John Y. McKane began his career as a corrupt politician in a very modest way. As a young man he started a small construction business in the village of Sheepshead Bay. He kept busy building ramshackle bathing establishments and lager-beer saloons for businessmen attracting the summer tourist trade. He was shrewd and knew how to judge character and when to advance credit. When people like the Vanderveers wanted to enter the bathhouse business, he built their structures on speculation. They not only paid him back in full, but became his political supporters when he decided to run for office. With the help of the local fishermen, blacksmiths, clam diggers, saloon keepers, and carpenters of the town, he was elected as Gravensend's third constable in 1868.
McKane, while not handsome, had strong features set off by a broad-brimmed hat, mustache and carefully trimmed black beard. He had married a local girl, Fanny Nostrand, when he was 24 years old and settled down to raise three sons and a daughter.
He didn't smoke or drink and taught Sunday school regularly at the Methodist Episcopal Church.
John Y. McKane
He was honest at the time and felt that the town wasn't getting its fair share from leases on the town's common lands near the beach. His gripe wasn't that the town commissioners were dishonest, but that they were genteel farmers who knew nothing of the property's worth. He ran for office and at the 1869 town meeting was elected one of three commissioners. Within a year he doubled the town's rental income to $1511.50.
McKane was interested initially in making friends with the lessees and obtaining building contracts to build their establishments. But he also realized that many of these businessmen were sub-leasing their lots and making a substantial profit. He yearned for...