One of my favorite pastimes, when going to some cultural event in New York City, is walking through the surrounding neighborhood and stumbling across something of historic interest. That was the case again a week ago, when, after watching a film downtown, I ambled around Greenwich Village and stumbled across La Guardia Place and the statue of the politician it commemorates.
As longtime readers of this blog have probably guessed, I pulled out my camera to record my discovery and whet my curiosity.
Highly unusual in his own time, Fiorello H. LaGuardia (1882–1947) is simply impossible to imagine in the current political environment of New York or the nation. I can’t think of another Gotham mayor likely to be posthumously celebrated in a Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, like the one created by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock back in 1959.
While certainly, at only 5 feet, 2 inches tall, “The Little Flower” was short, the exuberance of his personality and the record of his achievement have rendered him larger than life in the annals of Gracie Mansion.
La Guardia looks especially impressive compared with the current occupant of the office. Bill de Blasio (or, as I’ve come to think of him, de Bumsio). A progressive poseur, de Blasio talks a great game about reducing income inequality while doing little to achieve it. La Guardia managed to do so by embarking on a massive infrastructure program that employed thousands of New Yorkers in building roads and bridges and repairing dilapidated parks.
While de Blasio has engaged in a pattern of conduct that has raised concerns that he engaging in “pay-for-play” practices, La Guardia worked diligently to stamp out corruption that had been given free rein by Tammany Hall hacks.
De Blasio has traipsed around Iowa in a maddening Presidential campaign supported only by aides eager to curry favor with their boss. La Guardia was all over city bureaucrats in an attempt to make government more responsive to its citizens.
Fresh from his exertions at gym (often requiring the services of city employees who transported him to these facilities), de Blasio looks in the mirror each morning and sees a big, buff President. La Guardia, for all his ambition, had no such personal vanity.
De Blasio, though facing significant problems, encountered nothing like the situation encountered by La Guardia dealt with the crisis posed by the Great Depression when he came to office.
La Guardia contrasts dramatically not just with current Democrats, but with the Republican holding the White House. Probably the mayor’s most famous utterance was, “When I make a mistake, it’s a beaut!” Can you imagine Donald Trump saying anything similar today?
A word about the statue in this photo. Unveiled in 1994, it was created by Neil Estern (1926-2019), who also created the statue of John F. Kennedy in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, as well as a sculpture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and their dog Fala, at the FDR Memorial in Washington, D. C.
Nice tribute to a great mayor Mike! Just a couple of things to note: In his last couple of years, La Guardia too made a rather pathetic stab at running for president. NYC mayors running for higher office (remember Lindsey in '72?) haven't often been a pretty spectacle!
Also, bad as de Blasio is, it's important to remember that La Guardia operated under far less constraint, budget-wise and in other ways, than later mayors have. Any mayor who aspires to a progressive program operates with effectively one hand (at least) tied behind their back due t the tacit and overt rules put in place after the '70s fiscal crisis, under the tutelage of Wall Street. You just couldn't have a La Guardia today. Of course, a really gifted mayor would find ways.
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