Camera Rolls: 313:28-34
Sound Rolls: 313:14-17
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Warren Moscow , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on March 11, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Want me to start?
[ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]
I first got, first met Fiorello La Guardia in 1929, when he ran for mayor the first time and was defeated by Jimmy Walker, but I didn't really get to know him until 1933, after he was elected mayor. I had covered the Tammany ticket during the campaign so I saw very little of Fiorello. Well,
** wards he embarked on a vacation trip down to Panama
** by steamer and I was one of six reporters, I was representing the , who was assigned to go along with him. He didn't want us but he couldn't do anything about it. Well, about a day out, the afternoon papers wrote an indiscreet and silly story about his choices for police commissioner, and he screamed to high heaven, and broke off relations with the press, and denied the story, probably denied it. And, then eventually after some negotiations, he sent for me and offered me stories exclusively for the rest of the trip, and I told him what to do with them, which was not polite, and I wouldn't say it on the air. And we argued and fought for a couple of hours, and finally he said, goddamn it, go ahead, you can have the stories, I don't care what you do with them. So that made me sort of official press rep, unofficial press representative of the trip. And Fiorello never talked to the other reporters again. But when we left Panama and air travel was in its infancy then, to get from Panama to Miami you had to go over to Marenkey[sp?] Columbia and up to Kingston, Jamaica and then to Havana and then to Miami, cause airplanes had a range of about two hundred miles. Well, when we got to Barnekeya[sp? the first Latin port of call, he couldn't have been sweeter. He introduced every member of the press by name and paper. He wasn't having them in on his problems, and I thought it was typical of Fiorello, up in the air one minute, down to earth another. It was on that trip that we flew up the coast in fourteen passenger Curtiss Condors, otherwise known as flying coffins, and gradually fought our way up to Washington where Fiorello had dates with
** Harold Ickes and from there on the story veered but, you see, United States Senate was controlled from 1930 to 1932 by a group of progressives, democrats and republicans, whom [sic] a conservative republican senator jeeringly referred to as the "sons of the wild jackass" and Fiorello, even though he was in the House, was intellectually and emotionally voting with this group. The Norris-La Guardia Anti-Injunction Act, first federal act of its kind, represented Fiorello's part in that coalition, so he needed no introduction to New Deal, or the New Dealers.
Now you were telling me?
You may begin.
On the way up from Miami to New York we stopped off in Washington
where Fiorello had dates with
** Harold Ickes, who was already looming important as a dispenser of federal funds that Fiorello was going to want for New York City, and Fiorello didn't need any introduction to that group. He was allied with them in Congress. Ickes was a progressive republican from Illinois, who was supposed to be Head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and wound up being Secretary of the Interior, which, much to his surprise and everybody else's. What... from that time on it was,
** there was, a constant flow of contact between Fiorello and the Roosevelt administration.
** When the Feds had money for public housing here, they sent a telegram up saying that they would allocate x-million dollars, I forget the exact figure, to any appropriate authority in New York City to construct housing, so Fiorello had the New York City housing authority created to be the proper authority to receive the federal funds. When the WPA got going, first it started out as the CWA, Civil Works Administration, but then Hopkins turned it into the WPA to take care of small projects. Well, Bob Moses built every playground in New York with the WPA labor that was furnished him by the Feds. He rebuilt Bryant Park. He did it three times 'cause he goofed the first two. And then of course you had the bigger projects, where Ickes was involved, involving the Triborough Bridge—
Let's get to Triborough a little later on, OK?
Let me ask you about La Guardia's relationship with Ickes and Harry Hopkins. I mean, were they glad to see this guy coming, was he a pain to them?
They were all zealots.
Hopkins, Ickes, La Guardia. And naturally they would have their blow-off points but there was never any problem in the relationship, except on the question of the Triborough bridge where Roosevelt didn't want Moses involved and was having Ickes hold back the Federal funds to build the bridge because of La Guardia was appointing Moses to run the construction.
Can you tell me why Roosevelt had this problem with Robert Moses, tell me the story.
Yes, Roosevelt and Moses didn't get along. In the mid-twenties, Moses was running the state council of parks and Roosevelt was a member of it and he tried to get Moses to put his man-Friday Louis Hal on the park payroll so that Hal would have an income and Moses refused to do so, and Roosevelt resented that. Then when Roosevelt became governor, Al Smith who was the outgoing governor, tried to get Roosevelt to keep Moses on as the New York Secretary of State, that was his title and Roosevelt would have none of it and appointed the Bronx leader, Ed Flynn, to the job instead. There was no love lost. People may have forgotten this, but Moses ran for governor as a Republican in 1934, and took the worst shellacking in the then history of the state. That's when Moses I guess decided he was not suited for elective office. He would just use appointed office to achieve his ends.
So, I mean with the Triborough, they have this on-going feud.
The Triborough Bridge was conceived in the Walker Administration. It was a recommendation of a Philadelphia engineering firm that Walker had hired to plan ahead for the city, one of many recommendations, and it was actually voted by the Board of Estimate in June of 1929, I covered the meeting, where it was voted. But then they didn't have any money, the Depression came along, and while it's true that the city was being run by a corrupt Tammany administration, that wasn't what brought the city into it's financial problems. What brought the city, made the city broke was, in those days the city had no income except the real estate tax, and came the Depression the tenant couldn't pay his rent, the landlord didn't pay the taxes, and the city's income was reduced by a hundred or a hundred and fifty million dollars a year. City budget then was half a billion dollars. So you cut the income down from half a billion to three hundred and fifty million, you're really hitting hard. When the Roosevelt administration came in, and with the enormous amount of public work funds, there was no problem in getting agreement for the Feds to build the Triborough Bridge for the city, but who was going to run the Triborough Bridge while, the authority, while this was going on. And Moses was the logical man, but Ickes-
Who was going to run the Triborough Bridge authority which was going to build, going to be in charge of building the bridge. There had been a Triborough Bridge authority set up under the Tammany [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] but they didn't function, they had no money, and they just fell off like petals when La Guardia came in. Ickes, at Roosevelt's instance [sic], was holding up money for the Bridge until he got assurance that Moses would not be running things. Well, there was a stink in the papers, back and forth, and finally the Roosevelt people backed down and Moses, instead of being put in as head of the Triborough Bridge authority was made secretary, which was just a cover because anything Moses was in, he'd be running. There's a natural flow from the Triborough which was a big public works thing, bringing labor and steel and cement and all that to New York, the more visible thing was the PWA, with their smaller projects, playgrounds, the one costing under five or ten thousand dollars.
Yes, yes, WPA.
Or CWA, it was WPA in '35.
Well, it was the same.
But we have to distinguish in the program, I understand that it was basically the same, but we have to distinguish.
So if you can tell me it was the CWA and then later the WPA.
The CWA was the first attempt to bring jobs to the man on the street. And it was fairly successful, it was under-funded, and it was a natural switch to the WPA, which got more money through Hopkins. But what I was driving at, a thing that is forgotten today and it was terribly important to the people of the city then, was the Homeowner's Loan Corporation. Thousands and thousands of houses in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Richmond were being foreclosed by the banks, which didn't want them but had no option because the people couldn't pay the interest on the mortgage. Mortgages in those days were permanent, you borrowed the money you owed it forever and you just kept on paying the interest on it. The Homeowner's Loan Corporation came in, set up by Roosevelt, in '33, and it took over these mortgages and created the amortizating mortgage, which is the standard mortgage today, so that for thirty years you paid taxes, interest, and a hunk of the principle, leveling it off in monthly payments just as you were paying rent. It saved the roofs over their heads for thousands and thousands of New Yorkers, with possibly greater impact than anything except the CWA and WPA.
Now, tell me the story of the advent of the New Deal in New York, when FDR was actually governor.
Yeah, the New Deal started to creep into New York when Franklin Roosevelt was governor. What happened was, when the Depression hit, the cities had no money to feed people, private charities formed committees, but the money was rapidly exhausted. And the New York state constitution had a clause in it prohibiting the use of the state's credit for any individual, that was to prevent crooked legislators from selling out the state to their friends. It was an old clause, going back to the 1840's. Well, you couldn't spend state money to feed a person except outside a poor house, except inside a poor house or state institution, so Roosevelt and the legislative leaders got together in 1931. They passed an act called the [Wick's sp? Act] which evaded the constitutional provision by having the state give the money to the counties and the cities, and there was no prohibition against the counties and the cities giving it to poor people. So that evasion of the constitution governed our relief here until 1938 when the constitution was changed, but that was an inkling when the federal government took the position that it couldn't spend any money feeding people, [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] private enterprise, you know, it was Roosevelt in Albany, potential candidate for Presidency, finding a way to feed people. How much of the New Deal he had in mind before he took office no one will ever know, but I remember covering the speech he delivered to the Boy Scouts of America, Boy Scouts Foundation [sic], one Saturday evening. I was covering and he was president-elect at the time, though not, and no longer governor, he was out of the governorship.
I need for you just to tell me that Roosevelt, I was covering Roosevelt, he was president, you have to...
You need to tell me the name, you can't refer to him, can't use those pronouns.
Yeah. I was covering Roosevelt, he was President-elect but no longer governor. He made a speech late on Saturday night to the Boy Scout Foundation which I, and I was covering him, and he tossed away his prepared speech which had nothing particular to say in it, and he delivered extemporaneously a real outline of the New Deal as it was to come, and I raced back to the office with the story, made the last edition of the Sunday morning paper, which meant it had no out of town circulation. And since the story was unsigned I've never been able to track it down since. I've never had the energy to go through all the Sunday papers of the for three months to find it. It was on page one though, and it showed that he had an awful lot of this in his mind. The specifics certainly included the Civilian Conservation Corps.... Well, I'm stretching my memory to go any further on that.
OK, OK. I wanna go back and talk a little bit more about New York and the Jimmy Walker administration, the fact that it was basically, a lot of patronage involved, lots of corruption involved, and Jimmy Walker's run out of office. Can you tell me the story of how he was run out of office, why he was run out of office, the Seabury Investigation?
Walker was probably the most charming man who has ever held public office,
** and the public forgave him practically everything, and he was also a brilliant man. He could do more in five minutes than most mayors could do in five weeks, and he did it. But-
When the Seabury Investigation-
Sorry, we have to start over again because we don't want my sneeze in there, so yeah, stop.
La Guardia was preceded as mayor by Jimmy Walker, though there was an interim mayor between, and
Walker was probably the most charming man who ever held public office, he could charm anybody into anything.
** I remember a typical Walker story, it was coming into a ballroom eleven o'clock at night, and the Jewish mothers, mammas were cheering him in as he came in wearing a yarmulke, and one woman with a drink or two in her said 'Jimmy, circumcision next?' He said 'No lady, I prefer to wear it off.' Anyhow, Walker could charm people, and did, and he was a very efficient mayor. He was also completely amoral and corrupt.
** The people hated to believe it, but when the story was told of his being given the bonds of $240,000 dollars in bonds to insure someone who bust franchise, it even omitted the fact because they didn't know it, that $400,000 in cash went with it. I was told that story after the fact by someone who had reason to know because he handed over the money.
the Seabury Investigations got started because of corruption in the magistrate's courts and they led from there on into a legislative investigation of the whole city government. And Walker resented it, and finally he was brought up on charges
** before Roosevelt, who was a candidate for President that year, and Jimmy probably would have been removed by Roosevelt, the decision hadn't been published yet. Instead, he resigned,
** intending to run for re-election to fill the vacancy his resignation had created, and the-
Hold on, we're out of film.
Walker intended to run for re-election to fill the vacancy his resignation had caused
** the Tammany leadership was prepared to nominate him. Then the Roman Catholic Cardinal stepped in and
** sent for the leaders, and told them the Church wouldn't stand for it. They withdrew Walker as a nominee and nominated John P. O'Brien, who was the exact opposite of Walker. O'Brien had nine kids and a wife he was loyal to, Walker had nine mistresses. Walker was brilliant, O'Brien was slow.
** They just wanted the complete opposite of Walker, and thought that that would bring about a victory, which of course it didn't.
Then enters the race, then enters McKee and La Guardia. Tell me about that, tell me about the campaign, what kind of a campaigner La Guardia was.
La Guardia was? I mean, you have to say that, you have to include him.
You have to include the name La Guardia, you have to tell me that.
When the 1933 election came along,
** there were three candidates in the race. La Guardia, who was nominated reluctantly by the Republicans and by the City Fusion Party. Joe McKee, the then-president of the Board of Aldermen who was put into the race by the Roosevelt wing of the party headed by Ed Flynn, in an attempt to stave off the disaster they knew would be certain if the only candidate against La Guardia was John P. O'Brien the Tammany nominee. For some reason La Guardia campaigned more against McKee than he did against O'Brien, I suppose it's understandable because O'Brien was such a weak [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] . But actually, La Guardia picked out as his target Ed Flynn, the boss of the Bronx, who was a completely respectable and honest political character, but in the Bronx he proceeded to charge Ed Flynn with every crime that had been laid at the door of Bill Flynn, an entirely different person, a Bronx official, by the Seabury administration [sic], and he had to know what he was doing. But it didn't stop him.
What kind of a campaigner was he, I mean, what kind of things would he say? I mean, we have some footage where he's talking about corruption, corruption, corruption, now did he just hammer and hammer and hammer on that?
That's right, that's right.
No, I need for you to tell me La Guardia, you have to always include-
Yeah. La Guardia hammered away at the corruption issue, it was the issue. Of course he also appealed racially, you get,
you got La Guardia in front of a group of Hungarians, Fiorello would address them in Hungarian,
** if he was talking to a group of Italians it would be Italian. You see, he had been an interpreter at Ellis Island early in his career so that he knew all these languages, and had no hesitancy at all in using them in the course of a campaign.
Was he, was he a true politician, good campaigner?
He won. La Guardia won his elections and so I guess you'd have to say he was a good campaigner, though he sometimes got too cocky. In 1941 when he was running for a third term he for some reason took on Herbert [Lehman sp?], the Democratic governor, and made him an opponent.
OK, that's beyond our time period, OK, now did he get cocky in the '33 election or as, in his first term as governor?
I can't tell you that.
I said I covered Tammany during the campaign.
Now... you had told me earlier that La Guardia had the ability to function well no matter what the situation was, as a matter of fact you told me that he could be wonderful, he could be charming, he could also be impossible.
Well, I thought that the [Barenkeya sp?] episode was illustrative of that.
No, I need for you to tell me that, not give me it.
Yes, but I did tell you that, when he got in [Barenkeya sp?] and the Latins were there, he introduced all the members of the press-
I understand, but if you could tell me again, it's better when I go and edit if I have a couple of different options, if I have a couple of different things that I can decide to use.
Fiorello was temperamental, unpredictable. He had a press secretary of whom he was very fond, and the press secretary was a heavy drinker, and one day the press secretary came in, ten or eleven in the morning, liquor on his breath, and Fiorello proceeded to dress him down. The press secretary, who had a hangover, proceeded to retort to La Guardia, and he called him a no-good Guinea bastard and every name there was in the catalogue, and Fiorello fired him. And after he fired him, Fiorello wept, and said 'I don't mind being called a bastard, but why did he have to inject the race issue?'.
I remember, me, for some reason he decided to denounce me after he'd been mayor about a year, and I didn't take it too kindly, there was a little bit of a scene in the mayor's office, but two weeks later I met him on the beach at Wesport, Connecticut, he was with his family and I was with... a gal, I guess, and you could, butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Called me over to meet his children and wife and whatnot. No, he was unpredictable in so many ways, temperamental, understandably. He had always led a parade, a Church parade from Harlem down Fifth Avenue every year when he was a Congressman. Then as mayor, he was living before Gracie Mansion, he was living in an apartment on Fifth Avenue, and the parade started to pass his house, shooting off bombs and whatnot, an Italian parade, and Fiorello called up the police captain and said 'break up that parade, they're disturbing me'. Well, the captain was no idiot, he called [Marc Antonio ?], Fiorello's protégé and his successor as Harlem leader, and Marc[?] called La Guardia, and La Guardia said 'I can't do any work, they're disturbing me', and Marc[?]] said 'Fiorello, this is the parade you led, you led it even last year, you can't break it up. You've gotta have bombs in an Italian parade.' And Fiorello said 'All right Marc[?], one more bomb.'
Tell me about La Guardia's relationship with Robert Moses, when we talked earlier you told me about the resignation forms.
Yeah. Moses came into the, Robert Moses came into the New York picture importantly because, in advance La Guardia got the legislature to create the job of city-wide park commissioner. Up to then each borough had its own park commissioner, five park commissioners, and it was with the knowledge that Moses would be the city-wide park commissioner that the legislature went along.
Moses of course always wanted his own way on everything, and he was always threatening to resign, and one time he came into La Guardia's office, 'Unless I do this I'm quitting, I'm getting out of here, I can't stand this interference anymore', and La Guardia handed him a printed pad of slips,
** regular printing, saying 'I, Robert Moses, do hereby resign as blank, effective blank'. Moses took the pile of slips, threw it on the floor, walked out, and of course didn't resign.
** That was the effective control La Guardia used over Moses. La Guardia's successors O'Dwyer and Impellitteri didn't achieve that control.
Now, tell me how much of a role La Guardia had in solving this Triborough Bridge controversy between FDR and Robert Moses. What role did La Guardia play?
Don't record this.
He was one of the protagonists.
Stop, OK, stop.
He was one of the protagonists.
You know, after we re-
Jump first? [laughs] You know, after we returned from the Panama trip I was La Guardia's favorite reporter for at least six months and probably longer than that. Then he came up with a plan to build a municipal power plant to be a yardstick for the private utility companies in New York, and I was covering utilities at that time. There was a utility investigation going on and various things, and the yardstick plant came within my area, and one day at a press conference La Guardia said that he had the financial backing, he had a list of people who were willing to contribute to the building of his yardstick plant, so I said I would be interested in seeing the list. And he sneered at me and said 'I wouldn't show that to you', implying of course that I was a corrupt employee of the utility companies. Well, I started for him with a fist, but Lester Stone his press secretary who was a friend of mine stepped in between and that was, that ended that. Then of course, next time I saw him he was sweet as pie on the beach at Westport, Connecticut introducing me to his family and adopted children and whatnot.
Now, after his election in '33 he takes office in January of '34.
City's in trouble, big trouble, not much money and whatnot, he tries to pass his economy bill. Can you tell me about that struggle?
The city began going broke early in 1932 before La Guardia was mayor or even elected mayor. It was the O'Brien administration serving as an interim administration for the year that Walker, Walker's term remained, that signed a banker's agreement quite similar to the thing that happened in the early days of the [Cox ?] administration in New York, where the city had to do certain things or the banks weren't going to buy their notes or do what. That banker's agreement was in effect, and it was hobbling the city's spending, at the time La Guardia came in as mayor. To really achieve the economies you needed cuts in staffing and cuts in agencies that the legislature had to approve, and La Guardia sent up to Albany an economy bill designed to carry out his program in that direction. He got part of what he wanted, I don't remember the details now, but there were, it was a case of whose ox was being gored, the legislature was protecting various people, particularly the county offices.
But it was a long process, though, I mean he didn't send it up there and get approval immediately, right? Do you remember that?
OK... talk to me a little bit more about the Irish control of Tammany, and the patronage that was involved in politics, the control of the police and fire department and government jobs by Tammany and basically, the Irish.
La Guardia was a phenomenon in New York politics from the racial point of view. He was, his mother had been Jewish, his father was Italian, he preferred to be identified as an Italian, and up to that time politics in New York had been dominated entirely by the Irish. They liked politics, they had the time for it, they ran the clubhouses of the Democratic Party which was the dominant party, and no other races were substantially involved. When I started covering the Board of Estimate in 1926, the city's governing body, there was the mayor, Jimmy Walker, Irish Catholic, the comptroller, Charles W. Barry[?], Irish Catholic, Joe McKee, President of the Board of Aldermen, Irish Catholic, borough president of Brooklyn, Jim Byrne[?], Irish Catholic, borough president of Queens, Morris Connelly[?], Irish Catholic, borough president of Richmond, Lynch, Irish Catholic. There was a Jew, Julius Miller, who was borough president of Manhattan, that was the Jewish spot on the ticket, and there was a German Catholic from the Bronx, Henry Bruckner[?], after whom Bruckner Boulevard is named. So anyway, just, he was the first non-Irish Catholic to be elected mayor of the greater city as far as I know, except for Seth Lowe, the first one, who was, the second one rather, who was a Wasp[?]. [coughs] The mayor's staff at City Hall were all Irish Catholic, even the stenographers, the mayor's attendant Patty Hogan, the police captain, all Irish. But they had no competition, the civil service was not an attractive thing to the Jews, the Italians didn't participate, they didn't take the exams. They were heavy on the sanitation department where you didn't need the written exams, because a lot of the Italian first generation and even the beginning of the second were not fluent in English. Harlem was still a small place, it had not, the dykes hadn't overflowed and it was a small area, crowded, slummy, and of course there were other parts of black territory, South Jamaican Queens, Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and San Juan Hill in Manhattan. But it wasn't until La Guardia ran on the ticket in 1933 with himself a half-Jew as mayor, President of the Board of Aldermen, Bernie Deutsch[?], a Jew, there's a nice story about that. They were having a meeting in the Empire State Building with Al Smith, the former governor and they were raising funds for the Jews in Israel or some place like that, and it was a high-level conference. Smith said 'You know, you talk about the Jews in Jaffa[?],' it was the Jews in Jaffa[?], 'talk about the poor Jews in Jaffa[?],' he says, 'here's the mayor of the city of New York half-Jewish, Bernie Deutsch[?], President of the Board of Aldermen, all-Jewish, Sam Levy, borough president of Manhattan, Herbie Lehman[?], governor of the state, all-Jewish,' he said, 'don't you think it's time we started to weep a little for the poor Irish?'
OK, so, before La Guardia the Irish had control, are in control, now what happens, how does he change that after he's-
He didn't change it.
You need to tell me that, La Guardia didn't-?
Events changed control, political control of the city from the Irish to the Jews, and then the Italians came in too. See, the Italians in those days were mostly Republican, so they only came into politics through the bootlegging route... when the Depression came along and the Jews needed steady jobs, they went into the civil service and they took the exams, they were generally more literate than the competition, they went up fast. There's a nice story about Paul Scrivane[?], who later became sanitation commissioner and then was President of the Board of, um, President of the City Council under Wagner. Paul Scrivane[?] got out of college, his real name was Scrivane[?], he got out of college at the bottom of the Depression and was looking for a job, and he looked, he decided on civil service, he looked at firemen, police, and he decided on sanitation, because the competition would be less from his own people. Sanitation was heavily Italian. He became the head of the Sanitation Department in a few short years. Generally a man of ability, but he was one of the non-Jews who got into public service.
The difference between the La Guardia administration and the Tammany administrations that preceded it, was that under Tammany the city's commissioners, the men who were supposed to run the city, were not picked for ability, they were picked for their sheer, just completely for their political background. I think at one time every single city commissioner was a Tammany district leader, except for a personal friend of Walker's, who was Manhattan parks commissioner. They didn't work too hard. We had a corporation counsel who came in at eleven o'clock, and the head of the city's biggest law department came in at eleven o'clock in the morning, shuffled through papers, went out, drank his lunch, went to the golf course, and never came back 'til the next day. It was no show stuff, and no, the departments were run usually by chief clerks or chief engineers, somebody of ability with a conscience kept the thing going.
La Guardia came in with a pledge to produce an honest day's work out of every city employee and he made a good stab at it. Of course, there's just so far down the ranks you can go but,
** at the level, at the top levels, and he had nationwide contacts, so he was able to bring in bright and imaginative people,
** to run various departments. He goofed on police at the beginning, he appointed Gen. O'Ryan as police commissioner as a payoff for O'Ryan not running against him in the Republican primary that year. O'Ryan was a war hero of World War I, but ill-equipped to be police commissioner of New York and he got rid of him, and then he put Louis Valentine, who was an honest cop, in charge. Valentine had insisted on breaking down the doors of Tammany gambling houses, so they demoted him from inspector to captain and sent him to Staten Island. When La Guardia came in, he brought Valentine back, first as chief inspector and then, after he got rid of O'Ryan, as commissioner. But even then, in fairness, La Guardia gave Marc Antonio[?] the concession to parcel out the gambling and dope peddling going on in Harlem.
OK, now, you say he brought in, that he had national contacts, that he brought in people.
Now, were the people that he brought in, again, of various ethnic backgrounds beyond Irish? Did he open up the government?
It wasn't a factor. You're hyped on this racial thing, and it wasn't truly a factor there, if La Guardia wanted a guy he didn't care. There was a, there was an opening up of the civil service in La Guardia's time coincident with the opening up of the independent subway, and there were new jobs, and the black man who previously had carried a mop and pail eventually became a coin-changer, and eventually a conductor or a motorman. But this was evolutionary, it was not a case of Fiorello coming in and demanding that there be a quota of twenty-five Negroes and twenty-five Jews or whatnot, that didn't exist. The race consciousness of today, didn't exist.
On that same theme, now, and again getting back to some of these PWA [sic], CWA programs, particularly again the Triborough Bridge, when we talked before, you told me about racism and discrimination in those programs was just accepted, that was just the way that it was. Can you talk to me about that again?
I'm not sure I can, because...
No, go ahead.
New York was much more of a segregated city in those days than it is today. If you went to the theatre the only black person you'd see was on the stage, not in the audience. If you went to a restaurant, you never saw a black couple seated in a restaurant, they just didn't apply, they felt out of place. They probably wouldn't have been admitted to most of the restaurants in New York. You had some of the same thing in the industrial area, where, the trade unions, most of the jobs were handed down from father to son, the skilled trade unions Harry Van Arsdale[?] opened it up in the electrical business by turning the electrical union into an industrial union, while retaining its status as a craft union. So he set up separate branches for the blacks, separate branches for the Italians, and he was a political genius, Van [Arsdale ?], but the idea that there was conscious rejection of anybody but the Irish in civil service or whatnot is not a correct one. It's true that the blacks were kept out of public office by Jerry Mander[?] in Harlem, so that no section of Harlem dominated an assembly district. I think Harlem was cut into something like four assembly districts, each with a white majority and black in the center.
Can you tell me more about the control that the trade unions had on jobs in these PWA [sic] and CWA projects? I mean the fact that-
In the, at the time we're talking about, in the early days of La Guardia and the early days of Roosevelt, the unions had no control outside of the garment trades, where they were so busy fighting the Communist infiltrators that they didn't have much time to think about anything else.
Let me interrupt you again, now you're telling me that the unions had no control, that the unions and the contractors had no control over who would work on these projects?
The unions had no control over the contractor.
So then who was in, who had control over who got hired on these construction projects?
Before, you told me it was the sub-contractors and the contractors.
Well, they would have, they would do the hiring-
I need for you to tell me, I need for you to include who 'they' are.
You're beating a dead dog here, really, and I'm not going to go along with you on it.
Well, if, I mean, if you don't agree, I'm just referring to things that you told-
Well, except, you expect me to make a statement contradicting something that hasn't been said.
No, I'm just going...
La Guardia was quite conscious of the need for integration of the blacks at the, in the private level, and he developed a technique. He would call,
he would have a dinner party up at Gracie Mansion, and the audience would be stacked, all integrationists, say, except for one department store owner who hadn't done the integration. The conversations at the dinner tables somehow would lead around to this, and everybody would talk up in favor of the need and what they had been doing and whatnot, and this poor patsy was the only one of out twenty, see, and he left there convinced that he had to do something about integration.
** The next day they'd have another department store owner up, or some other big industrial up, so he worked for integration, but this was not a forced march, these were not race riots that forced him to do this. He grew up in the ghetto, he was a ghetto child, the mixture of races was no surprise to him, and then of course his experiences as an interpreter at Ellis Island, where he was subjected to every race and form.
Earlier we talked about FDR's style.
Yes, we did. Can you give me, can you talk to me about that now? His style, his comforting style is, um...
Let's get it straightened, let's get this straightened out, I'm not...
Franklin Roosevelt came as a surprise to most of-
I'm sorry, could you, can you begin again now?
Franklin Roosevelt as President came as a surprise to a lot of people, he had been portrayed as governor as somewhat wishy-washy, because frequently he'd [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] both sides of a question, and whatnot. Then, after he was elected, that year, that week of the bank closings when the country was about at its nadir, and they heard this firm voice saying 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself', it gave a lift to the country, and the fact that they closed all the banks was a big help, because everybody was equally broke. The only money around, the only people with money around were the bootleggers, and they cashed your paychecks for you... Eleanor Roosevelt was a big help to La Guardia in his relationship with Franklin Roosevelt, because she acted as his eyes and ears, and came back and reported to him about things that were going on, what was happening, sometimes telling him more than he wanted to know. She had a close relationship with La Guardia probably going back to her days as a social worker and her contact with social workers on the East Side, the Henry Street settlement, that sort of thing, and she was an in-house lobbyist for a number of people, including La Guardia, and that was very valuable to Fiorello.
Do you remember any specific visits or covering any specific things that La Guardia did with Mrs. Roosevelt?
No, not 'til much later on when I [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] .
OK, now what can you tell me about La Guardia's Roosevelt [sic] with FDR?
La Guardia's what?
La Guardia's Rooseve—relationship with FDR. How close were they philosophically, how well did they get along?
I don't think they had much contact. I think Mrs. Roosevelt was the emissary, and...
Tell me about-
La Guardia was theoretically a Republican, but he never endorsed a Republican candidate for governor or President or senator.
Tell me about the New Deal, FDR, and La Guardia in terms of changing government, did they make, did the way that they govern make government more responsive and more responsible to the needs of its citizens?
The growth of the federal government in Roosevelt's time was an amazing phenomenon. Herbert Hoover, his predecessor as President, had submitted a budget of three billion dollars to run the whole country, Army, Air Force, Navy, Post Office, you name it, Congress, you name it. Actually he ran a deficit of three billion, so in his time he spent six billion dollars. That was about the size of one appropriation for PWA [sic] under Roosevelt. There is the story of Roosevelt making a speech in Pittsburgh in 1932, when he was first running for President, where he pledged a twenty-five percent cut in federal expenses. Come 1936 and he was going back to Pittsburgh in the course of his campaign, and he called in Sam Roseman his speech writer and said 'Sam, will you write me a speech that reconciles this '32 speech with our fiscal policies of the last four years?' Roseman came back after a little while and said 'Boss, the only thing to do is deny you ever were in Pittsburgh.' The growth of government was phenomenal. New agencies were created, the government went into fields it had never been in before, quite apart from feeding the people and going for jobs, building jobs that had never been undertaken before. Things were created like the Securities and Exchange Commission... the Agricultural Adjustment, the triple 'A'.
Let me ask you, I think one final question, perhaps. La Guardia's legacy, you know, what does he leave, what was his greatest contribution to this city?
La Guardia's legacy, La Guardia, when he left office, and he did so reluctantly, he really wanted to run for a fourth term but nobody would nominate him, his legacy was a tradition of honest public service, so that no administration dared revert to the good old days when public service was a payroll job, period. That was his legacy. The only mayor who varied from it, and he was only in for a short time was Impellitteri, but it didn't matter too much, he was the city's first Mafia mayor. La Guardia left that tradition. He also did things, he left us the Bronx high-school signs, the School of Music and Arts... I remember on the Panama trip, he's outlining his plans to me for all of these things, and he carried through on most of them.
Now, he came in and he and Roosevelt, they did have these job programs, but what is New York like, still, I mean, is it still tough in New York? Even after CWA and PWA [sic] is initiated?
The Roosevelt programs of CWA, WPA, PWA [sic] were all designed to take care of people on what they then called 'relief'. The idea was that these people out of work would be absorbed by these agencies, eventually, industry would come along, and it never worked out quite that way. The relief, now welfare rolls, continued. There was a different kind of welfare recipient, it was not a second or third generation recipient. The federal participation in relief, welfare, continued and grew immeasurably after the passage of the Social Security Act, which had a very minor provision for aid to indigent women and children, mothers and children, dependent children, and that's where the bulk of federal aid for welfare has come ever since. I don't know whether I've answered your question or not.
In the pre-La Guardia days, Tammany had practically complete control of the nominating process, and the electing process too, so that when I started covering the Board of Estimates, the city's governing body in 1926, there were six Irishmen headed by the Mayor, Jimmy Walker, one Jew, from Manhattan, and that was the spot carved out for them, and one German Catholic from the Bronx.
You want to go into the mayor's staff, too?
Yeah, tell me about the staff, tell me about the staff.
The mayor's secretary was Irish, the mayor's assistant was Irish, the mayor's bodyguard was Irish, the stenographers in city hall were all Irish. Of course, the staff was much smaller, I think there were maybe five or six people, that's against five or six hundred today, but it was just... Captain O'Connor was the police bodyguard, Patty Hogan was the valet, pretty much—it was the reverse of what went on at the turn of the century when the ads said 'No Irish Need Apply'.
Housing was the one of the problems La Guardia inherited coming in as mayor, it had been a problem before he was mayor.
New York City just didn't have enough homes for the poorer element of the people.
** The old Law[?] Tenements on the Lower East Side were those that had been built before 1901, when the first tenement house law was passed, and they were built for the immigrant population pouring into New York from all of Southern Europe and Eastern Europe and whatnot. And those tenements, believe it or not, won a prize in a contest for building a model tenement, and of course they were built a hundred percent on the lot. They had no internal air, an air shaft that went up between two adjoining houses, and they were outmoded in 1901, but there still were half a million of those buildings in New York City, and a great deal of them, the oldest, of course, were on the Lower East Side, because that was the immigrants' Plymouth Rock, and that's where they lived. It was ghetto, pure and simple, not too different from the ghettos of European cities where these people had come from, but new to America,
** and something had to be done about it. I remember covering a 'poor man's housing shortage' in 1929... La Guardia, of course, had grown up politically in that area, actually he grew up as a boy out in Arizona, but politically he grew up on the Lower East Side. He knew the people, he sympathized with them, he believed as lots of people did then, that better housing would cure the evils, which were the slum evils, the gangsters grew up there.
So, did La Guardia work very hard to pay particular attention to housing, working with Ickes to get new housing programs?
No. The federal government's first contribution to housing, was the building of three projects by Ickes with PWA [sic] funds, but there was no real progress in substitute housing in New York City until the state Consitutional Convention of 1938 passed its first housing article, and that put the state and city governments into the housing Act, and a great deal of its projects. The prime projects that would be filled now with forty story condominiums, with waterfront properties on the Lower East Side, instead were filled up with city housing projects because nobody had to be displaced, there was no population living there, but if you were to do it over again, those properties would have been reserved for the high tax paying people, and the city Lower East Side projects would go elsewhere. I remember, the first city housing project was tried in the Walker Administration, and there was a scandal connected with it and it was dropped, but it resulted in the widening of Christy and [Forsyth ?] Streets, and what is now [Seradono?] Park is in there.
Now, tell me your remembrances of the 'Hoovervilles', where they were, what you saw, how people survived.
Well, in the Depression there were homeless, people who'd lost their houses and weren't, weren't rescued in time by the Homeowner's Loan Corporation, and they were living in tents, and houses made of tin and scrap wood. They lived in Central Park, they lived to a large extent in Riverside Park which wasn't really a park yet, and they were called 'Hoovervilles'. It was the same sort of thing that happened down in Washington with the Bonus Riot, when the veterans came to Washington and camped on the [Anacostia ?] Flats, waiting for the bonus to be paid. Hoover drove them out with the Marines, and when Roosevelt came in he sent Eleanor over with food. That was the difference between the two administrations.
Now, obviously these people were pretty hopeless and whatnot, or weren't in real good spirits. Did that change when Roosevelt was elected?
Did that what?
Did that change, did people[sneeze] -have a sense that maybe things would get better, that he would do more than Hoover?
Well, the whole nation felt that way, we had twenty-five percent unemployment. Today we have nine percent.
Can you, can you tell me that again, when Roosevelt was elected, I mean, tell me in a complete sentence?
About what, the-
About the whole nation feeling better, and the unemployment, the statistics.
Roosevelt's election, and not so much his election as taking office, brought a ray of hope. People had something to look forward to instead of something to look back on. You know, in those WPA lines, there were guys in banker's clothes who were raking leaves, and they weren't wearing the clothes as an act, it was all the clothes they had left. There was this ray of hope, a general feeling, and it was always something new, the NRA, the National Recovery Act, with the [Codes of the Blue Eagle ?] whooped the [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] into enthusiasm, and even among the people who weren't quite sure it would work, which it didn't. Things were happening, whereas Hoover was sitting grimly back, waiting for things to happen by themselves.
What can you tell me about the NRA and how it didn't work, and why it didn't work, your remembrances of it.
The NRA was one of Roosevelt's experiments called the National Recovery Act, and theoretically, everybody in the industry was to get together and draw up a code of proper wages, proper conduct, and proper competition. Everybody would abide by that, and in return they'd get a blue eagle, the emblem of the NRA. Well, there had to be chiseling, and there was chiseling, and it was in addition a completely unconstitutional delegation of lawmaking authority because the industry codes had the effect of law, and that's the basis on which the Supreme Court threw the NRA out in 1935. I as a newspaperman was an indirect beneficiary, because up to then we had worked a six day week. My first paper I worked a six and a half day week, but the newspaper code called for a five day week. That was the result of a lobbying effort by the White House Correspondents's Association on Franklin Roosevelt. The five day week was specified in the newspaper code, and everybody went on a five day week in May of 1934.
You remember the NRA parade?
In your pre-interview you said something like, La Guardia was like a little boy, can you talk about why you said that, what, any stories that come to mind?
Fiorello was more present in the public mind than most mayors had been, because he was such a little boy who went to every fire, chasing after the fire engines. To this day, people will quote the fact that they heard him reading the comic strips over the radio during a newspaper strike that was going on at that time. And he was a little boy, he had a high piping voice, and bouncing—he's unforgettable.
Now we also read how he would show up at the police precinct and all these fires and he would bug people, and bug people, and bug people, can you talk to us about that? Any remembrances of that?
Or when he would demand that you give him a good day's work, that you work hard, that you serve the public?