Italian American Mayors of NYC

Fiorello LaGuardia Fiorello LaGuardia

New York City’s 99th mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, the “Little Flower,” was not only the first of four Italian Americans, but probably the most colorful and dynamic of all to occupy the city’s highest office. The 5-foot tall NYU law grad opened his law practice in 1909 with $6 in his pocket. He was elected a congressman in 1917 and in 1923 became the first American of Italian heritage to be mayor of New York. The pint-sized dynamo beat the invincible Tammany Hall politicians by over 200,000 votes, served 12 years, cleaned house, restored the city’s credit, and paved the way for Washington to pour in federal money to repair the city. A hands-on mayor, LaGuardia, decked out in his own fire helmet, rode hook and ladder to fires, personally inspected buildings, acted out comic characters while reading the funnies on radio broadcasts during the newspaper strike, took on organized crime by smashing slot machines and tossing them into the East River, and banned Italian American organ grinders from the streets to wipe out the negative stereotype. LaGuardia, who could deliver speeches in English, Italian and Yiddish, died of pancreatic cancer in 1947 at the age of 64.

Vicenzo (Vincent) Richard Impellitteri, born in Isnello, Sicily, came to the U.S. as an infant in 1901. He was raised in Connecticut, served in the Navy during WWI, became a citizen in 1922, and served as the 101st Mayor of New York from 1950-53. His campaign slogan was “unbought and unbossed.” His election signaled a populist uprising reaction against the politics as usual. He opposed corruption and supported the resignation, firing and retirement of 500 police officers during an investigation. Impellitteri is credited with controlling the budget, establishing parking meters on streets to raise revenue and increasing sales tax, bus and subway fares. He was defeated in a 1953 election and appointed to a judgeship. He died of Parkinson’s disease on January 29, 1987.

Rudolph William Louise (Rudy) Giuliani, born in East Flatbush (Brooklyn), served as the city’s 107th mayor from 1994-2001. He was widely credited for improvements in the city’s quality of life and lowering the rate of violent crime. A one-time U.S. attorney who prosecuted cases against organized crime and corrupt financiers, Giuliani was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2001 and knighted for his leadership following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. He was considered a potential candidate for New York Governor in 2010 and GOP nomination for president in 2012. Of late, he retains the title of informal cybersecurity adviser to President Trump.

Bill DeBlasio is the fourth Italian American Mayor of New York. He is a former council member who touts himself as a populist dealing with city economic inequality. He called the situation a “tale of two cities” and to that end proposed a millionaire tax and a plan to increase the supply of affordable housing. He ended a post-9/11 surveillance program to monitor Muslim residents in the city and his tenure with police has been less than cordial because of his stop and frisk position.  DeBlasio’s maternal grandparents were Italian immigrants; his grandfather from Sant’Agata de Goti (Benevento) and grandmother from Grassano, Matera. DeBlasio said he was raised by his mother’s family and adopted his mother’s family name because his father was mostly absent and he wanted to embrace his Italian heritage. His mother, a college graduate was the author of the book, “The Other Italy, the Italian Resistance in World War II.”