Fiorello La Guardia, former mayor of New York City. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fred Palumbo)
New York City’s mayoral race is heating up this summer, with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner, and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson statistically tied for first place as of late June, though early polls are fluid, considering that many have not started paying attention to the race. In the interest of informed debate, The Nation has invited all the Democratic candidates to speak at our weekly editorial meeting, and thus far we’ve enjoyed robust conversations with City Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and ex-Councilman Sal Albanese. We hope to hear soon from the other candidates about how they would bring a more progressive vision to the deeply divided metropolis we recently dubbed in our eponymous special issue “The Gilded City.”
The Nation’s home in New York City has never been incidental to its identity; for many decades after its founding in 1865, the magazine was even referred to colloquially as The New York Nation. We have been concerned with municipal politics and administration in the city through thirty-two mayors, through depression and war and terrorism and financial collapse, and well before the consolidation of the five boroughs into one municipality in 1898. As both we at The Nation and New Yorkers in general deliberate on who should be the next mayor—and much more importantly, what that person should do once in office—a few samples of previous articles we’ve published about New York City mayors may help to elucidate what is to be done, and what sort of candidate is the most willing and able to do it.
The modern era of the New York City mayoralty began in 1933 with the election of Fiorello La Guardia. Paul Y. Anderson, the brilliant muckraking journalist who frequently wrote for The Nation towards the end of his career, wrote a back-handed endorsement of La Guardia just before the election, saying he couldn’t support “the Major” for mayor because his services were of greater need in the Congress (where La Guardia had served until being defeated the previous year). In the House of Representatives, Anderson wrote, La Guardia “commanded equal respect on both sides of the aisle because his motives always were above challenge, because he always knew what he was talking about and because he was not afraid.” Moreover, La Guardia “possesses nerve without bravado, wit without venom, and eloquence without bombast…. he is a regular fellow instead of a stuffed shirt.” Candidates of 2013, take note.
In 1969, just after the incumbent John Lindsay won re-election on the Liberal Party line after losing the Republican nomination, Theodore J. Lowi—then a professor at the University of Chicago who has taught at Cornell since 1972—wrote an open letter to the mayor in The Nation, begging him not to interpret the victory as grounded exclusively in personal charisma or the triumph of traditional liberalism. Lindsay was really re-elected, Lowi argued, because of the inertia inherent to massive bureaucracies.