Gaynor was born in Whitesboro, He married in 1874 and was Gaynor first came to public Among working men and women, He loved dining with friends Yet all Gaynor’s philosophy In 1909, Tammany boss Charles On Election Day, Gaynor Gaynor’s marriage with During lulls in his office Dear Sir: Very truly Others received In August 1910, James Gallagher, The bullet The city’s Gaynor worked The lieutenant Becker’s Becker probably By then, Gaynor’s On Sept. 4, His official
NY, on Feb. 2, 1848. He spent four years in the Christian Brothers as Brother
Adrian Denys. The experience left him with a taste for the Stoics, particularly
Epictetus; Don Quixote, which he ranked second only to the Bible; and
the autobiographies of Benjamin Franklin and Benvenuto Cellini. He read law
for about two years and was admitted to the New York bar in 1871. Then he worked
briefly as a reporter for the Brooklyn Argus before hanging out his shingle
divorced seven years later on the only grounds then available in New York: adultery.
In 1886, he married Augusta C. Mayer, a beautiful woman, gracious, domestic
and fond of society. The marriage endured despite Gaynor’s temper, although
Philip Kohler, one of Gaynor’s secretaries, insisted there was a slug in
the woodwork of the Gaynors’ front hall that she had fired at the judge
in a moment of anger and missed. He represented such men as Shifty Hughie McCarthy
who, as Lately Thomas wrote in The Mayor Who Mastered New York, was "always
in trouble, suspected of everything, and usually guilty." He also represented
saloonkeepers accused of violating the Sunday opening laws. He became a superb
trial lawyer, cutting quickly to the heart of a lawsuit through thorough preparation,
cold logic and terse, colloquial presentation.
notice after investigating election frauds in Coney Island, when he jailed John
Y. McKane, the local Democratic boss who had once elected himself Gravesend
town supervisor, land commissioner, chairman of the water, tax and excise boards,
and chief of police–all at the same time. Elected to the New York Supreme
Court in 1893 and reelected in 1907, Gaynor proved an extreme libertarian; he
was "…a primitive American and really believed in the Bill of Rights,"
the Globe wrote. "These things did not represent sentimental nonsense
to him nor did he regard them as impractical abstractions." He thoroughly
believed in not interfering with people who lived as they wanted without disturbing
their neighbors. He believed people should spend Sunday as they wished. He often
released boys and young men arrested for playing ball on Sunday. He was tolerant
of backsliding from the stricter moral codes. He did not believe men would be
transformed into angels, at least in his time, and lacked patience for those
who insisted on its immediate possibility.
he was at ease, and chatted easily with the uneducated of farming or work or
politics. Among his intellectual equals, he was a genial and fascinating conversationalist.
If a reporter caught him on a good day, as did a reporter from the World
who met him at his Long Island summer home, he would murmur, "Well, if
you have to interview me, let’s step inside and go to work on it like mechanics."
There he took out two tumblers and uncorked the "Old Senator."
over a bottle of champagne, talking about history, politics, literature, the
law and whatever came to mind. His capacity for spirits was bottomless and seemed
only to sharpen his tongue. Ira Bamberger, a lawyer and friend, once spent the
evening at dinner with the judge. As Thomas wrote, "their talk lasted well
into the night, and more than one cork was popped." Bamberger had a case
on Gaynor’s calendar the next morning. Bamberger missed the first call.
He staggered late into court, evidencing the kind of hangover in which the growth
of one’s hair is an agony. Judge Gaynor called Bamberger up to the bench
and rebuked him for his lateness, concluding, "From your appearance, you
would seem to have fallen among bad companions."
could not bridle his bad temper. Years later, reporters who had covered City
Hall during the administrations of Gaynor and La Guardia agreed hands-down that
Gaynor’s capacity for sustained, epic, imaginative profanity, rich with
allusion, imagery and metaphor, made the Little Flower look like a sissy.
F. Murphy began figuring how the party might keep City Hall at that year’s
elections. He chose Gaynor, somehow believing he could be controlled. This was
a mistake. The Republicans nominated Otto Bannard, a wealthy, colorless banker,
and a strong ticket with him. Then William Randolph Hearst, the publisher, who
had unsuccessfully run for president in 1904, mayor in 1905 and governor in
1906, announced his independent candidacy. Gaynor found his 30 years’ public
service meant nothing. Only the World and the New York Press endorsed
him. The Times called his nomination "a scandal." Gaynor’s
opponents called him "a symbol for everything that is indecent and disgusting,"
"a poor, I will go further and say a bad judge," "a hypocrite,"
"a learned fraud," "mentally cross-eyed," "incapable
of telling the truth." The press said that no campaign had ever been fought
on such low terms (then, as now, political reporters had no memories or sense
polled 43 percent of the vote; Bannard 30 percent; and Hearst 27 percent. Hearst
never forgave him. Of course, Gaynor had said, "Hearst’s face almost
makes me want to puke."
Tammany was short-lived because he appointed qualified officials regardless
of party ties. Without patronage, Tammany was on a starvation diet. "What
do we have for Charlie Murphy?" a colleague once asked. "A few kind
words," the Mayor replied.
routine, Gaynor buzzed for a stenographer, took a basket of letters and began
dictating. Most correspondents received such letters as:
I thank you very much for your kind and encouraging letter of March 31.
more individual replies: "Dear Sir: I care nothing for common rumor, and
I guess you made up the rumor in this case yourself. Very truly yours, W.J.
Gaynor, Mayor." "Dear Sir: Your letter is at hand and I have read
enough of it to see that you are a mere scamp. Nonetheless, I sometimes derive
profit from the sayings and doings of scamps. Very truly yours, W.J. Gaynor,
Mayor." "Dear Madam: I regret to say that I do not know anyone I can
recommend to you as a husband. You can doubtless make a better selection than
I can, as you know the kind of man you want. Of course, it may be very hard
to find him, but no harder for you than for me. Very truly yours, W.J. Gaynor,
Mayor." "Dear Sir: I am very glad to receive your letter and your
poem. The poem is very fine but your advice is very bad. Very truly yours, W.J.
Gaynor, Mayor." "Dear Sir: No, I do not want a bear. Very truly yours,
W.J. Gaynor, Mayor."
Gaynor took a vacation and booked passage for Europe on the Kaiser Wilhelm
der Grosse. He was chatting on deck when an unkempt man rushed up behind
him, shouted, "You have taken away my bread and butter," put a pistol
to the back of Gaynor’s neck just below the right ear and fired. The World’s
photographer just kept snapping pictures. Andy Logan, in Against the Evidence,
notes that Charles Chapin, the Evening World’s renowned and sadistic
editor, rejoiced at the photographs: "Blood all over him, and an exclusive,
too!" Then they rushed him to in St. Mary’s Hospital in Hoboken, where
he remained for two weeks.
the gunman, had been fired by the Docks Dept. three weeks earlier. When Herbert
Bayard Swope, a World reporter, interviewed him in jail, he asked Gallagher
which paper he read, expecting it would be either the Journal or the
American, the Hearst papers. "The Times," Gallagher
lodged in the vault of Gaynor’s larynx and, on doctors’ advice, was
not removed. Nonetheless, it brought on frequent fits of exhausting coughing.
He became more difficult.
better element had long since decided vice and its companion, police corruption,
were New York’s great problems. To professional reformers like the Rev.
Charles Parkhurst, this meant eradicating prostitution and gambling. Somehow,
it also meant rigidly enforcing Sunday closing laws, which meant denying the
public any entertainments on their one day off. To Gaynor, Parkhurst and his
ilk were self-righteous busybodies. Once, when Gaynor was introduced to William
Sheafe Chase, a Sunday law enforcement fanatic who affected the ecclesiastical
title of Canon, Gaynor refused his extended hand, saying, "Canon? You’re
no canon. You’re only a popgun."
hard to reform the police. He stopped warrantless raids. He stopped much police
brutality, such as using clubs on children and passersby to clear the streets.
However, his police commissioner, Rhinelander Waldo, was clueless. Waldo was
a wealthy baby-faced 34-year-old blueblood descended from among the earliest
Dutch settlers. A West Point graduate who had fought in the Philippines, Waldo
was honest, energetic and enthusiastic, with beautiful manners. That was about
it. This is why his three senior deputies were grafters. Indeed, his chief of
staff, Winfield Sheehan, was a Sullivanite, one of the three men controlling
illegal gambling in the city.
commanding the vice squad, Charles Becker, was a brutal, corrupt thug, a slugger
and grafter throughout his career. Upon his appointment, Becker negotiated a
protection racket with Bald Jack Rose (a leading gambler and fixer, Rose suffered
from alopecia: he had not one strand of hair on his body), who within 10 months
had passed Becker roughly $640,000 in graft–about $10 million today.
fatal error was dealing with Herman Rosenthal, a loud-mouthed Lower East Side
gambler. When Becker was forced to raid Rosenthal’s place, Rosenthal complained
to Swope. On July 14, 1912, Swope’s story filled most of the World’s
first two pages. It focused on Becker and his alleged partnership with Rosenthal
in a gambling house. Shortly before 2 a.m. on July 16, 1912, a man stepped into
the lobby of the Metropole Hotel and said, "Can you come outside a minute,
Herman?" Rosenthal, who had been chatting with acquaintances, stepped through
the revolving door into the steamy summer night. Hitmen shot Rosenthal four
times at close range–in the neck, in the nose, and twice in the side of
the head, killing him very dead.
had not known about the hit: other gamblers wanted Rosenthal silenced. Nonetheless,
New York County District Attorney Charles S. Whitman had Becker arrested, indicted,
convicted and executed for the murder on July 30, 1915.
career was over. Tammany Hall refused to renominate him in 1913. The Republican-Fusionists
nominated John Purroy Mitchel, a social climber barely 30 years old. Rejected
by all parties, Gaynor ran as an independent. In a massive demonstration and
parade at City Hall, he picked up a shovel and said he would "shovel all
these grafters into the ground."
1913, an exhausted Gaynor left for a brief vacation in Europe. Eight days later,
as RMS Baltic approached Ireland, Gaynor’s son walked up to his
father, who was reclining in a deck chair, bent down and realized death had
preceded him. On Sept. 20, Gaynor’s body lay in state on a bier in the
City Hall rotunda, where Lincoln’s body had lain nearly 50 years before.
At 8 a.m., the doors were opened. Five hundred people were waiting to pay their
respects. By 9 a.m., 15,000 people stood in a line two miles long to honor the
mayor who, whether right or wrong, had always been on their side. All day, the
people filed past him. At midnight, when the doors were closed, 20,000 were
still in line. The next morning, more than 100,000 people lined Broadway as
a horse-drawn caisson bore the coffin down Broadway to Trinity Church.
portrait in City Hall is hidden behind the door to Room 9, the Press Room.
Gaynor was born in Whitesboro,
He married in 1874 and was
Gaynor first came to public
Among working men and women,
He loved dining with friends
Yet all Gaynor’s philosophy
In 1909, Tammany boss Charles
On Election Day, Gaynor
Gaynor’s marriage with
During lulls in his office
In August 1910,
By then, Gaynor’s
On Sept. 4,