Fiorello La Guardia was born on December 11 th 1882 to immigrants of Italian and Jewish ancestry in New York. He served as the mayor of New York City from 1945-1945. He is considered to be one of the mayors who redefined New York City politics. Fiorello had a very long career in politics before serving as mayor. After graduating New York University law school in 1910, La Guardia practiced law and was appointed Deputy Attorney General. He also served many terms in Congress as a republican.
La Guardia lost his first try at the Mayor’s race to Jimmy Walker in 1929, but was successful on his second try in 1933. La Guardia expressed his interest in the Mayoral running after he lost his final term in Congress, November 1932. On November 22, 1932 La Guardia invited “Key men and women in politics and all walks of like to attend an anti-Tammany (present mayor) meeting at town hall” (Mann, P. 66). At this meeting, La Guardia knew that it was too early to talk about candidates. But he did offer a very clear and powerful outline of his beliefs to a reporter for the ‘nation’.
He states: “While everybody is talking about the necessity of a change in our City government, there is nothing really practical, concrete and definite being done. Public opinion must not only be crystallized, but must be translated into action through the medium of an actual fighting organization of determined men and women. The election machinery cannot be over-looked. The best intentions and good will even of a majority of the people cannot, unless properly prepared, overcome the crookedness, corruption and violence of an entrenched political machine” (Mann, P. 66). After his meeting at Town Hall, La Guardia returned to Washington to finish his Congressional term, namely his New Deal legislation, leaving many New Yorkers something to think about.
He returned to his East Harlem residence on March 4 th, 1933. Although La Guardia was a Republican, and Tammany was a Democrat; he learned that the Fusion party was setting up potential candidates to run against Tammany. La Guardia saw this as an opportunity to break in to the candidacy. “The Fusion Conference Committee, as it came to be called, consisted of delegates from groups traditionally hostile to the Wigwam: conservative Republicans, the business community, and the Good Government associations” (Mann, P. 67). The fusion party was founded by Maurice P.
Davidson and officers of the good government associations in 1932. “The City Fusion Party hoped to win the 1933 election and institute such traditional mugwump planks as charter revision, civil service reform, proportional representation, a small city council, possibly a city manager plan, and the consolidation of overlapping offices on which the spoils men had been feeding” (Mann P. 68). Fiorello’s values were much like the Fusion parties. In fact, he was advocating what they have been for nearly a decade or more.
In 1933 The Fusion Party wanted to run an independent Democrat for Mayor since at the time in New York City, Registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by nearly 4 to 1, this made it even harder for La Guardia. The Fusion party wanted as their primary choice for a candidate to run a man by the name of Seabury. He declined for personal reasons. The parties’s e cond choice was Joseph V Mckee who was the president of the Board of Alderman. La Guardia had very little press, public relations and money to run successfully on his own. From March to August La Guardia “spoke up and down the it in order to build public support and keep his name alive in the newspapers” (Mann P.
75). He spoke to all races and and different neighborhoods with different problems he wished to address. During this time he met one of his greatest allies. His name was A. A. Berle Jr.
Mr. Berle constantly had meetings with La Guardia and spoke of his ambitions. Berle opened many doors for him. During his speeches La Guardia oftentimes attached the Fusion Party and tried to solicit endorsement from the Republican Party. They declined many times publicly. However, privately they agreed with La Guardia and wanted him to be on their ticket.
They could not admit this publicly at the time since it would have forced many financial supporters to withdraw from the Republican Party since they were strongly against La Guardia. La Guardia constantly went back and forth between the Republican Party and the Fusion Party, trying to solicit support from either side. After realizing that the Republican Party support was nearly completely out of reach, he spent more of his time soliciting from the Fusion Party. They tried to ignore him at all costs. The Fusion Party thought he was too “crude”, “hard spoken”, and had a “harsh demeanor.” The Fusion Party would meet almost weekly to conference and discuss possible candidates.
During one particular meeting which took place the third week of July, the party lined up about ten or eleven men they deemed possible candidates to run. La Guardia’s name was not in this batch. Ironically, all of these men declined the candidacy for one reason or another. La Guardia was always trying to meet with heads of the Fusion Committee; he would talk about issues he thought were most important and how badly he wanted to be mayor. It wasn’t until Seabury admitted favoring La Guardia before the Committee that got him the nomination. Seabury even was quoted saying that he even favored La Guardia over himself and that (about La Guardia) “He’s absolutely honest, man of great courage and can win” (Mann, P.
91). After getting on the Fusion ticket, La Guardia took a quick lead in the polls from August through September 19 th (primaries). During this time La Guardia had great press coverage, more so than Tammany did. Tammany was very overconfident and didn’t address the many issues that La Guardia did.
“Fusion headquarters was established in the Paramount Building on Times Square, and in a matter of weeks La Guardia built a city-wide organization” (Mann, P. 89). La Guardia won the election and took office on January 1. Many say he won because of his shrewd, multi personality style.
“Five foot two and tub-round; he carried a seven-foot ego and a gigantic self confidence that bordered on recklessness” (Kessler, P. 258). As stated earlier, La Guardia is considered to be one of New York’s top reformers. He was very well liked during the election because of his promises and commitments, for which he carried through on most of them. He started fulfilling his promises the day he took office. His first stop was New York City Police headquarters, where he sworn in the police commissioner.
While there, he introduced his new policy regarding enforcement zones for the officers. Before La Guardia, the police would enforce where they wanted to enforce. Conveniently ignoring certain areas where organized crime and other criminal activities took place. He recognized this and stated that he will not tolerate it. Along with introducing formal patrol zones, he added 250 more officers to the force. La Guardia not only did well in general but did exceptionally well for the city of New York considering the time period he entered office.
Prohibition was just ending, the era of the depression was looming in the air and the city of New York was almost bankrupt. La Guardia also implemented a large public works plan, and the civil service bureau which brought many jobs and revitalized the economy. However, his plan did include several tax hikes; it brought the cities budget out of deficit. Still to this day La Guardia’s work does not go overlooked.
He brought New York City to a new level post World War II, and it didn’t faze him one bit. Not only does this prove him to be one of the greatest mayors New York has ever had, but one of the greatest leaders of all time.