The Little Flower of New York City - Fiorello LaGuardia

Soprannominato “The Little Flower”, sia per via della traduzione letterale del suo nome che per la sua bassa statura, Fiorello LaGuardia è stato un gigante della politica statunitense. Figlio di un immigrato foggiano e di una triestina emigrati a New York, fu nominato Assistente Procuratore Generale di New York nel 1915 e divenne il primo italo-americano eletto al Congresso degli Stati Uniti l’anno successivo. Nel ’33 vinse il primo di tre mandati consecutivi come Sindaco di New York, durante i quali promosse la ripresa economica incoraggiando i lavori pubblici, la politica sociale e aumentando i servizi pubblici, guadagnandosi la fama di onesto ed efficiente amministratore che condusse una tenace lotta contro la criminalità organizzata, lo spaccio di droga ed il gioco d’azzardo. Fu sempre un deciso antifascista.  Per l’importanza che ha avuto nella “sua” città, nel ’47 gli venne dedicato il LaGuardia Airport, il secondo aeroporto di New York.

Rudy Giuliani was not NYC’s only great mayor. He often singled out the Republican progressive Fiorello LaGuardia, “The Little Flower,” as the mayor he wished most to emulate. Beginning in 1917, the feisty, budding flower with a political conscience served 14 years in Congress. LaGuardia, who was of Jewish-Italian origin, briefly left Congress during WWI to serve as a fighter pilot. He returned as a major and served 12 years as Mayor. He preferred to be called Major not Mayor.

As 99th Mayor of NYC (1933-45), LaGuardia was the subject material in Alyn Brodsky’s book, “The Great Mayor: Fiorello LaGuardia and the Making of the City of New York.” Brodsky states that LaGuardia not only brought the boroughs of the city together, he fought for the rights of all people. LaGuardia believed that immigration should be open to everyone and he opposed Prohibition. Brodsky further wrote that LaGuardia’s constituencies were Jewish Americans, German Americans, Irish Americans, and Italian Americans and La Guardia could speak six languages.

LaGuardia went to law school developing into an excellent labor lawyer. To become congressman, he started his organization and used his falsetto voice to knock on every door and attend every confirmation, wedding and bar mitzvah to get elected. During his brief reprieve from Congress to serve his country, LaGuardia was stationed in Italy. A hero on his return, LaGuardia returned to Congress before being elected Mayor of NYC. In office, LaGuardia fought for everyone’s rights. He believed in equal taxation and that one can’t legislate morality. He lobbied for the performing arts for the poor. He worked to clean up the city’s criminal activity and racketeering. During one point of his term, he waged a vicious assault on the city’s racketeers, directing the dumping of thousands of slot machines into the ocean. The Mayor supported President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal which earned extensive federal funding for the City of New York during the Depression.

On a flight home from Chicago, LaGuardia, upon landing in Newark, complained that this was not New York. And, so, LaGuardia airport came to be.

Fiorello LaGuardia was born in Greenwich Village but was raised in Arizona. His father, Achille, of the Foggia region of Italy, was a musician who joined the army as bandmaster. His mother, Irene Luzzatto of Coen of Trieste, and the family moved west to Arizona. After his father passed away, mother and son returned to Trieste where Fiorello stayed for a few years before returning to America. In the U.S., he worked as an interpreter/caseworker at Ellis Island before earning his law degree from NYU. Upset at what he had seen as treatment for entering immigrants, LaGuardia ran against a corrupt Tammy Hall and got elected. Taking up the cause of social justice, he began his political career as the “Little Flower.”