In Atlantic City, the more things change, the more they stay the same

A fourteen-count indictment charged Atlantic City Mayor Anthony Ruffu, Jr. with awarding insurance and other city contracts to firms where he had a personal financial interest. He was acquitted of four counts in a June 1930 jury trial and was awaiting trial on the remaining ten counts when he was killed three weeks later. The 54-year-old Ruffu and three other family members were returning from a short vacation so they could attend the high school graduation of the Mayor’s youngest son. Ruffu’s Cadillac was hit by an oncoming train about a quarter mile north of the Absecon station. The four bodies in the car — all badly mutilated — were thrown about 200 feet, and wreckage from the vehicle was found 500 feet away. The Associated Press had incorrectly reported that Assemblyman Anthony Siracusa, a former Speaker and Ruffu’s nephew, was among the victims. Papers belonging to the legislator were found in the pocket of another uncle who was killed in the crash. Siracusa, the Atlantic City Solicitor, was elected to the State Assembly in 1923, and became Speaker in 1927. At age 33, he was among the youngest men to serve as Assembly Speaker, and the first Italian-American to hold the post. During his eleven years in the Legislature, he was considered the leader of “wets” in their fight to repeal the “dry” laws of the Prohibition era. He was also the sponsor of legislation that legalized dog racing in New Jersey. When incumbent Emerson Richards ran for Governor in the 1934 GOP primary (he lost to Harold Hoffman), Siracusa became a candidate for the State Senate. He lost the general election to Democrat William Howell Smathers, who had been the Judge who presided over Ruffu’s trial. In 1936, Smathers was elected to the United States Senate, defeating incumbent Hamilton Fish Kean, the grandfather of the future Governor. Siracusa, who had been preparing for a political comeback, was just 43-years old when he died of Leukemia in January 1938. Ruffu, a former newsboy, was a successful insurance broker and builder who became active in local politics. He was elected Atlantic City Commissioner in 1924. He became Mayor following the death of Edward Bader in 1927 and was elected to a four-year term in 1928. In addition to his indictment, some civic and religious organizations were seeking Ruffu’s resignation, charging that he was protecting racketeers, and according to Time magazine “connivance with keepers of bordellos.”

In Atlantic City, the more things change, the more they stay the same