Division of Political Power in New York City Since World War II
The Late 1940's and 1950's and Wagner
The 1960's and Lindsay
The 1970's and Financial Crisis
The 1980's and Koch
The 1990's to 2001 and Guiliani
Success in New York City politics is about building coalitions. Since World War II, the Democratic machine has been in decline. Without an organized institution, politicians must find a way to appeal to multiple groups. Often this means alienating other groups. Politicians who can build a winning coalition find it difficult to maintain it because the ethnic and social dynamic of the city is constantly changing. The Jews are the single most important group today, but others groups are gaining increasing influence. Below is a summary of politics in New York since the machine went into decline.
The Late 1940's and 1950's and Wagner
Following World War II, the Tammany Hall political machine began to lose the nearly overwhelming power that it had once enjoyed. The emergence of Jewish and Italian populations challenged the old Irish dominance. Changes in the loyalties of Jewish and Irish voters brought new political figures to the forefront. Political parties such as the Liberal Party (primarily Jewish) began to exercise influence in elections. In 1945, William O'Dwyer, an Irishman, was elected mayor of New York with the support of the Tammany Hall machine and Irish, Italian, and Jewish voters. He also won a majority of the black vote, which had gone to the Republicans before. The Tammany machine thought that they could dominate O'Dwyer, but he had an independent streak. The Democratic party in New York was difficult to control because its ethnic cleavages (Irish, Italian, Jewish) threatened to split the party as Jewish and Italian politicians started to demand more control from the Irish (McNickle 63-90, Moscow 31-34).
In the 1949 election, O'Dwyer split with Tammany Hall and won a second term anyway in a three-way race. Tension between the Catholics and the Jews in the city doomed the party candidate. Jews like O'Dwyer because of his support for Israel. However, the following year the mayor resigned. Against the wishes of Carmine DeSapio, head of Tammany Hall, Vincent Impellitteri ran in a special election to finish O'Dwyer's term. Impellitteri ran as an anti-machine candidate and won a three-way race with 43% of the vote. He did it by winning the Irish vote, half of the Italian vote, and a small portion of the Jewish vote. Usually the Jewish vote was the swing vote, and Impellitteri managed to split it (Moscow 34-37, McNickle 72-87).
In the 1953 election, Robert Wagner, a Democrat, was elected mayor. Both the Republican and Liberal Parties ran Jewish candidates. However, Wagner won a majority of the Jewish vote. He was able to convince them that he was pro-Jewish. His Catholic upbringing attracted both Italian and Irish votes. Wagner also captured 70% of the black vote, once solidly Republican. Wagner's broad coalition got him elected to three terms (Morris 16-24, McNickle105-108).
The end of the 1950's brought problems to DeSapio. In 1956, he alienated powerful black congressman Adam Clayton Powell of Harlem. More importantly, he upset former governor Herbert Lehman with his manipulation of the 1958 state party convention. Lehman decided to destroy DeSapio's power (McNickle 130-138).
III. The 1960's and Lindsay
During the early 1960's, there was a struggle for control of the Democratic Party as Irish influence began to wane, Jewish power increased, and blacks and Puerto Ricans gained influence. Many of the Irish and Italians moved to the Republican Party as the Democratic Party split up. Politics in New York took an increasingly Liberal bent.
In the battle for control of the Democratic Party between DeSapio and Lehman, Mayor Wagner was forced to support the reformers as Lehman made "bossism" an issue. In short order, Mayor Wagner and Lehman engineered the ouster of DeSapio and the other, mostly Irish, borough bosses. Machine politics in New York would never be a dominant force again (McNickle 136-175 Connable and Silberfarb, 295-333).
Wagner appointed J. Raymond Jones, the black party leader of Harlem to the Manhattan party leadership to replace DeSapio. Although, whites were upset, Wagner made the appointment because of the growing importance of the black vote. At about this time, conservatives, dissatisfied with the increasingly liberal slant of the local Republican Party, formed the Conservative Party. Its goal was to have an impact on local elections as the Jewish Liberal Party was doing. The Jewish vote, however, was becoming more important as affluent Catholics began to move to the suburbs. By the early 1960's the Jewish proportion of the electorate was 30% (McNickle 175-188).
As the Wagner era came to an end, the city was faced with enormous problems. Noise, traffic, pollution, sanitation, fire control, crime, and housing were tremendous election issues. Civil rights issues also caused tensions. The Democratic Party was badly split. Rivalries between Jew and blacks exacerbated the situation. Republican congressman John Lindsay ran for mayor as a reform candidate in 1965. Lindsay alienated the traditional Republicans, but gained the endorsement of the Liberal Party. In a three way race for mayor, Lindsay put together a coalition of Jews, blacks, Italians, Protestants, and Irish to win the race. The Jews failed to support the Jewish candidate, Abraham Beame (Cannato 19-74 McNickle 187-209).
Lindsay's first term in office was tumultuous, marred by strikes and divisiveness. The transit workers struck at the beginning of his term. The Italian dominated sanitation workers and the Jewish dominated teachers union also went on strike. Lindsay alienated the Irish by promoting Jews and blacks in the Irish dominated police department. He further divided the city by proposing a Civilian Review Board for the police department. Lindsay was popular with the black and Puerto Rican communities, whom he sought to help with social programs and access to political power. but, this only served to alienate the white ethnic groups in the city, who resented Lindsay's perceived favoritism to minorities (Carter 156-191, Cannato 75-119).
As the election of 1969 loomed, Lindsay appeared to be in trouble. But the Democrats were still badly divided. Lindsay lost the Republican nomination, but he received the endorsement of the Liberal Party. Lindsay began campaigning vigorously to regain Jewish support. He admitted to making mistakes and promised to do better. Jews couldn't stomach voting for a non-liberal candidate. Since Lindsay was the only liberal candidate in the race, they voted for him. This, along with support from blacks and Puerto Ricans was enough to return him to office (McNickle 218-236, Cannato 389-442).
IV. The 1970's and Fiscal Crisis
In the meantime, racial tensions flared in the city with riots in 1970. Whites were dissatisfied by Lindsay's efforts to build public housing for minorities in their neighborhoods. Unions carried out strikes, winning generous pay increases and pension plans that the city couldn't afford. Welfare rolls multiplied. but, with the tax base declining as whites migrated to the suburbs, the city couldn't afford the wage increases and social programs. Serious financial trouble loomed. Lindsay decided not to run for reelection in 1973 (Cannato 443-523, Morris 147-171, McNickle 219-240).
The 1973 race was decided by the Democratic primary. The biggest issues were the fiscal health of the city and maintaining law and order. Mario Biaggi, an Italian and former police officer, Congressman Herman Badillo, a Puerto Rican, and Abraham Beame, the Jewish City Comptroller were the candidates. Beame fashioned a coalition of the old party machine, Jews, and white Catholics to win the election and become New York City's first Jewish mayor. Badillo won most of the black and Puerto Rican vote. The backing of a Jewish candidate by the Irish community was unprecedented, but they had finally accepted their loss of status and combined with the Jews to defeat the minorities, whose growing power both feared (McNickle 240-252, Newfield and DuBrul 152-197).
Beame was immediately saddled with huge budget deficits left over from previous administrations. City finances were spinning out of control. Soon there wasn't enough money to pay workers. The state government stepped in to help, but it wasn't enough. In 1975, Beame asked for and was refused emergency federal assistance. When all was said and done, the city surrendered control of it finances to the governor's state financial boards. These boards left the mayor with little power (McNickle 255-256).
The 1977 primaries pitted Beame against Bella Abzug, Mario Cuomo, Edward Koch, Badillo, and Percy Sutton, the black Manhattan Borough President. The ethnic arithmetic meant that Badillo and Sutton didn't have a chance. Abzug was a flamboyant, abrasive Jewish congresswoman. Cuomo was an Italian attorney, and Koch was Jewish congressman and reformer. In July, the city suffered a blackout, which led to widespread rioting and destruction in the ghettos. Koch said that the mayor should have asked for National Guard help. His law and order stance resonated well with white voters. Koch also emphasized his support for the death penalty. In a runoff with Cuomo, Koch won with a coalition of Catholic,…