Fiorello La Guardia


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(b. New York City, 11 Dec. 1882; d. New York City, 20 Sept. 1947)

US; mayor New York 1934–45 La Guardia was born in New York and brought up in Arizona. In his early twenties he spent time in Hungary with his mother and relatives. He returned to New York, graduated in law from New York University and practised. Law led to politics. At his second attempt, he was elected as a Republican to the House of Representatives in 1916. After serving for a few months in 1917 he absented himself to enlist in the war effort. He had promised the voters that if he voted for the war he would enlist. The House kept his seat vacant. He had a good war record, was re-elected, but resigned at the end of 1919 to concentrate on his duties as president of the New York Board of Alderman. He was elected to Congress again in 1923 and served until 1933. He was always an independent outspoken politician, on the Progressive wing of the Republican Party. He supported Woodrow Wilson in the declaration of war, advocated social welfare reform, and opposed prohibition. In 1924 he supported the Progressive La Follette for President. Over the year he was elected to Congress successfully as a Republican, independent, and Progressive Republican. His independence made him a national figure. He was the author of the Norris-La Guardia Act (1932) which outlawed contracts seeking to deny workers the right to belong to trade unions and allowed workers to picket peacefully and strike, except in those services and industries which were essential for public safety. He was defeated in the democratic landslide in the 1932 elections.

In 1929 he ran unsuccessfully as a ‘Fusion’ party candidate for mayor of New York city. In 1934 he ran again, standing on behalf of a coalition of reformist groups and parties, and won. He served until 1945, being elected three times in all. This was remarkable in a Democratic state and at a time of Democratic electoral ascendency. He was a vigorous supporter of President F. D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. In turn, Roosevelt intervened to help him by splitting the Democratic vote in the 1934 elections. La Guardia saw many of the policies which he favoured come to fruition in the New Deal. He was a great reforming mayor, presiding over civic improvements, slum clearance, a reduction in corruption, and the balancing of the city budget. La Guardia was a dynamic politician, a visionary with a gift for practical application, and is one of the country's great non-partisan reforming mayors. In 1946 he was director-general of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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