Let’s Look at the Record

As Al Smith Used to Say
Art by Al Williamson

This panel is from a comic book called “Cliff Merritt Sets the Record Straight,” a production of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen from 1965 extolling the safety benefits the BRT brought to both workers and society. The fictional Cliff was being honored by the BRT for his years of service, and in conversation with a know-it-all teen whose father said the railroadmen were all feather-bedders. We were surprised to find Cliff quoting Al Smith: “Well, as Al Smith used to say: ‘Let’s look at the record!'” But it turns out, that is something that Al Smith would say.

Al Smith was from New York City, not the Capital District, but he was first elected to the Assembly in 1904 and served through 1915, serving as both Majority and Minority leader at different times. He was elected Governor in 1918, lost re-election in 1920 (two-year terms back then), then won again in 1922, 1924, and 1926. So, he spent some time in Albany. He sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1924 and didn’t get it, but succeeded in 1928, only to be defeated by Herbert Hoover. He tried for the nomination again in 1932, but ended up deferring to another New York Governor, Franklin Roosevelt. He is, of course, most remembered in Albany today not for his substantial reforms to the civil service system, which still echo through state service today, but for the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building that sits across from the Capitol.

It turns out that “Let’s look at the record” was a phrase commonly attributed to Al Smith. The Mount Vernon Daily Argus wrote in 1934: “Al Smith, campaigner par excellence and coiner without peer of the salty phrase, never invented a more ringing challenge than his famous ‘Let’s look at the record!'” Not only that, there are countless examples quoting him just the way that Cliff Merritt did. It even appears in a 1957 ad for the Bowery Savings Bank: “Let’s look at the record, as Al Smith used to say.” Smith had been dead for 13 years at that point.

For the record, so far, we haven’t found a direct quote of Al Smith saying “Let’s look at the record.” Any internet searches to try to find Al Smith actually saying “Let’s look at the record” are necessarily drowned in a sea of others quoting him as saying it. We find references to it as late as 1970, and then it seems like either the phrase, or the memory of Al Smith, disappeared.

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