During the great wave of emigration at the turn of the century, it was an occasional diversion for members of the European aristocracy to gather at various ports to watch the sweaty surge of human cargo boarding ship for America. In the spring of 1904, the Austro-Hungarian imperial archduchess Maria-Josepha was visiting Fiume, where she made known to the local constables her desire to observe the crowd of emigrants embarking for the New World. The SS Panonia was to sail on Saturday, but the archduchess would be in Fiume on Wednesday only. To accommodate her, the local Cunard agent, the port director, and Count Szapari, the provincial governor general, agreed that the emigrants would be boarded that day. This meant that they would be spending three days in the steerage hold before sailing—cramped and dark, a virtual petri dish of bacteria and viruses. Many passengers had contracted diseases there that prevented them from being allowed entry at Ellis Island, and they had been sent back on the next boat.
But the resident US consular officer in Fiume who was responsible for signing the certificate of medical clearance required of any ship before it left for America protested that such treatment stood in contravention of both the law and standards of decency. In an attempt to mollify him, local officials invited him to tea with her highness to view the embarkation at her side. The officer’s refusal was considered an insult to the Hapsburg crown. Washington, the consul was assured, would hear of this. “I told them,” Fiorello La Guardia would later write in his memoirs, “to tell their precious Archduchess that maybe she could boss her people around but she couldn’t boss the American consul.” The embarkation did not take place on Wednesday; the archduchess returned to Vienna disappointed.1
One can imagine a Frank Capra film based on the incident: the hero coming to the defense of the little people against the high-hats and showing American impatience with old European customs; the hero driven by his sense of rectitude, which could be said to carry a slight taint of self-righteousness—under the circumstances, forgivable. From his early years, first as a consular official, then as a lawyer, through his fourteen-year run as a left-populist member of Congress, and throughout his twelve years in office as mayor, La Guardia remained a passionate reformer and courageous defender of the working classes. From 1933 to 1945, through the Depression and World War II, he also transformed New York. The city would have modernized in any event, of course, but it modernized in the astounding way it did largely because of his will and imagination.
La Guardia’s achievements were vast in scope, from the physical and monumental to the cultural and social, and even, in the way that successful New York mayors have, the spiritual, as emblem and embodiment of the city he governed. Though a Republican, he was Franklin Roosevelt’s favorite mayor, and it was he more than any other mayor who pushed the federal government to deliver immense sums to the cities, drastically changing the relationship between Washington and urban America. Because of his friendship with the President the city was able to get money from the government. But in September 1947 the 45,000 people who waited in line to see him as he lay in state in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine were likely mourning a different La Guardia from the one who had served them in his last years in office. By that time, the great mayor of Alyn Brodsky’s title would less likely have been played in a Capra film by Jimmy Stewart than by Lionel Barrymore.
The change was apparent in the early 1940s, when La Guardia’s always strong sense of himself overwhelmed his early image. La Guardia the congressman, the indefatigable defender of free speech and civil rights, became by his third term as mayor of New York the man who supported the rejection of the politically controversial Bertrand Russell to a post at City College. The courageous early critic of Hitler and fascism a decade later did little to prevent followers of the anti-Semitic demagogue Father Coughlin from smashing the windows of Jew-ish shopkeepers in upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights: the gangs who did so were constituents—largely Irish Catholics, many of them police offi-cers—whose votes La Guardia did not want to lose. He picked fights gratuitously, and was condescending to the wise reformers whose support had been critical to his success and whose counsel he had once valued. When he was mayor, Rudy Giuliani used to invite comparisons of himself with La Guardia. Giuliani’s critics thought the comparison audacious, but, in truth, the two men were all too much alike, and in ways neither would like to acknowledge.
Still, La Guardia remains New York’s greatest mayor. It seems implausible today that a person could be both demagogue and hero. But the contradiction was at the heart of La Guardia’s character.
Fiorello Enrico Raffaele La Guardia was born in New York on December 11, 1882, to Achille La Guardia, a musician, born in Foggia near the southern Adriatic coast, and the former Irene Coen, a Jewish woman ten years his junior whom he had met at a dance in Trieste. Fiorello was three when his father enlisted in the US Army as a bandleader. The family led the itinerant life of the enlisted man—North Dakota, upstate New York, and, finally, two postings in the Arizona Territory, where Fiorello spent his adolescence. It was a geographical fact that Mayor La Guardia would exploit later, when, in anticipation of a possible presidential run in 1940, he undertook a speaking tour of the South and West sometimes outfitted in cowboy hat and chaps.
After the Spanish-American War broke out, Achille La Guardia took ill with a stomach disease caused by army- issued “embalmed beef.” Too weak to perform his military duties, Achille received an honorable discharge and returned the family to Europe. Fiorello was hired by the American consulate in Budapest, while Achille found work in a hotel on Capo d’Istria, an island off Trieste, where he died in 1904 of heart disease. A struggle with the government over the arrears of Achille’s pension—a total of $12.80 was finally awarded to Irene—left young Fiorello with, as Brodsky writes, “an irremediable disgust with and contempt for red tape” and a seething hatred of “the Interests—the vendors of that poisoned meat—who were the ultimate cause of his father’s death.”
Two years later, Fiorello returned to New York, and having mastered at least four languages, got a job as an interpreter to the arriving immigrants at Ellis Island. At the same time, he enrolled in New York University Law School, which, despite his lack of formal education, accepted him after he passed his Regents’ exams. While at law school, he served as an interpreter at Magistrate’s Night Court, White Slave division, where he learned a thing or two about the profitable relationship, in the form of bribes and shakedowns, the New York Police Department had struck with the city’s demimonde.
In 1910, after passing the bar exam, he set up his first office with a total capital of sixty-five dollars and a six-inch plaster bust of Napoleon. With a series of partners, he worked on labor and immigrants’ cases. He succeeded financially, but more important than that was the name he was making for himself among the voters of lower Manhattan (he made it a point to represent both Italians and Jews, two key groups). His goal had always been to get into politics. Within months of returning to New York he had joined the Madison Republican Club on West 14th Street. His choice of party was driven entirely by his sense of rectitude: whatever the two parties represented nationally, the fact was that, locally, the Democrats were the party of corruption and Tammany Hall.
But if he thought he was going to find a party eager to engage with Tammany, he soon learned otherwise. Partly on the strength of the reputation he had won trying to settle a fractious garment workers’ strike in 1912–1913 (with only partial success), in 1914 he secured the party’s nomination for Congress from the Fourteenth District, which ran the width of Manhattan from roughly 3rd Street to 14th Street. It was a solidly Democratic district, and Republican Party leaders mocked him when he expressed the hope that he might win. He lost, but won far more votes than expected simply because, unlike his predecessors, who knew they were bound to lose, he actually campaigned—a fact that made the leaders of both parties nervous. He also had natural gifts as a campaigner. When he tried again in 1916—a race in which he was repeatedly called “dago” and “guinea”—he won by 357 votes. As he strode into campaign headquarters on election night, he overheard a party worker telling his Democratic counterpart over the phone, “No, Joe, we didn’t double-cross you; we didn’t do anything for this fellow. You just can’t control him.”
Congressman La Guardia was effective, progressive, and incorruptible. He fought against the Wilson administration’s wartime Espionage Act. He opposed the Volstead Act, correctly anticipating the lawlessness that would result from Prohibition, and detecting the xenophobia of some of its supporters’ arguments. He supported the League of Nations, although he broke with Wilson, bitterly, when at Versailles Wilson agreed to hand over Fiume to Yugoslavia rather than to Italy.
Even at this early stage, La Guardia’s demagogic tendencies were evident, particularly while he campaigned. Up for reelection to Congress in 1918, this foe of the Espionage Act coyly insisted that during the campaign against his Socialist opponent, Scott Nearing, who had been indicted under Wilson’s Sedition Act for denouncing the war, “the question of patriotism must not be introduced into this campaign,” thereby introducing the question of patriotism into the campaign. Having briefly been a war correspondent during the World War, he didn’t miss the chance to wear his military uniform and medals while campaigning.
In 1919, shortly after starting his second term, he decided to leave Congress to seek the citywide office of president of the Board of Aldermen. This was the second most powerful position in the city, and a stepping stone to the mayoralty. In his campaign he shamelessly pandered to each ethnic group. To Italian audiences, he would attack the betrayal of Fiume; to Jews, he played up Wilson’s reluctance to speak out against anti-Semitism in Europe; to the Irish, America’s lack of support for Irish independence; to Germans, the harsh terms of Versailles. By about 2,600 votes out of nearly 330,000 cast, he won.
An election for mayor was to be held in 1921. The incumbent was a Tammany Democrat, John Hylan. The GOP put up Henry Curran, the Manhattan borough president. La Guardia defied the Republican bosses and challenged Curran in the Republican primary. It was a disaster—he carried just twelve of sixty-two assembly districts. This was the year he also spent watching his young wife, Thea, and infant daughter, Fioretta, die of tuberculosis. Why he would choose to run for mayor under such circumstances seems hard to understand, but if La Guardia struggled with the decision, Brodsky sheds no light on it.2 Fioretta died on May 3, and Thea in late November.
Yet by spring 1922, La Guardia was scouring Manhattan for a new congressional district to run from, settling on East Harlem, whose constituents were largely black and Jewish. He had neither hidden nor announced the fact that his mother was Jewish. The campaign, against a Jewish Democratic opponent, turned on charges of anti-Semitism. La Guardia fended off his challenger, Henry Frank, at the last minute by challenging him to a debate in Yiddish. Frank scoffed at the idea, predicting that the voters would send La Guardia back to his fancy house with its “sun parlor” in the Bronx (then synonymous with pastoral suburban living). La Guardia seized the occasion to explain that he had moved up to the Bronx and acquired this sun parlor for the purpose of hoping to cure “my poor wife.” He beat Frank by 168 votes.
La Guardia returned to Congress as a member of a national party led by Wall Street Republicans and Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. He continually revealed his contempt for it by fighting nearly everything it sought to advance. He was deeply opposed to the 1924 Johnson-Reed Bill, which ended open immigration from Europe and set an annual quota of 150,000 new arrivals, and fruitlessly offered amendment after amendment to modify it. In the next election of 1924, when the nomination was offered to him but on the condition that he support Coolidge, he left the party, and won as a Socialist. He continued to attack the meatpackers and the “bread trust”—a cartel of the large bread producers—and to fight for better conditions for farmers, miners, and strikers. In the mid-1920s he denounced Mussolini—by no means an automatic position for a prominent Italian-American leader to take. And when blacks and Puerto Ricans began moving into his East Harlem district, he fought for them, too, introducing a bill requiring that the governor of Puerto Rico—a presidential appointment then, and a patronage job—be a native-born islander, a longstanding demand of Puerto Rican political leaders. But, Brodsky writes, “constantly fighting for the Progressive cause in [a strongly conservative] Congress had after six years become by degrees frustrating and lonely.” Most of all, “his desire to be mayor was more than a political ambition. It was a political obsession….”
In 1929, La Guardia managed to secure the GOP nomination for mayor with the support of the party’s outer-borough rank and file, which had come to see him as its champion, but very much against the wishes of the party’s Manhattan-based elite, which cast about unsuccessfully for a candidate more to its liking. Because of this cleavage, La Guardia was soundly defeated by Tammany’s Jimmy Walker, who went on to become the city’s most famously corrupt and louche mayor. Back in Congress La Guardia had clearly begun to lose his popular appeal, as seven-term incumbents are wont to do. In 1932 he lost his seat to James Lanzetta in a Democratic sweep. The Puerto Ricans whom he had earlier successfully courted felt he had taken them for granted, while Tammany had been busy registering them to vote. He lost even the Italian neighborhoods in his district.
Here, then, was a twice-failed candidate for mayor, and now a loser as a congressional incumbent, something as rare then as it is today. How did he manage to be elected mayor the next year?
The answer has partly to do with the city’s convoluted political system. As La Guardia’s own Republican affiliation showed, party labels didn’t mean much. There were Tammany Democrats, New Deal Democrats, and radical Democrats; there were old-guard Republicans and progressive Republicans; and, because of New York’s unique election laws, which still exist today, there were more than two parties running. In 1933, there was a City Fusion Party and a Recovery Party, among others. The factions within the major parties were constantly making and remaking alliances with the smaller parties.
To make things more complicated, there were, in a sense, two incumbents. Walker’s ethical laxity having passed the point that even New Yorkers could accept, he was forced to resign before his term ended and was replaced by one Joseph McKee. But just months later, Tammany Hall called a special mayoral election and endorsed John Patrick O’Brien as mayor. O’Brien won, ensuring that as the incumbent he would be the nominee in 1933. But McKee had been popular during his brief mayoralty and, in that special election, he received an astonishing 234,000 votes as a write-in candidate. So for the general election, while O’Brien ran as the Democratic nominee, McKee was the Recovery candidate, with Franklin Roosevelt’s backing. La Guardia, who had the Republican and City Fusion lines, took advantage of the Democratic split.
But La Guardia was able to do so only because this time, he managed to unite the outer-borough and Manhattan wings of the Republican Party as he had been unable to do in 1929—and win the support of some important anti-Tammany Democrats as well. He had met Adolph A. Berle, a member of Roosevelt’s famous “Brain Trust” of core advisers, while he was in Congress.3 Berle was not blind to La Guardia’s faults—his short temper, his demagogic streak—but he held that if he was a demagogue, he was “certainly demagogic in the right direction.”
It was Berle who introduced La Guardia to the two men who would lend this tribune of the hoi polloi the imprimatur of the genteel: Judge Samuel Seabury, a reform-minded Democrat who was the descendant of John and Priscilla Alden, and Newbold Morris, a liberal Republican descended from Lewis Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Morris and Seabury, both tall and elegantly dressed, must have gazed warily at first upon this short, squat, unkempt man with a squeaky voice. But they were charmed and fascinated by La Guardia’s intelligence, his apparent commitment to progressive ideals, and his facility with the disarming and self-effacing remark. I’m “very proud to be here tonight,” he told an audience at Morris’s posh East Side Republican club, which had opposed him in 1929, “but I don’t know whether you ladies and gentlemen have decided to admit me to the Social Register, or whether you just wanted to go slumming with me.” Just after midnight on January 1, 1934, a small group—including the mayor-elect’s new wife, Marie, the woman who had managed his congressional office—gathered at Seabury’s house to see La Guardia administered the oath of office. He was fifty-one.
Alyn Brodsky, the author of several popular biographies—most notably of Grover Cleveland, whom he portrayed with far more sympathy than he is typically accorded—is fond of the Little Flower. He tells us that he was among the “kiddies” who grew up in New York listening to La Guardia reading the Sunday funnies over the radio during a newspaper strike. He moves through the phases of La Guardia’s life with methodical thoroughness (we reach page 285 before the mayoralty begins). It is a tribute, and in passages a gushing one, although Brodsky is admirably frank about La Guardia’s self-indulgence in his last years. As a writer, Brodsky is fluid and helpfully clear, and he describes the arcana of New York politics without getting tangled up in them—not a simple task. He does have a tendency to strain for metaphors (La Guardia attacked bossism “as an epidemiologist would attack an outbreak of bubonic plague”).
Brodsky’s is the fourth relatively recent (within the last twenty-five years) biography of La Guardia that I am aware of.4 There were others before that, as well as his memoirs and the reminiscences of a few contemporaries. Brodsky brings to light no freshly unearthed material, and the best of the La Guardia biographies is Thomas Kessner’s 1989 Fiorello H. La Guardia and the Making of Modern New York. Kessner was the first director of the La Guardia archives. His book, seven hundred pages long, remains, from both a scholarly and an analytical point of view, the book to read. While his portrayal of La Guardia’s personality is similar to Brodsky’s, he offers richer detail and writes with greater authority. Brodsky’s The Great Mayor, while it is also the product of an impressive amount of research, has a more emotional approach and his enthusiasm for his subject is apparent.
His portrait is strongest in its description of the vast changes Mayor La Guardia brought to New York. La Guardia inherited a New York in dismal economic condition. A preliminary 1934 budget of $551 million showed a deficit of at least $30 million. But the city was still run according to rules established decades before. La Guardia changed that swiftly: on January 2, 1934, his second day in office, he announced he was seeking a comprehensive Emergency Economy Bill, granting him the power to require city employees to work one month each year without pay and the ability, by executive fiat, to eliminate ten thousand city jobs. His emergency powers were to last two years. If Michael Bloomberg, the city’s current mayor, who inherited a similar, albeit less desperate, situation, had dared to seek a bill with such provisions, he would likely have been called a fascist.
The mayor needed the support of the state legislature in Albany for his bill to become law, but the opposition of powerful Democrats, notably Governor Herbert Lehman, led to the bill’s being voted down on two different occasions. But it finally won passage in a much-watered-down version which gave the mayor new powers but placed rigorous curbs on his ability to use them. In April 1934 La Guardia called it a “small, puny, anemic, undernourished, undersized baby,” but nevertheless, “I love the little brat” and “will try to nourish it into something useful.”
One impetus behind the bill was a demand from Harold Ickes, Franklin Roosevelt’s interior secretary, that La Guardia get his fiscal house in order before seeking help from Washington. In addition to his interior post, Ickes also led the newly created Public Works Administration, the New Deal agency that oversaw loans and grants to cities, which the federal government was about to make on an unprecedented scale. The larger impetus, though, was La Guardia himself.
La Guardia hated the idea of “going to bankers with my hat in my hand to borrow money for relief,” as was the precedent in New York. So he went to Washington. Officials there were ideologically sympathetic—Ickes and Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s trusted aide and relief administrator, and ultimately Roosevelt himself. Yielding to La Guardia’s constant pressure, they managed to grant millions of dollars in federal aid to New York. La Guardia’s intense campaign and its success radically changed the relationship between the federal government and America’s cities. During his tenure the federal government assumed vast financial responsibility for urban development. It is La Guardia’s achievement here that was a, or even the, defining character of his mayoralty.
Federal money built, among other things, the Triborough Bridge, the numerous public works projects we associate with the period (Jones Beach, the system of parkways around the city), and the public housing complexes constructed by a new entity invented by La Guardia, the New York City Housing Authority. Now the breeding ground of crime and alienation, these mammoth projects were then thought to be a good thing, and in fact they were a great improvement for most of their occupants over the slums they had been inhabiting.
The relationship between Washington and the city was remarkably efficient, but not, in one sense, easy. The men involved in the reconstruction of New York possessed enormous egos. La Guardia may have named Robert Moses as his parks commissioner partly as a payback after Moses, who had started a run for mayor and was competing with La Guardia for the Fusionists’ support, ultimately backed off and endorsed the mayor. But the two men deeply disliked each other. Moses wanted total control over virtually every construction project he was involved with—the Triborough Bridge, the parkways, and the rest—and La Guardia was naturally loath to give it to him. Moses had a habit of threatening to resign if he weren’t ceded absolute authority, and La Guardia, who mockingly referred to Moses as “His Grace,” learned to counter the bluff at their meetings by having on hand copies of a form that said, “I, Robert Moses do hereby resign as ______, effective _____,” which he would produce whenever Moses made unreasonable demands.
Moses hated Roosevelt, too. That was a feud that went back to the late 1920s, when both were in state government and quarreled over an appointment to the Taconic State Parkway Commission. Their enmity came close to preventing the Triborough Bridge from being built—Roosevelt wanted Moses removed from the project altogether—but they managed to compromise, and all three men grudgingly shared the stage at the bridge’s 1936 dedication.
La Guardia never let himself get bogged down by feuds because he was moving so quickly on so many fronts that no single one could occupy him for long. He attempted to consolidate the subway lines, which were then private and separately owned, although it was six years before he could do this. He attacked corruption in judicial appointments and managed to remove the worst of the Tammany hacks from the bench. His conviction that New York City should be a center for the arts resulted in the city’s first Municipal Arts Committee, a new high school for music and the arts, and the City Center, the performing arts hall on West 55th Street.
He also went after the mob, which at the time had achieved vast power under leaders like Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano (and which had bought off most of the city’s politicians and judges). He conducted this crusade with his customary zeal—but with limited success. He did manage to crack down on the mob’s lucrative slot machine business.5 There is a famous photograph of the mayor showily taking a sledgehammer to the confiscated machines as reporters gape.
But there were early signs of the megalomania to come. Citing an archaic provision of the city charter, La Guardia banned the sale of artichokes, because their distribution was controlled by a crime boss. There were signs of his prudery, too—he drove the Minsky brothers and their burlesque shows out of town, even banning the words “Minsky” and “burlesque” from appearing in advertisements. But he was able to retain the backing of the city establishment, who saw La Guardia as doing far more good than harm and who in any event feared the return of Tammany Hall. La Guardia was reelected easily in 1937, and this time, Roosevelt, who had backed McKee in 1933, remained neutral. This was widely seen as a sign that Roosevelt was privately backing La Guardia but refrained from doing so publicly because he would seem to be betraying his party.
La Guardia’s second term started out productively. It found him solidifying public control of the subways, breaking ground for his eponymous airport, preparing for and inaugurating the 1939 World’s Fair, creating a progressive City Planning Commission, a group of professional city planners who administered zoning rules, and building the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, from which he managed to exclude Robert Moses entirely. (At one point he went so far as to order the WNYC radio station director to kill a broadcast by Moses.) But by this time, midway through his second term, the city was forced to compete in the Little Flower’s mind with other ambitions.
It was not clear, in 1939, that Roosevelt would seek a third term the following year. La Guardia took steps to position himself as a presidential candidate. He toured through the West making the most of his Arizona youth and offering frequent comments to the press on the darkening state of the world. When it became clear that Roosevelt would run, Brodsky tells us, La Guardia was prepared to switch parties and become Roosevelt’s vice-presidential nominee (although he acknowledged to one associate that “the son of a wop who lives in a tenement doesn’t become vice-president”6 ). He was passionate about the US war effort and implored Roosevelt to give him something to do. He was named head of the US-Canadian Joint Permanent Defense Board in August 1940.
La Guardia charged into that job with his characteristic enthusiasm, but he did so partly because the mayoralty he had once coveted so obsessively was by now starting to bore him. Tammany had made small gains in the 1939 by-elections, and La Guardia was under a cloud among liberals that year because of his refusal to support Bertrand Russell’s appointment to the City College faculty. William T. Manning, New York’s Episcopal bishop, had commenced a virulent public-relations campaign joined by many Catholics against the appointment, denouncing Russell’s liberal views on marriage and sexual morality. La Guardia—a prudish man under the best of circumstances—responded by releasing a budget for the coming year which excised the $8,800 in funding for Russell’s job, remarking disingenuously that the decision to cancel the job was merely in keeping with his policy against filling vacancies. And he later ordered the city’s lawyers not to appeal the court decision that denied Russell the post.7
He feuded bitterly with Mike Quill, the powerful head of the transit workers’ union, over the status and contractual rights of transit workers under the newly unified subway system. It was a fight that La Guardia lost, at least in public opinion. He persuaded Roosevelt to name him head of the Office of Civilian Defense, which, in addition to the US-Canadian board and the mayoralty, meant he now held three essentially full-time posts. Nevertheless, the voters of New York reelected him to a third term, although their support was waning.
La Guardia, now plainly more enthusiastic about his war-related duties than his mayoral ones, was frequently dashing about the country, leaving others in charge of the city. Disparagement of this habit in the press finally reached its crescendo in February 1942, when La Guardia was forced to resign from the OCD. By then the strain was showing. Anyone who criticized his performance as OCD director was “some Jap or friend of a Jap”; dissenters in the press were “two-by-four editors” and “swivel-chair scribes.” He began to reward political supporters with overt patronage, and even cut a deal or two with Tammany leaders, such as the Bronx Democratic boss Ed Flynn. When C.C. Burlingham, another of the prominent reformers whose backing in the early days had been crucial to him, urged the mayor in 1943 to take steps to restore his “badly shattered” reputation, La Guardia’s heated reply was:
Frankly, C.C., I am getting sick and tired of the whole thing. If people like you cannot understand and instead of giving aid and help, continue to listen to gossip and spread it and directly, or indirectly heap abuse, then let the [city] go back to Tammany.
La Guardia’s fatigue was not solely temperamental. Associates began to notice around this time that the mayor was slowing down physically as well.
La Guardia decided not to run for a fourth term in 1946, fearing a likely rejection. But in retirement, he kept busy writing a column for PM, the famously combative liberal-left newspaper, and delivered commentaries on national and New York politics for ABC radio. By the spring of 1947, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His doctor chose not to tell him, reasoning that if he didn’t know, he would keep working at his customary pace and earning money, which he had never made much of, to leave to Marie. On June 15, he told his radio audience that he was “back in the repair shop.” In mid-September, when Newbold Morris brought around his brother-in-law, Judge Learned Hand, La Guardia, barely able to stand, managed to joke that he was “glad to meet an honest judge.” And on the morning of September 20, the great mayor died in his sleep.
February 12, 2004
The vignette opens the book under review, and it similarly appears in Thomas Kessner’s Fiorello H. La Guardia and the Making of Modern New York (McGraw-Hill, 1989), p. 21. ↩
Kessner offers more, at least with respect to how the tragedies affected La Guardia. He cites a friend who moved in with the La Guardias during Thea’s last days who wrote of “the sight of the distraught La Guardia bent over the lifeless woman, sobbing pitifully….” Mayor Hylan and some cronies showed up to pay respects but expecting, and creating, a mood more appropriate to an Irish wake. “‘What do you think this is,’ demanded a heartbroken La Guardia, flinging bottles across the room in a rage, ‘a German wedding?'” Still, Kessner notes, “Even his private scrapbooks contain few remembrances of his wife and daughter and no mention of their tragic deaths.” See Fiorello H. La Guardia and the Making of Modern New York, pp. 78–81. ↩
See Jordan A. Schwarz’s Liberal: Adolph A. Berle and the Vision of an American Era (Free Press, 1987), an excellent survey. ↩
The others, in addition to Kessner’s, are Little Flower: The Life and Times of Fiorello H. La Guardia, by Lawrence Elliott (Morrow, 1983), and Patience and Fortitude: Fiorello La Guardia, by William Manners (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976). ↩
Brodsky writes that there were “between twenty thousand and thirty thousand machines” in the city at the time, which would have made them ubiquitous. By comparison, in today’s New York City, there are roughly 22,000 restaurants. ↩
The La Guardias moved to Gracie Mansion in May 1942, after the City Council passed a law making the mansion the official mayoral residence. Until then, they lived in the five-story walk-up in East Harlem that they had occupied since the 1920s. ↩
A thorough and fascinating account of the controversy is to be found in Thom Weidlich’s Appointment Denied: The Inquisition of Bertrand Russell (Prometheus, 2000). ↩