Fiorello Henry LaGuardia (December 11, 1882 - September 20, 1947) born Fiorello Enrico LaGuardia, often spelled La Guardia, was the Republican Mayor of New York for three terms from 1934 to 1945. He was popularly known as "the Little Flower," the translation of his Italian first name, Fiorello, also perhaps a reference to his short stature. A popular mayor and a strong supporter of the New Deal, LaGuardia led New York's recovery during the Great Depression and became a national figure, serving as President Roosevelt's Director of Civilian Defense during the run-up to the United States joining the Second World War.
LaGuardia was born in New York City to a non-traditional parents of Italian decent. His father, Achille La Guardia, from Cerignola, a lapsed Roman Catholic and Irene Cohen Luzzato who was of Jewish origin from Trieste. LaGuardia, was raised an Episcopalian in the Episcopalian Church in the United States of America. His middle name Enrico was changed to Henry (the English form of Enrico) when he was a child. He spent most of his childhood in Prescott, Arizona. The family moved to his mother's hometown after his father was discharged from his bandmaster position in the U.S. Army in 1898. LaGuardia served in U.S. consulates in Budapest, Trieste, and Fiume (1901-1906). Fiorello returned to the U.S. to continue his education at New York University, and during this time he worked for New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Children and as a translator for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. LaGuardia attended law school while working on Ellis Island.
Early political career
He became the Deputy Attorney General of New York in 1914. In 1916 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he developed a reputation as a fiery and devoted reformer. In Congress, LaGuardia represented then-Italian East Harlem. He would later oppose prohibition and fight for labor unions.
Out of office
LaGuardia briefly served in the armed forces (1917-1919), commanding a unit of the United States Army Air Service on the Italian/Austrian front in World War I, rising to the rank of major.
In 1921 his wife died of tuberculosis. LaGuardia, having nursed her through the 17 month ordeal, grew depressed, and turned to alcohol, spending most of the year following her death on an alcoholic binge. He recovered and became a teetotaler.
'Fio' LaGuardia (as his close family and friends called him) ran for and won, a seat in Congress again in 1922 and served in House until March 3, 1933. Extending his record as a reformer, LaGuardia sponsored labor legislation and railed against immigration quotas. In 1929, he ran for mayor of New York, but was overwhelmingly defeated by the incumbent Jimmy Walker. In 1932, along with Sen. George William Norris, Rep. LaGuardia sponsored the Norris-LaGuardia Act. In 1932, he was defeated for re-election to the House by James J. Lanzetta, the Democratic candidate, the year, 1932, not being a good year for people running on the Republican ticket, and additionally, the 20th Congressional district was shifting from a Jewish and Italian-American population to a Puerto Rican population.
Mayor of New York
LaGuardia was elected mayor of New York City on an anti-corruption Electoral fusion (a Fusion Ticket is where a candidate can run on more then one party line) during the Great Depression, which united him in an uneasy alliance with New York's Jewish population and liberal bluebloods (WASPs). These included the famed architect and New York historian Isaac Newton Phelps-Stokes whose aristocratic manners LaGuardia detested. Surprisingly, the two men became friends. Phelps-Stokes had personally nursed his wife during the last five years of her life, during which she was paralyzed and speechless due to a series of strokes. On learning of Phelps-Stokes's ordeal, so like his own, LaGuardia ceased all bickering and the two developed genuine affection for each other.
Being of Italian descent and growing up in a time when crime and criminals were prevalent in the Bronx, LaGuardia had a loathing for the gangsters who brought a negative stereotype and shame to the Italian community. The "Little Flower" had an even greater dislike for organized crime members and when LaGuardia was elected to his first term in 1933, the first thing he did after being sworn in was to pick up the phone and order the chief of police to arrest mob boss Lucky Luciano on whatever charges could be laid upon him. LaGuardia then went after the gangsters with a vengeance, stating in a radio address to the people of New York in his high-pitched, squeaky voice, "Let's drive the bums out of town." In 1934, Fiorello LaGuardia's next move was a search-and-destroy mission on mob boss Frank Costello's slot machines, which LaGuardia executed with gusto, rounding up thousands of the "one armed bandits" (another name used for slot machines due to their design), by swinging a sledgehammer and dumping them off a barge into the water for the benefit of the newspapers and media. In 1936, LaGuardia had special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, a future Republican presidential candidate, single out Lucky Luciano for prosecution. Dewey managed to lead a successful investigation into Luciano's lucrative prostitution operation and indict him, eventually sending Luciano to jail on a 30-50 year sentence.
LaGuardia was hardly an orthodox Republican. He also ran as the nominee of the American Labor Party, a union-dominated anti-Tammany grouping that also ran FDR for President from 1936 onward. LaGuardia also supported Roosevelt, chairing the Independent Committee for Roosevelt and Wallace with Nebraska Senator George Norris during the U.S. presidential election, 1940 presidential election.
LaGuardia was the city's first Italian-American mayor. But, LaGuardia was far from being a typical Italian New Yorker. After all, he was a Republican Episcopalian had grown up in Arizona and had an Istrian Jewish mother and a Roman Catholic-turned-atheist Italian father. He reportedly spoke seven languages, including Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian and Yiddish.
LaGuardia is famous for, among other things, restoring the economic lifeblood of New York City during and after the Great Depression. His massive public works programs administered by his friend Parks Commissioner Robert Moses employed thousands of unemployed New Yorkers, and his constant lobbying for federal government funds allowed New York to establish the foundation for its economic infrastructure. He was also well known for reading the newspaper comics on the radio during a newspaper strike, and pushing to have a commercial airport (Floyd Bennett Field, and later LaGuardia Airport) within city limits. Responding to popular disdain for the sometimes corrupt City Council, LaGuardia successfully proposed a reformed 1938 City Charter which created a powerful new New York City Board of Estimate, similar to a corporate board of directors.
He was also a very outspoken and early critic of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. In a public address as early as 1934, LaGuardia warned, "Part of Hitler's program is the complete annihilation of the Jews in Germany." In 1937, speaking before the Women's Division of the American Jewish Congress, LaGuardia called for the creation of a special pavilion at the upcoming 1939 New York World's Fair: "a chamber of horrors" for "that brown-shirted fanatic."
In 1940, included among the many interns to serve in the city government was David Rockefeller, who became his secretary for eighteen months in what is known as a "dollar a year" public service position. Although LaGuardia was at pains to point out to the press that he was only one of 60 interns, Rockefeller's working space turned out to be the vacant office of the deputy mayor.
In 1941, during the run-up to American involvement in the Second World War, President Roosevelt appointed LaGuardia as the first director of the new Office of Civilian Defense (OCD). The OCD was responsible for preparing for the protection of the civilian population in case America was attacked. It was also responsible for programs to maintain public morale, promote volunteer service, and co-ordinate other federal departments to ensure they were serving the needs of a country in war. LaGuardia had remained Mayor of New York during this appointment, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 he was succeeded at the OCD by a full-time director, James M. Landis.
In 1946, LaGuardia was appointed Director General of The (UNRRA). They where responsible for providing services to millions of Europeans who were displaced by WWII. They provided services which included food, clothing and shelter.
LaGuardia loved music and conducting, and was famous for spontaneously conducting professional and student orchestras that he visited. He once said that the "most hopeful accomplishment" of his long administration as mayor was the creation of the High School of Music & Art in 1936, now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.1 In addition to LaGuardia High School, a number of other institutions are also named for him, including LaGuardia Community College. He was also the subject of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical Fiorello!. He died in New York City of pancreatic cancer at the age of 64 and is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery, in Bronx, New York.
A man of very short stature, LaGuardia's height is sometimes given as five feet. According to an article in the New York Times, however, his actual height was five feet, two inches.
LaGuardia Place, a street in Greenwich Village which runs from Houston Street to Washington Square, is named for LaGuardia; there is also a statue of the mayor on that street.
LaGuardia Airport, the smaller and older of New York's two currently operating international airports, bears his name; the airport was voted the "greatest airport in the world" by the worldwide aviation community in 1960.
- In 1940, LaGuardia received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York."
- Rehov LaGuardia (LaGuardia Street) is a major road and the name of a highway junction in southern Tel-Aviv, Israel.
- Ulica Fiorella LaGuardie is the name of a street in Rijeka.
- When running on the Fusion ticket for mayor of New York in 1933, the joke was that as a half-Italian, half-Jewish Episcopalian married to a German Lutheran with two adopted Scandinavian children and having represented in Congress a district which included some blacks and a handful of Puerto Ricans, LaGuardia balanced the ticket all by himself.
- In the radio show "Fibber McGee and Molly," the mayor of the ficticious town of Wistful Vista was named "LaTrivia" as a nod to LaGuardia. Mayor LaTrivia was played by Gale Gordon. When LaGuardia died the Fibber McGee and Molly Show had just two weeks left of its 1947 summer vacation. Out of respect, they quietly suspended the character of LaTrivia, and had Gale Gordon play a new character for the 1947-48 season named "Foggy Williams," a weatherman. Foggy Williams' last appearance was on June 1, 1948, and Mayor LaTrivia returned after the show's 1948 summer vacation, again played by Gordon.
- While searching for "Maybe Dick the Wailing Whale" Rocky and Bullwinkle meet "Fiorello LaPompadour" the Mayor of Submurbia.
- In Ghostbusters II the Mayor of New York mentions that he spent the previous night talking with the long-dead LaGuardia.
- In "The Plot Against America" by Philip Roth, he is depicted as one of the leaders of the opposition against president Charles Lindbergh.
- ↑ Benjamin Steigman, Accent on Talent-New York's High School of Music & Art (Wayne State University Press, 1984).
- Brodsky, Alan. The Great mayor: Fiorello LaGuardis and the making of the city of New York. New York: St. Martin Press 2003. ISBN 9780312287375
- Heckscher, August, and Phyllis C. Robinson. When LaGuardia Was Mayor: New York's Legendary Years. New York: Norton, 1978. ISBN 9780393075342
- Kessner, Thomas. Fiorello H. LaGuardia and the making of modern New York. New York: McGraw Hill, 1989. ISBN 9780070342446
- Nishi, Dennis. Prohibition. History firsthand. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2003. ISBN 9780737713060
- Zinn, Howard. LaGuardia in Congress. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1972. ISBN 9780837164342