Number 3: Fiorello La Guardia

By Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Published by Bridge Apulia USA N.3, 1998
Re-published by L’Idea.N.69, 1998

La Guardia’s fusion administration broke the hold of boss politics and secured the principle of a nonpolitical civil servant. It helped replace an antiquated city charter, expanded relief and social services, and with its program for slum clearance, parks construction, public housing, and road and bridge building recast the physical city. Its fresh initiatives unified mass transit, expanded education, developed public health programs, and signaled a new labor policy.

Over an era that stretched from the depth of the Depression to the end of War World II, this abbreviated man of iron will and great ambition forged a modern unified city, a humane city that assumed responsibility for the poor and the dispossessed. He wanted New Yorkers to have a sense of ease and security, to be rid of debt, to live in decent quarters and hold regular jobs. He did much more than he is remembered for. It was Yale University that in its honorary degree said that La Guardia had taken democracy from the politicians and given it back to the people.

La Guardia worked closely with Franklin Delano Roosevelt to craft a federal urban policy that brought billions to his city and to others around the country. His example for the modern mayoralty set the standard for city governments. A man whose enthusiasms were never on a small scale, La Guardia chaired the Joint American-Canadian Permanent Defense Board, directed the Office of Civilian Defense, lobbied for a generalship, pursued the presidency, and presided over the National Conference of Mayors, all while serving as mayor of New York City.

He powerfully demonstrated that cities could be run for the general good by gifted individuals who believed in civil service. In 1940, on the occasion of the publication of the International Who’s Who, he declared: “I do not want the word politician used…(in identifying my vocation). Its connotation… is such that I don’t think it ought to be used except for politicians– and there are many around. I do not happen to be one of them…”He insisted to be described as a municipal officer.