Definitions

Guardia

Guardia

[luh gwahr-dee-uh]
Guardia, Tomás, 1832-82, president of Costa Rica. An army general, he led a revolt that eventually placed him in control and enabled him to rule the country from 1870 to 1882 with only brief interruptions. Under a repressive military dictatorship he exiled the leading families and halted the destructive Liberal-Conservative rivalry that had torn Costa Rica for nearly 50 years. Guardia undertook the building of a costly ocean-to-ocean railroad, financed and directed by the United Fruit magnate Minor Cooper Keith. Although basically a military strong man, Guardia is generally credited with having laid the groundwork of Costa Rican political stability.
LaGuardia redirects here. For the airport, see LaGuardia Airport.

Fiorello Henry La Guardia (born Fiorello Enrico La Guardia; December 11, 1882September 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 Roosevelt's director of civilian defense during the run-up to the United States joining the Second World War.

Background

La Guardia was born in the Bronx to an Italian lapsed-Catholic father, Achille La Guardia, from Cerignola, and an Italian mother of Jewish 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. La Guardia 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. 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 Service at Ellis Island (1907–1910).

The Congressional years

He 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. In Congress, La Guardia represented then-Italian East Harlem almost continuously until 1933. According to his biographer-historian Howard Zinn, there were two brief interruptions, one to fly with U.S. forces in Italy during World War I, and the other to serve during 1920 and 1921 as president of the New York City Board of Aldermen.

Zinn wrote that La Guardia represented "the conscience of the twenties":

As Democrats and Republicans cavorted like rehearsed wrestlers in the center of the political ring, LaGuardia stalked the front rows and bellowed for real action. While Ku Klux Klan membership reached the millions and Congress tried to legislate the nation toward racial 'purity,' LaGuardia demanded that immigration bars be let down to Italians, Jews, and others. When self-styled patriots sought to make the Caribbean an American lake, LaGuardia called to remove the marines from Nicaragua. Above the clatter of ticker-tape machines sounding their jubilant message, LaGuardia tried to tell the nation about striking miners in Pennsylvania.

Zinn continued (p. viii): "The progressives of the twenties and early thirties, however, did not merely complain; they offered remedies, again and again.... Most of the New Deal legislation was anticipated by LaGuardia... and others both before and after the 1929 crash, so that, when Franklin D. Roosevelt took his oath of office, a great deal of initial work had already been done."

Out of office

La Guardia briefly served in the armed forces from 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. La Guardia, 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.

Congressman again

"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).

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.

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's went on a search-and-destroy mission on mob boss Frank Costello's slot machines, which La Guardia executed with a 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 on a 30-50 year sentence.

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 Delano Roosevelt for President beginning in 1936. La Guardia supported Roosevelt, chairing the Independent Committee for Roosevelt and Wallace with Senator 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. His massive public works programs administered by his Parks Commissioner Robert Moses employed thousands of unemployed New Yorkers, and his constant lobbying for federal government funds allowed New York to develop its economic infrastructure. 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.

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.

Later life

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

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. 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!. He was a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity.

He died at his home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx at the age of 64 and is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

A man of very short stature, La Guardia'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 La Guardia; there is also a statue of the mayor on that street.

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.

La Guardia Bridge in Prescott, Arizona on North Montezuma Avenue.

Legacy

  • 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 junction in 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, La Guardia balanced the ticket all by himself.
  • 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, the Mayor of New York mentions to one of his aides that he spent an hour in his bedroom talking with La Guardia, "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.
  • LaGuardia Airport still holds La Guardia's name after he ordered construction of the airport after his TWA flight arrived at Newark. His airline ticket had an arrival city that read "New York" which 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.
  • 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.

See also

References

External links

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