The second episode of the podcast - Fiorello H. LaGuardia, 99th Mayor and name sake of LaGuardia Airport in New York City. This one is longer than the first show, about 16 minutes. Enjoy!
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Standing only a little over five feet tall Fiorello H. LaGuardia's impact on New York City far outweighed his physical presence. Beginning as a Congressman representing Greenwich Village, LaGuardia soon received a reputation for being a fiery speaker and an untiring advocate of his constituents. This passion was a hallmark throughout his life.
Fiorello Enrico LaGuardia was born on December 11, 1882, to Achille Lugi LaGuardia, an Italian immigrant, who would serve as a band master in the US Army, and Irene Cohen a Jewish immigrant from Austria-Hungary. Although born in Lower Manhattan, La Guardia moved to Arizona where he attended the public schools and high school at Prescott, Ariz, and more importantly, where he shaped his personal credo: you did not complain about pain, you did not give in to fear, you carried on like a man. Just over five feet tall and with a high-pitched voice, this son of an Austrian Jewish mother and Italian father who was nick named "the Little Flower" learned to fend for himself and accept no other identity than that of an American.
LaGuardia's father moved the family to Europe, and it was there that LaGuardia secured a position with the US Consular Service in 1901 and served in Budapest, Trieste and Fiume, Hungary. During his time with the consular service he fought to better the treatment of the immigrants then flocking to the United States. He urged the service to institute pre-departure medical exams to prevent the immigrants from the gut-wrenching experience of being denied admission to the United States on medical grounds.
In 1907 LaGuardia returned to New York and began to work at Ellis Island, the main port of entry into the United States. As a translator, LaGuardia called upon his knowledge of five languages to assist the new immigrants in their first steps to becoming US citizens. Simultaneously while at Ellis Island LaGuardia was attending Law School at night at New York University. He graduated in 1910 and soon after joined a law firm where he was known for representing immigrants, the poor and workers. He also began to become involved in Republican politics.
In 1914 he ran for Congress in the heavily democratic neighborhood of Greenwich Village, although he lost in his first bid he ran a second time and was elected on November 7, 1916 to his first public office. Fiorello did not sit quietly during his freshman year in Congress as was expected of new Congressmen but energetically and enthusiastically took part in the everyday workings of the Legislature. Though he lost his first wife to tuberculosis In 1921 after nursing her through the a 17 month ordeal, LaGuardia shrugged off a long running bender, became a teetotaler and ran successfully for office again in 1922. LaGuardia would remain in Congress continually until 1932, except for his service during World War I as a Pilot and a term as President of the city Board of Aldermen.
In Congress, LaGuardia established a reputation as a progressive leader. During the 1920's he criticized what he saw as unfair immigration restrictions. He opposed prohibition and fought for labor unions. In 1932 he co-sponsored the Norris-LaGuardia Act, which restricted Federal courts from issuing injunctions to stop union activities. He then turned to municipal politics.
In 1932 the mayoralty of New York was in crisis. Mayor Jimmy Walker had been forced to resign when wide spread corruption was found throughout city government. LaGuardia saw an opportunity and threw his hat in the ring to become New York's next Mayor.
LaGuardia ran in 1933 on a broad-based Republican-fusion ticket, pledging to clean up city government and break the stranglehold of the Tammany machine. Reluctantly, reform elements settled on the mercurial LaGuardia to defeat the city's bosses, and When LaGuardia's coalition won, on January 1, 1934, he took office as New York's ninety-ninth mayor. The new mayor quickly went to work to take control of the city's government. He lobbied the State Assembly in Albany and received a new city charter. He fought to take charge of the city's finances from the banks and balanced the budget.
La Guardia became the father of modern New York. Before him, the city was in the thrall of graft. Divided into political fiefdoms, it was haphazardly administered, with skimpy social and health services, decaying parks, and rusting bridges. With the City on a more solid financial rating, LaGuardia worked with the Roosevelt administration and received millions of dollars in direct federal aid from New Deal programs. These funds provided the city with temporary relief, and public works projects which created thousands of jobs. With that funding LaGuardia constructed bridges over the waters and dug tunnels under them, and built reservoirs, sewer systems, parks, highways, schools, hospitals, health centers, swimming pools, and airports. For the first time, New York offered its poor public housing, its working class a unified transit system, and its artists and musicians training and subsidies.
LaGuardia wanted New Yorkers to enjoy a sense of ease and security, to live in decent quarters and raise healthy children. He also wanted them to be good: he declared war on gamblers, closed burlesque houses, and cleared racy magazines from the newsstands (under his powers of "garbage collection"). Always colorful, LaGuardia, in what became the best-remembered act of his mayoralty, one Sunday during a newspaper strike asked radio listeners to bring the kiddies around and then proceeded to give a dramatic reading of the Dick Tracy comic strip that would have run that day.
Within its first year the LaGuardia administration had built over 50 new playgrounds and planned 60 new parks, many in poor neighborhoods. Throughout his administration, slums were torn down and replaced with public housing and schools. Hospitals, Child and countless other social welfare projects were constructed to Health Stations improve the health and sanitary conditions of the City.
By building roads, bridges, and tunnels, LaGuardia transformed the physical landscape of New York City. The West Side Highway, East River Drive, Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, Triborough Bridge, and an airport bearing his name were all built during his mayoralty. Following up on campaign promises, LaGuardia launched attacks against corruption and organized crime. He reorganized the police force and other city agencies and cracked down on racketeers.
During World War II LaGuardia served as Roosevelt's director of the Office of Civilian Defense and created national programs for rationing. LaGuardia had aspirations of obtaining a military appointment. His hope was to gain more national exposure as a leader which would assist him in a bid for the governorship or the presidency after the war. The military appointment never arrived and after the war a frustrated and disappointed LaGuardia refused to run for a fourth mayoral term.
In 1946 he was appointed as the Director General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, providing food, clothing and shelter to millions of Europeans displaced by World War II. He set about this project in true LaGuardia style. He traveled extensively throughout Europe. He met thousands of persons whose lives had been devastated by the war. He paid particular attention to the needs of the children that he found in orphanages and schools throughout the war ravaged continent. LaGuardia's efforts to rebuild Europe were cut short when, despite his best efforts UNRRA was disbanded at the end of December, 1946.
LaGuardia returned to New York a different man. His appearance had changed dramatically. The once buoyant little figure had become thin, frail and gray. Over the next 9 months he would make innumerable visits to the hospital in an attempt to diagnosis the cause of this change and the ever increasing pain that the bravely suffered. Throughout this time he continued to write, correspond and broadcast his radio program. Ultimately he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Even so, almost until his final day he continued to receive guests and to adamantly speak about the direction he thought the City, the Nation and the World should be taking. In the end the disease proved to powerful for the man who saw himself as invincible. On September 20, 1947 "The Little Flower" died. His funeral at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine Attracted thousands who came to say farewell.
LaGuardia's years as mayor marked the emergence of modern New York City. His spirit for action transformed a city made up of individual boroughs into a single entity. His vision for the modern metropolis was imbued with a sense of humanity. He felt a modern city of tunnels, airports and bridges must also have adequate housing, schools and playgrounds. Throughout his twelve years in office he worked tirelessly to achieve those goals.
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. In addition to LaGuardia High School, a number of other instututions are also named for him, including LaGuardia Community College. He was also the subject of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning Broadway musical Fiorello!, where he was played by Tom Bosley who later became famous as Mr. Cunningham on the TV series Happy Days.
First occupied by Gala Amusement Park, the site was turned into a 105-acre private flying field in 1929. Ground was broken on September 9, 1937 for a new airport, which was built jointly by the City of New York and the Federal Works Progress Administration. It was dedicated on October 15, 1939 as New York City Municipal Airport. On November 2, 1939, the name was changed to New York Municipal Airport-LaGuardia Field. On December 2, 1939 the airport was opened to commercial traffic. On June 1, 1947 the airport was leased to the Port Authority and renamed LaGuardia Airport, after one of New York City's most celebrated figures, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. A new Central Terminal Building was opened in 1964, enlarged in 1967 and again in 1992. The airport celebrated its 65th anniversary of commercial flight on December 2, 2004.