15 ⋆ "Foul Birds of Prey": The Financiers

IN LaGuardia's long war against monopoly and special privilege, he had always reserved a special distaste for bankers and brokers. As Ernest Cuneo ( a young lawyer on his staff in 1931-1932) saw it: "At the top of his hierarchy of iniquity the bankers roost, like foul birds of prey. In Fiorello's mind they were forever behind huge mahogany desks in vast vault-like offices, scheming."1 It was natural, therefore, that LaGuardia, in fixing responsibility for the sorrows of the early 1930's, should turn upon the bankers. Stock-market speculation had helped bring on the depression, he firmly believed, and throughout 1932, in a campaign which came to center on the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, he insisted that the Stock Exchange be curbed and that the government redirect its financial aid from the vested interest to the common man.

The way in which stock-market speculation could ruin the lives of small investors was brought home to LaGuardia by the activities of the American Bond and Mortgage Company, which had marketed $150,000,000 worth of securities and was now bankrupt, leaving its investors ruined. LaGuardia received dozens of letters complaining about the loss of investments due to the peculiar operations of that company, which invested in mortgages on property about to be condemned. One man, fifty-nine years of age, wrote: "I can't go to work from auto accident six years ago.

____________________
1
Life with Fiorello ( New York, 1956), 49.

-207-

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