Fiorello Henry La Guardia (1882-1947)
New York City's greatest mayor. Welll...Rudolph Giuliani may have surpassed him recently, but La Guardia still had wider support.
He was born in Greenwich Village, a section of Manhattan, to Italian-American immigrant parents. He worked as a diplomat, an interpreter for Ellis Island, and a pilot during World War I. After earning a law degree, he opened up a private law practice that focused on helping immigrants. La Guardia was appointed deputy attorney general in New York in 1914 and later was elected president of the New York City board of Aldermen.
He was the first Italian American to successfully challenge the Irish dominance of NYC politics. At the time, Italian immigrants had to deal with discrimination all throughout the city. The Irish had all the police and firemen jobs, and had their hand in politics; La Guardia had an uphill battle to get into office.
He served as mayor of New York City from 1933 until he retired voluntarily in 1945. While he was mayor, he conducted a weekly radio show to get closer to his constituents and discuss issues. This helped make him a very popular mayor, George W. Bush is trying to do this today, perhaps less successfully. During a long newspaper strike, he would read the paper to the people over the radio, especially the comics for the children.
After leaving the mayor position, he was elected to the US Congress twice. He may very well be the first mayor to get to a higher role. Most NYC mayors don't have widespread support, and there hasn't been a mayor since who has gotten a better position in the government, its as if the position is a dead end. Giuliani looked as if he could get out of the pit there, but dropped out of the senate race from health issues.
He was a very colorful and charismatic politician, with a reputation for being progressive and honest and didn't discriminate. He was affectionately known as the Little Flower; the english translation fo his first name. He's a hero of Italian-Americans, one who showed that you can do anything regardless of your background.
One interesting tidbit that you probably won't see in a typical history book, in the 1940's Pinball was banned. They were considered games of luck and chance, and therefore no better than slot machines. To celebrate the ban, on January 21, 1941, La Guardia ordered the police to smash any pinball machines they confiscated. Similar to prohibition, they were smashed by the police in public, some dumped into the Hudson river. To help in the war effort, LaGuardia donated 7,000 pounds of scraps, which included 3,000 pounds of steel balls from pinball machines. I guess every mayor does something controversial in their term. The ban continued until 1976, when it was altered. Today all Free games like replays are still illegal, but the laws are unenforced. Partly in response to this "no replays" rule, in 1960 the game Gottleib's Flipper introduced the earnable extra ball in pinball.
Down in Manhattan's lower east side, in front of New York University(NYU), there's a statue of him standing. New York city's LaGuarida Airport is named after him.
Some facts taken from The Italian Americans, by J. Philip di Franco, the rest from my Italian-American parents.