New York has been a port city, and that port took in immense numbers of immigrants. The Ellis Island story is the story sold to Americans now as we are a "nation of immigrants" woven into a rich tapestry or Lady Liberty's recipe. Debating the positives and negatives of that is outside the scope of this little essay, but this is a fascinating statement from Martin Scorsese about the film he made about 19th century immigrant and nativist gangs called Gangs of New York.
The country was up for grabs, and New York was a powder keg. This was the America not the West with its wide open spaces, but of claustrophobia, where everyone was crushed together. On one hand, you had the first great wave of immigration, the Irish, who were Catholic, spoke Gaelic, and owed allegiance to the Vatican. On the other hand, there were the Nativists, who felt that they were the ones who had fought and bled, and died for the nation. They looked at the Irish coming off the boats and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ It was chaos, tribal chaos. Gradually, there was a street by street, block by block, working out of democracy as people learned somehow to live together. If democracy didn't happen in New York, it wasn't going to happen anywhere.
A great interviewer would probe the rabbit hole of what "democracy" meant in that paragraph, what was working out democracy and what was the outcome? A sequence started with tribal chaos and followed by street by street, block by block usually means mass fighting and low level warfare. Scorsese used "working out of democracy". Might as well have been the same thing. Maybe he meant that the dirty machine of politics had to incorporate the Irish wave of immigration. I cannot think of a positive connotation for Scorsese's use of democracy since he himself referred to his neighborhood being occupied by others, and how Scorsese as a child wondered where they went, forget wondering why or how. Must have been democracy. As the Tammany machine geared up, the decades of Tammany machine politics set the city with obscene graft and corruption issues. There was a one term reform mayor, John Mitchell, who produced some changes in the civil service and money management, but one election later was booted out and the Tammany approved candidate was back. The corruption reached peak in the James Walker administration.
Besides the widespread bribes, the corrupt judges, cops and justice department officials, the patronage machine was insanely deep. Any man who worked to put bodies in the voting booths on election day could expect something through the city government system run by Tammany. Your mother's a poor widow? Run work for the Tammany gang and suddenly you got a no show job or maybe a job as a lifeguard at one of the public beaches that no one went to except prostitutes and drunks. If you got a job, you could get automatic raises and be set for life. Mitchell's administration tried to set up a system of promotion and raises by merit. That died pretty quickly. In the heady 1920s, things got a little too loose, and the conservative New York state legislature decided to set up a commission to investigate the corruption in NYC. The Hofstadter Committee (Seabury Investigations) was led by a man of supposedly reform minded, impeccable credentials, Samuel Seabury. He called over a thousand witnesses. The corruption was so bad that one palooka testified he had 500,000 in cash in a tin box, and the public and papers called the hearings the "Tin Box parade". Did the ring leader, mayor Walker go to jail? No, he ended up in Europe with his main squeeze. Did the city clean up? Yes, for a moment.
The 1933 mayoral elections came on the heels of the Seabury Investigations. It was also considered a year for Goo Goos. Goo goos were good government reformers who had a moment on the throne with Mitchell in the mid-'10s, and were hungry for the mayoralty in a year of Democrat confusion. There arose a call for a Fusion candidate. New York City has a unique feature where candidates can run on multiple tickets. These usually align ideologically, but not always. Sometimes a candidate may represent a fusion of interests to win election. What interests exactly? That is part of this Deep City idea. The Deep City used 1933 as a means to transform the city to suite their needs and rescue it from democratic corruption.
Of the three republicans to win as mayor in NYC after 1920, all three were such fusion candidates. Fiorella LaGuardia, John Lindsay and Rudy Giuliani all ran as Republicans and on the Liberal ticket. The Fiorello LaGuardia election was the first. LaGuardia was not their first choice. He was only selected because Samuel Seabury was his backer, and the Fusion group did not think they could win without Seabury's public support. They wanted to name Robert Moses as their candidate, who was an old idealist (in their minds) of the reform vein with a shining suit of armor with regards to corruption. Moses had changed from his idealist days, but they did not see that. Who made up the Fusion minds and money? A biographer of LaGuardia described them as,
"educated at the best colleges, financially secure, eminent in professions and business, and primarily old-stock American Protestant but also significantly Jewish... The fusionists came, in short, from Gotham's gentry".The wealthy and well connected. The WASP and Jewish elite who were disgusted by the horrible dysfunction of the Tammany selected men who had served as mayors for decades. True Gotham power would strike back.
Setting up LaGuardia took amassing a campaign fund for a republican that was not liked by the national party. LaGuardia was a republican in name but basically a fusion of ethnicities and beliefs for whatever block of NY he was standing on at the moment. It took amazing public relations, which is why they needed Seabury. They also needed Robert Moses who was considered a knight in shining armor of amazing credentials and incorruptibility to stump for LaGuardia, and to call out an opponent as a Tammany hack and make LaGuardia seem believable as this representative of the benevolent interests of the city wanting to clean it up. LaGuardia won, and he did address corruption. With LaGuardia's appointments, connections to FDR's New Deal funnel and Moses's amazing ability to "get things done", NYC transformed and improved its finances, infrastructure and administration. They could run do nothing Tammany teat suckers off jobs, they did not owe Tammany, they could access and use land and money Tammany's crooks had kept to the side for themselves. NYC saw all industries rebound, including the manufacturing that was in the city in the early 20th century. It did not last. The core problem remained: democracy.
|John Lindsay = Mrs. Brady called him "unattractive"|
One can read E. Michael Jones's "Slaughter of the Cities" to see how the cities were cut down in the 20th century. By LaGuardia's third term, the patronage racket was back, and it grew through the mid-20th century. Democrats retook the mayoralty, urban decline set in and in the mid-'60s, a Fusion candidate, John Lindsay ran for mayor of NYC on the Republican and Liberal tickets in 1965. Part of his electoral success was not looking worn out, beaten down and tired. Mad Men covers this decline from 1960 though to Linday's tenure. He won but could not arrest the problem of dwindling revenue, creeping taxes and the stuffing of more economic drains into the city as productive workers left for the suburbs. Lindsay also turned out to be an incredibly liberal Republican who enjoyed collected millions of LBJ Great Society dollars for the city. This brought up the first fight between Koch and Cuomo that underscores the Deep City vs. Democratic Left divide.
In the early '70s, the nice community of Forest Hills, Queens was going to have three, 24 story apartment buildings for low income residents thrown down in the middle of the community. This virtually sucked in the ghetto dwellers and placed them in the middle of a heavily Jewish but basically a middle class neighborhood. Ed Koch saw the plans, considered them idiotic and destructive and said "I don't support it" publicly, which shocked his fellow liberal allies. Mario Cuomo went out on behalf of the mayor to find a way to make peace with the project. The Forest Hill resident fought hard enough to resist the towers, but here is a quote from the far liberal side that Cuomo was working with in 1972 and Koch was standing against. Said one activist quoted in Jonathan Mahler's epic on NYC in '77 if the project was not built as designed, "we'll all die together, and we'll take many of you with us." The Deep City knows using federal funds is great, but it knows a terrible idea that rustle the wrong jimmies.
I mentioned it yesterday about Koch, but after the financial crisis, Koch ran as a "liberal with sanity". Koch ran to the right of every other Democrat in '77. Koch ran a law and order campaign. Koch was representing the very congressional district JohnLindsay had represented; the "Silk Stocking" district that encompassed the upper east side. Koch was a confirmed bachelor who started out in Greenwich Village running on the SAD platform (Sodomy, Abortion and Divorce) in the early '60s, but he knew where his bread was buttered by '77. He had to make nice with the banks to keep NYC stable. Koch was not outright Fusion, but his platform and core constituents were similar to LaGuardia's voting blocs. While his economic reforms of cutting spending and taxes helped NYC not turn into Escape from NY, the problem of democracy remained.
Koch's third term was plagued by corruption scandals because the old patronage system was still in effect to secure votes. He still had to place men in positions he had promised in '77 by that second or third term. Mayor Dinkins unseated Koch in the Democratic primary and got down to patronage business. The change in ethnic voting bloc make up meant that Koch and Dinkins wanted to or had to fill the jobs with their foot soldiers. This is really the crux of those fire department exam race discrimination lawsuits. Throughout American cities' histories, the foot soldiers at the voting booth expected the patronage payoff. That was Tammany in a nutshell. Appointments were eliminated but the raw voting power of modern cities demand jobs, and fire departments are government jobs, dammit, give those NEW Democrats their earned jobs. Dinkins was a poor performing mayor and not the man to bring racial harmony to the city. Rudy Giuliani was credited with fixing the problems of NYC. Was he a stealth Deep City candidate? Hard to say but Rudy did run on both the Republican and Liberal party lines in '89 and '93. Giuliani's focus on making the city safer did create the joke "it's Giuliani time" for Samuel L. Jackson's Shaft to yell before cracking criminal skulls. Still, everyone had to admit that you could walk down far more streets in NYC safely in 2002 than 1992. Finance, tourism and most importantly, real estate, all rebounded thanks to the security provided by the massive police hiring of the '90s, a commitment to fighting all crime, and possibly the Reagan reform of federal sentencing requiring 80% of time being served before any chance of parole. Who knows how long that will last now with the reign of DeBlasio?
It does appear that when the excesses of democracy reach a froth, the Deep City brings its forces together to rally around someone who will enact what they need and serve as a public face to sell it. To build the idea of a Deep City, the Times is not part of it. The New York Times did not endorse Giuliani in '93, but they came around in '97. Bloomberg himself would be considered part of the Deep City with his financial connections and financial media network. It only came out once he was out of office after three terms, but his river of money bought off a lot of small time rabble rousers who would normally create problems for a law and order guy like him. The Times has carped about stop and frisk, and has practically poked professional protestors and blacks into outrage over Ferguson, Garner and that aggressive NYPD. We will see how long the gentrified, wealthy playground NYC lasts. Democratic foot soldiers want their day in the sun and the ability to walk freely in what they labeled the plantation, as run by Bloomberg. Democracy and all the patronage, corruption, vote buying and deal making will never allow the Deep City to have continuous exposed control over their city. Scratch that. A force of the major economic interests controlling the administration of its city could easily have exposed and formal control of its home. It's just that the media will not allow that.