Friday, November 16, 2007

Fiorello, Call Home

#321 Fiorello, Call Home

You walk through the airport and if you haven’t been stopped by the match-in-shoe police or some variation, you eventually come upon this bronze head of a chubby, curly haired guy and you remember – or maybe find out for the first time that there was really a guy called LaGuardia and this is what he looked like.

The ninety-ninth mayor of New York was an oddball, and the kind of oddball we could use today. And not just in New York.

He was what they called a “fusion” candidate. That means he was a Democrat in Republican’s clothing (something like the current mayor.) But no one cared. He brought Republicans and Democrats and republicans and democrats (and socialists and communists and every other “ist” you can name) together.

Maybe it was in his genes. He was a walking fusion.

His dad was a lapsed Catholic from Italy. His mother was an Italian Jew from Arizona. And he identified Episcopalian. Republican, Democrat, Catholic, Jew, Bronx born, desesrt-raised. Mah Non. Or Oy Vey. Such a combination.

He spoke four languages. English, Italian, Yiddish and Serbo-Croation. How fusion is THAT?

And he got a lousy airport named for him, which is not exactly an apt remembrance. Oh, and much later, a junior college.

That’s okay.

Liked to ride the fire trucks. Firemen (they were fireMEN back then, not fire FIGHTERS.) Didn’t matter. He was pretty small. Didn’t take up much room. Problem was when they got to the fire, especially at night, sometimes they confused him with the hydrant.

So, he brings together people of every stripe, figuring they could do more by pulling the fire wagon in the same direction than not.

There isn’t a whole lot of that today.

Every fire is a conflagration. Every crash is a collision. Every slight is a raging insult.

We need a Fiorello to save us from ourselves.

Fight a war? Okay, fight a war. But let Congress declare it first.

Take care of sick kids? Fiorello knew from that – he worked for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Take care of the unemployed? This all took place during the New Deal when people knew how to treat one another. Starting – but not stopping – with the WPA.

Wall Street? It has its place. It’s place is NOT at the top of the heap or above the puppet stage, strings in hand.

And LaGuardia wasn’t the only one. Couldn’t have been. Couldn’t have done it alone. Knew that.

Rugged individualism? Sure. But there are limits. Fiorello understood THAT.

And he got stuff done.

Was pretty popular at first, but the magic wore off as the programs started to work. Only to be expected. “What have you done for me lately?”

Still and all, this is the kind of guy we need. Unkempt, small, squeaky-voiced. Fireplug on feet with fire in his heart and actual grey matter in his brain.

The next guy, though, should get a better memorial than the world’s worst major airport.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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