Big Mike, Uncle Dan, and Me

How I Beat 20th Century New York State’s Most Corrupt Political Machine

Non-Fiction - Gov/Politics
258 Pages
Reviewed on 05/08/2021
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Author Biography

Dr. Paul Van Buskirk is an accomplished engineer, planner, educator, and author. He is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and his PhD form Barry University of Miami. Author of The Resurrection of an American City and a contributing author of School Board Effectiveness. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award from Barry University. He was inducted to the American Institute of Certified Planners College of Fellows. He is the recipient of the Charles Evans Hughes Award from American Society for Public Administration and chairman of the Board of Metro Forecasting Models, LLC.
Fifty years later, I ask myself why I would want to write this book. The answer is that even though the local papers ran lots of stories about what happened after we took office, the inside story about our party’s rise and fall has gone largely untold: the attempted murder of me and my son, the back room deals to try and reinstate members of the political machine, the weak party leadership after tragedy struck, the fraud and embezzlement by a key reformer, members of an incompetent press corps with Watergate-fever who went after non-stories, but missed the real ones that were fueled by hate and betrayal. They never told our side of the story. This is story of a war between the political power players vs. the political reformers. The shifting loyalties, priorities, and tactics of the soldiers on either side. For members of the political machine, it was rule or ruin.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Divine Zape for Readers' Favorite

Big Mike, Uncle Dan, and Me: How I Beat 20th Century New York State's Most Corrupt Political Machine by Dr. Paul Van Buskirk is a political memoir that captures a strong moment in US politics - how a college professor and engineer beat the odds and took leadership to liberate his upstate municipality from decades of political corruption. Moving away from his Republican views, Dr. Paul Van Buskirk set out to orchestrate the change that was badly needed for his municipality. Rallying behind the Citizens Party, he defeated the Dems’ political machine in 1963. The book is a compelling story that explores what it took to rid a municipality of the corrupt political machine.

In a well-written book brimming with US history, the author demonstrates with intelligence and skill how politically corrupt systems work and then shares the story of how he beat them. Readers will appreciate the importance of strategy and effective organization in this book. Dr. Paul Van Buskirk brings the setting in New York to life, taking readers through locales, and places like the Big Mike restaurant where corrupt politicians met to eat and drink, and Tammany Hall in Manhattan, which was once the headquarters of New York’s most corrupt political machine. The writing is crisp and readers will enjoy the author’s descriptive style and the irresistible narrative voice. Big Mike, Uncle Dan, and Me provides interesting episodes in the life of the man who defeated the corrupt political machine in his state and reformed the system for a more progressive form of leadership. Brilliantly written and utterly inspiring, Van Buskirk’s beautiful prose and his storytelling skills transform the book into a page-turning narrative. It is as entertaining as it is relevant, an eye-opening story that sets an example for any successful revolution.

Vincent Dublado

Never has a non-fiction account of political corruption read like a page-turning thriller. Big Mike, Uncle Dan, and Me: How I Beat 20th Century New York State’s Most Corrupt Political Machine by Dr. Paul Van Buskirk gives you that kind of thrill. Van Buskirk gives his firsthand account of how he emerged triumphant in beating corrupt political machinery back in the first half of the 20th century. His crusade has its roots when Michael Tecumseh Smith, the city’s political boss, parlays his power and influence with the interests of Dan O’Connell, Albany’s Democratic powerhouse. Through this political machine that became dominant for forty years, Big Mike, the mill owners, and the Catholic Church all became authoritarian institutions that suppressed any challenge to their authority. Tired of the ineptitude of these oppressive powers, Van Buskirk founded the Citizen’s Party to combat the prevailing menace.

Dr. Paul Van Buskirk’s account is a brilliant illustration of how one individual can make a difference in effecting change, and that it is possible to overthrow abusive politicians that corrode the system. He may be instrumental in this David and Goliath story, but the catalyst of change is largely triggered by the participation of citizens that supported his cause. I recommend that you read this book because not only is it a real story about triumph and an integral piece of history written from one citizen’s experience, but Big Mike, Uncle Dan, and Me reads like a Dashiell Hammett novel. Perhaps it is because Big Mike strikes Van Buskirk with a Sidney Greenstreet aura—the actor who plays foil to Humphrey Bogart in films. Highly entertaining and eye-opening, there is a huge lesson to be learned in this account in coming together to improve a corrupt local political system.

Foluso Falaye

Big Mike, Uncle Dan, and Me is a never-before-told story about how a man in his twenties and a group of people rescued a city from a decades-old, corrupt political machine in just thirty-three months. By being transparent, optimistic, and comprehensive, Dr. Paul Van Buskirk and his team were honored for working together to achieve a law-abiding and accountable union. However, he was faced with several challenges: attempts on his life, attacks on his character, and dealing with self-absorbed and immoral people who were acting to turn the Citizens Party into what was being fought against in 1963. From knocking on doors to get signatures and employing flyers, follow the battle against an entrenched political machine that led to Cohoes receiving a federal designation as a "Model City" and winning the All-America City Award.

If you need proof that justice can be achieved and corruption can be uprooted from a government no matter how deeply rooted it is, Big Mike, Uncle Dan, and Me is a perfect recommendation. It's not only proof but also an account of how exactly it was done. Dr. Paul Van Buskirk's well-researched book contains information about the political and social history of Cohoes from the nineteenth century to the twentieth century. The writing is smooth and easy to read, and the book is edited quite well. It felt good to read about bad leaders being overthrown because the news has been filled with information about corrupt governments recently. Readers will be inspired to be persistent, courageous, and organized in whatever battles or challenges they find themselves facing.

Christian Sia

Big Mike, Uncle Dan, and Me: How I Beat 20th Century New York State's Most Corrupt Political Machine by Dr. Paul Van Buskirk is a compelling memoir that documents the author’s triumph over political corruption. With the Democrats controlling Tammany Hall, perceived as the most corrupt political machine in New York, the governor can’t even break through the Upper New York State machine. But Van Buskirk, shunning his traditional Republican views, orchestrates a daring move and a strategy that leads to the defeat of the Democrats by the Citizens Party in 1963 and, for the first time in a long while, cracking the most corrupt machine in US politics and ushering in reforms that take the interests of the municipality seriously. This book tells the story of how it happened, the intrigue, and the dangers involved.

Big Mike, Uncle Dan, and Me is well-written and the author has the gift of grabbing the attention of readers and keeping them interested from the first to the last page. Readers will understand who Dr. Paul Van Buskirk is and the political environment he grew up in. And while this novel shares a story that happened in the ’60s, it has powerful lessons for contemporary readers and insights for a time like ours, where political corruption is rank and rife. This book features a strong plot, and even if it reads like fiction, it is real. It provides historical facts and insights into what happened behind the scenes and takes readers on a journey that involved an attempt on the life of the author. The writing is confident and crisp and the descriptions are terrific, capturing the political atmosphere brilliantly and bringing to life a scenario that is real and gripping.

Rabia Tanveer

Big Mike, Uncle Dan, And Me: How I Beat 20th Century New York State's Most Corrupt Political Machine by Dr. Paul Van Buskirk lays the groundwork for how we can remove a morally corrupt political system and replace it with a new system that works together with the people rather against them. This memoir tells the story of author Dr. Paul Van Buskirk as he opens the account with political unrest in his hometown called Cohoes. He wins the big race against all odds and reflects on how the “quiet riots” of 1963 began. From there on, the author shares how with the efforts of the locals and intelligent leaders a community can change the political scene in their area. Dirty politics, nepotism, and the offender playing the victim have always been a focal point of politics, but this book shows how it all can change if people are willing to fight for their vote.

Dividing the book into three parts aptly named Revolution, Reform, and Reversal, Dr. Paul Van Buskirk lays the foundation for change that we desperately need. Rather than just using his memories, the author uses facts and historical accuracy to present his case and succeeds at it as well. Big Mike, Uncle Dan, And Me takes a tone right from the beginning to show readers that this is not a sorry tale of failure. The author keeps the pace moving, allows readers to absorb the information provided, and gives them time to understand what he wants his readers to know. The machinations of politics is a little more difficult to understand for the layman, but I think the author does an incredible job at explaining it. It is hard to imagine how a book about incidents that happened almost half a century ago can be so incredibly relatable right now. Entertaining and informative!

Bob Signoracci

Paul tells his story about he rounded up a small group of civic minded citizen in his native city and organized a political juggernaut, They proceeded to defeat an entrenched corrupt organization and give the City back to its residents. A great read.

Jim Bottum

It’s hard to believe that I worked for the author 50 years ago in the Model Cities and Urban Renewal programs he describes in this incredibly readable book. The book is a tutorial on political organization, program development and implementation and organizational management. My two year tenure with Paul between Vietnam War service and college was a launch pad for what became a 40+ year career in higher education, research and national service. Paul’s book in its meticulous detail brings this formative period back to life.

Martha J. Angelone

5.0 out of 5 stars This is an enjoyable and informative book.
Reviewed in the United States on August 5, 2020
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VanBuskirk’s book is an interesting account of how to remove a local political system that went bad and to replace it with a much better system. It details the trials, disappointments, and tribulations of efforts to change a system. These are balanced by lighthearted anecdotes of how they were resolved. VanBuskirk’s book is a most delightful read.

Beside being a good read, the book is quite timely. It provides an example of successful efforts to change a political system that has gone bad. It demonstrates the importance of leadership and organization which must be coupled with courage and perseverance for success.

I would recommend this book highly for those interested in improving local political systems which have gone off course.
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Mary Lou LeForestier

5.0 out of 5 stars Control the Narrative
Reviewed in the United States on September 18, 2020
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Professionals make everything look easy but Paul's book shows the opposite. It's like he was balancing several spinning plates on poles, saving each plate before it came crashing down! Paul was always one step ahead of the machine and the news papers, thereby controlling the narrative. Paul used facts to react to the machines dirty tricks and never reacted like a victim, always on the offensive! Reform takes a painfully long time to accomplish but a short time to dissolve. Paul's book shows us that the best way to bring about meaningful political change is with smarts, guts and time.
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Patricia Bourgeois

5.0 out of 5 stars Crooked Political Regime in Cohoes, Toppled by Citizen Party!
Reviewed in the United States on July 20, 2020
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Although this story takes place 50 years ago, it has uncanny similarities with today’s political environment. It has all the conflicts that had take place in the political arena...the triumphs and the tragedies! Anyone interested in reforming their local government by turning apathy into action, this could be their bible. As a former resident of Cohoes during the creation of the Citizen's party that defeated the prior corrupt political machine, this book is hard-hitting and spot on!! As a bookworm and reader of over 4,000 books, this is one of my favorites...and it is an easy read!!
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Laura Freed

5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging
Reviewed in the United States on August 12, 2020
This is a fascinating story into history of politics. We tend to think crazy politics didn't exist before the last 8 years, but this book reminds us that yes, politics is usually not pretty unless we are talking pretty ugly.
Not only was this an interesting story, it was also humorous at times. We can learn a-lot from this book, not matter where your political lines fall.

M. Farmer

5.0 out of 5 stars A timely book worth reading!
Reviewed in the United States on July 2, 2020
This book is about a young engineer with no political experience and how he dismantled a corrupt “political machine” in his hometown. The story’s twists and turns are written with humor and insight into today’s politics. As with most political changes, the pendulum swings in favor of integrity and fairness and then back to corruption and self-dealing. While the story takes place more than 50 years ago, there are lessons for today’s reformers artfully woven into the chapters. A must read for anyone interested in politics.

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David W, Bowen

5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read for any community organizer!
Reviewed in the United States on June 27, 2020
A must read for any community organize or political activist interested in grass roots change. Lost control of your local officials? Here’s how one city took their government back. “The Machine” won’t give up power w/o a fight. Here’s what one fight looked like.

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David Bentley

5.0 out of 5 stars If you read this book you will learn everything you want to know about politics!
Reviewed in the United States on June 18, 2020
It is a story of political power, reformers, betrayal, violence and class struggle in middle America. Each chapter is more intriguing than the previous chapter. This is a story not about David versus one Goliath; but many Goliaths!

A Great Book!