October 3, 2008

Fun Facts About Previous Mayors of New York City, a.k.a. "Fun City"

With Michael Bloomberg urging a change in term limits so he can run for Mayor again, let's enjoy a few anecdotes about a handful of previous mayors. There are so many to choose from. From the city's beginning as a Dutch colony to the present, dozens of men and many zeros of women have presided over the ever-booming metropolis that we know as Gotham City. Many of them served only a year, as back in the day, term limits were imposed at times. While there is no one type of Mayor, many rank among the wealthiest city residents of their eras. More than several earned the right to be called "colorful," and other terms not as polite.

William Peartree (ca. 1643 - 1714) was Mayor of New York from 1703 to 1707. Peartree made some serious money early in his career as a planter and privateer in Jamaica, and when the island suffered in the earthquake of 1692, Peartree made even more money by beating the French and Spanish at their own shipping game. He moved to New York, another island, as a wealthy man. When Queen Anne's War began, New Yorkers figured that an experienced naval captain and privateer would have the skills to defend the town, and so they elected him Mayor in 1703.

DeWitt Clinton (1769 - 1828) served as a U.S. Senator and Governor of New York, and in the latter capacity he's given credit for the building of the Erie Canal. He served in the Senate from February 9, 1802, to November 4, 1803, but according to his Wikipedia entry, he resigned because he was "unhappy with living conditions in newly built Washington, DC." Poor guy. DuPont Circle must not have had the fun vibe then. Fortunately for him, the Mayor's job in NYC was open. He served as Mayor in 1803-1807, 1808-1810, and 1811-1815 and was happy to done with D.C.

Fernando Wood (1812 - 1881) was one of the "colorful" ones. Born in Philadelphia, his mother chose the name "Fernando" after reading an English gothic novel titled The Three Spaniards. After he moved to New York, Fernando went into the shipping business and joined the Tammany Society. He was elected to Congress in 1841 and served until 1843. In 1854 Wood was elected Mayor of New York. He was re-elected in 1857 after the New York gang the Dead Rabbits found names of dead people to vote for him. In the 1856-57 session, the Republicans in the state legislature shortened Wood's second term from two years to one, because among other reasons his newly-created Metropolitan Police Force enjoyed the pastime of bribery.

Seth Low (1850 - 1916), born in Brooklyn, New York, was the original resume padder. An educator and politician, Low served as mayor of Brooklyn, President of Columbia University, diplomatic representative of the United States, and Mayor of New York City. He did much for Columbia, leading the move of the campus to Morningside Heights and persuading the trustees to change the name from the lowly "Columbia College" to the more prestigious "Columbia University." In 1895, he gave one million dollars for the Low Memorial Library. He was also chairman of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and president of the business-labour alliance, the National Civic Federation. On September 17, 1916, Low died in his home in Bedford Hills, New York. A consensus builder, he could reach across the aisle, as they say. Pallbearers at his funeral included both J.P. Morgan and AFL founder Samuel Gompers. Where is this Low when we need him?

John Purroy Mitchel (1879 - 1918), a descendent of Irish nationalists, was known as "The Boy Mayor of New York. " Elected at the age of 34, he served from 1914 to 1917. After losing election, Mitchel joined the Signal Corps Army Air service. He died in a training accident in Louisiana in 1918, falling out of his aircraft at 500 feet.

Robert Ferdinand Wagner, Jr., usually known as Robert F. Wagner, Jr. (1910 – 1991) served three terms as the mayor of New York City (1954 through 1965). In 1975 Wagner married Phyllis Fraser, the widow of Bennett Cerf, and got to live in her fabulous townhouse at 132 East 62nd Street.

John V. Lindsay (1921 – 2000) served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1959 to 1965 and then as mayor of New York City from 1966 to 1973. My mother told me about a conversation she had with a New York cabbie during Lindsay's tenure. After saying to the cabbie, "I like your mayor," (my mother thought he was handsome) the cabbie replied, "You can have him" (which kind of excited her). Mayor Lindsay dealt with a lot of labor issues, including a transit strike. Asked about this problem, Lindsay remarked, "I still think it's a fun city," and he walked four miles to City Hall to prove his point. Many people made fun of his "Fun City" remark, because the city in the early 1970s was going down hill fast.

Michael Bloomberg (1942 - ) a former partner at an investment firm, a Democrat-turned- Republican, an entrepreneur in financial information, and the eighth-richest American (Forbes 400, 2008) assumed office as Mayor of New York on January 1, 2002 and now presides over the city during the Financial Meltdown of 2008. Articulate in financial affairs, Bloomberg is known for his encouragement of a building boom, the planting of leafy trees, the support of the arts and "the Warhol economy," the ability to frighten New Yorkers about the evils of tobacco, and for informing consumers that eating a large black-and-white cookie racks up to about 500 calories. His birthday is February 14, Valentine's Day. He lives on 79th Street and rides the subway. He is the 108th Mayor of New York City. WOTBA can't even imagine how many times his Wikipedia entry has to be updated.

Image: Daguerreotype portrait of William Frederick Havemeyer, Mayor of New York 1845-1846, 1848-1849 and from 1873 until his death in 1874. Image made between 1844 and 1860. Courtesy The Library of Congress, American Memory collection. He was famous for his facial hair. See also WOTBA's post on Mayor Jimmy Walker, a clean-shaven dandy.

No comments: