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la Guardia, Fiorello Henry

LA GUARDIA, FIORELLO HENRY (1882–1947), U.S. congressman and mayor of New York City. La Guardia, who was born in New York City to a mother of Jewish descent and an Italian father, was raised as a Protestant. At the age of 20, La Guardia was appointed U.S. consul in Fiume. He resigned in 1907 and returned to the U.S., where he worked as an interpreter at the Ellis Island immigrant reception center while attending New York University Law School. He was thus intimately acquainted with the needs and feelings of immigrants and spoke their languages, Yiddish included. His career was built upon their support.

Elected to Congress on the Republican and Progressive tickets in 1916, La Guardia represented a Manhattan district composed primarily of Jews and Italians. He resigned his seat in 1917 to enlist in the army. Upon his discharge, La Guardia resumed his duties in Congress in 1918. There he sponsored a resolution calling on the U.S. to protest antisemitic outbreaks in Poland and Eastern Europe at the Paris Peace Conference. In 1919 La Guardia was elected president of the New York Board of Aldermen on the Republican ticket, and in 1922 he was again elected to Congress as a Republican. His party allegiance was nominal, for his reelection in 1924 was on the Socialist and Progressive tickets. Until his defeat in 1932, La Guardia was a consistent supporter of progressive causes and of legislation benefiting the urban poor.

La Guardia was elected to three terms as mayor of New York City on a Republican-Fusion American Labor Party ticket in 1933, 1937, and 1941. During his mayoralty, he became celebrated as the "Little Flower" for the vigor, earthiness, and flamboyance of his manner. He fought Tammany Hall and corruption-tainted politics, and greatly improved the honesty and scope of municipal services. The city was improved by a vast new network of parks, bridges, schools, and highways. In his urban New Deal, La Guardia drew massive Jewish support away from the Democratic Party. He effectively courted the Jewish voter with a combination of liberal policies, appointment of qualified Jews as officials, and personal style. He did not hesitate to create international incidents in this connection. A 1937 speech which depicted Hitler as a fanatic who deserved a place in the "World's Fair Chamber of Horrors" brought official complaints from the German embassy in Washington and official State Department apologies.

La Guardia's service in 1946 as director general of the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was marked by a sympathetic disposition toward Jewish DP's and by controversy, which ended when he resigned in December of the same year. He wrote The Making of an Insurgent, an Autobiography, 18821919 (1948).


C. Garrett, La Guardia Years, Machine and Reform Politics in New York City (1961); A. Mann, La Guardia, A Fighter Against His Times (1959); H. Zinn, La Guardia in Congress (1959).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.