Fiorello Henry La Guardia (1882 - 1947) was Mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945.
La Guardia was born in Greenwich Village, New York to Achille La Guardia and Irene Coen Luzzato. Both his parents were from Italy, his father a Catholic and his mother a Jew. Both had left their original faiths and raised their son as an Episcopalian. He spend part of his teenage years in Arizona.
From 1901 to 1906 Fiorello served as staff to various American embassies in Europe. From 1907 to 1910, he was back in New York City. He was employed by the "New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children" and by the United States Bureau of Immigration. He lent his services to the later as an interpreter at Ellis Island, an immigrant station. In 1914, La Guardia became a Deputy Attorney General of New York.
In 1916, he was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican. He served from 1917 to 1919 and again from 1923 to 1933. He served much of his first term absent in Europe, having joined the United States Army Air Service during World War I. He served with distinction and was discharged with the rank of Major. He retired from politics from 1919 to 1921 in order to attend to his wife. She was dying from tuberculosis. He briefly struggled with alcoholism following her death. Back to politics, the Representative gained a reputation as a "progressive" reformer. He earned much of his support in New York from voters residing in "Italian Harlem" (East Harlem, later known as "Spanish Harlem"). He "sponsored labor legislation and railed against immigration quotas".
In 1929, La Guardia became he Republican candidate for Mayor of New York but lost to Jimmy Walker, the Democratic incumbent Mayor. La Guardia lost his seat in the House of Representatives in the 1932 election. The Republican Party had controlled the federal government from 1921 to 1933. The Great Depression starting in 1929 had cost the Party much of its popular support. Nevertheless, La Guardia managed to win the election for Mayor of New York City, running as an anti-corruption candidate.
Upon assuming control of the office, La Guardia started a campaign against Cosa Nostra, organized crime. He had prosecutors and police specifically target the operations of Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello. Luciano was the most powerful mob boss in New York, Costello in charge of most of the gambling operations. By 1936, special prosecutor Thomas Dewey had managed to place Luciano behind bars. Vito Genovese, Luciano's right-hand-man, was left the acting boss in his absence. La Guardia's campaign continued. By 1937, Genovese was forced to self-exile to Italy, fleeing murder charges. Costello became acting boss. He was more successful than either predecessor by placing more of an emphasis on gambling rather than smuggling. Costello's efforts to expand gambling operations to California, Cuba, Florida, Louisiana and Nevada over the following years had the side-effect of keeping many prominent gangsters away from New York and its prosecutors. La Guardia had effectively forced his enemies out.
On the national political stage, La Guardia became an ally and supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the President from 1933 to 1945. While member of a different Party, Roosevelt was promoting reforms that several "progressives" had demanded for years. La Guardia was no exception. Much of his own political support came from affluent New York "liberals" and labor unions. Both having an interest in Roosevelt's reforms. La Guardia was constantly lobbying for federal funds to develop the economic infrastructure of his City. His public works programs provided employment for many New Yorkers and is credited with speeding recovery from the Depression.
In May, 1941, Roosevelt created a new federal agency, the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD). It was supposed to co-ordinate and federal measures for "Protection of civilians in case of war emergency". It also supervised strategic blackouts, fire protection strategies and various other services. The President appointed La Guardia as the first director of the OCD. He was replaced later that year by James Landis, the dean of Harvard Law School.
La Guardia stepped down from office in 1945. In 1946, he served as the second director-general of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. He died of pancreatic cancer in 1947. La Guardia Airport in Queens, New York was named after him.