Fiorello H. LaGuardia: Wikis


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Fiorello Henry La Guardia

In office
January 1, 1934 – December 31, 1945
Preceded by John P. O'Brien
Succeeded by William O'Dwyer

Born December 11, 1882(1882-12-11)
Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York
Died September 20, 1947 (aged 64)
Bronx, New York
Political party Republican
Religion Episcopalian
LaGuardia redirects here. For the airport, see LaGuardia Airport.

Fiorello Henry La Guardia (pronounced /fiəˈrɛloʊ ləˈɡwɑrdiə/; born Fiorello Enrico La Guardia; December 11, 1882 – September 20, 1947) was 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, and, most likely, a reference to his short stature. A Republican, he was a popular mayor and a strong supporter of the New Deal. La Guardia led New York's recovery during the Great Depression and became a national figure, serving as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's director of civilian defense during the run-up to the United States joining the Second World War.



La Guardia was born in Greenwich Village to an Italian lapsed-Catholic father, Achille La Guardia, from Cerignola, and a mother of Jewish Italian origin from Trieste, Irene Coen Luzzato; he was raised an Episcopalian. His middle name "Enrico" was changed to "Henry" (the English form of Enrico) when he was a child. He lived in Prescott, Arizona, his mother's hometown, after his father was discharged from his bandmaster position in the U.S. Army in 1898.[1] La Guardia served in U.S. consulates in Budapest, Trieste, and Rijeka (1901–1906). Fiorello returned to the U.S. to continue his education at New York University. During this time, he worked for New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children as an interpreter for the U.S. Bureau of Immigration at the Ellis Island immigrant station (1907–1910).


Marriages and family

La Guardia married twice. His first wife was Thea Almerigotti, whom he married on March 8, 1919. She died of tuberculosis on November 29, 1921, at the age of 26.[2] They had a daughter, Fioretta, born 1920, who died of spinal meningitis in 1921.[3] La Guardia's second wife was Marie Fisher, whom he married in 1929. She had been his secretary while he was a member of the House of Representatives. They adopted two children, Jean Marie [daughter of first wife Thea's sister][4] and Eric.[5]

Early political career

Elected to Congress

La Guardia became Deputy Attorney General of New York in 1914. In 1916, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he had a reputation as a fiery and devoted reformer. As a congressman, LaGuardia represented an ethnically diverse slum district in East Harlem and, although barred from important committee posts because of his political independence, he was a tireless and vocal champion of Progressive causes.[6] La Guardia continued to represent East Harlem almost continuously until 1933 with only two brief interruptions, first as a major in the United States Army Air Service in command of a unit of Ca.44 bombers on the Italian-Austrian front in World War I, and later to serve as President of the New York City Board of Aldermen from 1920-1922.[7]

Fiorello LaGuardia between two Italian officers in front of a Ca.44, circa 1918

President of the Board of Aldermen

In 1919, La Guardia was chosen to run as the Republican candidate for the office of President of the New York City Board of Aldermen. His Democratic opponent was Robert L. Moran, an Alderman from the Bronx who had succeeded to that office in 1918 when Alfred E. Smith, who had been elected President in 1917, became Governor [8] Michael “Dynamite Mike” Kelly, commander of New York’s Third “Shamrock” Battalion, also joined the race on the ticket of the Liberty Party. Tammany Hall looked with alarm upon Kelly’s entrance into the campaign and tried to persuade him to withdraw his candidacy and throw his support behind Mr. Moran. When he refused, Tammany went to the New York Supreme Court and successfully sued to keep Kelly’s name off the ballot.[9] When Election Day arrived, over 3,500 of Kelly’s supporters wrote his name on the ballot.[10] This number was sufficient to defeat Moran, who lost to LaGuardia by only 1,363 votes.[11]

Return to Congress

"Fio" La Guardia (as his close family and friends called him) won a seat in Congress again in 1922 and served in the House until March 3, 1933. Extending his record as a reformer, La Guardia 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 Senator George Norris (R-NE), La Guardia sponsored the pro-union Norris-La Guardia Act. In 1932, he was defeated for re-election to the House by James J. Lanzetta, the Democratic candidate (1932 was not a good year for Republican candidates, and the 20th Congressional district was shifting from a Jewish and Italian-American population to a Puerto Rican population).

Champion of the progressive movement

As a congressman, LaGuardia was a tireless and vocal champion of progressive causes, from allowing more immigration and removing U.S. troops from Nicaragua to speaking up for the rights and livelihoods of striking miners, impoverished farmers, oppressed minorities, and struggling families. A goad to the era's plutocrats and their enablers in government, LaGuardia fought for progressive income taxes, greater government oversight of Wall Street, and national employment insurance for workers idled by the Great Depression.[12]

Mayor of New York

La Guardia was elected mayor of New York City on an anti-corruption Fusion ticket during the Great Depression, which united him in an uneasy alliance with New York's Jewish population and liberal bluebloods (WASPs). These included the architect and historian Isaac Newton Phelps-Stokes whose patrician manners La Guardia detested. Surprisingly, the two men became friends. Phelps-Stokes had 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 experience, so like his own, La Guardia ceased bickering and the two developed genuine affection.

Fiorello La Guardia statue at LaGuardia Place in Greenwich Village, NYC

Being of Italian descent and growing up in a time when crime and criminals were prevalent in New York, La Guardia loathed the gangsters who brought a negative stereotype and shame to the Italian community. When he 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 found. La Guardia 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, La Guardia went on a search-and-destroy mission looking for mob boss Frank Costello's slot machines, which La Guardia executed with gusto, rounding up thousands of the "one armed bandits", swinging a sledgehammer and dumping them off a barge into the water for the newspapers and media. In 1936, La Guardia had special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, a future Republican presidential candidate, single out Lucky Luciano for prosecution. Dewey led a successful investigation into Luciano's lucrative prostitution operation, eventually sending Luciano to jail with a 30-50 year sentence. The case was made into the 1937 movie 'Marked Woman', starring Bette Davis.

La Guardia was hardly an orthodox Republican. He also ran as the nominee of the American Labor Party, a union-dominated anti-Tammany grouping that supported Franklin D. Roosevelt for President beginning in 1936. La Guardia supported Roosevelt, chairing the Independent Committee for Roosevelt and Wallace with United States Senator George Norris during the 1940 presidential election.

La Guardia was the city's first Italian-American mayor, but was not a typical Italian New Yorker. He was a Republican Episcopalian who 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, Croatian, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Yiddish.

La Guardia's fans credit him for, among other things, restoring the economic lifeblood of New York City during and after the Great Depression. This was based on the theory that massive public works programs administered by his Parks Commissioner Robert Moses employed thousands of unemployed New Yorkers, and that his constant lobbying for federal government funds allowed New York to develop its economic infrastructure. Critics charged that the money was merely taken from others to spend on these projects, and that as the economy shrunk correspondingly in the sectors from which the money was taken, there was no net gain to the economy.[13] He is remembered for reading the newspaper comics on WNYC radio during a 1945 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, La Guardia successfully proposed a reformed 1938 City Charter that created a powerful new New York City Board of Estimate, similar to a corporate board of directors.

He was an outspoken and early critic of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. In a public address in 1934, La Guardia 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, La Guardia called for the creation of a special pavilion at the upcoming New York World's Fair "a chamber of horrors" for "that brown-shirted fanatic". La Guardia's sister, Gemma La Guardia Gluck, was arrested by the Germans in a roundup of Jews in Hungary in 1944. She was held under privileged conditions at Ravensbrück concentration camp and released after the war. [14]

In 1940, one of the many interns serving in city government was David Rockefeller, who became his secretary for eighteen months in a "dollar a year" public service position. Although La Guardia took pains to point out that Rockefeller was only one of 60 interns, Rockefeller's working space was the vacant office of the deputy mayor.

In 1941, during the run-up to American involvement in World War II, President Roosevelt appointed La Guardia as the 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 the maintenance of public morale, promoting volunteer service, and co-ordination with other federal departments to ensure they were serving the needs of a country in war. La Guardia 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.

According to Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, La Guardia often officiated in municipal court. He handled routine misdemeanor cases, including, as Cerf wrote, a man who had stolen a loaf of bread for his starving family. La Guardia 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 man 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.[15]

Later life and death

The grave of Fiorello LaGuardia

La Guardia was the director general for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in 1946.

A man of short stature, La Guardia's height is sometimes given as 1.52m (five feet). According to an article in the New York Times, however, his actual height was 1.57m (five feet, two inches).[16]

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.[17]


The footstone of Fiorello LaGuardia
  • LaGuardia Airport, the smallest of New York's three major currently operating airports, bears his name; the airport was voted the "greatest airport in the world" by the worldwide aviation community in 1960.[citation needed] La Guardia ordered construction of the airport after his TWA flight arrived at Newark, which is in the neighboring state of New Jersey. His airline ticket had an arrival city that read "New York"; the landing in Newark instead outraged him and caused him to order the plane to fly to Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett Field. Not long after, the city voted to build a new airport in La Guardia's name.
  • LaGuardia Place, a street in Greenwich Village which runs from Houston Street to Washington Square, is named for La Guardia; there is also a statue of the mayor on that street.
  • La Guardia loved music, and was famous for spontaneously conducting professional and student orchestras. He once said that the "most hopeful accomplishment" of his 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.[18]
  • In addition to LaGuardia High School, a number of other institutions are also named for him, including LaGuardia Community College.
  • He was the subject of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical Fiorello!.
  • La Guardia Bridge in Prescott, Arizona on North Montezuma Avenue.[citation needed]
  • 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".
  • Rehov LaGuardia (LaGuardia Street) is a major road and the name of a highway interchange on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, Israel.
  • "Ulica Fiorella La Guardije" (Fiorello La Guardia Street) is the name of a street in Rijeka, Croatia. La Guardia served in the U.S. consulate in Rijeka during the period before World War I when the city was under Austro-Hungarian rule and was known under its Italian name Fiume.
  • On Staten Island, Masonic lodge #1130 at 236 Main Street is named after him.

In popular culture

  • In the radio show Fibber McGee and Molly, the mayor of the fictitious town of Wistful Vista was named "LaTrivia" as a nod to La Guardia. Mayor LaTrivia was played by Gale Gordon. When La Guardia 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, Mayor Lenny of New York mentions to one of his aides that "I spent an hour in my room last night talking to Fiorella LaGuardia, and he's been dead for forty years."
  • In The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, he is depicted as one of the leaders of the opposition against president Charles Lindbergh.
  • In The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell, he is portrayed by Phil Arnold.
  • In the 1974 film The Taking of Pelham 123, the Mayor's wife sarcastically calls her husband "a regular Fiorello La Guardia" after he dithers over paying the ransom of $1m.
  • Tom Bradby's latest novel Blood Money is set in New York during the 1929 Mayoral election, and LaGuardia is mentioned frequently as the candidate unwanted by the corrupt incumbent and his supporters.
  • In the Crimson Skies series, which is set in an alternate history of the 1930s, La Guardia is the president of the Empire State, a nation composed of the former states of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
  • In the timeline of Robert Heinlein's utopian novel "For Us, the Living" - written in 1939 but only published posthumously in 2003 - La Guardia is elected President in 1951 and serves two terms as a militant reforming president, effectively nationalizing the banking system and instituting a system of Social Credit.
  • In the song "NYC" from the musical Annie, Oliver Warbucks refers to him in the line "What other town has the Empire State, and a mayor five foot two?"

See also


  1. ^ For one biographical account about Achille LaGuardia, see
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Zinn, Howard LaGuardia in Congress New York: W. W. Norton, 1959
  7. ^ Howard Zinn, La Guardia in Congress, (1959)
  8. ^ R.L. Moran Led City Alderman, The New York Times, August 19, 1954.
  9. ^ Major Kelly Killed by his Own Pistol, The New York Times, July 23, 1930.
  10. ^ Major Kelly Killed by his Own Pistol, The New York Times, July 23, 1930.
  11. ^ This Election Near A Collapse for Tammany, The New York Times, November 6, 1919.
  12. ^ Howard Zinn, La Guardia in Congress, (1959)
  13. ^ Economics in One Lesson(1946) by Henry Hazlitt
  14. ^ Times Online, "Adolf Eichmann's List"
  15. ^ Mikkelson, Barbara and David; (January 1, 2008). LaGuardian Angel. Snopes. Retrieved on January 31, 2008.
  16. ^ Sewell Chan (December 4, 2006). "The Empire Zone: The Mayor's Tall Tales". New York Times. Retrieved August 14, 2008. 
  17. ^ Jackson, Nancy Beth. "If You're Thinking of Living In/Fieldston; A Leafy Enclave in the Hills of the Bronx", The New York Times, February 17, 2002, accessed May 3, 2008. "Fiorello H. La Guardia, a three-time mayor of New York, lived and died at 5020 Goodridge Avenue."
  18. ^ Steigman, Benjamin: Accent on Talent – New York's High School of Music & Art Wayne State University Press, 1984 ISBN 0686879759

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Michael F. Farley
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 14th congressional district

March 4, 1917 – December 31, 1919 (resigned)
Succeeded by
Nathan D. Perlman
Preceded by
Isaac Siegel
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 20th congressional district

March 4, 1923 – March 3, 1933
Succeeded by
James J. Lanzetta
Party political offices
Preceded by
Frank D. Waterman
Republican Nominee for Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
Lewis H. Pounds
Political offices
Preceded by
John P. O'Brien
Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
William O'Dwyer
Government offices
Preceded by
Director of Civilian Defense
1941 – 1942
Succeeded by
James Landis
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Herbert H. Lehman
Director-General of the UNRRA
Succeeded by
General Lowell Rooks


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