Born With a Name Unfamiliar to Most
Fiorello Henry LaGuardia was born Fiorello Enrico La Guardia) on December 11, 1882. He died September 20, 1947. He was the 99th Mayor of New York City for three terms from 1934 to 1945 as a Republican. Previously he had been elected to Congress in 1916 and 1918, and again from 1922 through 1930.
Irascible, energetic, and charismatic, he craved publicity and is acclaimed as one of the three or four greatest mayors in American history. Only five feet tall, he was called “the Little Flower” (Fiorello is Italian for “little flower”).
LaGuardia, a Republican who appealed across party lines, was very popular in New York during the 1930s. As a New Dealer, he supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, and in turn Roosevelt heavily funded the city and cut off patronage from LaGuardia’s foes. La Guardia (variously spelled LaGuardi and La Guardia) revitalized New York City and restored public faith in City Hall.
He unified the transit system, directed the building of low-cost public housing, public playgrounds, and parks, constructed airports, reorganized the police force, defeated the powerful Tammany Hall political machine, and reestablished merit employment in place of patronage jobs.
So Much Power
The intemperate mayor was rough on his staffers and left no doubt who was in charge. He lost his intuitive touch during the war years, when the federal money stopped flowing in, and never realized that he had created far more infrastructure than the city could afford.
He “represented a dangerous style of personal rule hitched to a transcendent purpose”, according to Thomas Kessner, LaGuardia’s biographer, adding that today, “people would be afraid of allowing anybody to take that kind of power.”
Stole a Loaf of Bread
According to Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, LaGuardia often officiated in municipal court. He handled routine misdemeanor cases, including, as Cerf wrote, a woman who had stolen a loaf of bread for her starving family.
LaGuardia insisted on levying the fine of ten dollars. Then he said “I’m fining everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a city where a person has to steal bread in order to eat!” He passed a hat and gave the fines to the defendant, who left the court with $47.50.
A Series of Facts
LaGuardia was the director general for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in 1946.
A man of short stature, LaGuardia’s height is sometimes given as 5 feet 0 inches. According to an article in the New York Times, however, his actual height was 5 feet 2 inches.
He became a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity.
He died of pancreatic cancer in his home at 5020 Goodridge Avenue, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx at the age of 64 and is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
Historians have recognized La Guardia as among the best mayors in New York City history and perhaps among the greatest in modern U.S. history.
He Made Mistakes
While FDR funneled money into city in return for LaGuardia’s support, LaGuardia built up a fabulous infrastructure. When WW II came along, unemployment was ended within the city because uniforms were made by the garment industry and ships were produced at the shipyard.
But the federal money for the city dried up. LaGuardia and those who were mayor after him, realized there was not enough money to support the infrastructure any longer. He had to struggle to make the city’s ends meet.
Nevertheless, he changed the world by the force of his personal charisma and drive.
The United States Postal Service honored him with a 14¢ postage stamp in 1972. In 1940, La Guardia received The Hundred Year Association of New York’s Gold Medal Award “in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York.”
So What Are You Doing To Change Your City?
Once again, you do not have to be the flamboyant mayor of a major US city to make a difference. You do need to do something. You are hard wired for compassion, for example.
How are you using that wiring? Been compassionate lately? Fiorello LaGuardia did marvelous things for the people of New York City – he was perhaps their greatest mayor. Could you be a better citizen in your city or town or area? Yes, you can. Get to it.
Source: Wikipedia.org (Please donate to this fine resource.)
- Big Mayors, Large and Small (newyorker.com)
- Why Study Cities? (anurbaninstant.wordpress.com)