More than 40 years have passed since the most important and most powerful man in New York City and New York State politics was removed. 40 years later the political and social state of the city and state of New York is worst now than it was then. The once most progressive city and state of the world has become a bastion of reaction. A city and state once world renowned for human rights and social justice is now a place devoid of anything. A city and state which between the 1920s to the mid 1990s had prioritised the welfare of it’s poorest and most marginalised citizens is now a place where the poor and the non-white are being driven out.
Robert Moses was the man who single-handedly built New York City and made it the greatest city in the history of the world. Robert Moses was the greatest builder in the history of humankind. With the notable exception of theAustrian Socialists of the First Republic, no other person did more for the poor and working classes in the Western world as Robert Moses. Yet, funny enough, Moses remains the most maligned name in the history of the city and the state. Indeed, one can find millions of supporters of Rudolph Giuliani , who remains the most anti-democratic, dictatorial and reactionary politician ever witnessed on the western shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Giuliani was a man who took away human rights, destroyed democracy and kicked the majority of the city’s poor out of New York. Giuliani was a man who single-handedly disenfranchised New York’s Black and Puerto Rican population of political, social and cultural autonomy. Yet Giuliani is hailed as the greatest mayor of New York.
The point of this essay is not to assail Giuliani. His political career is thankfully over. This essay is to make the case for Robert Moses. A man who contrary to Giuliani helped to create the most Social Democratic and just city in the United States. A person, though racist and full of contempt for Blacks and Puerto Ricans, did more to create the best city in the Western world for Blacks to live until the arrival of Giuliani in 1994. This essay will make the argument that Robert Moses, despite many flaws which will will be highlighted, made New York City and New York State a much more humane and egalitarian society, than any other politician in both the city and state since the past 40 years.
There are a couple of motivations behind this essay. A couple of years ago, during a brief sojourn in Boston , I was given a book about Moses as a birthday present. The book’s entitled The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro published in 1974. The book was a graduate level political and social history about New York. Another motivation for this essay arose out of weariness from hearing complaints and put-downs of Robert Moses. Caro’s book has largely influenced this sentiment. The most common complaint was that Moses did nothing for the city except to build highways which no one wanted and in the course of building these, he destroyed the city. This is true to an extent. This essay will highlight that. It is true that Moses was responsible for the destruction of The Bronx, which cannot be defended. This essay will not defend the most obvious and treacherous deeds of Moses. However, Moses did many brilliant things for the city, which he is still attacked for. I will defend Moses for his true and remarkable achievements even though they will defy the conventional wisdom of informed New York opinion.
The essay will make the argument that a political figure like Giuliani would have been impossible had Robert Moses still been around. Indeed, Giuliani and his successor Michael Bloomberg are the direct consequences of New York City in the post-Moses era. It would have been very interesting to observe the full scale war between Giuliani and Moses. However, that is beside the point.
Finally, the essay is to disprove once and for all, the right wing argument about the decline of New York fro the 1960s through 1980s, was the result of liberal “communist” social and economic policies. It has been the mantra of the Neo-Consevatives that New York went bankrupt because of its generous welfare and social spending policies. Here is where the argument is most interesting. New York’s economic decline was primarily, though not exclusively, the fault of Robert Moses. It was Moses, with his grandiose projects, which drove the city to economic ruin. If there is anything really to find fault with Moses, it is that point. It is however, the complete opposite of the fiction that liberal social spending led to New York’s economic decline.
Robert Moses was born in New Haven, CT to a middle class family. Though the name would seem obvious, Moses vigorously denied that he was Jewish. Indeed, if he was ever called or identified as Jewish, Moses would fly into a violent rage. He was often branded a self-hating Jew by many New York Jews. He was accused of renouncing his Jewish heritage in order to be assimilated and accepted into white Christian society. Whether this was so or not is not important to this essay but clears the air in case the reader assumes that Moses was a Jew.
Moses attended his undergraduate years at Yale University . He attended Graduate School at Oxford in England . At Oxford he studied Public and Government Administration. Before the First World War, Britain was at its peak as the largest and most powerful empire the world had known since Rome. To administer a global empire, Britain had the largest civil service in the world. The British Empire was considered to have the best civil service and public administration at the time.
Britain, like so many other modern institutions, invented the concept of the “Public Authority.” The “Public Authority” was a large autonomous bureaucracy within the Civil Service loosely connected to politicians or government ministers. The heads of the Public Authorities were appointed by a Minister when the top post was empty, but the Authority had lots of political autonomy. The BBC is the most obvious example of a British Public Authority.
Moses’ British education played a decisive role in his future as the most important figure in New York City and State politics. Moses imported the concept of the “Public Authority” into the United States. However, he was influenced by the British Ruling Class elites who attended Oxford. Many of his classmates shared a disdain for the lower classes and had extremely racist attitudes toward colonial subjects. Indeed, many of Moses’ peers were in training to be Viceroys and Governors in South Asia, Africa, China and the West Indies.
The imperial and dictatorial manner which would later become his characteristic in running New York, as well as his contempt for Black and lower class people can most likely be traced back to his training at Oxford. Yet, unlike his Oxford peers who sided with the white ruling class unconditionally, Moses would show his disdain for all people from all races and classes. As we shall see, Moses took over the City and State of New York by destroying the Robber Baron rich elites of New York.
AL SMITH AND THE POLITICAL RISE OF THE NEW YORK WORKING CLASS
A film on Robert Moses would be most interesting if it highlighted the contradictions of a brilliant yet flawed character. The first of many contradictions of Robert Moses was that even though he hated the working class people of New York, he helped to orchestrate the political rise of the working class in State Politics while breaking the political monopoly of the rich ruling class. As we shall see, Robert Moses had no allegiance to any class, race or anybody else for that matter. Moses was out only for himself and for absolute power.
Al Smith was a New York City Councillor and State Assemblyman before becoming Governor of the New York State. He was a product of the corrupt and crooked and criminal Tammany Hall Democrat Party of New York, whose last vestiges were ultimately asassinated by Rudy Giuliani in the 1980s. Smith was an Irish immigrant who settled into New York’s Lower East Side. Tammany Hall had built a political empire in New York City, by giving jobs to thousands of immigrants who faced racial discrimination at the hands of the “Native” white Protestants who controlled the New York economy. In other words, Tammany Hall bought the votes of white ethnic immigrants in the city. Tammany Hall controlled not only City Hall but practically all the State-wide seats in New York City. Most of the Assemblymen and State Senators elected from the city to Albany were from the Tammany Hall machine.
Without doubt, Tammany Hall was a criminal organisation. However, it did very much for the white non-protestant immigrants, that all of its politicians were elected despite a string of indictments and convictions. Most residents of New York didn’t care whether or not their elected figures were ethical or not. The politicians knew their constituents personally. Many of Tammany Hall politicians were often seen every night in the saloons and other working class social centres drinking, smoking and laughing with their constituents. The Tammany Hall politicians knew their constituents on a first name basis and knew their families as well. People were aware if they ever needed to get a loan or find a temporary job to earn quick cash, they only had to drop into their neighbourhood Democrat office and ask. The only condition was that they registered Democrat. So even if the politicians were indicted or convicted for operating illegal gambling or prostitution rings or for bribery; their constituents were not the in the least troubled. Needless to say, this irked and raised the indignation of the Protestant elites and other circles of sober puritan patricians.
After losing a close election as Mayor of New York, Tammany quickly found Al Smith a job as an Assemblyman. In the state capital Albany , Smith quickly learned the tricks of the trade. He realised that the key to passing legislation was in the written language of a proposed bill. This remains true to this day not only in New York State but on the Federal Level as well. So many wretched laws are passed every day in the US because of clever and deceitful language. Many laws, such as the Real ID Act of 2005, are tucked away in budgetary or other miscellaneous legislation which escapes detection.
Al Smith was a rare politician of his time and today. He actually read every word of 200 page bills which were presented for voting. Today most state legislators, as well as members of Congress and the Senate do not bother the read the details of proposed legislation. Most bills are vetted in committees which only the leader ever bothers to scrutinise. Most laws which pass committee are brought to the general floor. The leaders of the political majority and opposition assign their legislative whips to tell the members to vote yes or no, without most of the members even knowing what they are passing or defeating.
Smith became very quick and learnt the ropes of bill writing. He became known as “The Best Bill Drafter in Albany.” However, as a Democrat in a Republican controlled State Government he had little power. New York City was a Tammany Hall dictatorship. New York State was a Republican Party dictatorship. Al Smith convinced Tammany Hall, that it could expand its political empire throughout the Empire State if he ran for Governor. By all odds, he won the race and became New York’s first Democrat Governor since the Civil War. Now Tammany Hall controlled not only New York City Hall but the 2nd floor of the New York Statehouse as well.
Smith wanted to bring real substantial changes for the State’s working class. The election campaign was rather nasty as the Republicans used reactionary tactics against him by race-baiting that he was Irish. They attacked him for his Catholicism and called his a papist. Finally, they tried to smear him for being working class. Tammany Hall, with its overwhelming Catholic base in the State’s largest city, effectively put Smith into the Governor’s chair.
Smith had a problem. The Republicans still controlled the legislature. The legislature was determined to obstruct and defeat any initiative put forward by Smith. This is where Robert Moses made his entrance.
“The Best Bill Drafter in Albany”
For Al Smith, the biggest misery that the New York working class faced was the lack of recreational facilities. Anyone who has spent a summer in New York can attest to the misery of the city. Most of the city’s working class had to settle for swimming in the polluted waters of the East River to refresh themselves. There were a lack of public swimming facilities in New York City. Central Park remained an elite playground for the city’s rich.
New York was an over-crowded city which was slowly being relieved by the expansion of the subway system to the outer boroughs of The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. To escape the suffocating heat and crowds of the city, the few working class people who could afford cars, drove out to Long Island for greener pastures and waters of Long Island Sound and the Atlantic.
There were two main obstacles that working class people faced. There were no highways between the city and Nassau and Suffolk counties of Long Island. There was only one road. It took hours to get out of the city and the roads were clogged. Once they were able to get out of the city, there was no place to rest. Long Island was the private property and feudal dominions of the Robber Baron ruling class. The shore of Long Island Sound was owned by dozens of Robber Barons. The meadows and wooded areas were also the private property of the ruling class elites.
When the working class would pull to a secluded and shaded stretch, police with guns and clubs would shoot and beat them up for trespassing. The same occurred when working class people had the audacity to swim in the private waters of Long Island Sound. It was not surprising that the ruling class elites felt threatened by thousands of working class trying to find relief from the city.
A political advisor to Smith recruited Robert Moses to solve the political problem. Smith and Moses took an immediate liking to each other, which was strange giving their mutual antipathy to the classes opposite to which they belonged. However, both men saw that they could use each other for their own purposes.
Smith explained that he wanted to build public parks and beaches for the city’s working classes. The Robber Barons were Republicans. The Long Island Republican party had controlled and dominated State politics until Smith’s remarkable win. Still, they controlled the legislature. Moses was most eager to help.
Moses came up with the idea to create a State Park and Beach Commission. It was the first Public Authority ever to be conceived of in the United States. Moses came up with a draft bill which Smith with his clever mind found ingenious. Robert Moses proposed to create the Long Island Beach Commission. The Commission would have the power to build parks and beaches all across Long Island. The Commission would have the full and extensive power of the State. Smith agreed to the plan.
Moses wrote the draft bill in the shrewdest manner. It was a bill more than 200 pages long. In the early pages of the bill, it appeared that the Governor would have the power to appoint the Commissioner of the Beach authority. It also suggested that the Authority would be under the control of the State. However, near the end of the drafted bill, it gave the Beach Commissioner absolute power and control which would not be subject to the jurisdiction of the Governor or State Legislature.
In essence, Moses created a parallel State. However, the details of were buried so far in the draft that it escaped detection. A grateful Smith appointed Moses Commissioner of the Long Island Beach Commission. A position Moses would occupy for more than 40 years.
MOSES VERSUS THE ROBBER BARONS
Moses was well aware that he had the power of God in his hands set out to work. He created the most elaborate system of public parks, beaches and highways the United States had ever seen. He had several ideas in the mind. First, he needed to get the land to build the State Parks and Beaches. Second, he needed to build a network of highways to get the masses of the city out to Long Island. He developed plans to build 14 State Parks in Western, Central and Eastern Long Island as well as the North and South Shores.
When Robert Moses looked on a map, he didn’t see people. He only saw empty spaces to build upon. It didn’t occur to him nor did it faze him in the least that the parks and beaches he wanted to develop were on the property of the richest and most powerful people in the United States. He had in mind to build the biggest parks to accommodate the millions of New York City residents who would use them.
The law which created the Long Island Beach Commission gave him unlimited power. It gave him more power than the State itself. When the Republican Robber Barons got wind of Moses’ plans they quickly tried to oppose him. He laughed in their faces and told them to go to Hell. He proceeded to declare all the lands to be confiscated and cleared in the name of “emminent domain”. Emminent Domain is a legal term used by municipal, State and Federal governments to take over private land and property for any use that they see fit.
The Robber Barons were not only incensed but in shock. How dare some unknown civil servant take over their property? To add insult to injury, he told them that they had no say over the matter at all. The Republicans who had passed the law creating the Long Island Beach Commission were convinced that they had the legal means to stop Moses. They told him that he was subject to the will of the State government. Moses laughed at them and told them to re-read the law.
To their utter astonishment, they realised that Moses was right. Moses as Commissioner of the Long Island Beach Commission could do what ever we wanted regarding the building of parks. Suddenly, thousands of acres of pristine land were snatched out of the hands of the Robber Barons. The Republicans complained and appealed to Governor Smith, who was not in any mood to hear it. It was sweet revenge and it was class warfare.
A delegation of Robber Barons went to Moses’ office in New York City to beg and plead with him. Moses, by all accounts was a nasty man. He seemed to hate everyone besides his wife and his coterie of assistants who were simply yes men and of course Al Smith. He not only insulted and rudely cursed out the Robber Barons; he also kicked them out of his office by physically threatening them.
In his book on Moses, Robert A. Caro recounts dozens of incidents throughout Moses’ career where he not only threatened people with physical harm but actually injured a few of them. Moses had a violent temper. He was a large man with a strong physique. No one except for a prize fighter could beat him in a fight, and no one dared to challenge him.
Never before had the Ruling Class elites been insulted, mistreated, abused and spit upon as Robert Moses had done to them. After all, they had long been used to politicians and State Officials in subservience to them. Things were only going to get worse for them.
When Moses announced his plans to build highways through the private lands of the Robber Barons, they quickly realised that they were facing the greatest threat to their wealth and power. The Republican Legislature quickly passed legislation to prevent the building of highways on Long Island. Smith vetoed the bill. In a rare move, the Legislature was able to override Smith’s veto. The Robber Barons thought they had at least won half the war. Moses might be able to take their land to build parks and beaches, but they were sure that without any highways, the masses of the city would be unable to use them
They were wrong. Moses simply altered his plans slightly. Rather than name them highways, they were named parkways. Since they had the word “park” in them and they were State projects, they fell under the domain of the Beach and Park authority. Robert Moses added little knolls of grass and a few bushes and shrubs next to the roads thus magically transforming them into Parkways.
The Robber Barons were horrified. There was no way to stop Moses. There was no legal recourse. Finally, the Robber Barons tried to wine and dine Moses. At a large working dinner, they convinced Moses to build his Parkways along the borders of their lands. Rather than cutting right in the heart of their lands, they looked at Real Estate maps to divide the sections which bordered one property to the next. Moses, with his British upper class sentiments was open to compromise. He would build the Parkways on the borders. He would also build fences between the parkways and the private property. He would ensure that the Beach and Park Authority Police, which he controlled, would prevent motorist from stopping in case they had the idea to trespass on the land. Finally, in properties that were still in the way of his roads, he would build overpasses above the parkways so that the Robber Barons could still ride horseback on their land.
The Robber Barons were lucky that they did not lose it all. However, their close brush with death signalled the end of their political domination over New York. The New York State Ruling Class suffered a setback which lasted for 40 years until they were able to regain control of the State politically in the 1960s with the election of Nelson Rockefeller.
MOSES VERSUS FDR ROUND ONE
What was most remarkable about Robert Moses was his ability to make enemies. He amassed so many enemies amongst the most powerful men in the United States over a 40 year period. He had defeated all of them except two. His biggest nemesis and the one who nearly destroyed him on two occasions was Franklin Delano Roosevelt , known in this article by his initials FDR.
I only mention their epic battles for two reasons. The first reason is that it’s a great political story about the two greatest political titans of American history. Never before and never since has there been a more epic political feud in American history as between these two men. They were after all, the two greatest political minds and figures in the United States.
The second reason why I mention it is that it’s a funny story and to show just how lucky Moses was. Moses almost lost it all. His war with FDR almost killed him physically. Had FDR defeated Moses in 1936, New York would have turned out differently.
Al Smith was the most progressive Governor that New York and quite arguably the United States ever had. He was the father of New York and American Social Democracy . He created the State University of New York public system which offered free tuition until Nelson Rockefeller became Governor in the 1960s. New York was the first state in the country to introduce public welfare. There were many other progressive achievements under Smith which go beyond the scope of this essay. Robert Moses actually drafted and wrote most of these laws for Smith.
Smith vacated the Governor’s office to run for President in 1928 which he lost. Smith was succeeded by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR and Moses hated each other on sight. FDR saw Moses as a Smith crony. FDR liked Smith but wanted to have his own administration.
When FDR arrived in Albany, he observed how Moses walked about town and the Statehouse as if he owned everything. Moses was used to entering the Governor’s office as he liked and when he wanted. FDR told him that he was now the boss and knocked Moses down a few notches. FDR kept Moses waiting outside his office for hours, sometimes instructing his secretary to tell Moses he had no time to see him.
Moses would yell and try to intimidate FDR. Though FDR was not a big man himself, he was much smarter than Moses. FDR would run rings around Moses leaving him spinning and confused. Moreover, FDR seemed to take a special delight in provoking Moses. Moses would swear at FDR and storm out of the office like a spoiled brat.
FDR was well aware of Moses’ power. There was one thing that the law did allow. It allowed the Governor, the sole power to hire and fire the Commissioner. However, since FDR entered office on the coattails of the very popular and successful fellow Democrat, he knew better than to fire Moses. Moses was Smith’s pet. If he touched Moses, then he touched Smith. FDR could not politically afford to fall out of favour with Smith or Tammany Hall in New York City. After all, FDR would never had been elected Governor without New York City.
FDR wanted to build more State Parks in his home region in the Mid- Hudson Valley. He also wanted more highways to be built linking that region with the city. FDR came up with his own proposals without Moses and the Long Island Beach and Park Commission. There was going to be a clash and it came.
When Moses got wind of FDR’s park plans, he reminded the Governor that as Commissioner of Long Island Beach and Parks and that the plans should come under his jurisdiction. FDR reminded Moses that as Governor of the State, he could do whatever he damned pleased. If he wanted to build a park without Moses or the Long Island Beach and Park Commission, that was his prerogative. Relations between the two men deteriorated.
FDR announced his own proposals for his Mid-Hudson Parks. His plan would be under the auspices of the State Department of Public Works. It was a deliberate slap to Moses. Moses on the other hand seeing the threat to his fiefdom threatened, whined and cried to the press. Moses argued for a new State Park Authority modelled after the Long Island Beach and Park Commission, should have the responsibility for building and regulating all parks. Since Moses had obvious success on Long Island, he should be appointed Commissioner. Moses lobbied everyone he knew to oppose FDR’s plans.
Moses called in a favour from Al Smith. Smith asked FDR why he wouldn’t let Moses take over the State Park Authority to develop the plan. FDR told Smith that he simply didn’t want Moses on the project. Also, he just didn’t like Moses. Moreover, there was no law that stated that all parks built by the State had to fall under the Park Authority. Smith asked FDR to re-consider. Smith and Moses then drafted another bill which closed the loophole. The new bill did two things. First, it stated that all parks built by the State had to be under the State Parks Authority. Second, it gave the State Parks Commissioner more powers over land development.
In the usual manner it was tucked away in a bill and passed. FDR was incensed and was about the fire Moses on the spot. However, FDR had bigger ambitions. Albany was only a temporary layover for his ultimate destination: The White House. He could not afford the time nor political energy to fight the nasty little prick. So, FDR signed the bill into law giving Robert Moses even more power. Moses was now the most powerful person in the State of New York. FDR let Moses have that little victory. However, FDR was not through yet. He was going to have his revenge. If he didn’t have it then, he would have it in the future. There was no doubt about it.
THE CONSOLIDATION OF POWER: TRIBOROUGH BRIDGE AND CITY PARKS
With Al Smith out of politics after his crushing defeat to Herbert Hoover in the 1928 Presidential Elections and having made enemies with FDR, Moses turned his attention to New York City. Smith still had influence within Tammany Hall so Robert Moses thought he would try his luck getting power in the city.
The problem was that the Great Depression struck. The city was devastated. The roaring 20s ended in a bang and crash. The prosperity of the decade and the further development of New York made life much easier for the working class. Moses’ highways, State Parks and Beaches increased the quality of life for all New Yorkers. The booming economy led to a real estate boom. Many of the children of immigrants were now assimilated white American citizens. Many flocked to the spacious pastures of The Bronx and Queens.
Tammany Hall was running on fumes. The boom economy made the workers more prosperous and less reliant on the neighbourhood bosses. The workers still voted Democrat out of habit. The workers enjoyed the boom times just like the Tammany Politicians did. The crash changed it all. Destitute workers resented the greed and criminal activities of Tammany. Tammany did not have enough money or jobs to bail people out of economic misery. Its days were numbered.
Moreover, good government reformers driven by the spirit of Puritanism which had infected the US like the emotional plague after the First World War finally gained strength in New York. The same spirit which led those to Prohibition of alcohol led them to fight against corruption in New York.
The Feds were cracking down on Tammany politicians known for running speak easies and bootlegging. Once again, during the boom times the majority of New Yorkers didn’t care but the Depression changed things quickly.
Fiorello LaGuardia ran as an anti-Tammany left wing reformist for Mayor of New York in 1933 and won. Robert Moses quickly latched on to LaGuardia. In typical fashion Moses convinced LaGuardia that the key to working class happiness in the city was to build recreational facilities. LaGuardia set up the Parks Department and appointed Moses Parks Commissioner.
Moses set out to renovate Central Park . He installed lights in the park. He built Tavern on the Green. He built the Delacorte Theatre where to this day free Shakespeare plays are staged. Moses also built the Wollman Ice Skating Rink. He built the swimming pools in the park.
Outside of Central Park Moses built all the playgrounds in the city. Before Moses, the children of New York had no option but to play in the streets. In addition to playgrounds, Moses built all the basketball and handball courts as well as baseball diamonds. Moses built dozens of swimming pools in each neighbourhood of the city. This was to accommodate the poor people who could not afford to go out to Jones Beach and the other beaches Moses had built on Long Island.
Moses built additional beaches within the city. He built Orchard Beach in The Bronx , which to this day remains the primary beach for the city’s Puerto Rican population. He also built Jacob Riis Park and Beach out in Rockaway.
Moses built additional parks throughout the city. He built the city’s largest park, Van Cortlandt up in The Bronx. He also built Bronx Park which houses The Bronx Zoo. The Bronx Zoo remains one of the best zoological gardens in the world today. His greatest park was Flushing Meadows Park in Queens. The land was marshland and ashes until he transformed it into one of the most interesting parks in the world. Flushing Meadows Park is the home of the U.S. Tennis Center, where the U.S. Open is held. Finally, Moses built Riverside Park on the western shore of Manhattan.
With the success of public parks and swimming facilities, Moses’ success was perceived to be that of LaGuardia’s. After all, LaGuardia was the Mayor and he had appointed Moses as Parks Commissioner. To this day, LaGuardia is considered to be the best mayor New York ever had. Indeed, Rudy Giuliani tried to model himself after LaGuardia. (It is beyond the scope of his essay to compare and contrast LaGuardia and Giuliani. It is only to be said that LaGuardia actually did more to benefit the poor and working classes of the city while Giuliani drove them out. Enough said.)
Robert Moses convinced LaGuardia that what the city needed most was a super bridge to link three boroughs. Once again Moses drafted a law which created the Triborough Bridge Authority. This was the first municipal Authority in the United States. We see that once again, Moses used the political ignorance of American politicians to obtain massive power. In theory, the Triborough Bridge Authority was a City agency. The reality was that Moses had created another parallel state which would have more power than the City itself.
The Triborough Bride remains one of the architectural wonders of the world. It is a Y shaped elevated highway consisting of 4 bridges linking 4 islands of New York to the mainland. Robert A. Caro derisively calls it the “world’s largest traffic machine.” That might be so, but it modernised the city and unified it. The Queens-Wards Island portion of the Triborough Bridge over Hell Gate remains one of the nicest promenades of the city which most tourists and natives are unaware of. It’s true that the Triborough Bridge during Rush Hour is a massive traffic jam. On the other hand, it is also a pedestrian bridge. One of the healthiest activities that a person in New York can do is walk or jog along the Triborough Bride between Harlem and Astoria with one of the greatest views one can see in the world.
The Triborough Bride Authority had its own toll booths and could charge as much as it wanted without regulation from the City and State of New York. It was from the tolls collected that Moses was able to build a financial empire which gave him power over the entire City and State governments. Moses became the de-factor power and money broker in the city and state. He not only lent oney to the City and State but he also lent money to the banks and ruling class elite in the city. The result was that Moses set up a quiet economic and political revolution.
Moses was the most successful Anarchist revolutionary. He saw no need to smash the State by force. He was a right wing Anarchist. He smashed the power of the State economically. He created an Authority which superseded the State. He not only bled the State dry but he made the State powerless. On the other hand, as a right wing Anarchist, he smashed the power of the city’s bourgeoisie. They lost all political and economic power over the City as they had over the State. Moses became the most powerful man in the City and State of New York. The billions of dollars he acquired over decades with unregulated tolls made him the biggest money lender in the State. The banks and rich became dependent upon Moses. As the old cliché goes, “He who pays the fiddler calls the tune.”
Moses was well aware of the corruption of the politicians and the greed of the bourgeoisie. With the capital and cash he accumulated with his Bridge and later Tunnel Authority, along with his genius for bill drafting, Moses seized power away from the State and the Bourgeoisie.
Moses was a man who detested everyone. He hated Black, white, poor and rich. When the city bourgeoisie tried to stop Moses, he smashed them. When Wall Street tried to stop Moses, he nearly destroyed it. New York capitalism was nearly destroyed by Robert Moses. Had Moses had his way with the Brooklyn Battery Bridge, New York would not be the global financial centre that it is today. The World Trade Center would have never been erected. There was only thing which saved the New York capitalist class from destruction by Robert Moses: President Roosevelt.
MOSES VERSUS FDR ROUND 2
There have been lots of political feuds throughout history. The modern era has had more than it’s share of them. However, as the principles of The Enlightenment and Humanism took root and Liberal Democracy was ascending, the feuds became less violent. They did not involve murder and death. However, the level of intrigue had not diminished.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt handled his political enemies effortlessly. Most of his enemies self destructed and he was able to outmanoeuvre them quite easily. Robert Moses befriended his enemies in order to gain their confidence before he turned on them. Roosevelt was a Liberal Democrat in the essence of the term. Moses was something else. There had never been and has yet to be anyone in the shape of Robert Moses. He was so devious and so slick that he would’ve made Machiavelli gasp. He was not in the spirit of his times. He was not a totalitarian. That was not his interest. He wasn’t a monarchist. Titles were simply licenses to power. Moses defies any Marxist classification. Moses was not a capitalist. Profit was not his motive. He could have become the world’s richest man. Instead he had a total combined income of about $20-25,000 in today’s value. Robert Moses did not represent any class interest. Moses comes closest to Anarchism. Naturally, many Anarchists will object but any critical observer of Anarchists will clearly see political traits of Robert Moses. This is a debatable point and digression.
Robert Moses ran for Governor of New York State as a Republican in 1934 and caused the State and City Republicans the biggest losses they had suffered until the 1980s. His personality was too nasty even for New Yorker’s tastes. He ranted and shouted. Unlike Hitler and Mussolini, he lacked rhetorical and oratorical skills. He pounded his fists when he talked. He ranted about Democrats in the same manner that Anarchists today rant about the State. What do most people do when they hear Anarchists rant? They get turned off. Moses had an abrasive voice, which in the age of radio, did not help him. He lost to Herbert Lehman in the largest Republican loss in New York State since the 1860s.
FDR being a shrewd politician decided it was time to settle accounts with Moses. As typical with Moses, the Triborough Bridge cost ten times the projections that Moses always insisted. The city did not have the funds to complete the construction of the bridge. LaGuardia applied to the Federal government and the Works Progress Administration for additional funds.
FDR told his Cabinet Secretary of the Interior that WPA funding would be conditional if Robert Moses was taken off of the Triborough Bridge Authority and if he was also fired as New York Parks Commissioner. The Secretary passed this on to LaGuardia who readily agreed.
LaGuardia hated Robert Moses. Both men were nasty. LaGuardia was a petty tyrant. However Moses dominated La Guardia. After all, the primary reason why LaGuardia was popular was due to the projects of Moses. Hence LaGuardia thought it was a good opportunity to get rid of Moses so to have all the power himself.
When Robert Moses discovered that FDR was out to smash him, he fell deadly ill. Moses was a very lucky man. LaGuardia was too clumsy and FDR was exposed. When the media heard that LaGuardia was about to fire the popular Parks Commissioner, LaGuardia acted like the ex- Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin . First he refused comment. Then he denied that he had any intentions to fire Moses. Next he said that he had thought about doing so. He cracked under pressure and blamed the WPA Secretary.
This became a national news story. The story was framed of an aggressive Federal government interfering with the affairs of a city. The WPA Secretary didn’t deny that he had stated that funding for the Triborough Bridge was conditional upon the resignation of Moses. The national press had a field day. The Secretary of course could not state that it was the President’s initiative.
The WPA was denounced in the media as Fascist. It smacked of Bolshevism. A Federal Bureaucracy was dictating who could be officials in New York City. Moses had cultivated relationship with the publishers of the New York Times. The New York Times was the personal propaganda organ for Robert Moses. Moses sent out a communiqué from the Triborough Bridge authority which stated that FDR was the instigator. FDR was on a personal crusade simply because he did not like Moses. It was the truth.
At this time, the City Bourgeoisie were supporters of Moses. Moses had taken them into his confidence only to turn on them later. The New York ruling class reminded FDR that he was the President of a Democracy. FDR could not use his office to carry out petty and personal political revenge. Robert Moses, the city’s bourgeoisie said, was the best thing that ever came along in New York. The decisive battle was when Moses had his back in the corner. FDR was about to crush him. In desperation Moses called in a favour from Al Smith. Al Smith publicly stated that he would be shocked that the President of the United States would try to remove a competent municipal administrator for personal or political motives. FDR surrendered. Moses kept his power and the PWA provided money for the Triborough Bridge. Robert Moses won round 2.
The Battle of the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge: FDR Versus Moses Round 3
It never fails to amaze me how stupid people are politically. All one has to do is observe each election in the Western World to see how deep the stupidity is. Time and time again, people support political figures that are not in their interests at all. It is obvious but apparently not to the majority of people. Moses was keenly aware of the public’s stupidity. In many ways, I can understand his contempt for the masses. I believe it was Henry David Thoreau who stated “The Masses are the asses.” If the politicians were stupid enough to give him absolute power without reading the details, why should he respect them? If the ruling class propped him up because they saw him as a class ally when it should have been otherwise obvious, why should he care about them? 5 years after being the life savers of Robert Moses, he made his move to destroy them.
It was time for Moses to have a sequel to the Triborough Bridge. He had already bullied LaGuardia into handing over the proposed Queens-Midtown Tunnel to the Triborough Bride Authority. That was the beginning of its permanent name: The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. However, Moses did not like to build many things underground. He wanted to project his grand ego onto the city landscape. For him a tunnel was simply a large tiled bathroom.
Moses decided to build the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge which would have linked South Brooklyn with the southern tip of Manhattan. However, under his proposal, Battery Park would be destroyed. It was to be the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world. It would have cut the edifice of the financial district. The image below shows what the bridge would have looked liked had it had been built.
The Ruling Class panicked. Battery Park was home to the original New York Aquarium. It was built within and around Castle Clinton, the old military fort, which still stands today and is the reason why the area is named Battery. It was the most popular attraction for native New Yorkers. The ruling class tried to stop Moses. He spit on them.
Wall Street was deeply alarmed. The bankers saw the threat to the property values in the financial district. The arm of the bridge would have cut right across South Ferry, Water and South Streets. The property assessors estimated that the property values would decline so far that eventually there would be nothing left of value. That meant the headquarters of Chase Manhattan and JP Morgan Banks as well as the New York Stock Exchange would see the value of their property bottom out. The Brooklyn Battery Bridge spelt the death of Wall Street.
Moses had the city under absolute control. During an extraordinary session of the municipal government, the entire Ruling Class; liberal, democrat, republican and conservative packed the chamber and demanded that the Board of Estimate not approve the Brooklyn Battery Bridge. The best lawyers of the city denounced the plans. For two hours, the Ruling Class attacked, charged and denounced Moses with arguments, statistics, and rhetoric in excel of anything ever seen before or since.
In reply, Moses brought the entire political, social, and economic Ruling Class of the city down to the dirt. He made vicious, nasty, cutting and devastating insults. He swore with the greatest of venom directly into their faces. He verbally assassinated the oldest member of the city’s ruling class. “He’s a shrivelled up prune!” Never before had the ruling elites of New York been spit upon, mocked and dismissed as Robert Moses had done.
The Board of Estimate passed the Brooklyn Battery Bridge unanimously in front of an astonished and castrated ruling class audience. It was clear who The Boss of New York was. However, the Ruling Class elites who had little political sense appealed to their great enemy, FDR for help.
A brief recap. In the early 1930s, Robert Moses was the great icon of Ruling Class Liberals and Reformers. When he was attacked with justification by FDR, they rushed to his defence against the Bolshevik President. Now that Moses had turned on them and threatened to kill them economically, they crawled on their hands and knees begging to FDR.
There was only one last hurdle for the Brooklyn Battery Bridge to pass. It had to get permission from the Navy Department. Usually the Navy wanted to be sure that the Bridge gave enough clearance room for its larger and taller ships. The bridge was certain to pass the clearance room. However, the Navy was part of the War Department. The President of the U.S. is the Commander-In-Chief of all armed forces.
The Ruling Class, now aware of their earlier political stupidity, realised it was time to bring Moses’ greatest enemy back on side. They appealed to Eleanor Roosevelt , who in her weekly nationally syndicated column asked Mr. Moses to re-consider his plans and listen to the concerns by people of the city.
FDR had Moses’ number and knew it quite well. He ordered a special personal Executive review of the plans. The bridge was going to get WPA funding. FDR failed with that strategy against Moses before. He decided to delay the Navy from making a decision. Moses fumed at the delays by the Navy. He personally phoned the Navy and had all of his close associates browbeat and harass the Navy with calls and telegrams. Moses stomped around Randall’s Island. The same Secretary of the Interior who had been used as FDR’s pawn against Moses was also keen to get the project approved one way or the other. He liked Moses personally and thought the bridge was a good idea. He pushed FDR until the latter simply stated that he just didn’t like it. When The Commander-In-Chief doesn’t like an idea it means that the Navy cannot approve it. The Navy rejected the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge for “national security” reasons. The old con line which still resonates today. It was a joke back in 1940 as it is today. Moses knew it. FDR won. Moses was forced to build the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Wall Street was saved from economic disaster. Battery Park remained.
Still, Moses had to remind the Ruling Class who was in charge of the city. He made up a false reason to demolish the Aquarium in Battery Park. Though the Ruling Class were saved economically they had lost all political influence. The great symbol of Bourgeois New York City was demolished. The demolition of the old New York Aquarium destroyed the ruling class emotionally. Tears of anguish ran down Wall Street and Park Avenue.