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September 20: New York’s “Little Flower”

September 20, 2012

Fiorello LaGuardia, the son of an Italian father and a Jewish mother who became the progressive Republican mayor of New York for three terms between 1934 and 1945, died on this date in 1947 at age 64. A passionate New Dealer, LaGuardia developed and unified the New York transit system, built low-cost public housing, as well as playgrounds and parks; overcame the power of the Tammany Hall political machine and reformed the patronage system and the police force; constructed LaGuardia Airport and empowered Robert Moses to build highways, bridges and tunnels. LaGuardia was a practicing Episcopalian for all of his adult life, yet suffered anti-Semitic innuendos from his political opponents. Known as the "Little Flower" (he was only a little more than five feet tall), LaGuardia spoke a passable Yiddish and consistently garnered the Jewish vote, even against Jewish Democratic opponents. His sister, Gemma LaGuardia Gluck, was arrested by the Nazis in Budapest and held in Ravensbruck concentration camp as a political prisoner — probably the only American-born woman in a Nazi camp.
"It makes no difference if I burn my bridges behind me — I never retreat." —Fiorello LaGuardia
Watch LaGuardia reading newspaper comics to kids over the radio during a 1945 newspaper delivery strike: