Originally written in 1894, James W. Blake and Charles B. Lawlor's "On the Sidewalks of New York" enjoyed a resurgence in popularity as the theme song for Al Smith's 1928 presidential campaign. The son of poor Irish immigrants in New York City, Smith worked his way up the political ladder and ultimately became governor of New York State in 1919. As governor, Smith sought to implement progressive social welfare legislation in such areas as education, housing, aid to the poor, and labor. A popular member of the Democratic Party, Smith was the first Roman Catholic candidate for president to run on a major party ticket.
Smith ran a decidedly populist campaign, choosing the song "On the Sidewalks of New York" to show that he was a man of the people who had worked his way up from his beginnings as a newspaper boy. The 1928 campaign version of the song even features lyrics added to outline Smith's political message, appealing to rich, poor, soldiers, sailors, workers, women, and immigrants in all sections of country.
In an era that witnessed the rise of the Ku Klux Klan largely because of its anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant stance, Smith ultimately lost the election.