The Dreamer (and Doer)

The Dreamer (and Doer)
Fiorello La Guardia: The Dreamer (and Doer)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Abraham Lincoln's Birthday

At New York's City Hall, Mayor Robert F. Wagner greets the Little Rock "Nine" students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in September, 1957 

Tomorrow, February 12th is Abraham Lincoln's birthday, an event that in the past offered leading government figures an opportunity to speak out on the important issues of the day. On February 12, 1957, New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner delivered a speech before the Norwalk Catholic Club in Connecticut to express his own concerns about race relations in America.

"Today, the shrill voice of the demagogue is heard once more in portions of our land, inciting to lawlessness. Mob violence, limited fortunately to a relatively few places, so far, has replaced the democratic processes of law and order.  Southern, and some northern, politicians, fearful for their political future and, in some cases, eager for political profit, cater to the violent passions of the white supremacist.  More than 90 years ago, Lincoln called for a 'practical system, by which the two races could gradually live themselves out of their old relationship to each other, and both come out better prepared for the new.' Surely 90 years is time enough to hesitate on the doorstep of racial equality.  What is needed in this critical hour is a strong voice, an influential and unequivocal voice, a voice undeterred by political opportunism, to espouse, as Lincoln did, the principles of democracy and adherence to the law, in keeping with the particular needs of our time."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

1969: John Lindsay's Re-election and Getting the Jewish Vote

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

The video, John Lindsay's Re-election and Getting the Jewish Vote, documents Mayor Lindsay’s uphill climb in his 1969 reelection campaign after losing the Republican primary to State Senator John Marchi, forcing him to run with the backing of only the Liberal Party. The Democratic Party nominee Comptroller Mario Procaccino failed to attract broad Democratic support because of his conservative views and verbal gaffes, but Lindsay desperately needed support from Jewish voters to win.

Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir's trip to the U.S. in September proved the right opportunity for Lindsay to regain his standing with the Jewish community in Brooklyn and Queens. In this video, Jay Kriegel, Lindsay Chief of Staff, and Sid Davidoff, Mayoral Assistant, recount how the city came to build a sukkah, a structure of branches and leaves which Jews traditionally eat in during the harvest festival Sukkoth, in the Brooklyn Museum parking lot as the site for a formal dinner in Meir's honor. This event captured the city's attention and helped Lindsay win reelection.

The sukkah and the Meir visit helped Lindsay increase his support among liberal Jews who could not pull the lever for Procaccino. In the general election, Lindsay and Procaccino split the Jewish vote with Lindsay getting support from more liberal, better educated, and affluent Jews and Procaccino doing better among working and lower middle class Jews in the outer boroughs.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Chicago White Sox Win the 1959 AL Pennant

On Sept. 22, 1959, the Chicago White Sox broke a 40-year drought and won the American League pennant by defeating the second-place Cleveland Indians at cavernous Municipal Stadium. Led by the double-play combo of Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio and strong pitching, the Sox broke the Yankees' stranglehold on first place. This video shows the exciting game action and post-game clubhouse celebration.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Roosevelts and Fiorello La Guardia


As La Guardia looks on, President Roosevelt  
signs proclamation naming December 15 as
‘Bill of Rights  Day’ at the White House, 1941

For more photos click here and here

At rally to fight for enactment of Fair Employment Practices Act, La Guardia speaks with FEP committee co-chairman A. Philip Randolph and Eleanor Roosevelt, 1946

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

This past Sunday, PBS began airing “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” Ken Burns’s documentary about the lives of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt.  In 1934 FDR gained a great ally when Fiorello La Guardia became mayor of New York City.  La Guardia defeated Tammany Hall and brought clean and efficient government to NYC, while successfully creating a direct relationship to the White House to fund New Deal projects.  La Guardia, the son of immigrants, came from a humble background, while Eleanor and Franklin descended from one of America’s oldest families.  They nevertheless developed close political friendships, based on shared goals. Under La Guardia’s leadership, New York City used New Deal funds to employ hundreds of thousands to build highways, subways, schools, hospitals, parks, housing and other infrastructure. 
The importance of the relationship between La Guardia and Franklin and Eleanor can be found in the La Guardia and Wagner Archives’ collection, containing 16 photos of Eleanor and 20 photos of Franklin.  If you would like to learn more about La Guardia, the Roosevelts and the New Deal, please feel free to contact me


President Roosevelt, Governor Lehman, and Mayor La Guardia campaign together in the 1940 election   campaign.

La Guardia,head of joint U.S.-Canada Defense Board, meets with President Roosevelt and military brass at the White House, 1940          

La Guardia, union leader Sidney Hillman,and Eleanor Roosevelt talking at a dinner honoring Eleanor at the Hotel Commodore, 1941

La Guardia and FDR at the annual Roosevelt Picnic at Hyde Park, NY, 1938 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Bill de Blasio Fights to Build Public School Annex in Borough Park

Council Member Bill de Blasio with students at an
elementary school in Brooklyn, April 8, 2002.
Council member Bill de Blasio and P.S. 39 principal 
Anita de Paz applaud with first and second grade artists, 
at children's art exhibition, May 12, 2008

From 2002 to 2009, Bill de Blasio represented the 39th Council District in the Council of the City of New York. The LaGuardia and Wagner Archives houses his Council member papers, which consist of Constituent Correspondence, Departmental Correspondence, Photographs, Committee Files, and Legislative Files on education, housing, and land use. Most significantly, we have identified the papers in his collection that document his dedication to improving the quality of public education in New York City, epitomized by his role in building the P.S. 160 Annex in Borough Park, Brooklyn. (Click here to view documents related to the P.S. 160 Annex.)
In 2008, de Blasio, an education activist who earlier had been elected to his local school board, responded to his constituents’ growing concerns about the overcrowding of P.S. 160 in Borough Park. He rallied the Department of Education, fellow politicians, and local residents to build an annex to P.S. 160.  The school was originally built in 1904 for only 500 students, but by 2008 housed 821 students, or 137% of its intended capacity. Built to be handicap accessible, the five story annex houses labs, classrooms for the upper grades, an auditorium, a library, a gymnasium and serves as a community center for the neighborhood. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mayor Lindsay Walks the Streets of Harlem

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

On April 4, 1968, a nation wounded both by the Vietnam War and the divisions it had created, and by outbreaks of civil unrest in its cities, faced the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  Pent-up anger and frustration in the African-American community led to rioting, looting and arson that destroyed vast swaths of neighborhoods in Washington, DC, Chicago, Kansas City, Newark and Baltimore.  In New York City, it was a different story.  Because Mayor John Lindsay and his staff had built relationships with the African-American community, Lindsay was able to travel to Harlem after the assassination and help calm an angry crowd, greatly limiting the damage done.  To learn more about the night of April 4 in Harlem, see the video interview with Lindsay aide, Sid Davidoff.
            Unfortunately, little has been learned from 1968 as can be seen from the horrifying events surrounding the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed, young black man in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. This and the events that followed have brought systemic American racism to the forefront.  While there are many causes for the racism that led up to Michael Brown’s death, one of them was a lack of communication between the predominantly white local government police force and the African-American community.  Lindsay intuitively understood the importance of building these relationships, something that has been forgotten as American police departments have become increasingly militarized.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mayor Robert Wagner, President Johnson and the Mississippi Freedom Democrats at the 1964 Democratic Convention

                           Mayor Wagner & President Johnson     Fannie Lou Hamer

Steven A. Levine, Ph.D.
Coordinator for Educational Programs

Fifty years ago the Democratic Party Convention met in Atlantic City, NJ to nominate Lyndon Baines Johnson for a full term.  Johnson’s nomination was not in doubt, but who would represent Mississippi was up in the air: the all white segregationist regular Democrats or the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP).  The MFDP were activists from Mississippi Freedom Summer (To learn more about Freedom Summer see the Archives’ Curriculum.) who came to Atlantic City determined to oust the regular Democrats.  Sharecropper and civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer gave a powerful speech  to the Credentials Committee about the terrorist tactics used to prevent Hamer and other African-Americans from registering to vote.  After her speech it appeared that the MFDP had a chance to be seated by the Credentials Committee.

President Johnson used his political skills and power to seat the Mississippi regular Democrats.  He did this not out of support for them, but out of fear that other southern delegations would walk out of the convention if they were not seated and many southern states would then support his opponent Senator Barry Goldwater.  New York State had two seats, John English and Joyce Austin, on the Credentials Committee.  Johnson called his ally NYC Mayor Robert Wagner on the telephone to find out how they would vote and if he could sway them.  (Johnson recorded this and other telephone conversations in the Oval Office.)  Wagner thought that English could be swayed, but Joyce Austin, an African-American woman who worked for him, would support the MFDP. The MFDP lost their bid to be seated as Mississippi delegates and rejected a proposed compromise where they would have been given two at-large delegates to the convention.  The Regular Mississippi delegation walked out of the Convention and the MFDP would unofficially take their seats.  Goldwater would win Mississippi, but Johnson carried most of the southern states in a landslide victory.

If you want to learn more about the 1964 Democratic Convention and the Mississippi Freedom Democrats, please feel free to contact me at the Archives at 

Mayor Robert F. Wagner and President Lyndon Baines Johnson
Discuss the