On Sundays, Gothamist publishes essays about topics relevant to life in New York. The one below is by our favorite poet historian, Matt Levy-- master of the extended metaphor:
Welcome back Ladies and Gents, to the hip happening hotspot that’s absolutely not possible: New York City outside the space-time continuum! I am your host and it has been my extraordinary pleasure to allow you, the good readers and citizens of Gotham City, to enjoy the bizarre associations and improbable conundrums that occur when two legendary figures from New York City’s political histories are plucked from their comfortable and quiet tombstones, resurrected, and thrown into the wrestling ring right here in Madison Square Gardens, floating in the blogosphere. What will they think, those men who have been dead for so long but are now quite alive? Apart from anger, what will they feel? And how will they attempt to flatten and floor their opponent here on the ring? Lets find out!
In our first match we saw the Moustache Mayors – Robert Van Wyck and Seth Low do battle. Low quickly dispatched Van Wyck once Van Wyck realized that simply throwing money at a problem, especially a Reforming problem, won’t make it disappear. Now we bring you Round Two: Battle of the Run and Covers! William O’Dwyer vs. Beau Jimmy Walker!
In the Red corner, we have William O’Dwyer, more commonly known as Bill’O. An Irish immigrant from the Village of Bohola, Mayo County in western Ireland, he moved to the States in 1910 after the priesthood disagreed with him. After becoming a policeman and studying at Fordham night classes, eventually becoming the Kings County District Attorney in 1939 and made national headlines for himself by going after Murder, Inc. the organized crime family. Bill’O lost once to LaGuardia in 1941 but ran again under the Tammany Democrats and defeated LaGuardia in 1946. Bill’O enjoyed his Mayoralty post for 4 and a half years, from 1946 to 1950.
And in the Blue corner we have the crème de la crème, City Hall’s shining star, the actor, musician turned politician James “Beau Jimmy” Walker. A composer of sentimental ballads, including the runaway hit from 1905, “Will you love me in December as you do in May?” and a frequent patron of the New York’s roaring twenties clubs and lounges, the “Night Mayor”. A faithful puppet of Tammany Hall, Beau Jimmy spent a combined 143 days out of office in his first two years as Mayor. However, the good citizens of our city readily overlooked his ineptitude and handily elected him to a second term (1926 – 1932). But when the Depression hit, it was discovered how poorly suited he was to run the most important city in the country.
And . . . ding! There goes the bell. Bill’O is out charging from his corner, fists a-flying and his Irish face red and flustered. And Beau Jimmy is . . . just sitting there on his stool, martini glass in one hand and cigarette holder in the other, his long satin robe carelessly untied. Bill’O stops short in front of the Night Mayor and calls him to his feet. The Night Mayor starts to get up . . . stops . . . and sits back down again! The man is blind drunk! This is astonishing folks! However O’Dwyer is up and moving. He calls his local man Robert Moses to his side and appoints him to the post of City Construction Coordinator. He also, what’s this I’m getting in over the wire? He worked hard to successfully bring the United Nations to stay here in New York City, in 1946. But flying rumors say that Moses did all the work. And now it looks like Beau Jimmy is getting up to his feet, and . . . my God, there’s Robert Moses again, now arguing with Walker! Seems like Moses worked for both men. And Moses is gone again, and now its coming over the wire, yes, the Triborough Bridge, the Queens-Midtown tunnel and the West Side Highway were all completed under Walker’s term, and he’s boasting about that to the crowd. But, you guessed it, Moses was responsible for those as well, much more than the Mayor.
Things are really heating up here. Both O’Dwyer and Walker get elected to second terms. O’Dwyer maintained the city through its first billion dollar budget, but Walker created the Dept of Sanitation, and neither Mayor has thrown a punch yet! Wait a second, what’s this? The ring is being flooded with men in suits and ties and briefcases, they look like . . . Lawyers! And Federal Investigators! What’s going on? They surround Bill’O and begin to pound away at him with questions. It sounds like, yes, they are! They’re members of the Kings County District Attorney’s office, the same office that O’Dwyer worked for before his Mayoralty. It’s a Grand Jury investigating racketeering in the police force! We’re hearing that on the eve of a massive police trial for bribery in Brooklyn, 1950, over one hundred policemen resigned, including the Police Commissioner and his two top aides! This is scandal! And it looks like, yes indeed! William O’Dwyer, 8 months into his second term as Mayor of New York, is resigning in disgrace and fleeing the country for Mexico.
James Walker is the victor . . . no, wait . . . my God, what’s going on now?!? Now with Bill’O out of the ring, there are MORE investigators, circling the woozy and confused Mayor Walker. What’s that they’re saying? Mayor Walker is ALSO under investigation, for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from businesses and individuals in association with the city as bribes? My God, it seems like Mayor Walker is resigning as well – right in the middle of the trials! He’s fleeing to Europe! This is unheard of folks. Never in my long years as a New York City history geek and inventor of imaginary Mayoralty battles have I ever seen anything like this. Both of our Mayors resigned in the
middle of their posts. It’s a tie!
Matt Levy is a poet and a life-long New Yorker. He conducts the Spittin' Devil literary series every Sunday at Spuyten Duyvel in Williamsburg, and together with his father, Mark, and his brother, Gideon, he runs Vintage New York tours.