FIORELLO LAGUARDIA is known best as the tempestuous mayor of New York City in the days when Franklin D. Roosevelt sat in the White House. During that time he was New York's most colorful citizen, but no one city could contain his spirit, and he became a national figure, alternating between low-level comedy and high-minded reform, endearing himself to many Americans, outraging others.
There had been, however, an earlier time, which matched his mayoralty years in sheer drama and perhaps surpassed them in lasting achievement -- LaGuardia's years in Congress. He was in the House of Representatives almost continuously from 1917 to 1933. There were two brief interruptions: once to fly with the American forces in Italy during World War I; then to serve during 1920 and 1921 as president of the New York City Board of Aldermen. But in 1923 he came back into Congress and during the next ten years conducted his own bustling side show for reform.
He attracted only a small audience. This was the decade of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, of scandal and revelry and unbounded prosperity. Or so it seemed until 1929. Then, sitting among the ruins, historians began their sober recalculation, a process unfinished even today, though the debris of depression has since been covered by the ashes of another war, and these too are now being buried under a new and greater "normalcy."
Upon reappraisal, the twenties take on a different aspect. The