Governor of New York
When Roosevelt ran for governor near the end of the same year in which he had served in Cuba he relied heavily on his war record when he made stump speeches and appeared at other campaign functions. Even with his popularity the Colonel whom the voting public called Teddy – a named which grated on him but he endured it – did not exactly give him overwhelming support. His victory over the Democratic candidate, a member of New York’s Van Wyck family and a judge of high repute, was by less than 1% of the votes cast.
When he spoke at his inaugural, Roosevelt announced that while he was a loyal Republican and partisan to his party, he recognized the need to put the needs of the people of the state above those of partisan politics. Roosevelt was determined to achieve a level of popularity for himself and his programs with voters. This would allow him a measure of independence from the party power structure in the state, and the ability to demonstrate that failure to support him among the party power structure could cause the loss or losses of their positions.
To get his message through to the people Roosevelt relied on the press, and to ensure that the message was presented undistorted he set a schedule in which he held two press conferences every work day. Some were mere announcements of policy or administrative action and others were give and take question and answer sessions. The two a day policy meant that errors or distortions appearing in the early editions of the afternoon papers could be corrected by the time the final editions were printed. Despite the growing support of the public for many of his policies and programs, Roosevelt could not accomplish all that he wanted. Party conservatives often blocked him, backed by big business interests.
He did marshal through legislation which improved the civil service system in the state, eliminating much of the graft and patronage which had marked it in the past. In education he eliminated racial segregation in public schools and obtained increases in the salaries paid to teachers. He was an active supporter of conservation, establishing fish and game preserves and placing more of the state’s land in conservation, including the Forest Preserve’s. Much of what he did made enemies within the part’s controlling faction.
In the end, he lost to the controlling faction, led by Senator Thomas Platt, who had him blocked for a second term as governor by controlling the 1900 Republican National Convention and nominating Roosevelt to be the candidate for vice president, joining the ticket of the popular William McKinley. McKinley was the incumbent President of the United States and winner of the Spanish-American War (which he had tried to avoid). McKinley’s first vice-president, Garret Hobart, had died in 1899 and the office was unfilled. McKinley and Roosevelt won election in a landslide.