The sixth Governor Moses served under was Nelson D. Rockefeller, a fabulously rich man. The Rockefeller family effectively sponsored the Republican Party in New York and they owned the Chase Manhattan Bank. He was a master tactician and a man of great imagination, greatly interested in architecture and housing. Soon after inauguration he embarked on a massive education expansion, building new campuses across the state. He had the arrogance of old money. He was an opponent of Moses to whom no pressure could be applied.
Tension began to build between Moses and the new Governor, whose plans now started to intrude on Moses’s domain, most especially with regards to mass transportation, something to which Rockefeller was an enthusiast. Rockefeller appointed William Ronan to look into mass transportation, an appointment that Moses severely disagreed with. Equally disturbing to Moses was were the delays in extending his tenure over the Parks Authority as he was over the maximum age. Rockefeller kept him waiting every year.
In 1962 this happened again, but this time Moses lost his temper. Moses threatened to resign from all state positions and he left the meeting sure that Rockefeller would cave in. However, Moses had gone too far. On the day after he received Moses’s resignation, Rockefeller accepted it. Both men issued statements to the press. Moses implied that the appointment of Rockefeller’s brother to one of previous posts was nepotism. Rockefeller’s statement accepted Moses’s resignation of all his posts. Expecting outrage from the press, Moses was devastated to see that even the New York Times accepted the decision. People waited to see Moses’s reaction, expecting a fight, but Moses knew he was beaten and he swallowed his pride.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
Moses threatened to resign one too many times and Rockefellar accepted it.
In 1966, John Lindsay was elected Mayor of New York. He appointed a Parks Commissioner who had been critical of Moses’s policies. Lindsay tried to remove Moses from all his posts, but he underestimated Moses who was too experienced and resisted.
The Mayor also tried to force through some new mass transportation plans. He attempted to establish a new centralised transport authority. A memorandum of opposition was sent by Moses who pointed out that bond raising contracts could not be cancelled if bonds were still owing and the merger proposed by the Mayor would do this. Moses was offered the choice of resignation or firing. When the Mayor’s transportation chief met Moses to give him the choice, Moses was unperturbed.
The Mayor’s team remained confident that the Governor would support the transport proposal but by the time the proposal reached the legislature Moses’s team had done their work. When the public hearing was held at Albany, a City Hall executive was opposed by Moses, two former governors and a former mayor plus a host of representatives from cross-state power groups. The Mayor had been ambushed. When the press arrived, Lindsay and Moses met face to face, the former nervous, the latter relaxed. Lindsay left early, leaving his assistant to answer questions. For Moses, the line of the powerful proceeded to rubbish the bill. On the following day, Moses launched an attack on Lindsay, saying that he was sitting on millions of dollars’ worth of projects. By this time Lindsay’s bill was dead.
On July 11th Moses had arranged a ceremony to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Triborough Bridge. There were crowds bussed in and glossy brochures. There was praise for Moses from the good and the great. But while Moses was still bidding his guests farewell, he received a letter dismissing him from responsibility for highways. He now had only one job left: The Chairman of the Triborough Authority, but he still was in control of Triborough money and he couldn’t be removed until 1970. But the Governor, his most dangerous enemy, was now moving against him.
The New York World’s Fair was to be held in 1964. Its site was to be Flushing Meadows, an expanse of marshland half again as large as Central Park, previously used as a waste dump. Moses’s dream was to make this new park the highlight of his career. Moses had wanted to rescue this wasteland since the 1930s, but now the World’s Fair made this a real possibility.
The budget for the project was set at $1 billion. Many read the distribution of these funds purely in terms of how much power it could buy for Moses. Insurance and security expenses were vast, awarded to close allies of Moses. Moses’s previous habit of wining and dining influential people at the project’s expense continued. Contracts were awarded using the criteria of political influence. The rewards for this beneficence soon arrived. Moses was able to raise $60M from the city for the fair.
The fair should have benefitted Moses’s reputation; however, it was eventually to destroy it. He had no experience of this type of project and was not particularly interested in the fair itself. He was more interested in the park, seeing the fair as a temporary inconvenience. He gave each exhibitor complete control over the architecture of their displays. He gave the Port Authority the job of selling the sites. There was no overall vision and this was expressed in the chaotic design of the fair.
After a disastrous trip to Europe, where Moses bullied and disparaged the Bureau of International Exhibits, he was refused official sanction for the fair. Most European countries refused to take part. Public relations for the fair was built around Moses, making the news about the fair concentrate more on Moses’s chickened career than trying to attract visitors. If Moses had ignored the press coverage, the fair’s popularity would have obscured his own bad press, but Moses could not resist fighting back. In 1962 Moses began to critically lecture the press on the dangers of personal attacks, calling them “jackals” and “vultures”.
Moses had been lying for years with impunity. However now the press had their backs up. Moses’s press office began to release details of countries who would be contributing the fair, but on investigation these statements were seen to be untrue. Journalists questioned the economic prospects of the fair. When he lunched with a new set of editors at the New York Times, he stalked out in a rage. There was little or no black presence at the fair. There was no Jewish representation in the religious section. Incidents like these, not the positives of the fair, became the headlines of the day.
The initial attendances at the fair was way below the projected figures. It was not even paying its expenses. After the first season the money had been spent and there was no more coming in. In late August 1964, Moses became fully aware of the fair’s financial problems. He ordered a drastically reduced budget but the economies were too late. He announced to the press that the fair had been a financial success but the press was sceptical and began to investigate.
The day of reckoning came in December. Moses appointed a Rockefeller man as financial director of the fair. The director, at the release of his financial report, announced that the fair was insolvent. There was a mass resignation of the fair’s financial board. Moses flew the world trying to drum up new exhibits. New discos featuring scantily clad women appeared, but the main story was the fair’s parlous financial situation. The headline was “Fair’s choice; Moses or money.” When the fair’s books were audited, the charges changed from incompetence to greed and scandal. No part of Moses’s image was left untarnished. There were moves to get Moses to resign. He refused. Then there were moves to force him out, but too many people on the fair’s executive committee who were making money from Moses. In the second season he was still in charge, so the bad press continued. When the fair ended in 1965, Moses’s name had become symbolic with the public of all they despised, but he still retained power.
Rockefeller’s transportation plans were now ready. The plan would cost $6.5 billion over five years. The only source of funds was the Port and Triborough Authorities. Now it was time to get rid of Moses. Moses had little to fight back with. The network of power structures he used to control had now almost disappeared. Now Triborough stood alone. If it was removed from Moses’s control, Moses would be gone. Moses’s power over Triborough rested on the bond covenants. A bond holder needed to sue Moses. But a single bond holder would not be able to do it by themselves. So, Rockefeller created a bond holder’s trustee. That trustee was the Chase Manhattan Bank, and that bank was owned by the Rockefeller family.
By 1967, Rockefeller sought approval to issue bonds to raise money for the transportation plans. He had support in the press and the legislature, but support from a public referendum was unsure. The unions were also unconvinced, and Moses was dead against. Moses calculated that claimed surpluses from the plans were in fact deficits that would be picked up by the taxpayer. The public would, according to Moses, be left with a staggering debt. If Moses went to the media, he would be able to wreck the bill. The Governor tried to mollify Moses. Rockefeller met with Moses and after the meeting Moses declared himself in favour of the plan. The Governor had paid for this support with a promise of power. To maintain Moses’s support, Rockefeller had offered Moses a role in the construction. Moses tapped Triborough funds to support the campaign for the bill.
Prior to the meeting with Rockefeller, Moses was preparing to fight the suit brought by the bond holders. After the meeting, Moses lost interest in the suit, even though he was backed by the law and would probably have won. A deal between the Governor and the Chase Manhattan Bank, between one Rockefeller and another, agreed the merger of transport bodies into a centralised authority.
Rockefeller continued to keep Moses on-board, promising a role in the new authority, but a promise was all it was. If there was no contract by March 1st, 1968, there would be no job. Now, having strung Moses along for so long, Rockefeller let Moses go. Moses was offered a post as consultant to the Triborough Authority. This was not a board post, in fact, the post had no authority at all. Moses would be reporting to somebody else and he had no option but to accept it. Moses was now powerless and muted. The age of Moses was over.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
Operating the government, the politicians like Robert Moses because he produced project that politicians could champion;
He took advantage of New Deal funding to building pools, parks and beaches;
Over his 44 year career, Moses always built projects that ensured that he would have even more power, the bridges with tolls for example, with their bond raising capacity;
There were no environmental review processes, there is no bullying allowed to the same extent…
Moses’s mind was still active, but he had nothing to do. The months ahead drew bleak and terrible. The effect of powerlessness became apparent. The eyes became rheumy, the figure emaciated. A discouraged sigh would be emitted constantly. Moses still sat at his desk at Triborough, but no advice was sought. Soon his former aides were avoiding his office. Eventually, the reality of the situation became clear to Moses; he was being left to die.
Moses was reduced to pleading for a meaningful position. His old cronies tried to fight for him, knowing that their wealth was dependent on Moses having a say in development. Eventually however, everybody realised that Moses had lost all his power. Moses would continue to expound on his past successes, but now people would grow bored and leave. He was now quite deaf and his eyesight was failing. He was still a big man in presence, but the loss of power had a telling psychological effect; he was no longer intimidating.
His intelligence was still active and he still wrote about city planning. He had a city-wide housing program worked out, but the previous flaws were still obvious and now many commentators felt free to criticise them. His desire was to continue to build to save his reputation but the priorities had changed and his plans were ignored. His impotence turned into bitter frustration and violent rages. He could not sit still. He was always anxious to get back and could not get any solace.
There were bright spots. There were monuments and developments named after him. He was named “Man of the Year” in the early 70s by various organisations. He had continued support in some sections of the press. These bright spots however, became fewer and fewer. His name, once a symbol of progress, became a symbol of failure. He no longer had no public platform to express his views. He was asked to host a TV program. The program was a fiasco, partly due to the refusal to wear a hearing aid, resulting in the situation that he was unable to hear anything the other contributors were saying.
By 1972. All of Moses’s contacts were either dead or retired. Once he led battalions, now he had only his chauffeurs and secretaries. His name had disappeared from the press. Moses’s career was over.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
Value of getting things done over wielding power to extract money or engage in corrupt acts: Moses was a cut above the both rich, arrogant and corrupt because he always fought opponents with joy and with the aim of expressing the ‘public interest’. He was consistently not held accountable by the electorate (for possible racism, prejudice, relocating the poorest in the name of engineering considerations i.e. the rich etc etc) becoming in effect the most powerful man in New York state for many decades. It was the fact that he was not elected, as a civil servant, he had the goal of wielding power in what he felt was unbiased. He did not value money or corruption through power. He valued the ability to get things done. And so he was closely aligned with the economic modernization of the New York infrastructure of the 20th century.
And so he could get away with allocating power in what was in fact a very biased manner which he personally may not have realized was biased; and we cannot confirm every decision was close to objective because we don’t and never will have the data to show just how subjective he was relative to others.
Moses tried to argue that the civilian roads were necessary to evacuate New York. He argued every case in order to gain more power. A totalitarian regime can have the will of a single architect the way a democracy cannot. People in a democracy do not sign on to having their own homes demolished for the greater good very often. This is the inherent frailty of democracy as a rather vague construct that doesn’t really exist in a serious way, because it is inimical to progress. Certainly Moses was at the heart of a totalitarian style and many politicians did not seem to mind that. Proof that democracy dies in darkness. Democracy must do better to counter-act the evidence that Moses “got things done” by also being as or more productive while also accommodating the interests and perspectives of a wider audience (the democratic advantage being crowd-sourced preferences).