To gain the trust of local residents who despised elected authorities, street mayors did everything from giving urchins coins for needy mothers to stopping dogs from barking at three a.
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They funded excursions for the poor, helped with the rent, and paid coal bills. Sometimes the mayors were wealthy, but whether the money came from Tammany Hall or from their own pockets is hard to determine, though the former seems more likely. Those with saloons had a telephone used by their entire block.
Those with floral shops made sure every funeral had a wreath.
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Mayors were called on as philanthropic boosters at the most boring of events; they were unpaid marriage brokers. Maintaining the right to be called mayor of a street was no joke, and street mayors believed it required years of civic duty to deserve their designation. Being named a street mayor by Zeltner was considered a lifetime appointment unless a mayor moved far away. Stitch McCarthy was known to say that a true mayor would always see to it that a poor man on his block was properly buried.
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By the s, after a brief stint as an alderman, Zeltner left reporting behind and settled on a full-time career as a press agent. As a kid, Dostal bought roses that florists had discarded, cut off the stems, and sold them on the street; eventually he made enough money to open his own shop at 42 Avenue B. This florist who was also a city alderman from to got mighty rich in the age of Tammany Hall; the money trail is impossible to confirm now.
When Dostal moved to Hollywood in , he relinquished his mayorship to Dr. Sam Wagner, an ophthalmologist. The mayor of Delancey Street was born Phillip Kardonick in Since his customers often called him Mr. Kardonick Phillips. He had come to America in , running away from anti-Jewish rioting in Kishinev, then the capital of Bessarabia Governate in the Russian Empire, around Easter.
During the riots many Jewish women were raped, forty-nine Jews were killed, and 1, Jewish homes were damaged. After this early pogrom, a group of Jews living on the Lower East Side began to organize financial aid for Jews in Russia, publicizing their persecution. Phillips took up the cause, speaking publicly about the growing crisis and raising money for loved ones back home trying to escape.
While Phillips may have accepted undeclared currency, as all the mayors did, several of his restaurants on Delancey Street prominently displayed signs reading let no hungry man pass twice through this door. He made good on it, feeding the impoverished for free. A article notes that he offered two thousand homeless men from the Bowery a nine-course meal in his restaurant. Max Dick, mayor of Allen Street, seems to have been the most truly benevolent of the many street mayors.
Born in the part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that became Poland, Dick was evicted from Rivington Street in November ; standing on the street, he vowed to own the building one day. No one was ever evicted.
D uring a dinner meeting in September , just before the stock market crash, Jack Spero was elected chief mayor of the New York League of Locality Mayors. The street mayors were about to face far greater complications than a missing hat. They were needed more than ever during the Great Depression, as saviors of last resort. They came through as best as they could. Izzy Pinkowitz, the mayor of East Broadway who sent me down this rabbit hole, owned the biggest kosher factory in the neighborhood, the Hebrew National Kosher sausage factory at East Broadway.
He ran a salami and bologna breadline during the Depression and had five hundred nonpaying customers a day, including my father. On April 18, , all the street mayors marched together behind the real mayor of New York, Jimmy Walker, in a ceremony marking the widening of Allen Street after the First Avenue elevated tracks came down.
Did the elected leaders prefer to ignore their populist competition? This decade saw even more mayors outside of the Lower East Side added to the League. Poy T.
Yee, the first Chinese mayor of the group, was elected mayor of Chinatown on February 4, , over a fifteen-course dinner at the Port Arthur Restaurant on 7 Mott. The mayors wore novelty hats with pigtails. Cringeworthy, yes. When the mayor of Grand Street died days after suffering a heart attack in , he was perhaps the only McCarthy ever laid in his casket with a white yarmulke and prayer shawl.
Thirty cars, which carried fourteen street mayors, drove out to a cemetery in Queens. I n the wartime years there were arguments about how the organization could continue to play a significant role. It seems the street mayors were building up a bureaucracy of agencies to rival an actual government. Street mayors also ceased to be solely local characters, with Hollywood entertainer Danny Kaye cast as mayor of Brooklyn. The social and political forces that had made those mayors important figures had begun to die out.
Already established celebrities were a better bet for making the news. After Zeltner died in , the Old Time Mayors group was at a loss.
In Bronx businessman Dominick Della Rocca reorganized the group as the Community Mayors, an organization that nobly focuses on kids with special needs and remains around today. Still, it boasts much less vibrant characters and little public recognition—has anyone even heard of one of their mayors? Fact is stranger than fiction! And we all know politics remain the same. W hile the idea of a local mayor turned into more of an exercise in branding after World War II, the idea of knowing your local New York City fixer stuck around—and still does today. Those who live in my neighborhood of Corlears Hook, once nicknamed Poverty Hollow, would agree that politics relies on who and what you know.
Until recently, the most powerful man who lived on my street was Sheldon Silver, the longtime speaker of the New York State Assembly. My Corlears Hook voting bloc knew he might be rotten to others but he was loyal to his constituents, so they kept electing him.
The line marks him as someone clearly very religious on his own terms. In the end, the film is about tradition meeting modernity.
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By Chloe Laverson October 2, pm. By Emily Burack October 2, pm. By Cnaan Liphshiz September 27, pm.