our headquarters in the Biltmore Hotel in New York as we had done in past campaigns. Vice President-elect Truman, came to the Biltmore Hotel one day for the purpose of going to the National Democratic Club, commonly known as Tammany Hall, for a fund-raising luncheon. I had the honor of escorting him to that luncheon. This was my
first real impression of President Truman. As we came out of the Biltmore Hotel, I had a limousine and driver waiting and Mr. Truman said, "How far is it?"
I said, "It's about an eight-block walk."
He said, "Well, let's walk." And as young as I was in those days I had difficulty keeping up with the Vice President-elect. He had as brisk a walk then as he always had, and when we arrived at the Democratic Club, I was breathless.
But on the way he said, "Neale, what do I do at this luncheon? Just ask them for money?"
I said, "No, Mr. Vice President, there will be others there who will ask for money, you just ask for their support in the campaign. We'll handle the crass subject of money in our own way."
He laughed at that and he said, "I know a little bit about fundraising. I've run for office myself before."
I said, "I know you do." I had trouble calling him "Senator" even then. I said, "Senator, you are now a candidate for Vice President and we just can't let you ask for money personally. We'll do the job.
My next experience with the Vice President actually was when he was President in 1948. I had the honor again --
I should say the first time I had the honor of actually being the full manager was during the 1948 convention in Philadelphia. Howard McGrath, the late Senator from Rhode Island was national chairman and the Republicans were holding their convention in Philadelphia.
At the same time I had worked with the Republican group in 1944 in Chicago when the Government asked both political parties, or directors of both political parties, to hold their conventions in Chicago because it was a central location, and it being war time transportation was extremely short. As a matter of fact, delegations had to be certified before they could even get space on trains going into Chicago, and getting more to the point I had worked with the Republicans very closely on that convention, so in 1948 it made my job a lot easier because the same group of Republicans were running their convention which preceded ours by one week.
The Republicans opened their headquarters in Philadelphia in October, 1947, and a few weeks after that, began to berate the Democratic National Chairman, Senator McGrath, to send somebody to Philadelphia because we had a lot of mutual problems. We were sharing expenses on construction work and other matters that had to be closely coordinated between both parties, and Senator McGrath finally
appointed me as convention manager. This was in November of 1947. He asked me then if I should move to Philadelphia.
I said, "I don't see any point in moving to Philadelphia. It's only a short train ride. I can commute whenever the Republicans want to meet."
Actually, I did not open the headquarters in Philadelphia until February of '48. After having opened the headquarters I still commuted back and forth. I would go to Senator McGrath's office and fill him in on what had transpired until he got tired of seeing me and he told me that I knew more about conventions than he did, and not to waste my valuable time or his unvaluable time in bothering him, just go on and do what I thought had to be done.
I went to see Matt Connelly at the White House on several occasions, to ask him if President Truman didn't have some particular desires about the convention's arrangements, and so Matt said, "You've been through this. You run it your way."
From that standpoint it was one of the finest conventions that I've ever had anything to do with, speaking only from a personal standpoint, not in the sense of braggadocio. But not once did the White House staff, or the President himself, or Senator McGrath,, tell me how
to set up the convention. I was told when it was all over it was one of the smoothest that we had ever had.
HESS: What are the duties of managing a convention? What are the different aspects?
ROACH: Since I haven't managed one since 1956, I can only talk about the way I handled it. I handled it in 1944, '48, '52 and '56, up until a couple of months prior to the convention in '56.
I have always operated almost as a one-man show, with a very limited staff. I have had the experience that sometimes when you turn duties over to people unless you're with them every day, they sometimes fall down. It's a bad habit to get into to be a one-man show, because you spread yourself too thin.
But basically, the duties that I took on, number one: The minute that I would set up the convention headquarters, of course, I'd have letterhead printed with the address, phone number, my name as convention director, and I would write a letter to each national committeeman, committeewoman, state chairman, in each state, this of course with prior approval from the national chairman, asking those three state party leaders to designate one person to handle the convention arrangements for that state delegation.
This made a lot of sense because as history shows, not in every state, but in most states, you have several factions, and we do have to look to our national committee members and state chairman to be our voice and our pulse so they would designate one person who would be my contact on housing, particularly on housing, and all other facets of the convention. The housing and the seating of delegates were probably the two most difficult problems, particularly when you're in a city with a few hotel rooms, or few first-class hotels.
In the case of Philadelphia that was a major headache. We housed people in Atlantic City, Wilmington, Delaware, Baltimore, Camden. As a matter of fact, I think we took care of only about fifty percent of the delegates in Philadelphia proper.
I'm getting away from the subject a little bit, but I want to bring in the part about housing because it has a bearing on the immediate present.
One of the things that happened on housing in Philadelphia in '48 was that there was such a shortage that we housed the press, or I should say a great majority of the press and the other news media -- this was the first time that both conventions were being televised nationally, or as far as they could go
nationally. They used the coaxial cable. But it was the first time convention hall was covered and all of its proceedings, both conventions, by television. They had to house these hundreds and hundreds of staff people, and technical people from the networks and wire services, metropolitan dailies, weeklies, magazines, and so on, in dormitories at the University of Pennsylvania.
You can imagine the howl that went up when some of the members of the news media had to sleep in dormitories and bathe in a community shower. Bathing in a community shower for most of the news media was just something that was absolutely obnoxious.
As a result of this, the representatives of all of the news media got together and at the 1952 convention, they passed their own resolution. After the '48 convention they passed their own resolution that all news media would have equal housing with delegates and would have first-class hotel rooms. And of course, this has created a monstrous problem at recent conventions.
The housing problem is, no matter where you are, even in Chicago which boasts the greatest number of hotel rooms, and that's probably accurate insofar as first-class rooms are concerned, it's still quite a job. Our only responsibility, I say ours, I mean the directors of the
conventions, is to house the delegates, the delegations from the various states, by giving them a block of rooms.
Invariably you put them in the wrong hotel, and when they get notification as to which hotel you have assigned them, they put all sorts of pressure on, and you have to sort of stand pat, be a little firm with them, reason with them as pleasantly as you can, make adjustments by juggling housing wherever you can, and so on. With the press, you assign them a block of rooms, not necessarily where they want to go, but where you want them to go.
In the headquarters hotel, of course, you do have to consider the major networks, and the metropolitan press, the daily press, the telegraphic press, so-called, the wire services, and see to it that they have reasonable space within the headquarters hotel so that they can be on the spot to cover any news that develops.
Transportation is always a big problem in setting up a convention. Car manufacturers usually provide an ample number of cars for free, they do not provide drivers, you have to look to the local political leaders to provide drivers and this is usually done without too much trouble. The local people pick up the cost of that. Transportation in and out of the city is usually handled by the railroads
and airlines, but the convention director's office has a lot of pressure on that point.
The biggest problem, of course, is seating of delegates and guests and the issuance of tickets. There's only one hall in this country that I know of that can satisfy everybody, and that's the Astrodome, and I doubt if you can ever put a convention in that hall. It may come about some day. They put in a bid for the 1968 convention but they could not come up with enough hotel rooms within a reasonable distance from the Astrodome. As a matter of fact, in order to come up with enough hotel rooms, about fifty percent of the required amount, which was 12,000 rooms, would be in the area of Galveston and other places, thirty, forty, fifty miles away from convention hall. So this is one of the reasons why the Astrodome was not given a chance in 1968.
Getting back to the 1948 convention, if I may for a moment, I think I've covered -- you asked me the duties of a convention manager, I haven't actually covered them all because if I get into chapter and verse on the duties -- I'll tell you about the times that my shirt has been torn off my back by irate Senators and delegates who couldn't get enough tickets and badges. As a matter of fact, my own Senator, in 1948, the late Senator [Herbert]
O'Conor, rest his soul, met me in the hallway of the Bellview Stratford Hotel and wanted to know where in the devil was his box. We had given box tickets to each Senator, and I told the Senator that all tickets had been turned over to the secretary of the Democratic state committee, and that was under instructions of the national committee members from Maryland, and the Senator, in effect, told me I was a prevaricator and with that grabbed my shirt collar, and there I was standing in the corridor of the hotel with my shirt torn to shreds. And all I could think to do was to turn around and smile at the Senator, which made him madder. Finally, I took him by the arm and took him into my office, called my secretary and I was able to borrow a couple of other tickets to pacify him because I realized that for me to send him to the secretary of the Democratic state committee was making him go down the ladder too far, and in his frame of mind, I just didn't want to irritate him any more. The sad part of it was, the Senator didn't even offer to buy me a new shirt.
The question of seating of delegations and the issuing of tickets to delegations as I have said before, probably repeating myself too much, is an extremely difficult one. It takes more than a Solomon to figure
it out. You do have to use some intelligence in your floor plan because you have to keep your delegations together as much as you can, and then of course, they're not all the same size. You really have to use a draftsman to start planning, and you usually draw up four or five rough drafts before you finalize the most intelligent plan that you can get. And you have to be careful not to print that final seating plan or let anybody see it until the very last minute.
Tickets normally are distributed to the two national committee members from each state. They are required to sign a receipt, they are required to call for the tickets together and sign the receipt jointly, and then let them squabble over it. They get all the tickets for each delegate and each alternate, and what few guests tickets that they have at their disposal. And naturally none of them are ever satisfied, not even the Canal Zone, and certainly not Texas or California, New York, or any of the other states. But you just have to weather the storm.
You know that you're going to get brickbats, and if you know these things in advance, you can usually prepare yourself either by taking some kind of a sedative, or you ask your doctor to give you an extra shot of vitamin B+, you get a good night's sleep before the convention opens,
when is an impossibility, but always be prepared that you're going to have at least ten or twenty irate national committee members or state chairman, Senators, Congressman, others, who think they're entitled to more than they're getting. In addition to that you have the sustaining contributors to the party, and they're certainly entitled to some consideration. Invariably some of the bigger contributors are not given what they should get so they're on your back. But by and large, your biggest problems boil down to housing, transportation, seating -- not putting them in the order of their magnitude, but those are the biggest problems, and it take about five months of constant work. Now, I don't mean five months around the clock, but five months starting off at an intelligently slow pace, planning, as I say, by getting your contact people in each state.
You have to make a thorough check of each hotel and not let the hotel manager just show you his clean sample rooms, but it's really necessary to make a thorough check of every hotel that has allocated space to the convention headquarters for the convention, not only their guestrooms, but you really ought to go into every floor, check their housekeeping methods, check all of their public rooms because each state delegation
must have caucus rooms, meeting rooms and social rooms, and all these things take a great amount of time. You have to work closely with the local board of trade and the local convention bureau, and of course, the local political leaders.
This is what requires, I would say, at least five months to be actively, full-time, on the scene, right up until the end of the convention. And of course saying that sentence, "the end of the convention," brings up a mountain of headaches, and reminds me vividly of the 1952 convention.
I had already resigned from the national committee, effective after the convention, and Governor Adlai Stevenson had been nominated. He found out that I had resigned and pleaded with me to stay on at least through the campaign, and I swallowed my tongue, I guess you might say, and choked up a little bit, because I had been on the road for ten months in 1951 for the Democratic National Committee raising money, setting up registration drives, and then had been convention manager in Chicago and spent five more months there. Anyway, I figured what's another two or three months out of my life. But I still had the cleanup work, and that's the big headache of closing out a convention, not only getting all files
shipped back to national headquarters, but paying all the bills and in some cases they won't let you out of the city until that's accomplished.
A few of the things that occurred in 1952 come to my mind. I had been in Chicago as convention manager since February of '52, and of course working closely with the late Walter Hallanan, who was chairman of the Republican convention on arrangements. I had worked with him in '44 in Chicago and '48 in Philadelphia, and we had become most compatible in our working together on our mutual problems of construction of the speakers' platform, the press stands, and the camera stands and so forth, and Walter Hallanan had so many problems that I used to chide him in a nice way because he had so many candidates. They were coming out of his ears and he couldn't satisfy them all. I can't remember the names of all the candidates he had. I know that Senator Taft was a front runner, and a great many people were pushing for General Eisenhower, and I believe all together there were about five active candidates. Mr. Stassen, of course, was one of them. I used to sit back and laugh at Walter in some of our joint meetings.
I had no problems at all. I had an incumbent President, and I was out there representing the Democratic
One night in March of '52, I had been commuting back and forth to Washington to help set up a fundraising dinner in the National Guard Armory. I was not in Washington the night of the dinner, I was in Chicago, and I listened to President Truman's speech on the radio in my office there in the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago, the night that President Truman announced that he would not be a candidate. I don't think ninety seconds passed before I had a phone call from Walter Hallanan and he just laughed and laughed and laughed because he knew then that I would have candidates coming out of my ears, and I did.
Although the late Senator [Estes] Kefauver had already announced, which, of course, I thought was premature. He had not waited to see what President Truman was going to do. As a matter of fact, that rankled quite a few people. So in addition to Senator Kefauver, we then had Senator [Richard] Russell, Senator [Robert] Kerr of Oklahoma, and a few others. I remember Senator Kerr calling me and wanting me to set up headquarters space for him at the Conrad Hilton Hotel, and I had already made the decision immediately after President Truman's decision not to run that I would not show any favoritism -- that requests from candidates would be handled on a first come, first served
I knew there would be other candidates, but Senator Kefauver's representative had already asked for the main ballroom in the Conrad Hilton for their headquarters, so following the decision that I had arbitrarily set up I allocated the space to Senator Kefauver. When Senator Kerr asked me what space was available, I named all of the public rooms that were available in the headquarters hotel, which was the Conrad Hilton, and he said, "What about that ballroom?" And I told him that Senator Kefauver already had it and I told him the reason why, and he said, "That's fair enough. I don't want the most ostentatious space because everybody will think that because I am supposed to be a millionaire that I'm just flaunting my wealth. What else have you got?"
I told him about the Normandy Lounge, which actually was the entire mezzanine area which completely surrounds the open lobby in the Conrad Hilton and probably it's the showiest area, and Senator Kerr selected that, in spite of the fact he did not want to flaunt his wealth. I say this in all kindness, because he was one of the greatest friends that I ever had, and I know that if he's looking down now he won't mind me telling this story about his selection of space. When he finally established his
headquarters you couldn't see anything but Senator Kerr's pictures all around the balcony of the lobby.
Another little story I know that Bob Kerr wouldn't mind me telling, was that he wanted to bring a band to Chicago.
Down in Oklahoma City they have a band known as the Kilties Band. This is made up of some sixty or seventy-five girls, as a matter of fact, my wife used to be in that band when she was a young girl, and they played bagpipes.
I remember the band well because in 1932 when Governor "Alfalfa Bill" Murray was a candidate for President in Chicago, he brought that same band to Chicago with him and they played day and night in every lobby of every hotel and every street and bagpipes were coming out everybody's ears for weeks.
Anyway, in '32 things were much looser than they were in '52, and the musicians' union had established a rule that any bands that were imported, whether they be amateur bands or high school bands or professional or what have you, that for every man, you had to pay the musicians' union, that is the American Federation of Musicians, "standby." By that I mean that if you had a fifty-piece band that you had brought in from Oklahoma City or Oshkosh, Wisconsin, you had to pay the musicians' union, the American Federation
of Musicians, the equivalent scale for fifty men, even though those fifty men didn't play. It was what they called "standby" payment. So Senator Kerr wanted to know what this would cost him, and I said, "How many are in the band?"
And he told me and I think it was about sixty or seventy girls, so I figured up the scale and I said, "How long do you think they'll play?"
He said, "Oh, they probably will be playing every day."
I said, "Let's say they play on the average of six hours a day," so we did a little multiplication, and by the time we figured out what it would cost him not only to transport the band and house them and feed them, but the standby he would have to pay the musicians' union, it would probably cost him more than his entire campaign. So he scrubbed the entire idea immediately. He said, "Neale, I think that would really be flaunting my wealth."
Senator Russell was a candidate. He is one of our greatest statesmen, a true statesman, and a true Democrat. I hope he lives a long, long time. He made the mistake of selecting three convention managers, and each one of them called on me at separate times and of course gave separate orders, which added up to confusion. So rather
than embarrass the Senator I called each one of these managers separately and asked each one of them to attend a meeting in my office, and it may have been a little embarrassing to them, but I just had to meet it head on and say, "Who's calling the shots?" So we got it straightened out anyway. There were no problems there, except that they wanted the very space that I had already given to, I think, Senator Kerr at Stockyard Inn, which was right next to the International Amphitheatre in Chicago.
By and large, we weathered the storm, and I don't think I came out of it with any scars because I went out of my way to make sure that I did everything I could for each one of the candidates. With regard to space, if they didn't like the space that they had, I would try to improve on it, give them additional space. Of course, each candidate pays for their own. I don't mean that I was taking money out of the national committee or out of my own pocket to do them a favor. I was simply trying to do my job as convention manager and make sure that I couldn't be accused of playing favorites with any one of them.
HESS: Did Vice President Barkley have any requests for space in 1952?
ROACH: No, Vice President Barkley didn't. Senator Earl Clements was handling his arrangements, and he called me
and all he wanted was a large suite at the Blackstone Hotel, and of course as history knows, certain leading political figures, and particularly the top labor leaders called on Mr. Barkley, and informed him that they would not back him, and this broke the gentleman's heart, I know that, because I saw him just a few hours after they withdrew, or did not give him their backing.
Actually, there was not time enough for any big setup. I think Vice President Barkley decided at a pretty late stage that he would get into the thing, and by that time other candidates had announced and had been given -- as a matter of fact, all the space in the Conrad Hilton Hotel had been assigned, with the exception of a few small public rooms, which of course were available to the Vice President if he wanted them. I had no personal contact from the Vice President, other than from Senator Earl Clements, who was representing him.
HESS: Do you recall what Vice President Barkley said when you saw him shortly after the labor leaders had said they could not support him?
ROACH: I just shook hands with him and I said, I always called him Mr. Veep and said, "I sure wish you were in there."
He said, "I do too."
And that was it.
One of the bigger problems I had in connection with the various candidates in '52 was assigning the space in the area adjacent to the convention arena for the purpose of their accumulating and preparing their material for their demonstrations. Actually, each candidate wanted space closest to the convention floor and on the same level. This was not possible because all space on the same level was taken up by news media and caucus rooms and concession stands, so I simply had to put it on the basis of drawing straws and that worked out pretty well.
HESS: Mr. Roach, what do you recall about the efforts of the group backing Henry Wallace in 1944?
ROACH: Well, looking back on it now, I didn't know it at the time, of course, but as the convention opened that evening (this is the session at which we were going to nominate for Vice President), a great many of the delegates' seats were filled with non-delegates who had gotten in with counterfeit tickets, and through other methods. And a lot of the delegates, bona fide delegates, couldn't even find their seats. Now, all this we didn't find out until later.
At the time the roll call got to Iowa and Wallace's name was placed in nomination, bedlam broke out in the entire Chicago stadium -- on the floor, in the galleries.
They had planned their demonstration very well even to the point of seeing to it that the organist and the band played the Iowa corn song as long and as loud as they possibly could.
The demonstration on the floor got out of hand, the entire convention was getting out of hand. Ed Pauley turned to me, and we had already been trying to get the organist to answer his phone, of course his phone didn't have a bell, it had a light right in front of him, right in front of his keyboard. But he wouldn't answer the phone that we picked up on the speaker's platform, nor would the bandleader answer his phone. Pauley said, "Stop that organ."
And I said, "Tell me how? He won't answer the phone."
He said, "Get an ax."
I sent my assistant, Byrne Austin with instructions to get a fire ax and stop that organ any way he could. He was on his way to do it when a motion came from the floor to adjourn until noon the next day. Sam Jackson, the permanent chairman of the convention rapped his gavel down and said, "Convention is adjourned until noon tomorrow," and with that left the podium, we cut off the mikes. Senator [Claude] Pepper was fighting his way to the platform to get the microphones and speak in behalf of Wallace, and
I was one of those who blocked the only entrance to the speaker's platform until after the adjournment was announced and I unblocked the platform so that Senator Pepper could get on through. By that time all the officials were leaving the platform, and this was the only way that the band and the organist or anybody else realized that the convention had actually recessed, because we were able to get the spotlight operators on their phone, and they cut the spots on the platform which put the platform in semi-darkness and certainly gave everybody the cue that there just wasn't any more convention that day.
HESS: In 1944, during that convention, were you surprised that Senator Truman was picked as the Democratic nominee?
ROACH: No, I wasn't surprised, because I had been in on some discussions with Bob Hannegan and Ed Pauley and one or two others, I don't recall just who they were at the moment, I think Paul Porter may have been in on that. But Harry Truman was really the only candidate that we could get unanimously accepted by the convention.
Everybody felt that Wallace would not be the best candidate, because a lot of people felt that going into the fourth term that -- we don't like to feel this way -- but President Roosevelt might not finish out his term and that everybody certainly wanted the best qualified man to be
HESS: As you will recall, James Byrnes also wanted the nomination. In fact, he had asked President Truman to put his name