Fiorello Henry La Guardia, 1882 - 1947

portrait of Fiorello La Guardia
Photo by Fred Palumbo, New York World Telegram (23 March 1940)
Fiorello La Guardia signature

Born: 11 December 1882, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York
Died: 20 September 1947, Bronx, New York

Born Fiorello Enrico La Guardia, the middle name was changed to Henry when he was still a child. He grew up as an "Army brat" in Arizona and was living in Trieste, Hungary when his father was discharged in 1898. He stayed in Hungary, working for the US Consular Service until 1907, then worked as an interpreter at New York's Ellis Island until 1910, studying law at night. He ran for Congress as a Republican in 1914, won in 1916, but joined the Army Air Service and flew heavy bombers on the Italian-Austrian front. He was president of the New York City Board of Alderman (1920-1922), then served in Congress for five terms, losing to the Roosevelt landslide. After the Tammany Hall leader Jimmy Walker was forced out of office as mayor, La Guardia ran on a reform platform as the "Fusion" candidate - Republicans and non-Irish Democrats. He promptly went after the gangsters, at least partially offended by the bad image they gave Italian New Yorkers. He worked closely with Roosevelt, bringing over a billion dollars in New Deal money to New York, devoting it to public works, housing, and buying the last private subway line. He was autocratic and effective until World War II came along and the administration he had built based on federal funds could no longer be supported. He chose not to run for a fourth term. He served as the director general of the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in 1946. He was short, only 5 feet 2 inches (1.57m) tall, and was commonly called the Little Flower, a literal interpretation of his first name. He died at home of pancreatic cancer.

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