Al Smith was a poor Irish-American who grew up in the Fourth Ward of New York City (Lower East Side). He became a Tammany Hall loyalist and henchman, but became so well liked (by Tammany and the people of his district) that he was elected to the State Assembly.
Not knowing anything about legislation and bills, every night he would read each bill. He would pay for transcripts of the days session to read later so he could try to understand it. He would sit in on committees that he wasn’t a part of. He then mastered it. Combined with his likable character, talent for oration, and now an in-depth understanding of how legislation worked and it’s problems he quickly became effective and championed reform while becoming the assembly speaker.
He then pushed for the local Tammany democrats to change course and embrace progressivism. They acquiesced and it opened the door for a new kind of candidate—the kind that made Al Smith the governor of New York where he led a progressive agenda.
- From The Power Broker