Alfred Emanuel Smith was born in New York City on December 30, 1873. He married Catherine (Katie) Dunn on May 6, 1900 and the couple raised a family of five children: Alfred, Jr., Emily, Catherine, Arthur, and Walter. Smith was first elected to public office in 1903, when with the support of the Democratic Tammany Hall organization he claimed a seat in the New York State Assembly. At the outset of the 1911 legislative session, he was named Assembly Majority Leader as well as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Later that year, members of the newly established Factory Investigating Commission, created in the wake of the disastrous Triangle Shirtwaist fire, named him vice chairman. In 1913, house membership elected Smith Speaker of the Assembly, a post that he would hold until he left the legislature following the 1915 session.
After serving as New York County sheriff and President of the Board of Aldermen of Greater New York, Smith made his first successful bid for the governor's office in 1918. Following his first term, he was defeated in his bid for reelection by Nathan Miller. In 1922, Smith in turn defeated Miller to reclaim the governor's office. Smith was reelected governor in both the 1924 and 1926 elections. In 1928, he ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic Party's candidate for president, losing to Herbert Hoover. Smith returned to private life after the conclusion of the 1928 campaign and the completion of his fourth gubernatorial term. He died on October 4, 1944 at the age of seventy.
As governor, Smith is best remembered for advocating a comprehensive program aimed at reforming the administration of state government. Believing that greater efficiency allowed resources to be allocated where they could better serve the needs of the public, his proposals included streamlining the massive, unwieldy, and decentralized structure of the executive branch into a limited number of cabinet-level departments; reducing the body of executive branch officials elected by the public to include solely the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general; creating an executive budget system, which vested in the governor sole authority to formulate the state's initial budget proposal; and increasing the governor's term from two to four years. All but the last of these proposals were enacted during Smith's tenure as governor.
For detailed examinations of the life and political career of Alfred E. Smith, see Finan, Christopher M. Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior. New York: Hill and Wang, 2002; and Slayton, Robert A. Empire Statesman: The Rise and Redemption of Al Smith. New York: Free Press, 2001.
From the guide to the Central subject and correspondence files, 1919-1920, 1923-1928, (New York State Archives)