THE PARADOXICAL RELATIONSHIP WITH BLACK AND PUERTO RICANS
It was certainly true that Robert Moses despised Black and Puerto Rican people personally. Robert Moses did not want Black people going to Jones Beach in the 1920s. The Parkway police harassed Black drivers. When Blacks arrived at Jones Beach, they were directed to the far end of the Beach. They were kept far apart from white swimmers. The areas which Blacks were allotted did not have lockers and showers as the main part of the beach. The white beach patrollers would make sure that Blacks did not get close to the white areas. The same policy followed for the municipal pools which were under the control of the Parks Department. Blacks were not allowed to go to the pools in white neighbourhoods.
That was how things were in the US during the 1920s and 30s. The North has always boasted hypocritically that it didn’t have segregation as The South. America was and remains a segregated country. There are pockets of integration across the country but the US is by and large segregated. When FDR as Governor of New York was told about Moses’ racial policy at Jones Beach, didn’t respond or react. Fiorello LaGuardia was also notorious for his anti-Black racism. However LaGuardia found out by the end of the 1930’s that Harlem was a political force in the city.
The greatest paradox about Robert Moses was that he did more for the Black and Puerto Rican population of New York than any other politician has before or since. It was ironically his disdain of Black people which enabled them to become an organised and large political force in the city. It was the physical space which Moses had created for them formed the social and political forces which would one day result in the election of the city’s first Black Mayor.
As the city’s Blacks were gaining political power and were moving economically upward, many moved out of the over-crowded housing of Harlem and out into Brooklyn. There was large influx of Black migrants from the South who were desperately poor and needed housing. The State Constitution over which Al Smith presided added a clause compelling New York State to provide benefits and social assistance to the needy and poor. LaGuardia passed a municipal law to the same effect.
Between the end of the First World War until the end of the Second World War, hundreds of thousands of Blacks fled the South in terror and desperation. They migrated to the cities and towns in the Northern States. New York and Chicago were the destinations of the vast majority of these migrants. Both cities found themselves with a large Black population. New York became the largest Black city in the US. However Chicago had an elected dictatorship under Richard Daley while New York had the apolitical legislated dictatorship of Robert Moses. The results could not have been any more different.
When LaGuardia created the first Public Housing Projects of the city, he tried to find ways to build large numbers of housing for a couple of million low income residents of the city. Once again Moses drafted the legislation of the city’s second public authority. The New York City Housing Authority was created. Though Moses did not have seemingly any direct control, as City Planner (another authority that Moses shook LaGuardia down for), he could appoint the majority of members to the Housing Authority Board.
Moses has been castigated for the design of some of the New York City Housing Projects. However, the New York City Housing Authority accomodates more low-income people than any other city in the United States. Over 1 million people live in public housing in New York. That is quite an accomplishment. It is hardly enough but it is nevertheless impressive. The New York City Housing Authority has been the top ranked by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for decades.
With the exception of Vienna , Amsterdam and possibly some of the Scandinavian cities, Public Housing is generally inferior housing. They are meant to not to look aesthetically pleasing. They are meant for poor people. Most of the time, they are built far away from the rest of the central city. Generally, the building material is inferior. Oftentimes, there are mechanical failures. They are usually desolate zones of desperation and utter alienation.
In this respect, Moses housing projects have remained one of the most stable and successful public housing examples in the Western World. Moses never built anything shoddy or substandard. His ego wouldn’t allow for it. His job was to build housing for poor people. Moses wasn’t cheap. All of his projects cost up to hundreds of millions of dollars. Moses spent more money building housing projects in New York than anything other municipal authority in the United States. Chicago, by contrast, built its projects in the cheapest way possible.
Since the Housing Authority were flush with cash from the tolls collected from Moses’ bridges and tunnels, the result was many clusters of projects built all over the city with good materials. There was crime in many projects but not really any more than in the rest of the city. Heat and electricity were included in the rent. If neither heat nor hot water worked, the Housing Authority corrected it quickly. If vandals removed the lights from the elevators, the Authority always replaced them. With money coming from the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, cash was not a problem.
The locations of many of the housing projects are some of the best spots in the city. From 14 Street to the Brooklyn Bridge, the entire East Side waterfront is lined with projects that Moses built.
Most astonishing are the miles of housing projects which line the beaches of The Rockaways. Tens of thousands of poor people in New York with a beach front onto the Atlantic Ocean.
It would not be far-fetched if the reasoning behind building the projects along the Lower East Side banks of the East River was because the land value at the time was considered cheap. The Rockaways are the most remote part of New York City. On the weekend, it can take no less than 2 hours to reach Far Rockaway from Midtown Manhattan by subway. Moses built housing projects on a remote beach far away from everything. His racist motivation might have been to place tens of thousands of Blacks in exile away from civilisation out in Rockaway.
Nevertheless, there still remains a contradiction. Moses was an excellent swimmer. Jones Beach and the building of beaches was his primary passion. He loved beaches. He hated Black people. So why would he build housing on beaches for Black people? The same question runs with Orchard Beach. He built Orchard Beach on the northeast coast of The Bronx where Pelham Bay coincides with Long Island Sound. Orchard Beach became the primary beach of choice for the city’s Puerto Rican population. He did not intend for that but that was the result.
Robert Moses built most of the largest housing projects in Brooklyn . In a wide swath across Brooklyn are clusters of housing projects. However, there are surrounding streets with market housing. The majority of New York’s Blacks live in this “Black Belt”. It was here that Blacks were able to organise and rise politically not only within Brooklyn but along with Harlem, citywide.
These were probably not related to Moses’ motivation for building them. After all, even if Blacks were to one day able to obtain political power, if he were still in charge nothing would have changed regarding Moses’ power. In the event that it might and eventually did occur, then he would e dead. Either way, Moses had no interest pro or con against the political rights and organisation of Black people in the city.
I will compare Robert Moses with Richard Daley and the respective racisms. Daly did not only hate Black people but he intentionally kept them oppressed. When Daley built Chicago’s housing projects he intentionally designed them to be high-rise dog houses . For Daley, the projects were to be nothing more than caged zoos for the Black poor to live and suffer in. The Chicago Housing Authority was run by known crooks tied to Daley’s Democrat Party Machine in the city. The Chicago Housing Authority had no interest at all in public housing. The residents were simply animals to ignore and abuse. If a housing project’s boiler broke down, the attitude from the CHA was “too bad, so sad.” The housing projects of Chicago were purposely designed for misery and suffering.
Moses did not want to oppress Black people. He had no intention or desire to see Black people suffer and be miserable. Though he considered them to be apes, he did not build the projects to be the Primate’s House at The Bronx Zoo. He thought Blacks were inferior but did not build them inferior housing.
The Housing Authority put many Black people who needed emergency housing in empty apartments with market rent buildings all over the city. Whites were stunned to find Black people suddenly around them. Many of the Blacks were recent migrants from the south who were really poor. Robert Moses initiated a plan of forced integration throughout the city. This was part of one of the causes of the so-called “white flight” to the suburbs in the early 1960s.
Not all projects are equal. Some are really nice. Others are really bad. Most of them do not look very nice. However, they lack the squalor that you find in many Social Housing in North America and large parts of Western Europe. They are light years ahead of the Communist housing blocks found in Eastern Europe.
In the early 1990s, the Federal government had to take over the Chicago Housing Authority because of mismanagement. The Feds uncovered a stench of sordidness. Robert Moses’ NYCHA is the best managed and honest public housing agency in the United States.
Unlike Chicago, France and the UK, the housing projects of New York are places of relative social peace and calm. There have not been many reported serious incidents of social unrest in the New York projects. The NYCHA does not keep the projects in squalor. Most projects were built in close proximity to the subway. The residents of the projects were allowed free mobility. Even the projects built on Rockaway Beach are served by frequent subway service to and from the rest of the city.
In the enormously complex mind of Robert Moses, his individual racism was not manifested in the manner in which he built and established public housing for Black people. In the 1950s, the courts ruled that segregation in New York public housing was illegal. So a handful of projects were filled with Blacks, Irish, Jews and Puerto Ricans living together. However, that did not last very long as many of the Irish moved to the suburbs. However, the New York Housing Authority remains the only agency left in the US where hundreds of thousands of poor people are decently and adequately housed at affordable rent.
THE END OF ROBERT MOSES
The New York Times was for decades the PR firm for Robert Moses. However, the popular anger in the city was starting to build. The projects for his many highways destroyed and uprooted many neighbourhoods. The Bronx was destroyed by him. Moses was called “The Hitler of New York.” Moses’ political hero was actually Abraham Lincoln . That partly helps to explain his policy towards Blacks. Lincoln hated Blacks and did not believe them to be equal to whites yet he was forced to emancipate the slaves.
Moses faced two more political challenges. The first was against a young Liberal Republican Mayor by the name of John Lindsay . Lindsay ran against the entrenched Democrat Political Machine. After LaGuardia lost the mayoralty in New York in 1945, the Democrats came back. Tammany had been replaced with former American Communist Party members and graduates now accustomed to the political reality of Moses’ New York. Lindsay was elected in 1965.
He tried to bring Moses in line but the old lion devoured him. In one of the most incredible scenes ever played out in the New York Statehouse, Moses led Lindsay into a trap. Lindsay went to Albany thinking that he would find allies on the State level against Moses. However, Moses had controlled Albany for 40 years since Al Lewis. In his political coup-de-grace, Moses lured Lindsay to a special joint session of the State Assembly, Senate and Governor to hear Lindsay complain about Moses. It was one of the cruellest and most elaborate practical joke ever played out in and Democracy in the United States. Lindsay was laughed out of the Statehouse by the entire State Political establishment. Moses made a monkey out of Lindsay. The State political leaders set Lindsay up just to laugh and mock him publicly and politically. Lindsay was destroyed politically. Moses effortlessly isolated and de-clawed the Mayor of New York City. The Mayor of the World’s largest city at that time was wrecked because of one person. Robert Moses held more power over a Liberal Democratic State than anyone else in history.
Yet Moses had no political mass formation in the form of a party. He simply had Authority. He was politically and economically autonomous. The Parks, Beach and Bridge and Tunnel Authorities were his sole political and economic base. He was not even a profiteer. He had a modest salary of only $10,000 a year. He was not personally a rich man nor did he desire to accumulate personal wealth. Here comes another paradox.
Moses had acquired free capital from the State and City of New York. He used the tolls of his bridges, tunnels and parkways to accumulate close if not more than one billion dollars over 34 years. The capital that the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority accumulated was used to influence and obtain power. Moses wanted power for power’s sake. He did not have economic motivations. He cannot be called a capitalist by any stretch of the imagination. Rather he manipulated capitalism and politics to obtain absolute power. He could have become the world’s richest man. Instead he chose to be the most powerful man in the most powerful city and State in the US.
Nor was Moses in it for political power. He had no need to run as a politician. He learnt to legally manipulate the legislation that gave him more power than the State. Robert Moses smashed the power of municipal and state government.
The 1964-65 World’s Fair was his Waterloo. At the time, it was regarded as a fiasco but it remains today fondly remembered by New Yorkers who attended it. The New York Times turned against him. Lindsay fired him from all city commissionerships. Moses didn’t care. He still had his Bridge Authority. He built 3 more suspension bridges. Two of them linked Long Island with the mainland. The third bridge linked remote Staten Island to Brooklyn. This bridge, the Verranzano-Narrows reigned as the longest suspension bridge in the world for more than years and remains the longest suspension bridge in the United States.
The Rockefeller’s entered into politics. Nelson Rockefeller , a son of John D. was elected Governor of New York. Rockefeller was the beginning of the upstate Ruling Class to re-assert political power back in New York State. Rockefeller liked Moses but felt that it was time for Moses to retire. Moses refused. Rockefeller on many occasions asked Moses to retire. Moses said no. Rockefeller than plotted a plan.
Rockefeller wanted to invest more in public transit. He wanted all highways and public transit to be directly regulated by the State. Rockefeller announced plans to create a Metropolitan Transportation Authority which would be a State Authority in charge of regulating public transit in New York City and surrounding suburbs within the State.
Moses saw the warning sign. Moses had bleed public transit in the city dry with the costs of his highways and bridges. He wanted everyone to drive cars so he could keep his power. State investment in public transit was against Moses’ philosophy. Moses asked Rockefeller whether or not the MTA was a plot to remove him. Rockefeller at first reassured him.
Moses realising that the end was about to come jumped the gun. He went to the media and attacked Rockefeller. He then accused Rockefeller of having a conflict of interest because his brother David was the head of the family owned Chase Manhattan Bank. That was a fatal provocation.
Nelson Rockefeller was a man of great ambition. He was keen to become President. He was going to have to build a political legacy to become a contender for President. He was not a man to cross politically. Though he and his brother had inherited their grandfather’s wealth, who obtained that illegally, the children acted within the law. Rockefeller could’ve tolerated a direct personal attack. He wouldn’t tolerate having his brother brought down to the dirt with implications of criminality.
The Governor had made up his mind. Moses had to go. He was still willing to help Moses save face. The MTA would take over the Triborough Bride and Tunnel Authority. Moses would still be able to have his office on Randall’s Island but he would have no decision making power. Moses refused and threatened to resign. Rockefeller fired him. All his power was snatched away. Liberal Democracy had finally regained legitimacy on the State level. The Governor was once again the most powerful figure politically in the State. Supreme power no longer rested with an un-elected and unaccountable Commissioner of Parks, Beaches and Bridges.
ROBERT MOSES’ LEGACY: ANARCHY IN NYC
The fall of Robert Moses created a power vacuum in New York City. Suddenly the most powerful figure, The Boss was gone. Mayor Lindsay was rendered impotent by Moses’ last power play. The humiliation of Lindsay had knock on effects throughout the city. The Mayor was seen as a joker. Authority became a joke. New York entered a period of 15 years of anarchy.
The development which has baffled criminologists and sociologists alike was the absolute breakdown of authority in New York between 1967 and 1982. The city government and its principal agency of social control, the police force, had lost control over the city. The people of New York no longer obeyed the law or authority. The government and the police were rendered impotent in the face of such defiance.
Not long after the fall of Robert Moses, New York was hit by its first power failure. The 1968 Blackout was quite symbolic of the Moses’ power being suddenly clipped. The same year, Black parents, emboldened in defiance by the Teacher’s Strike, organised student strikes to demand community control of the schools. Parents of Black pupils withdrew their children and kept them home. Blacks occupied school buildings and the Board of Education Headquarters to demand community control over the schools. The Board of Education ceded to the demands and the birth of Community School Boards in New York came about. This was followed up with the demands to end segregation in the City University of New York. City College, Hunter College and Queens College within CUNY were shut off to Black students. Radical direct action ended racial segregation within the City University system. Also in 1968, New York City public schools were hit by a crippling strike by the teachers. It was the largest strike ever staged by teachers in the United States. Close to half the academic year was lost due to the strike. The United Federation of Teachers became a political and potent force in the city and remains so today. Columbia University was rocked by violent student protests. The following year 1969 came the Stonewall Uprising and the beginning of the Gay and Lesbian political movement. The economic collapse of Industrial Capitalism in 1973 was one of the factors that led to a decade long depression in New York. The subway started to disintegrate. Public transit bus service deteriorated. A cultural response to the social and economic disaster was to express resistance to the system which produced the crisis. The appearance and subsequent explosion of Graffiti was nothing other than young people saying “Fuck You!” to authority. With rising and mass unemployment and little economic prospects, the crime rate increased dramatically in New York. Crime was and remains caused by economic deprivation. People were so poor that some resorted to stealing light bulbs from elevators and subway stations. John Lindsay’s political career ended in 1973 when Abraham Beame was elected Mayor. Beame took office and saw that the city had no money left. The Board of Estimate had no choice but to cut back as much as possible. Sanitation took the biggest cut. The city could no longer afford to keep the streets clean. Rubbish removal was reduced to once a week in affluent areas and bi-weekly in most other areas. The city lacked money to finance the subways and buses.
Beame went to Albany to beg for money but the State was nearly as strapped as the city. Moreover, the Upstate Republicans who controlled the State government wanted to see New York City die anyway.
By 1975, the Nixon fiasco had just passed. Gerald Ford was President and Nelson Rockefeller was Vice President. Since Rockefeller was appointed Ford’s VP directly from the Governor’s seat, Beame went to Washington, D.C. to lobby Rockefeller. Rockefeller promised to send emergency funding to the city. These were the good old days when the Vice President had little power, a decade before the George H. Bush Vice Presidency and 3 decades before Dick Cheney’s. Back in the 1970’s, the President was still the one in charge of the White House. Ford refused to sign any executive order to bail out New York City. The results of that decision created what remains the most famous headline from the tabloid New York Daily News: “Ford To City: Drop Dead”. Both the Federal and State governments had decided to let New York City die economically.
There was no authority what so ever vis-à-vis New York City. The City government was bankrupt. The police force had no money and corruption was so deep, that in certain parts of the city, entire police precincts were places where drugs were dealt and bought. The police officers themselves were breaking the very laws they were paid to uphold and protect. There was no State authority because the State Government wanted nothing to do with the city. It showed no interest in running or managing New York City. There wasn’t any Federal authority because the Federal government pursued a policy to let the largest city in the country to collapse. The President, Governor and leaders of the State Legislature were all Republicans.
1976 was the most critical year of the city. The financial Bond rating companies were about to downgrade the city’s bonds to 0 value. That meant that New York City would not have been able to borrow money. Donald Trump entered the scene and bailed out the city. For the first time since the end of the First World War, the bourgeoisie was back in power. Since Donald Trump re-financed the city out of his own pockets, he had in effect bought it. Donald Trump replaced Robert Moses as The Boss of New York. On the Federal level, Rockefeller was furious with Ford for leaving New York City to die. Ford then made the fatal mistake of dropping Rockefeller from the ticket in the 1976 election. Rockefeller saw his ambitions to become President sunk and his political career unceremoniously destroyed. He vowed revenge against Ford. Rockefeller twisted the arms of every Republican county boss in New York State. In one of the closest Presidential elections, Jimmy Carter narrowly beat Ford. Carter won New York State, still the largest at the time, and Ford went into history as the only un-elected President of the United States. (George W. Bush was the second un-elected President legally speaking but not officially.)
1977 was an election year for Mayor of New York. There was no way that Beame would run again. He was considered to be the worst mayor the city ever had. The entire Democrat Party establishment ran for Mayor. The Democrat bosses of all the boroughs ran. By the 1950s, Harlem had taken control of Manhattan politically. Blacks were the most powerful political group in Manhattan. Percy Sutton, the Black Manhattan Borough President was one of the contenders. The two other main contenders were Mario Cuomo and a Greenwich Village Congressman named Ed Koch. 7 people ran for Mayor of New York in 1977. Koch came out on top. 9 years after the fall of Robert Moses, the city had fallen into such disarray and the political and power vacuum so acute that 7 people, all from the same party competed for the top spot of political power in the city.
There was another Blackout in 1977 . A psycho serial killer who called himself the Son of Sam struck terror in the city. The Bronx went up in flames.
Crooked landlords paid arsonists to burn down their buildings in The Bronx so that they could collect insurance money. No one obeyed the law. From the top to the bottom of New York society, authority was non-existent.
Ed Koch spent his first term as Mayor like most people in New York in the late 70s did. He partied, danced, had sex and took drugs. It was an open secret that Koch was gay. He was never open about it politically but everyone knew. Particularly with those who were in the Disco scene. Koch was famous for having sex with as many men as possible. Gay men in the Disco scene liked to boast that they had slept with the Mayor. Mayor Koch and the Disco scene was a direct political and cultural result of the Stonewall Uprising.
Koch partied through his first mandate and easily won re-election in 1981. Between 1977 and 1981, New York had reached its bottom. The murder rate was the highest in the western world. Muggings, slashing, robberies had become epidemic. Back in 1973, Rockefeller emptied the State Mental Wards. Beame followed suit in 1974. Thousands of psychopaths, homicidal and criminally insane, descended onto the streets of New York. Robert Moses died in 1981 at the top of the city’s anarchistic period.
Despite the epitome of anarchy, New York underwent its greatest cultural and artistic revolution since the Harlem Renaissance and Tin Pan Alley of the 1920s. Punk, New Wave and Hip Hop were the cultural results of the city’s anarchy. Despite the fear and terror of criminality, the young people of city danced, djayed, rapped, made music and created graffiti art.
Koch was not serious about being Mayor. He became Mayor for two reasons: The first was that as Hizzoner, he would be able to get into the best clubs and Discos for free as well as to get laid anytime he wanted. The second reason was that City Hall was only a stepping stone for the State House. In 1982, he ran for Governor. In the Democratic Primary, he faced off again with his old nemesis, Mario Cuomo . Cuomo went on the win and would remain Governor for 12 years. Cuomo and Koch made a pact. Cuomo would never again run for Mayor and Koch would never again run for Governor.
It was at the end of 1982 that Koch got serious about running the city of New York. It was Koch, who by 1983 reasserted authority of the city. His first crackdown was against Graffiti. The Transit Police were directed to take excessive measures against Graffiti artists. Koch began to demonise and portray Graffiti artists as the most dangerous criminal villains. The result of this crackdown was the first death of a Graffiti artist, Michael Stewart , who was hog tied and beaten to death by the Transit Police. By the beginning of 1989, the subways were clean of graffiti.
It was during Koch’s second term that the Ruling Class managed to regain complete control over the city. Donald Trump had all but in name owned the Title and Deed of New York City. The banks, real estate and insurance industries networked together. With Robert Moses dead and out of power, the New York capitalist class was able to dominate and call the shots once again. The bankers and real estate establishment began plans to remove the city’s poor, Black and Latino population. Luxury condos were built. Landlords who owned rent-controlled buildings would keep apartments vacant until most of the units in the buildings were empty. Then the landlords converted them into Condos. The homeless crisis in New York was artificially created. There was always more than enough apartments to house everyone. However, profit and not affordable housing became the new economic and political law of New York. Real Estate prices increased. Rents became astronomical. No affordable housing was built. More and more homeless started to populate the streets of New York.
Crime started to decrease by 1989 and declined steadily for a decade. Giuliani took the credit for it but the crime rate dropped mostly during the David Dinkins years of 1990-1993. What was remarkable was that despite the heavy economic burdens of the city, the municipal government did not cut welfare or other social services. That began when Dinkins was Mayor, who by the time, had to do whatever Donald Trump and the other bankers told him to do. Of course Giuliani followed and the implementation of the Corporate Feudal State with the economic ethnic cleansing of the poor, Black and Latino people of New York. The rest of the story continues to the present.
Robert Moses built and made New York City. The aesthetic of New York is that of Robert Moses. Moses was one of the greatest, if not the greatest builder in the history of the world. The world class and famous city became so almost exclusively because of Robert Moses. When one flies in or out of the two airports within the city, one is in a Moses structure. When one takes a taxi to or from JFK and LaGuardia Airports, the highways that one drives upon were built by Moses. The United Nations headquarters was built by Robert Moses. When one drives into New York from all directions, 3 of the vehicular tunnels were built by Moses. When one drives through New York City on any Interstate, one is on Moses ground. When one watched the New York Mets play at Shea Stadium (until 2009) or watches the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, one sits in a Robert Moses structure. The Central Park Zoo, The Bronx Zoo and the New York Aquarium are all the results of Robert Moses. When one goes to Grant’s Tomb or takes a stroll through Riverside Park, one is on Moses ground. All that remains interesting and good to this day in New York is the result of Robert Moses.
The biggest lie told by the reactionary right and supporters of Giuliani is how New York’s Liberal Social Welfare system left the city bankrupt. The second biggest lie they tell, is that civil rights led to a breakdown in respect for authority. This was a statement that Tony Blair made back in 2004.
Of all the reactionary cheerleaders and supporters of Rudy Giuliani, John Leo is the most honest. Leo is a syndicated right wing columnist. In an article defending Giuliani , Leo detailed the political, social and economic reality of the city before Giuliani, just as I have done. Leo is absolutely correct about New York City. I can respect an honest review. However, he and I disagree about the legacy of Giuliani.
My point is this. It was not Liberal “Socialistic” programs which bankrupt New York City. Nor was it due to the misguided politics of left wing Democrats. No. Robert Moses was single-handedly responsible for it. It was the building of his bridges, highways, tunnels and World’s Fair which bankrupt the city. As we see clearly, Robert Moses was a right wing Republican. He was not some lefty quasi-Socialist. Moses used to scam the city by reassuring nervous Mayors and Comptrollers alike that his projects wouldn’t “cost the city a penny.” He was linguistically correct. His projects didn’t cost New York one penny but rather billions of pennies.
An example was the construction of Riverside Park. Moses would always underestimate the costs. He would browbeat the city to raise million dollar bonds. The money would run out. Riverside Park was only half completed when he would ask the city for more money. When the City Comptroller would refuse, Moses would say fine but he was not going to clear up the construction work. The Comptroller and Mayor were faced with a dilemma. Give Moses more money or let a huge chunk of the city lie torn apart. The politicians always gave in.
With Moses sucking the city’s finances dry, the city could not spend money on keeping the aging subways in repair. Other essential services had to be scaled back. By 1976, 8 years after the fall of Moses, the city went bankrupt. The blame lies squarely at the feet of Robert Moses. It had nothing to do with Socialism or Liberalism.
This logically leads to the issue of social disorder and the practical disappearance of authority. As I have tried to show in this essay, Government authority in New York City and State had vanished by 1940. That was the doing of Robert Moses and the fault of stupid and gullible Republican Party politicians. Robert Moses single-handedly destroyed the authority of two levels of government and that of the entire bourgeois class. The only authority in the city and state of New York was the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority
When Robert Moses was removed by Rockefeller in 1968, the only figure of authority in the city was gone. When the head is cut off, the body dies. The economic collapse of industrial capitalism hit all of the Western Industrial countries and had nothing to do with Robert Moses. However, due to Moses, the economic crisis hit New York especially hard. With the city bankrupt and the loss of jobs severe, crime was bound to increase. Combined with the Republican Rockefeller releasing all the mental inmates, violence also increased. It was two Republican Party politicians who removed Moses. The breakdown of authority in New York City occurred on the watch of a Republican Mayor and Governor. It was not the results of liberals or Democrats.
On to the issues of race and class, Robert Moses inadvertently helped the Blacks of New York politically. Moses did nothing to take away the social and political rights of Blacks. He actually increased the quality of life for Black New Yorkers. Giuliani was the exact opposite. Giuliani ran on a campaign to oppress Blacks. On the first day as Mayor he publicly stated that the poor should move out of the city. Robert Moses benefited the poor and Black people of the city. Giuliani repressed and oppressed them. The vast majority of Robert Moses’ the victims were working class whites of The Bronx and Brooklyn to the white capitalist Robber Barons of Long Island.
In his book, Caro gives a glaring contradiction in his analysis of Robert Moses. On one hand Caro shows Moses’ racism but then later he himself insinuates a racist point. Caro blames Moses for bringing poor Black people in middle class white areas of the city. Caro perpetuates the justification for white flight out of the city. By bringing in poor Black criminals into stable middle class white areas, whites fled, neighbourhoods became slums and the crime rate increased.
Robert Moses did more to integrate New York racially than anybody else in the history of the city. And thank goodness for Moses’ clever law making because the only reason why Black and Latinos will remain in Harlem is because of his housing projects. The only reason why the city’s poor Black and Latino population will not be economically cleansed in the foreseeable feature is due to the housing projects that Moses built. The most important legacy of Robert Moses is that he has ensured that poor, Black and Latino people will have a right to live and stay in New York City. Within 10 years from now all the privately owned apartment buildings in Harlem will be cleansed of Blacks and Puerto Ricans. However, those will remain in the projects. The same is true on the Lower East Side. The only reason why the L.E.S. has not been 100% gentrified to due of the housing projects that Moses built.
Make no mistake about it. The bankers and real estate elites, as you read this, are formulating schemes to either tear down public housing or to convert them to market rate units of wealthy people. For the past 15 years there have been various and serious attempts to do so. However, Moses’ law creating the New York City Housing Authority makes it almost impossible. Giuliani had a scheme that involved first forcing all NYPD officers to live in public housing. Then he planned to offer cheap or free housing to police officers in the projects. All of his plans failed. First, the cops and their families would sooner jump in front of a subway train than to live in the projects. Second, though police officers do not make a large salary, they are hardly low-income. Legally, public housing is for low-income people only. To allow the police and their families into public housing would contravene the law. To change the law would be very complicated and tricky given how Robert Moses had written it. The current Mayor, Michael Bloomberg is probably trying to figure out a way to dismantle public housing. He could try a clever scheme in the same manner as he destroyed the Board of Education. However, that would require action on part of the State government. Given that the Governor is now a Black Democrat from The Bronx and the Speaker of the State Assembly is from the Lower East Side that looks unlikely to occur. The Speaker of the Assembly is Sheldon Silver . Half if not more than half of his constituents live in the public housing projects of the Lower East Side. That would be political suicide. But then of course, everyone has a price to pay for the Billion Dollar Mayor.
There are more than one million public housing residents of New York City. To remove one million people would be too risky in any democracy including a sham one as in the US today. Most people in the projects do not vote. This was most evident in the 1993 Mayoral election which Giuliani won. If all the residents of only two housing projects voted, Giuliani would never have become Mayor of New York. As I stated above, it was the housing projects of Harlem that gave Blacks the political power in New York. If any politician tried to abolish public housing, they would face two serious revolts from the projects. First, they would face electoral revolt and they could possibly face violent revolt. Thanks to Robert Moses, poor Blacks and Latinos have an emergency resource in the ballot and have a physical mass that can be potentially revolutionary.
Although Robert Moses destroyed the most beautiful borough of the city, the long term consequences are positive. The Bronx remains the only part of New York City which hasn’t changed politically or socially. Gentrification is barely making its way into The Bronx. The Bronx will be the last part of New York City to be cleansed of poor, Blacks and Latinos. The Cross Bronx Expressway has reduced property values and kept them at the bottom. Not even the most devious and slick Real Estate crooks can manipulate or change that. The Bronx remains the most left wing part of New York City. It is also a potentially revolutionary part of the city that the Corporate Feudal rulers of the city should tread with extreme caution.
The world’s most popular music today, Hip Hop was a creation of both the IRT subway trains and the housing projects of Robert Moses. In fact, due to the bankruptcy of the city, many of the youth in the projects took up Djaying, break dancing and rapping. Old School Hip Hop and Rap is also the aesthetic of Robert Moses. The Blacks lived in his housing projects. Their social development, language and culture were created in the projects. This is probably one of the biggest indirect cultural legacies of Robert Moses.
New York has many highways, 95% of them built by Robert Moses. However, New York is not Los Angeles, Toronto or Atlanta. With the exception of The Bronx and parts of Queens, highways take up very little of the city’s urban surface. One can walk in Manhattan and never encounter a highway. When most people think of New York, highways are the last thing that comes to mind. New York connotes skyscrapers, bridges and subways. Indeed, when one flies over New York landing into Moses built LaGuardia Airport; one does not see highways all over the landscape. Moses is blamed for turning New York into one giant highway. I do not see it. The highways are there but New York remains a public transit and pedestrian city rather than a motor city.
Finally, New York (Manhattan in particular) has turned into and is turning into an artificial Walt Disney World. The structures and parks of Robert Moses have prevented and will prevent New York from turning into a plastic and fake city. New York is socially and culturally plastic today. Anyone that knows New York for decades will easily see this obvious fact. Though Giuliani and Bloomberg have politically and socially turned New York into Indianapolis and Cincinnati , they will never be able to turn the city physically into a provincial American city. To destroy the real New York would entail destroying the entire city edifice. The World Trade Center was built by the Rockefeller’s after Moses was removed. Had Moses not been thwarted by Franklin Roosevelt to build the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge, the twin towers would never have been built. Or if they had been, their location would have been different.
Robert Moses was a mean, nasty and vicious man. He was a racist and held all people from all races and classes in utter contempt. He subverted democracy yet he made New York into the most liberal and free society the world has ever known. He smashed the Ruling Class yet at the same time he made the material life for poor and working class people the best in North America. He displaced close to a half million people with two of his highways yet he provided one million poor people housing. Most importantly, Moses never built anything for the corporations. All of his developments were for the public interest, not the private sector.
I am a child and product of Robert Moses. The New York City that I was born and raised in was that of Robert Moses. The New York City that I love and miss was the design of Robert Moses. I used to go twice a year to Jones Beach. I am fan of the New York Mets baseball club and Shea Stadium is part of my identity. Today Shea Stadium has been torn down and replaced with Citi Field named after CitiBank. My favourite park in the world is Flushing Meadows Park. The first ten years of my life, I lived in an anarchist city where there was no authority. Is it any wonder that I detest authority and refuse to abide to conformity? My city was destroyed by Rudy Giuliani. If Robert Moses had been around during the Giuliani years, he would have destroyed him. Long live Robert Moses! Long live New York!