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The First 100 Years


Blue Star Bullet

 91st Robert Van Wyck

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 92nd Seth Low

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 93rd  George Brinton McClellan

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 94th William Jay Gaynor

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 95th John Purroy Mitchel

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 96th John F. Hylan

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 97th James "Jimmy" Walker

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 98th John L. O'Brien

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 99th Fiorello Henry LaGuardia

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100th William O'Dwyer

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101st Vincent Richard Impellitteri

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102nd Robert Ferdinand Wagner

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103rd John Vliet Lindsay

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104th Abraham David Beame

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105th Edward Irving Koch

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106th David Norman Dinkins

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107th Rudolph William Giuliani      

 


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Robert Van Wyck
91st Mayor, 1898—1901
[1847-1918]

The first Mayor of Greater New York

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Mayor Robert Van Wyck

A graduate of Columbia University Law School and chief judge of the city court, Van Wyck rose through the ranks of Tammany Hall to become the first mayor of Greater New York after consolidation. In 1897, he fought a bitter campaign against political reformer and one time Brooklyn Mayor Seth Low. Although Van Wyck failed to deliver a single formal speech during the campaign — a result of his deep disdain for public speaking — he prevailed over Citizens Union candidate Low by a margin of 80,000 votes. The election signaled the reemergence of Tammany Hall, still tarnished from the scandals of "Boss Tweed."

Despite the historical significance of the occasion, Van Wyck's inauguration ceremony was hardly an elaborate affair. The mayors of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island City, stripped of their positions by consolidation, joined Van Wyck on the podium. As a crowd of spectators 3,000 strong anxiously awaited his remarks outside City Hall, the new mayor uttered just two sentences. Manhattan Mayor William Strong offered his congratulations, to which Van Wyck replied: "Mr. Mayor, the people have chosen me to be mayor. I shall say whatever I have to say to them."

Van Wyck's tenure as mayor was beset by administrative failures and political scandals, including charges he participated in an Ice Trust scam that artificially inflated the price of fresh milk. In 1899, the state legislature conducted an investigation into corruption in New York City, and concluded Van Wyck was a "dictator" who had "abdicated" his powers to the Tammany Hall bosses. Although then Governor Theodore Roosevelt was petitioned to remove him from office, Van Wyck was able to serve out the remainder of his term. On the inauguration day of his successor, Van Wyck reportedly left City Hall out the back and walked among the crowd outside, unrecognized.

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment as mayor was the awarding of the city's first subway contract, valued at $35,000,000. After leaving office, Van Wyck amassed a small fortune as an attorney and moved to Paris with his wife, where he died on November 13, 1918. Upon his death, The New York Times remarked: "Van Wyck became involved in probably more scandals than any mayor in the city's history."




Seth Low

Seth Low
92nd Mayor, 1902—1903
[1850-1916]

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Van Wyck's unremarkable tenure as the first mayor of Greater New York rejuvenated the reform movement and paved the way for Seth Low. A graduate and president of Columbia University, former Mayor of Brooklyn and life-long activist in progressive politics, Low was the first mayor to be elected on a fusion ticket with the backing of the Republican and Citizens Union parties. He delivered a brief speech upon taking the oath of office, vowing to "consecrate myself to the welfare of the people." In stark contrast to his predecessor, Low's administration was perceived as honest and competent. He is credited with introducing civil service and a merit system for hiring city employees, lowering taxes while streamlining government services, improving the school system, and greatly reducing graft in the police department. After his defeat in 1903, Low remained active in politics and labor issues, mediating many strikes. He believed in recognition for unions and the right of collective bargaining, although he favored arbitration over strikes. Low died on September 17, 1916 at his upstate New York home. Among his honorary pallbearers were J.P. Morgan and Samuel Gompers.




George Brinton McClellan
93rd Mayor, 1904—1909
[1865-1940]

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George Binton McClellan

The son of a famous Civil War general who ran unsuccessfully for President against Abraham Lincoln, George McClellan had a distinguished career in politics and academia. McClellan was a graduate of Princeton University, a journalist, an attorney, a congressman by twenty-seven, and by thirty, president of the New York City Board of Aldermen [the precursor to the City Council]. He ran on the Tammany Hall ticket and defeated Seth Low in 1903, at the age of thirty-seven. Despite his affiliation with Tammany Hall, McClellan demonstrated a fiery independence that only gained momentum in his second term. He defeated newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst to win reelection, but it was a bitter sweet victory, for McClellan was subjected to scathing attacks by Hearst's newspapers for the duration of his time in office. He broke with Tammany Hall in his second term, cracked down on vice and gambling, and terminated many of the beneficiaries of Tammany's patronage machine. Although he acknowledged it was political suicide, McClellan later told a reporter: "There comes a time in every man's life when he must choose one course or another. I chose — I had to keep my self respect." With a fondness for great public works — he spent his first day in office sampling the yet-to-be opened subway system — McClellan oversaw the construction of the Queensboro and Manhattan bridges, the Municipal Building, and the Catskill water system. After leaving office, McClellan became a lecturer and a celebrated professor of Economic History at Princeton University, served in World War I, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel, traveled extensively abroad, and wrote many books on Italian history. He died on November 30, 1940 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.




William Jay Gaynor

William Jay Gaynor
94th Mayor, 1910—1913
[1848-1913]

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A one time member of the Christian Brothers order, William Jay Gaynor would disappoint Tammany Hall when they nominated him for mayor in 1909. Although Gaynor abandoned the Christian order in 1869, later becoming a crusading reporter and Brooklyn attorney, he retained his righteous temperament. Elected to the New York Supreme Court in 1893, and appointed to the Appellate Division, Second Department in 1905, Gaynor's rulings were often cited around the country. His reputation as an honest reformer helped win him election as mayor in 1909.

On January 1, 1910, he walked to City Hall from his home in Brooklyn — it was the first time he had ever visited the seat of city government — and addressed the 1,500 people gathered to greet him:"I enter upon this office with the intention of doing the very best I can for the City of New York. That will have to suffice; I can do no more." Gaynor's marriage with Tammany Hall was short-lived; soon after taking office, he filled high level government posts with experts and city employees were chosen from civil service lists in the order they appeared, effectively curbing patronage and nepotism. As mayor, he railed against efforts to thwart the further development of the New York City subway system. A strong willed but compassionate mayor, Gaynor once remarked, "The world does not grow better by force or by the policeman's club." Early in his first term, Gaynor was shot in the throat by a discharged city employee, the only New York City mayor to suffer an assassination attempt. Although he quickly recovered, the bullet remained lodged in his throat for the next three years. During his term as mayor, Gaynor was widely considered a strong candidate for Governor or President. Tammany Hall refused to nominate him for reelection to a second term, but after accepting the nomination from an independent group of voters, he set sail for Europe. Six days later, on September 10, 1913, Gaynor died suddenly from the lingering effects of the shooting.




John Purroy Mitchel
95th Mayor, 1914—1917
[1879-1918]

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John Purroy Mitchel

At thirty-five years old, John Purroy Mitchel was the youngest person ever to be elected Mayor of New York City, a distinction that earned him the nickname, "Boy Mayor." A graduate of Columbia University and New York Law School, Mitchel held numerous government posts after being admitted to the bar. While city Commissioner of Accounts, Mitchel uncovered a protection racket in the Police Department and conducted investigations that forced the ouster of two borough presidents, and prompted another to flee the continent. Elected President of the Board of Alderman in 1909, Mitchel is credited with drafting the city's first comprehensive budget, with a full accounting of all of the city's resources. In 1913, he dealt a crushing blow to Tammany Hall, winning the mayoral election on a fusion ticket by a large plurality. His inauguration speech was unique in that he did not make bold pledges to reinvent government. Instead, he placed a three month moratorium on any public pronouncements by anyone in his administration: "We will develop our program slowly. It will not be necessary for us to go to the people of the city every day and tell them what we propose to do. It will be better for us to wait a little while and then to go to them and tell them what we are doing or have done."

Mitchel's waste-cutting measures and accounting practices earned the city national acclaim. He brought into the administration competent professionals and devised a zoning plan to govern city development — the first such plan in the nation. He also standardized salary and work requirements for city employees. Despite Mitchel's notable accomplishments, he was not reelected. In 1918, he enlisted in the Army Air Service to be trained as a pilot in World War I. His life was cut short while on final training in Louisiana, when his plane plummeted 500 feet to the ground on July 6, 1918. A few days shy of his 39th birthday, Mitchel was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.




John F. Hylan

John F. Hylan
96th Mayor, 1918—1925
[1869-1936]

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Truly a self-made man, Hylan grew up a poor farm boy with limited education who, at 19, came to New York City with $4.50 in his pocket. He performed various odd jobs, including operating a steam locomotive for the Brooklyn Elevated Railroad, and he secured a patent for a bicycle whistle. He graduated from New York Law School in 1897 and became active in politics. Hylan successfully engineered a constitutional amendment in the state legislature to create two new Brooklyn judgeships — and a job for himself. In 1917, Hylan ran for mayor on the Tammany Hall ticket, overwhelmingly defeating John Purroy Mitchel. He delivered a simple speech during his inauguration, an affair devoted to dispensing patronage evenly between his Brooklyn supporters and Tammany Hall. On his first day in office, Hylan charged his appointees "to make the world yearn for Democracy" by following his "Rules for City Employees." He declared: "[City workers] must not roll in city automobiles with cigars in their mouths...[or] be conspicuous at baseball games when they should be in their offices." Dubbed "Honest John" by his supporters, Hylan never strayed far from the will of Tammany Hall. He devoted much of his term to transit issues and was reelected based on his opposition to a state plan that would have increased the five cent subway fare. He also was a strong advocate for New York City home rule. Hylan ran for a third term, but lost the primary to James Walker and ran again in 1932, only to withdraw his candidacy. He died of a heart attack at his home in Forest Hills on January 12, 1936.




James "Jimmy" Walker
97th Mayor, 1926—1932
[1881 - 1946]

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James "Jimmy" Walker

An aspiring actor and talented musician, Jimmy Walker masterfully combined theatrics with politics to become one of the city's most colorful mayors. He composed many sentimental ballads, including, "Will You Love Me in December As You Do In May." He quickly rose through the ranks of Tammany Hall, entering the Assembly in 1910 and serving in the state Senate from 1923 to 1925. Succeeding John Hylan as mayor in 1926, Walker faithfully served the interests of Tammany Hall through political appointments and the awarding of contracts. At his inauguration, Walker hoped "the people of this city would not look upon their public servants as antagonistic, but...as their servants and friends." His penchant for frequenting nightclubs and enjoying the company of celebrities, including actress Betty Compton, earned him the nicknames "Beau James" and the "Night Mayor."

In the first two years of his administration, Walker indulged himself with several vacations overseas, spending 143 days out of office, and was fond of saying, "I refuse to live by the clock." Despite rumors of widespread corruption, New Yorkers largely overlooked Walker's transgressions, electing him handily to a second term over Fiorello LaGuardia. But with the outbreak of the Depression, Walker's neglect of essential city services became more readily apparent. In 1931, the state legislature initiated an investigation that uncovered rampant corruption in New York City government. In 1932, Walker was charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in money from individuals with business ties to the city. Called before then Governor Franklin Roosevelt to answer the charges, Walker resigned from office in the middle of the hearings, on September 1, 1932, and moved to Europe.

During Walker's administration, the Department of Sanitation was created and construction began on the Triborough Bridge, the West Side Highway, and the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Walker returned to New York City in 1935. His one time political nemesis, Fiorello LaGuardia, appointed him municipal arbiter to the garment industry in 1940. He died on November 18, 1946.




John P. O'Brien

John P.O'Brien
98th Mayor, 1933
[1873 - 1951]

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With the city still reeling from the scandal that swept Jimmy Walker out of office, John O'Brien was elected to fill the remainder of Walker's term. He received his B.A. from Holy Cross College and his masters and law degree from Georgetown University. O'Brien served as City Corporation Counsel and as a New York Surrogate Court judge. Tammany Hall nominated him for mayor in 1932 and he beat the Republican candidate by more than half a million votes. Held in the Hall of Records, at 31 Chambers Street in Manhattan, O'Brien's inauguration was devoid of the pageantry that had greeted many of his predecessors. His inauguration speech did not outline a vision for the city, but rather, reflected on the work of the court and the legal profession in general. He told his colleagues, "I know it will be the bar of New York that will understand the situation, be able to survey it critically, but, at the same time, fairly and justly." Although O'Brien is credited with expanding the city's ability to collect taxes, restoring order to the city's finances, and trimming the budget, he served just one year in office and was not reelected to a second term. O'Brien returned to his legal work and served three times as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He died on September 22, 1951, and was buried, as was his predecessor, Jimmy Walker, in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester County.




Fiorello Henry LaGuardia
99th Mayor, 1934—1945
[1882-1947]

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Fiorello Henry LaGuardia

The son of immigrants of Italian and Jewish ancestry, Fiorello LaGuardia, or "Little Flower," is widely regarded as one of the best mayors in New York City history, whose tenure redefined the office. LaGuardia had a long distinguished career in public service, beginning when he was 17 in the U.S. Consulate Service in Europe, where he became fluent in Yiddish, German, French and Italian. Upon graduating New York University Law School in 1910, LaGuardia practiced law and was appointed Deputy Attorney General. LaGuardia was elected to Congress in 1916 on a Republican ticket, interrupting his term to serve as a decorated pilot on the Italian front in World War I (his plane was named the Congressional Limited). He was elected President of the Board of Alderman in 1919 and returned to Congress in 1923, winning reelection repeatedly. After losing the mayoral election to Jimmy Walker in 1929, he successfully ran for mayor again in 1933 on a fusion ticket against Tammany Hall.

LaGuardia shunned the traditional inauguration day ceremony, instead making numerous appearances, at each one vowing to "clean house and clean it thoroughly." On his first day in office, he delivered a radio address to the nation, declaring: "New York City was restored to the people this morning at one minute after midnight. It is my duty from now on to guard and protect and guide the complete, peaceful and undisturbed enjoyment of that possession."

For the next twelve years, the 5 foot 2, sometimes belligerent chief executive dominated life in New York City. He fulfilled many of his pledges, ferreting out corruption in city government and bringing in talented professionals. LaGuardia earned a reputation for placing the city's interests ahead of political considerations. Although technically a Republican, he worked closely with the New Deal administration of President Franklin Roosevelt to secure funding for large public works projects. The federal subsidies enabled New York City to create a transportation network the envy of the world, and to build parks, low-income housing, bridges, schools, and hospitals. He achieved the unification of the city's rapid transit system, a goal that had long eluded his predecessors, and reformed the structure of city government by pushing for a new City Charter. He presided over construction of New York City's first municipal airport on Flushing Bay, later appropriately named LaGuardia Airport.

LaGuardia's psychological effect on New York City was equally profound, restoring faith in city government by demanding excellence from civil servants. He was perceived as ubiquitous, always first to appear at a fire or natural disaster; he sometimes dropped in at city agencies unannounced, periodically conducted the municipal orchestra, spoke weekly over the radio, and once used that medium to read the comics to New Yorkers during a citywide newspaper strike.

In 1945, the first three-term New York City mayor decided not to seek a fourth term, perhaps hoping to enter national politics. After leaving office, he hosted a weekly radio show and was appointed Director General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Commission. LaGuardia succumbed to pancreatic cancer on September 21, 1947 at his home in Riverdale, Bronx.




William O'Dwyer

William O'Dwyer
100th Mayor, 1946—1950
[1890 - 1964]

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Born and raised in Bohola, Ireland, O'Dwyer moved to the United States in 1910 after abandoning his studies for the priesthood. He worked as a laborer, then as a New York City policeman. He studied law at night at Fordham University Law School, receiving his degree in 1923. O'Dwyer built up a successful law practice and served as a Kings County Court judge. He won election as the Kings County District Attorney in 1939 and his prosecution of the organized crime syndicate, Murder, Inc., made him a national celebrity as a tough crime fighter. After losing the election to LaGuardia in 1941, O'Dwyer enlisted in the Army, achieving the rank of brigadier general. In 1946, O'Dwyer received the nomination of the Tammany Democrats and easily won the mayoral election. At his inauguration, O'Dwyer celebrated to the song, "It's a Great Day for the Irish," and addressed the 700 people gathered in Council Chambers at City Hall: "It is our high purpose to devote our whole time, our whole energy to do good work..."

O'Dwyer established the Office of City Construction Coordinator, appointing Robert Moses to the post, worked to have the permanent home of the United Nations located in Manhattan, presided over the first billion dollar New York City budget, created a traffic department and raised the subway fare from five cents to ten. Shortly after his reelection, O'Dwyer was confronted with a police scandal uncovered, ironically, by the Kings County District Attorney. With his health steadily failing, he resigned on September 1, 1950 and President Harry Truman appointed him as Ambassador to Mexico. He returned to New York City in 1951 to answer questions concerning his association with organized crime figures. The accusations followed him for the rest of his life. O'Dwyer resigned as Ambassador on December 6, 1952, but remained in Mexico until 1960. He died in New York City on November 24, 1964 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.




Vincent Richard Impellitteri
101st Mayor, 1950—1953
[1900 - 1987]

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Vincetn Richard Impellitteri

The son of Italian immigrants, Impellitteri emigrated from Sicily, Italy to the United States in 1901, when he was just an infant. He grew up in Connecticut and entered the Navy after finishing high school. Upon moving to New York, Impellitteri attended Fordham Law School, where he received his law degree in 1924. He served as Assistant New York District Attorney from 1929 to 1938. In 1945, Mayor O'Dwyer picked Impellitteri to run for Council President on the Tammany Hall slate. When O'Dwyer resigned five years later, Impellitteri served as acting mayor. Tammany Hall refused to nominate him for the special election in November, 1950, and Impellitteri successfully ran as an independent under the banner of the "Experience Party." Impellitteri's inauguration, held on November 14, 1950, was swift and simple, absent a band or a platform. Outside City Hall, he pledged to "do my level best to justify the confidence you have reposed in me."

Impellitteri's one term as Mayor saw the initiation and completion of many public works projects engineered by Robert Moses, including the construction of 88 miles of highway and numerous housing projects — between 1945 and 1954, 1,082 public housing buildings were constructed. Impellitteri is also credited with working to rein in budget costs, raising the bus and subway fare to fifteen cents and increasing the sales tax. Impellitteri ran for reelection in 1953, but was defeated by then Manhattan Borough President Robert Wagner, who later appointed him to a judgeship. Impellitteri retired from the bench in 1965 and succumbed to Parkinson's disease on January 29, 1987 in Bridgeport, Connecticut.




Robert Ferdinand Wagner

Robert Ferdinand Wagner
102nd Mayor, 1954—1965
[1910 - 1991]

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The son of a famous U.S. Senator who was a chief architect of Social Security, Robert Wagner Jr. graduated from Yale University in 1933 and received his law degree from Yale Law School in 1937. Fresh out of law school, Wagner, a lifelong Democrat, was elected to the Assembly, where he served three terms. He enlisted in the Army during World War II, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel. Upon returning to New York City, Wagner served in different capacities under Mayor O'Dwyer, until he successfully ran for Manhattan Borough President in 1949. In 1953, Wagner ran in the Democratic primary for mayor with the backing of Tammany Hall. He beat Vincent Impellitteri by a large margin and went on to win the general election. At his inauguration, Wagner pledged to create a "government dedicated to the best interest of all people" and extolled the virtue of public service as "among the most noble challenges and among the greatest responsibilities."

During Wagner's twelve years as mayor, several large scale projects were initiated or completed, such as the construction of the Van Wyck Expressway, the Grand Central Parkway, the Long Island Expressway, the Verrazano-Narrows and Throgs Neck Bridges, Shea Stadium, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. During Wagner's tenure the city also hosted the 1964-65 World's Fair. Wagner is credited with making gains in slum clearance and the creation of public housing. He reduced corruption in city government and expanded the police force. He appointed talented professionals to serve in his administration and greatly increased the number of minorities in civil service. Twice reelected, Wagner decided not to seek a fourth term in 1965, instead returning to private practice. He was appointed ambassador to Spain from 1968 to 1969, resigning to run unsuccessfully in the mayoral primary. In 1976, President Jimmy Carter named him US representative to the Vatican. He practiced law in New York City and also served on the City Charter Revision Commission in the 1980's. In 1989, New York University named its graduate school of public service in his honor. Wagner died of heart failure at his Manhattan home on February 12, 1991.




John Vliet Lindsay
103rd Mayor, 1966—73
[1921 - 2000]

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John Vliet Lindsay

Statement of Mayor Giuliani on the Passing of Former Mayor John Lindsay

Perhaps no New York City mayor had a more trying first day in office then did John Lindsay. A veteran of World War II, in which he served as a naval officer and achieved the rank of lieutenant, Lindsay graduated Yale Law School in 1948. After a decade in private practice in a New York law firm, Lindsay went to work for the Justice Department in 1955, serving as a liaison to the White House and arguing cases before the Supreme Court. Lindsay, a liberal Republican, returned to New York City and won election to Congress in Manhattan's heavily Democratic 17th District. He was elected to four terms in the House of Representatives, from 1958 to 1964, before running successfully for mayor in 1965. On his first day in office, Lindsay was greeted with a crippling transit strike that brought the entire city to a near standstill — it proved to be just the first of many bitter strikes he would contend with during his tenure as mayor. The transit strike denied Lindsay of sleep for 26 of his first 28 hours as mayor and forced the cancellation of a five borough inaugural tour. Before a crowd of 2,500, Lindsay addressed New York City's mounting social problems, and the consequences of not solving them: "If we fail, the implications of our defeat will be assessed throughout the nation, to be proclaimed by the cynics as proof that great cities are no longer governable."

Upon taking office, Lindsay vowed to open up the "lines of communication between the people and their government." While civil unrest erupted in other major cities during the turbulent late sixties, Lindsay helped maintain calm in New York City by taking walking tours of the city's urban ghettos. He established the Urban Action Taskforce and Neighborhood City Halls to field complaints about municipal services — innovations also credited with easing tensions in poor areas. Lindsay consolidated overlapping city agencies into super-agencies, eliminating waste and redundancy, and greatly increased government spending. He decentralized the school system and created community school districts. He won reelection in 1969 on the Liberal Party line after losing the Republican primary. In 1971, he switched affiliation to the Democratic Party. In 1972, he entered the presidential primaries in Florida and Wisconsin, losing both. After serving out his second term, Lindsay returned to private life in 1973, working at his law practice, authoring books, and serving as a television commentator.




Abraham David Beame

Abraham David Beame
104th Mayor, 1974—1977
[1906 - 2001]

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Born in London in 1906, Beame came to the United States a year later. A graduate of City College, where he received his degree in accounting in 1928, Beame opened up an accounting firm in Manhattan, taught in New York City public schools, and held many posts in city government, including Assistant Budget Director under Mayor O'Dwyer, Budget Director under Mayor Impellitteri, and City Comptroller in 1962. After an unsuccessful mayoral bid in 1965, Beame ran successfully as the Democratic candidate for Comptroller in 1969. He ran again for mayor on the Democratic ticket in 1973, winning by almost 700,000 votes.

On December 31, 1973, Beame took the oath of office in a private ceremony at his home on Beach 131 Street in Belle Harbor, Queens — coincidentally, on the same Queens street Mayor William O'Dwyer took the oath three decades before. The first Jewish mayor of New York City, Beame told the 1,500 people gathered at the steps of City Hall the following day: "I hope to be a matchmaker in the years of my administration, wedding our people to their city, encouraging them to identify with this great metropolis that is their home." With New York City on the verge of bankruptcy, Beame was forced to bring about massive cuts in the city's capital budget and to reduce the municipal payroll by 65,000. It was during Beame's term that President Gerald Ford refused to provide federal aid to New York City, prompting the now famous New York Daily News headline: "Ford to New York: Drop Dead." However, Beame helped secure annual federal loans of $2.3 billion, starting in 1976, which helped stave off bankruptcy. Despite financial difficulties, New York City still managed to host a spectacular bicentennial celebration and the Democratic National Convention in 1976— two events that demonstrated to the country, New York City was down but not out. Beame was defeated in the Democratic primary in 1977 by Edward I. Koch.




Edward Irving Koch
105th Mayor, 1978—1989
[1924 - ]

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Edward Irving Koch

Edward I. Koch was elected the 105th Mayor of New York City in 1977. Born in the Bronx of Polish Jewish ancestry, Koch's family moved to Newark, New Jersey during the Depression and later moved to Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn when he was a teenager. He left City College when he was drafted into the Army, where he became a decorated combat infantryman, achieving the rank of sergeant. He received his law degree from New York University Law School in 1948. As an active member of a Manhattan reform club, the Greenwich Village Independent Democrats, Koch ran successfully for district leader in 1963 against Carmine DeSapio. Koch was reelected in 1965 and elected to the City Council the following year. In 1968, he was elected to the House of Representatives in a district that hadn't sent a Democrat to Congress since 1934. He was reelected four times, earning a reputation as a competent legislator and a champion of many social causes. In 1977, he sought the Democratic nomination for mayor among a crowded field of candidates. Koch won the primary and went on to defeat Liberal Party candidate Mario Cuomo in the general election. Described in the infancy of his mayoralty as a shy and retiring man, Koch used his inauguration to send New Yorkers a message of redemption: "These have been hard times. We have been drawn across the knife-edge of poverty. We have been shaken by troubles that would have destroyed any other city. But we are not any other city. We are the city of New York and New York in adversity towers above any other city in the world."

With New York City's treasury near empty, Koch restored the city's credit in his first term through a series of budget cutting measures, enabling the city to enter the bond market within a few years and raise capital funds. As the city's fiscal prognosis began to brighten, so too did the mood of New Yorkers. The characterization of Koch as low key was soon revised after he took office, with his ebullient personality, and his trademark greeting, "How 'm I Doin'." Under Koch, the city's annual budget doubled to $26 billion and approximately $19 billion was spent on capital projects in the 1980's.

Koch, who vowed to be the first four term mayor, sought reelection in 1989. However, he was confronted with a series of government corruption scandals. He also faced heated criticism for his combative dealings with other public officials and the press. He lost the Democratic primary to then Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins.

He has remained extremely active and popular since leaving office, practicing law in New York City, lecturing, authoring books, serving as a newspaper columnist, hosting his own radio show, and more recently, serving as a television judge on the popular show, "The People's Court."




David Norman Dinkins

David Norman Dinkins
106th Mayor, 1990—1993
[1927 - ]

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On January 1, 1990, David N. Dinkins was sworn in as the first African American mayor in New York City history. Born in Trenton, New Jersey on October 10, 1927, Dinkins graduated magna cum laude from Howard University with a degree in mathematics and later received his law degree from Brooklyn Law School. He served in the Marines in Korea and later married Joyce Burrows, the daughter of Harlem Assemblyman Daniel Burrows. He briefly practiced law in New York City and began his steady ascent in politics. He served as a district leader, was elected a Harlem state Assemblyman in 1966, served as President of the Board of Elections from 1972-73, and City Clerk from 1975-85, before winning election as Manhattan Borough President in 1985. In 1989, he ran for mayor, defeating Mayor Edward I. Koch to win the Democratic nomination. Dinkins went on to defeat Rudolph W. Giuliani by 47,000 votes, the narrowest electoral margin in New York City history.

Dinkins' inauguration speech was punctuated with references to oppression, human rights, and the need for equality. He vowed to be "mayor of all the people of New York," and declared: "We are all foot soldiers on the march to freedom."

Dinkins helped fulfill his prediction that the "bells of freedom will ring in South Africa" by being a national voice in favor of anti-apartheid sanctions. He fought to have the city divest itself of $500 million worth of pension fund stock invested in companies that do business in South Africa and secured passage of a bill that allowed the city to rate banks on their opposition to apartheid. Among his other accomplishments were creating the office of Special Commissioner of Investigations for schools, creating a system of after hour youth centers called Beacon Schools, and working to create an all civilian police complaint review board.

Known for his reserved public demeanor, Dinkins was sharply criticized for his handling of racial strife in Crown Heights, a boycott of Korean Grocers in Brooklyn and civil unrest in Washington Heights. Dinkins faced a $1.8 billion budget deficit when he entered office which grew to $2.2 billion by the time he left office. The economy remained sluggish throughout his term, preventing the enactment of much of his agenda. He ran for reelection in 1993, but was defeated by Rudolph W. Giuliani. Dinkins still remains active in New York City politics, hosts a weekly radio show, and teaches public affairs at Columbia University.




Rudolph William Giuliani
107th Mayor, 1994—2001
[1944— ]
Go to Mayor Giuliani Archives

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Rudolph W. Giuliani, 107th Mayor of New York City

On January 1, 1994, Rudolph W. Giuliani became the 107th Mayor of the City of New York; four years later, the city he inherited has undergone an unprecedented transformation. The early 1990's were a difficult period for urban centers across America, where the ravages of drugs and violence were most acutely felt and left the greatest number of casualties. Nowhere was this more the case than in New York City. While cynics declared the city ungovernable, New Yorkers yearned for change.

Rudolph Giuliani was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1944, the son of working class Italian immigrants. He attended Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, Manhattan College in the Bronx, and New York University Law School, graduating magna cum laude. In 1970, Giuliani joined the office of U.S. Attorney and was later named Chief of the Narcotics Unit before becoming Executive US Attorney. He was named Associate Deputy Attorney General in 1975, and after spending three years in private practice, was named Associate Attorney General in 1981. Giuliani was appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York in 1983, earning national acclaim for his prosecution of organized crime figures, drug kingpins, and white collar criminals. In 1989, Giuliani ran for mayor and was defeated by David Dinkins.

Giuliani ran again for mayor in 1993, this time as the candidate of the Republican, Liberal, and Independent—Fusion parties. His message of fiscal responsibility and attention to quality of life concerns resonated with New Yorkers, who elected him over incumbent David Dinkins. Giuliani used the occasion of his inauguration to stake out an ambitious agenda for change, and to reach out to New Yorkers by touring the five boroughs. He called upon New Yorkers to "look anew" at their city: "Dream with me of a city that can be better than the way it is now. Believe with me that our problems can be reduced, not magically resolved. Plan with me to make the realistic changes that will actually make people's lives better than they are right now, and work hard with me to apply these plans to improve our city."

Between 1990 and 1993, the murder rate in the city averaged 2,000 a year, 340,000 jobs disappeared or moved elsewhere, and taxes were increased $1.5 billion. Upon taking office, Giuliani set out to reverse New York City's downward spiral and improve the overall quality of life.

To reduce crime, he implemented a "zero tolerance" approach, placing an emphasis on enforcing laws against nuisance crimes as well as serious offenses. Since 1993, the city has experienced an unprecedented 44 percent drop in overall crime and a 61 percent drop in murder, making New York the safest large city in America.

To stimulate the city's stagnated economy, Giuliani reduced the tax burden by eliminating the Commercial Rent Tax in most areas of the city, reducing the Hotel Occupancy Tax, and eliminating the Unincorporated Business Tax. As a result of these targeted tax cuts, the hotel and tourism industries are thriving, 180,000 private sector jobs have been created, and a national financial magazine named New York City the most improved American city in which to do business. Giuliani also cracked down on organized crime to lift the illegal tax the mob had exacted on certain New York City industries for generations. As a result, the Fulton Fish Market, the carting industry, and the city's main convention center have been liberated from organized crime, saving businesses and consumers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Faced with a $2.2 billion budget gap upon taking office, Giuliani lowered projected spending by $7.8 billion through a series of cost cutting measures and productivity improvements. He reduced the city's payroll by over 20,000 jobs without layoffs. He kept the rate of spending below the rate of inflation for the first time in New York City history and created a $500 million reserve fund.

In 1993, 1.1 million New Yorkers were receiving welfare. To bring an end to a philosophy that encouraged dependency on public assistance, Giuliani implemented the largest workfare program in the nation. Since his welfare reforms were enacted in March of 1995, 340,000 people have been moved off the rolls, saving $650 million annually in city, state and federal funds. To date, 175,000 people have completed the Work Experience Program, which provides welfare recipients with training to find permanent employment.

Giuliani is also credited with introducing a new level of accountability and higher standards of performance into the school system. Working with Board of Education Chancellor Rudolph Crew, school based budgeting has been enacted, providing for an accurate account of Board of Education spending. New programs aimed at providing computers, arts education, and tutoring, have also been implemented. Reading and math scores are now on the rise. Giuliani is also negotiating to have the Police Department assume responsibility for creating a safe environment in New York City's public schools.

Giuliani's sweeping reforms and hands-on style of leadership have prompted many comparisons to Fiorello LaGuardia [in fact, one of Giuliani's first official acts as chief executive was to move LaGuardia's desk back into the Mayor's Office]. Pledging to wage a comprehensive assault on drug abuse, and vowing to sustain and improve upon the successes of his first term, Giuliani ran for reelection to a second term in 1997. With the support of an unprecedented coalition of city leaders that transcended political, religious and ethnic affiliations, Giuliani defeated Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger — making him only the second Republican reelected as mayor since Fiorello LaGuardia.

 

 

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