The Fiorello Phenomenon
PETE had little regard for what today would be called the Establishment politician. He knew the breed too well. But he made a few major exceptions, one of them being New York's maverick Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, probably the city's most widely publicized character of the thirties, not excepting that well-known Bronx citizen, the gangster maestro Dutch Schultz, or the famed intellectual burlesque queen, Gypsy Rose Lee.
Pete's affection for Fiorello, albeit critical at times, went beyond the personal. He came to recognize LaGuardia as something of a political insurgent carrying on guerrilla warfare within and occasionally outside the framework of the two major parties. Pete especially admired Fiorello's sheer genius for keeping in the headlines, usually around issues that mattered.
No question about it, Fiorello was "The Ubiquitous Mayor." Whether answering fire alarms at 5. A.M., riding in police motorcycle side-cars or yanking steamshovel levers at ground-breaking ceremonies, Fiorello was there. The stocky, swarthy little man, looking for all the world like a black mushroom in motion under his dark Western-style semi-sombrero, made the front pages regularly. And, in gross violation of hoary political tradition, he generally managed to avoid platitudes and say something relevant.
Fiorello captivated the citizenry as well as copy-hungry city hall reporters with his hustling and bustling, his denunciation of tin-horn gamblers, bookies, punks and pimps, his recitation of menus for working-class housewives and his reading of the comics to the kiddies over the radio on Sunday mornings. He regarded these as legitimate attention-arresting devices. Why not make prosy virtue as attractive as gaudy sin?
Some newsmen scoffed, calling it all stageplay. "The fiery Fiorello was an actor in the best tradition of John Barrymore, Walter Hampden or John L. Lewis," wrote two New York Times reporters. "His emotions