- Robert A. Caro’s The Power Broker is a Pulitzer Prize winning epic that was widely read by the politicians and civil servants in the US and abroad;
- The keypoints are my interpretation of the events in the corresponding chapter; take with a grain of salt;
- My opinions are subject to change at any future date as an intellectually free person; so if new information shows Moses to be even more “impure” I am free to change my opinion without judgement, thanks!;
- Writing about Moses does not equal endorsing Moses obviously;
- This article is my attempt to provide a chapter-ized summary so that you don’t have to read this 1255 pager. The physical book weighs a lot, too, as is Robert Caro’s way. Enjoy;
Hero, Villain or Mixture of the Two? Probably a Mixture. He is both repugnant and visionary. Hate-able and laudable for “getting things done.” Moses famously responded to this Caro book by saying a) he wasn’t responsible for public transport (read: probably not of interest fee-wise), b) he wasn’t that powerful, c) Moses never addresses the racism he is accused of peddling…can we separate the progress from the possibly very repugnant man?
Part One – The Idealist
Chapter 1 – Line of succession
Robert Moses was born on December 18th, 1888. His mother Bella was the strong willed, daughter of Bernard and Rosalie Cohen. Bernard was among many German Jews who longed to escape repression and emigrate to the USA. Eventually he settled with his brother in New York and marrying his cousin, Rosalie Silverman. Bernard became interested in civic affairs. And became known as a decisive and visionary analyst of social problems. Rosalie Silverman bullied her husband. She was intellectual rather than maternal and as Granny Cohen was imperious, treating other people as underlings.
Bernard died in 1897 of pneumonia. Rosalie carried on energetically, marching around New York and dismissive of the soft life. In 1919 she calmly finished her crossword puzzle, got out of bed and rang the bell to summon her maid before calmly announcing “Martha, summon Doctor –, I’m dying”.
Bella, quiet and unassuming but thoughtful, spoke French and German fluently and retained the sharpness of her mother. In 1886 she married Emanuel Moses, a Jew from Cologne. Although he built a successful business, Bella was thought to have “married beneath her.” They settled in Dwight Street, New Haven, Connecticut, an elm lined street with substantial houses.
Bella disliked the lack of cultural activity in New Haven so eventually they moved to New York in 1897.
By 1907, 1 million Jews had fled to the USA to escape persecution. By 1917 this was 1.5 million. In the Lower East Side, settlement houses sprang up to cope with the influx, and Bella became involved. There was a certain snobbery exercised by the settled Jewish community towards new Jewish immigrants, many from Russia. They called them “Kikes” because of the endings of many Russian surnames. German Jews had a patronising attitude to the new influx of Jews from Eastern Europe. Bella’s attitude towards those under her wing were thought to be “You’re my children, I know best.”
Bella however, was more interested in urban planning than integration. Her proposals were well mannered but steely. She was known for getting her way. Once she became involved in a project, she became obsessed with the detail. Bella could always count on Emmanuel’s support, at work and in the home, an obvious parallel with her own parents. Bella was not religious, and although Emanuel was attached to the synagogue, her views prevailed.
In New York the family lived just off 5th Avenue; a large oak panelled brownstone at the centre of a rich Jewish sector. With assets of $1.2M and walls covered with Rembrandt and Durer prints, they were among the elite.
Bella was strict with children, organising their lives in minute detail. She was particularly interested in their education. All the children were sent to expensive schools, Robert eventually ending up at Yale.
Bella’s sons, Paul and Robert, were often mistaken as twins. Both were considered “stunningly” handsome but haughty, even arrogant. They were popular with both girls and boys. Although both were considered athletes, Robert was more of a loner, attracted to sports, but not team sports.
Both brothers were dismissive of their father but Robert and his mother formed an inner circle. Bella catered to Robert’s every whim, “doting” on him. Robert flattered his mother by praising her work in the community and mimicking her movements and deportment. The line of personality was clear: from Robert’s grandmother, to his mother, to him.
Analysis & Key Takeaways:
- Robert Moses’ personality was shaped by the powerful women in his early life, women who had steely determination past down generation to generation;
- Forming alliances can start at the Family level between siblings. Healthy competition is important, parents are people too and so they can and sometimes outwardly express their preferred child;
- The instinct to know better than others is not without merit. However, it is difficult to evaluate the merit of ones ideas in isolation especially if the idea is based on a track-record, pattern recognition etc. Ironically, we are the worst evaluators of our own instincts (Dunning Kruger effect) which creates arrogance in some cases and brilliance in others. A way to check your instincts is to evaluate your predictions against the reality, however prediction is very luck based;
- Loners seem to operate and run things; it’s lonely at the top therefore loners are predisposed to move to the top;
- Everyone has a personal religious perspective, sometimes religion defines ones identity, other times it’s a footnote and other times a hindrance.
Chapter 2 – Robert Moses at Yale
Considered a “Jew” by his classmates at Yale. Known internally as “a democracy of talent”, the structure of Yale was in fact a social pyramid based on family background and closed to Jews. Moses roomed alone, seen as “diffident, quiet and shy” by his classmates but as exceptional by his few friends with a great love of learning. Joined editorial board of the Yale Daily News and joined the swimming team. Moses broadened his acquaintances through these two groups. He travelled Europe extensively, enthusiastically visiting the great museums and galleries and developed a great enthusiasm for Samuel Johnson.
Back at Yale, Moses attempted to democratize the structure and to improve the status of sports such as swimming, using the Yale Daily News to promote his views. He persuaded the minor sports to combine into a formal association for funding. On June 11, 1908, Moses announced the formation of the Minor Sports Association.
Moses resigned from the swimming team when he couldn’t get his way on funding. He became more active in literary circles. His academic work continued to be outstanding. In his last two years he had roommates, members of literary groups KitKat and The Current. He became liked by his circle of friends.
Moses’s idealism strengthened through the years. He was known as intense in argument but honest, speaking from the heart. Moses did not achieve a membership of any of the important Yale societies, but his achievement was impressive for a Jew achieving a certain amount of power and influence. He had managed to build a coterie of followers within the structure with himself at the head. This was to influence his progress in the wider world thereafter.
Analysis & Key Takeaways:
- Anyone who has been in student politics will recognize the low stakes, high pettiness of student politics. Robert Moses organized student minor sports leagues for fundraising purposes. He wants to bring all the clubs together as a kind of unionized entity in order to gain leverage in terms of funding. He also wanted to fudge the finances to advance his singular sport of choice swimming. Of course, distributing the funds would be how he could funnel more to his sport then the more popular sports. When his ideas were rejected, he cut out friends that opposed him. He figured out early that money is power.
- Networks matter and so do cultural groups. Religion (cultural group marker) is a foot in the door in some cases and a means of exclusion in others. The fact that shared experiences create alliances is not going to disappear anytime soon because the human brain is wired to prefer things that are similar: example Movie Sequels….Single-gendered work environments;
- Is Robert Caro building up Robert Moses in this chapter? Do people have an honest recollection of a person after that person becomes influential in wider society? Or do recollections warp, inserting false memories? Moses sounds like a superstar or at least an overachiever, CV stuffer;
- Resign if you can’t get your way. This mantra is something Moses threatens to do a lot throughout his career, figure out where you stand and then threaten to resign as a bargaining chip, but only if you are confident that ‘they’ need you.
Chapter 3 – Home Away from Home
Moses moved to Oxford University in England for his post-graduate work. This was to give him a clear, definable sense of public purpose and the duties and rights of those born to privilege (noblesse oblige). Moses swapped the pseudo-democracy of Yale for the elitism of Oxford, which he preferred and became the first American President of the Oxford Union debating society.
Moses continued his foreign travels around the colonial British Empire between terms. He enjoyed the bohemian atmosphere of post war Oxford, affecting a haphazard style of dress and carelessness with money. He told his parents that he would be devoting himself to public service, but this devotion was also accompanied by an increasing arrogance and Anglophilia. He developed a contempt for the working classes and especially for the colonised populations of the British Empire, saying “the subject peoples of the British Empire were not ready for self-government.”
Moses’s prose style hardened and improved at Oxford. His cast of mind had also hardened into support for noblesse oblige, encapsulated in the British Civil Service, a perfect instrument for civil reform but one disfigured by patronage. However, his notion of meritocracy applied only to the members of the educated upper class. A system that for him elevated the most intelligent young men into powerful and influential positions. He advocated suppression of socialist tendencies and working-class activism that challenged these beliefs. He urged the American Government to follow the British model and supported the election of Woodrow Wilson as President.
Moses graduated from Oxford with honours in 1911. He then carried on his studies in London and Berlin. Moving back to his old rooms in New York in 1912. He enrolled at Columbia University for his PhD, completing his thesis in 1913. While he was completing his thesis, he entered the training school for the Bureau for Municipal Research. His education was over and he now entered the world of public service.
Analysis & Key Takeaways:
- Having contempt for the working class is obnoxious; like having contempt for something you do not appreciate, understand or are exposed to. We can only interpret reality from the information we are exposed to in publications, in anecdotes and in relationships. If we believe the patterns [we are exposed to] are objective reality then we are doomed. Doomed to jump to conclusions for quicker decision-making (finding short-hands from the gut) that are possibly very wrong.
- Robert Moses went to Oxford which has a reputation for telling its students that they are special, smarter and better then non-Oxford students or people generally. This brand management has a re-enforcing nature to it. In Moses’ case, it may have contributed to his contempt for the poor (financial and possibly spiritual, attitudinal poverty). Poverty and races were strongly correlated in New York in the 20th century and still is due to variables such as: a), b), c)….and z) the time value of money which compounds for those who have it, but subtracts for those who do not understand compounding interest and/or do not have sufficient cashflow. For Oxford graduates, “anything is possible, so they are told, so why are these poor non-Oxford folks so down? Well, then we the elite shall marshal them….” Meanwhile, there are likely Oxford students who aren’t condescending, I am just as guilty as others of extrapolating from patterns that or only partially representative of objective reality.
- A recurring theme in this book is that the municipal government is where things done rather then where deadlocks form, municipal is where anyone serious about getting public policy should start. Why are there layers of government controlled by individuals anyway? Technology isn’t in place yet.
- PhDs should be completed quickly if you can. It’s intellectually self-pleasuring in the best case scenario. Don’t think you’re smart because of a PhD or other advanced degree. But go out and test your hypothesis in the wild, post-doctoral, test and refine.
PART TWO – THE REFORMER
Chapter 4 – Burning
Moses entered public service at the same time as the Progressive Movement had gained momentum, a desire to tackle the challenges of poverty and the new industrial order. Moses supported this movement by attempting to make American public service organisations more meritocratic. American institutions had no historical frameworks like Europe. Moses saw them as inefficient and corrupt. The Bureau of Municipal Research would be at the forefront of Progressivism in New York, whose drive was to improve government processes and operations in terms of efficiency as well as developing budgetary systems to support development by disseminating facts about how governments actually ran.
The findings of the bureau conflicted with Tammany Hall, the powerful New York Irish/Catholic political organisation that had run New York for decades. The Bureau developed new techniques to improve local government, including a budgetary system, allowing voters to be able to judge the performance of their local governors. This led to anti-Tammany, Reformer candidates to be elected to office.
After some time at the training school of the Bureau, Moses became impatient with the leg-work and report writing. He applied to join the Bureau, agreeing to do so without salary, and he was admitted. He began to make visits to the wasteland of Riverside Drive in the Bronx and walk through the nearby park a stagnant ex-landfill pervaded by the stench of trains going towards the abattoir. Here he dreamed of renewal, of a great highway along the waterfront and deal with the on-going problems of the ugly train tracks. His burning ideas of city improvements began to grow from this point. Now he needed to put them into practice.
Moses became critical of the Bureau for their lack of action.
Mary-Louise Simms was the only one to be sympathetic. Previously working for the Governor of Wisconsin, she had an instinct for politics and what it could do. Mary came to New York to work for the Bureau. Moses fell in love with her.
In 1914 John Mitchell became Mayor. When he looked to appoint a new Civil Service Commissioner, Moses was the favoured candidate.
Analysis & Key Takeaways:
- A lot of things that are obvious for improving the machinery of government have already been contemplated by bureaucrats in the early 20th century. For example, rubrics for evaluating work, key performance indicators basically metrics for management which are routinely thwarted by human nature, self-reporting and the problem of data capture;
- Government data/knowledge is a currency in the civil service. Understanding how an organization works is rarely written down. In order to reduce corruption of civil servants, that currency needs to be devalued by making it radically transparent within the civil service and by making the system more accessible to the public. That is with the caveat that the public can see the interconnection of cause and effect. One of the side-effects is that if the public has more information, you’ll need a filter in order to evaluate incoming criticism from the public who may not fully understand the (holistic) system of levers and responsibilities and balancing that goes on in government;
- Another challenge with making data/knowledge more transparent is that a lot of data/knowledge is trapped in the minds of the civil servants themselves; and they don’t have time and zero inclination to write things down or even divulge their knowledge in any communicable format since….again, data/knowledge is a currency in the civil service;
Chapter 5 – Age of Optimism
Moses’s first task was to challenge the dominance for Tammany Hall, and for that he had to control the city’s jobs – 50,000 City employees. Patronage was the lever of power in New York City, and by taking control of this lever, Moses sought to gain the power he needed to change the city.
Tammany resisted changes to the Civil service. Employment was currently managed by patronage and bribery and a maze of technicalities had been historically put in place to prevent change. The Mayor turned to Moses to handle these technicalities. However, Moses’s thesis was published, and his support of only educated gentlemen for positions in the Civil Service caused a scandal, and the offer was withdrawn.
Moses continued at the Bureau with more assistants. Moses’s first step was the measure of efficiency ratings for employees. In order to do this, each role had to be broken down into measurable parts. By 1915, Moses was ready to write his efficiency report. He was given a desk in the Municipal Building, his first foot in the City Hall door.
Robert married Mary in 1915 with a child in 1916. Although Moses’s mother pushed him to take a salary, Moses did not seem interested in money. He was more driven by his ideas for change and attaining the power to make them real.
Moses wrote that pay grades should be consistent across departments. The Civil Service should be structured into sixteen categories and promotion should be given purely on documented, mathematically verifiable merit. Moses was accused of downplaying the human element in this calculation but Moses had an almost religious belief in his mathematical models.
The first reactions to Moses’s ideas were positive. Mitchell announced that he would push for adoption. However, Tammany Hall was girding itself for a fight. Many of New York’s municipal employees would lose money due to Moses’s changes. At meetings, Moses would suffer a hail of abuse as he outlined his plans. Some of his supporters began to have doubts, especially those whose salary would be reduced. At the height of these doubts, Tammany Hall held a commission to consider the proposals. The decision was to modify the proposal, to consider individual cases and to slow down implementation. Different Civil Service levels were added by the City Alderman. By these methods, Tammany Hall successfully delayed the reforms.
Moses’s loss of optimism was mirrored by the country’s anxiety as it moved towards war. Mayor Mitchell popularity was also waning, not only with the public but with Moses as well as Mitchell had turned down Moses’s plans for Riverside Drive.
In 1917 Moses redoubled his efforts to push through his changes. Mitchell was up for re-election and was being contested heavily by Tammany Hall and their candidate, “Red” Mike Hyland, won. Progressivism was dead, as were Moses’s reforms. Science and logic were not enough. Moses needed power.
In 1918, Moses was looking for a job. He tried the shipbuilding industry, where he again proposed reforms which were rejected. He had to go back to the Bureau for a job with a diminished status.
His second daughter was born. Money was short and debts were rising. The apartment was too small and a larger one was out of the question. The war was over. Woodrow Wilson was fading. Tammany’s Mayor Al Smith was in charge in New York. Moses’s contacts were gone. He seemed to have nowhere to go. And then he received a phone call from Belle Moskowitz, Al Smith’s political advisor.
Analysis & Key Takeaways:
- Robert Moses was not motivated by money for the most part to Caro. This notion ends up being critical for evaluating what kind of lust for power, questionable ethics, vindictiveness and racism is exhibited by Moses’ practices.
- Money is an approximation of value for Moses; People who are motivated by material value (goods, money) are doomed to chase short-cuts to get more money (easy to see corruption). People who are motivated by abstract goods are more likely to achieve great amounts of influence through hard work (of course); so having cheap tastes and be impactful will ward off claims of corruption even if you’re value are to undermine the prospects of the poor to advance the interests of the wealthy as Caro makes clear in this book;
- Another example of the power of networks: Tammany Hall seems to have relied on a cultural group, Irish Catholics, to power a political block that gained disproportionate influence on the general public. These networks of influence aren’t explicit but show the underlying structure to be game-able by interest groups that aren’t explicit. As long as decisions are being made to advance the interest of the public, then there is no problem, right?
- Measuring the efficiency of employees is very subjective and yet also necessary: you do not want to be making hiring and firing decisions based on a gut feeling; you also do not want to be ‘building a case’ for people you just don’t like. Instead, you ought to try to establish key performance indicators so that the employee and the manager can determine whether they are heading in the right direction or if there is not a good fit; the data collected needs to be independent of any single person otherwise it is all about relationships which is the world that Robert Moses thrived in.
PART 3 – The Rise to Power
Chapter 6 – Curriculum Changes
Belle Moskowitz, Mrs. M to her admirers or Mosky to her detractors, as advisor to Mayor Al Smith became one of the most powerful political voices in New York. She was not so powerful when she phoned Robert Moses. Reformers regarded Belle as one of their inner circle. She was a powerful voice supporting young working women and her recommendations for regulations to govern working conditions were accepted.
In her phone call, she told Moses that Governor Smith had decided to set up a commission to implement vast public service and infrastructure changes to the City of New York, and that Governor Smith was looking for a Chief of Staff. Would Dr. Moses be interested in the job? Moses said he would. On Belle’s recommendation, Moses got the position. Moses had his own office, at last, at the Hall of Records.
The election of 1918 was the first in which women were involved. Belle’s influence with the Governor came mainly from the advice she gave him about how to win over this new electorate. Smith was an underdog in this election and Smith began to rely more and more on Belle’s advice. Belle persuaded Smith to reform the state’s administrative machinery, even in the face of the Governor’s Tammany supporting backers, by forming a Commission that included in its title “Retrenchment” which appealed to native Tammany conservatism and served to split the Republican vote.
The existing administrative machinery was in a corrupt mess, with budgets and strategy run not by the governor but by the heads of many committees and the legislature, all serving their individual interests. The bureau argued that power, as well as responsibility should be in the hands of the Governor and his representatives with the legislature reduced to a reviewing role.
When Moses began his work as Chief of Staff, it was Belle who taught him how to get things done. She taught him the statecraft of dealing with the various factions, the art of the possible. There was no doubt that she was the boss, but Moses, despite his exasperation with some of her decisions, was learning fast. By the spring of 1919, the Commission was almost entirely in Moses’s hands.
Smith, emboldened by his success with the more progressive elements, persuaded to members of the Commission to raise a budget themselves. Once they had done this, Smith supported the Commission fully. Moses was an inspiring leader because of his frankness and hard work as well as his devotion to the public interest.
The Commission began running out of money and the staff had to be let go. Moses finished the report himself. Its success was based on its clarion call and its clarity. Although the Governor held the powers, he was answerable to the electors and an independent watchdog. This democratic element won all sides over. However, other contributors, including the original work of the Bureau, were not mentioned. Moses claimed full credit. The report was published in October 1919. Al Smith agreed to fight for its implementation.
Moses directed the project to build support for Smith’s position, tempered by Belle Moskowitz’s advice. Moses took charge of answering all questions regarding the report. He was confidant of passing the necessary bills during the Governor’s next term. However, Governor Smith lost the next election and the Commission was disbanded.
By 1922, Moses was working for the New York State Association. He continued to talk with Al Smith who was now working for a transport company. He continued to tell Smith about his plans and dreams, and Al Smith listened.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- State-Crafts and Politics involve appealing to desperate clusters of voters without the other clusters realizing you are talking to people other than yourself. Splitting the retrenchment conservative voters;
- Devotion to the public interest is a central theme for Moses: however, it is also a good cover for all kinds of prejudiced decision-making Naturally, we gravitate to the most egregious examples: because hey are easy to remember; but he will always have the defense that he was acting in the public interest. How do you measure what the public interest is? In a Venn diagram, Moses’ self-interest appears to be significantly tied to the public interest;
- Moses seems to have taken full credit for the report since he was the last man standing ad still working on it;
- Fait Accompli strategy is to start a project that cannot be fully paid for due to the agreed budget but then embarrass the government into paying for the remaining.
Chapter 7 – Change in Major
The backgrounds of Robert Moses and Al Smith could not have been more different. Moses has a wealthy, sheltered upbringing, Smith was brought up in the tenements of New York lined by flop-houses and saloons. Smith’s father died when he was in his teens, and he had to help support his mother and his sister, starting work at 13. Eventually he ended up at Fulton Fish Market where he stayed for four years. He spent the rest of his youth labouring. He got his first political job at the age of 22 where his relationship with Tammany Hall began.
He involved himself in the local drama group and his acting improved his public speaking. He ran political errands, making himself well known and popular in his local district. He got his first government job and was married in 1896. In 1903 he won his first election as a Tammany assemblyman.
He was self-taught, reading legislative bills by night while others were in the saloon. In his second term he was elected to two committees. He was offered the post of New York City Superintendent of Buildings but chose to pursue his political career. In 1906, having been elected to Albany District for the fifth time, he began to use his voice. In 1911, the Democrats won both houses of the Assembly, and Smith was elected Majority Leader.
After a fire disaster in a sweatshop – the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, killing 141 workers, Smith had himself put on the Commission to investigate factory conditions. He began to impress Reformers with his concern for ordinary working people.
In 1913, the Democrats won the Assembly again, and Smith was elected Speaker and became a commanding figure, not only supporting Tammany bills, but Reformer bills as well. In 1915 he fought for the Reformer Commission’s proposal to reorganise the state’s government, but the Tammany hierarchy were fighting against it and eventually Smith succumbed to the Party. He continued, however, to persuade his party to champion social welfare legislation. By changing the Tammany image, he would open up his own route to Governor. By 1918, he was given the nomination for Democratic Governor and when he won, he was paraded through Albany.
Smith appointed Reformers to his administration and was himself progressive in his first term. However, he despised most Reformers because their idealism prevented practical measures that could help the poor and struggling cope with hardship. He called them “crackpots”. But Moses was different. He was treated as one of the family by Smith. Smith admired Moses’s education, his dedication and in-depth knowledge of the administration. But Moses had himself changed. His new-found pragmatism he had widened his circle of contacts and was more politically astute under Belle Moskowitz’s tutelage, curbing his idealism and practising the art of the possible. He now talked of Smith with admiration, especially with regard to Smith’s political manoeuvres. Moses, as Secretary of the Reformer Association, a seemingly independent body promoting good government for New York, became a partisan voice in the 1922 race for Governor, attacking the Republican incumbent Nathan L. Miller. Although this was bad for the Association, forcing many members to resign over its lack if independence, it brought Moses even closer to Al Smith.
In 1923, as newly elected Governor of New York, Al Smith went back to Albany, and took Robert Moses with him.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Tammany hall was a bit of an actors studio. A good politician in variably takes up acting at to some point: it’s a job requiring an ability to emotionally appeal to your audience. Al Smith was a thespian;
- Al Smith was not an idealist and despises impractical reformer goals because he knows that to get things done is pretty gross/practical sometimes;
- Al Smith was a business man who worked in a trucking company; he was from Oliver street ie poor. Al smith chatted with everyone in his neighbourhood. “Let me know if you need help.”Al Smith was a business man who worked in a trucking company; he was from Oliver street ie poor. Al smith chatted with everyone in his neighbourhood. “Let me know if you need help.”
- Having ones ideas be realized into reality is obviously essential to creating more money but value is still created regardless of whether the idea materializes, you never know when an idea could be most useful so keep track of them;
- He was a reader; people who read are > then people who don’t. Sad but true. You could go to Harvard where by definition you are forced to read, but the people who make the most impact usually read (in the public sphere).
Chapter 8 – The Taste of Power
In 1923, Moses was still Secretary of the New York Association. He often visited the Senate on behalf of Governor Al Smith but had no official position, so had to kneel on the carpet. He was, however, in the Governor’s inner circle comprised of both Tammanys and Reformers, as well as Belle Markowitz.
Being close to Smith, Moses found that if he had a good idea, it was more likely to be implemented. It was the proximity to power. Smith asked Moses to look at the penal system. Moses planned to create small industries in reform schools for youthful offenders and a generally more liberal policy. This was supported. He also made up plans to reduce rail crossings that held up cars. This was also forced through.
Moses now had the taste for power. He liked being on the inside, even if it was inside something he used to despise. His support for reform turned to support for Al Smith and Tammany Hall.
In 1923, Smith secured a paid position for Moses in charge of the very industries in state prisons that Moses had earlier recommended. Moses didn’t want the job. Again and again, Smith tried to give Moses a position but Moses always refused. But one day there was something he did want and that something was parks.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses was a turncoat; he despised Tammany Hall until it was beneficial to him. Technically being consistent is even possible as an elected official, let alone an unelected on such as Moses…
- Moses turned down job offers from Al Smith time and time again. Until he got what he wanted which was parks…Must have seen something others didn’t understand which was that parks are at the core of urban planning; Moses himself believes that the best cover for a revenue generating poll is a patch of grass.
- Gain influence over parks in New York is a critical first major step for Robert Moses. As history show, he was also probably discriminator towards those who did not align with his interests for example poor folks, Republicans, African-Americans although he himself never explicitly was racist in a direct manner, just generally, Moses was a kind of proxy for economic and political will of the Philosophy King type. In other words, he ran New York projects through cunning, pragmatic manipulation and influence peddling. The net effect being a controversial, singular vision that impacts New York today….
Chapter 9 – A Dream
The population of New York City was increasing rapidly in the 1920s. Green space and vacant land was being sacrificed to tenement housing. The need for housing was conflicting with the increasing desire for leisure. The Model T Ford had started to roll off the production line and the increased income of the population meant that more people had leisure and the mobility to use it. However, their mobility was restricted. There were limited green spaces outside of the city and getting there was difficult. The streets were narrow and there were no bridges across the Hudson; Ferries had to be used. The few local parks became as busy as the city the people had escaped from. However, there were bridges across the East River to Queens and Brooklyn, and beyond them was Long Island.
Long Island was a perfect place to escape from the city, but the locals strongly resisted non-residents visiting or buying land. Long Island was also the place where the powerful robber barons had settled and they wanted their privacy. The did everything to repel the general public, especially from the beautiful beaches of North Shore and Long Island Sound, where many of the rich had their mansions. This usually consisted in blocking main roads with armed guards and allow many of the minor roads to fall into disrepair. Despite all these inconveniences, New Yorkers flocked to Long Island. To Reformers, Long Island was the land of opportunity for parks and leisure. The two main problems were: how to obtain the land, and how would people get there?
Moses wrote a report to support the establishment of a Parks Authority on behalf of the New York association with revolutionary scope. He urged a bond issue of $15M to support permanent improvements to conservation and recreation.
Al Smith had little appreciation of recreation, but he did respond to graphic presentations; what it would look like. In 1922, Moses persuaded Smith to visit the sites he had in mind and used his eloquence to paint the picture. Smith agreed to support the necessary legislation but not until 1924, after the next election. However, the plan was supported by voters and the press. The Governor soon realised that supporting parks would help him in the election.
As Moses travelled around Long Island in 1923, his vision expanded to include 30,000 acres of parkland connected by numerous parkways and highways. Moses gained booth Smith’s and Belle Moskowitz’s approval. Smith offered to make Moses President of the Long Island State Park Commission. Moses accepted.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses reported under Al Smith and believed that the government should be help accountable between elections. The governor has spending power through the legislature; state interest in expenditure will lead to more democratic engagement. Illustrate your ideas with visuals;
- Robert Moses did his homework to map out the enter park plan as well as the entire infrastructure plan with the bridges;
- Do your homework to understand the situation before making decisions; Moses understood how the government worked and memorized the structure of that government. Invent a new organization to gain influence and then raise a Bond offering in the MUNIs to circumvent the budgetary constraints that others have imposed on you;
- Issuing bonds and or generating revenue from tolls gave him the ability to avoid accountability or balancing against the system; Raise Bonds for New Projects: Bonds for various projects like a bridge. West side project would cut a neighborhood in half…it would condemn several homes. River dale community was not consulted. Moses would destroy the lagoons near the cloverleaf of river dale.
Chapter 10 – The Best Bill-Drafter in Albany
Moses had learned the lessons of power. As a Reformer, he had advocated that only the legislature could approve budgets. The Heads of Departments could only recommend. However, as he was now a Head of Department, this would restrict his liberty. Therefore, Parks was to be an exception. Parks would therefore be an independent body with its own authority. The President’s term would be six years, three times the length of the Governor’s, and the Governor would be unable to dismiss him unless there was proven misconduct. His previous support for free and open debate. However, now, with the exception of Al Smith, nobody else would know what was in the enabling bill.
Hidden in the bill was the ability to acquire land by appropriation, i.e. by walking on the land and simply asking for it without redress or automatic compensation. Also, the naming of the main service roads as parkways rather than highways got around building restrictions as parkways were not previously mentioned in any highway laws. If the bill was passed, the Parks Commission, with Moses as its President, would have as much power as was contained in the New York City Charter.
There was not much interest in the bill when it went to the House in early 1924 and when it went up for vote it was nodded through unopposed. Moses and Smith ensured that the Commissioners elected would allow Moses to get on with the job, and at their first meeting, Moses was elected as Chairman.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- If you do create a new authority, be sure to design it to your advantage. With any luck, no one will take the authority seriously at the start so that you can package it for maximum appeal. That’s precisely what Robert Moses did;
- Parkways were not mentioned in any highway laws; therefore you can simply skip around a technicality to gain more influence.
- Taking credit for other people’s work? Moses didn’t give credit to the employees who had done a lot of work to map out a restructuring of the bureaucracy in the Parks system. Moses was hilariously open to stealing another person’s idea; Moses actually claimed a guy who had written the vast majority of the plan for reorganizing the civil service actually plagiarized from Moses…Moses wanted to reorganize the civil service; creating state agencies;
Part 4 – The Use of Power
Chapter 11 – The Majesty of the Law
Having been elected, Moses set himself up with a big office and an expensive car. He also ensured that his friends were appointed to the Civil Service with all the trappings. Moses then started to use his new-found authority to start acquiring all the government land in Long Island, as well as all the private land he could get his hands on. He used a combination of charm and threat, depending on the circumstance, but would never compromise his plans and was often unwilling to negotiate.
The rich and powerful on the North Shore refused even to discuss the land. However, unknown to them, Moses’s surveyors were already mapping out their land. Moses’s lawyers pointed out the baron’s, that if they would grant land on the borders of their property then an agreement could be made, but if they didn’t, land would be “appropriated” right next to their houses. Only then was appropriation fully understood, but it was too late. These powers were now law.
The baron’s lawyers now had to challenge Moses on his interpretation of the law and they appealed to Smith. Smith was uneasy about appropriation without negotiation, a clear demand of the bill, but also realised the importance that the Parks movement had been to his re-election. At the hearing therefore, Smith signed the enabling form for appropriation.
There were further challenges to the Commission from rich landowners but Moses countered through the New York Times, saying that a small group of rich golfers were trying to protect their playground. Moses had won in the court of public opinion, but the barons had been supported by a judge, and the matter was due to go to trial. In early 1925, the Senate Finance Committee held hearings, which found that Moses had deliberately gone beyond the law by appropriating land without having the funds available to compensate the owners. The decision was handed over to the legislature. Again, Moses appealed to public opinion, re-phrasing the conflict as between common park lovers and rich and powerful park haters. The legislature put forward a bill limiting appropriation which was passed but vetoed by the Governor. The Commission’s attorneys then appealed the decision, using up time until funds became available to make the appropriations legal.
The weather came to Moses and Smith’s aid. The delay of the legal proceedings had run into the summer, and the sweltering heat had the frustrated citizens running for the limited green spaces available. Smith addressed the city on the radio, highlighting the opposition to the parks by the rich barons of Long Island and the Republican legislature. “I cast my lot with the many” he announced. The Republican legislature responded that the matter was about law and property rights, but to the “steaming millions” in the cities of New York, these arguments held little weight, and the press was on the side of the Governor and the Parks Commission, most importantly the bible of New York, the New York Times.
At the hearing, Smith made a significant speech, extolling the non-political nature of the Parks Bill. The Republicans again passed the bill limiting the powers of appropriation. Smith once more vetoed it. While the wrangles went on, land in Long Island was being bought up by property development, and no money was being made available to allow the appropriation of land for parks. Moses needed money desperately. Smith and Moses turned to Mrs. Moskowitz who suggested August Hecksher, a rich philanthropist who when telephoned, agreed immediately only asking that the park be named after him.
Opposition by farmers, barons and bay men in Long Island was increasing through 1925, and a referendum on the parks plan was heavily in favour of rejection. Moses was also due to stand trial on the charge of breaking his own laws. At the end of 1925, it seemed unlikely that any of Moses’s dreams would become reality. Within three years it would all become reality.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Charming and threatening opponents works apparently;
- Work very hard; while everyone else is at the bar you should be working your ass off in joy;
- You need to experience the poverty to help fix the situation! Al Smith knew that experience and was a Catholic without any college education…Power is the ability to get things done: Moses began to be more interested in power rather than principle. He basically became a cunning political actor pretending to be a civil servant…as his power grew he became more arrogant like his mother and grandmother who were authoritarian in approach; getting things done mattered more….Often the rich have more power since they can support political candidates for public office.
Chapter 12 – Robert Moses and the Creature of the Machine
The construction of parkways meant potential riches for officials, politicians and landowners. Previously low-value land would become valuable if it was needed for government construction. Foreknowledge of the route of the parkways was thus a valuable asset. Moses started some backstage conversations with important fixers within government and started to reach agreements for his plans. In late 1926, he announced that local people would have access to the plans for Jones’ Beach. The referendum, lost the previous year, was now won. By making these agreements with key influencers, opposition to Moses’s parks plans began to collapse.
Moses began to arrange for land to be bought up in Long Island for the parkways necessary to supply the new parks, which were already being developed by local conservation groups. In the meantime, Governor Smith invited the main Republican opponents to the plan to New York and wined and dined them late into the night. They decided not to interfere with the plans.
Moses’s trial was still looming, his main opponent being the Republican Governor of Suffolk County, W. Kingsland Macy. Moses continued to delay this through appeals while parks began to open. When his final appeal was lost in the summer of 1926, the trial went ahead and the judgement went against Moses. Moses appealed the decision and won, resulting in a retrial date to be set. This time Governor Smith appeared for the defence and lunched with the judge. The judge’s summing up was heavily weighted in favour of Moses and the case was thrown out. Despite appeals by opponents, the greater spending power of Moses’s government backers was to delay a final decision for four years. In the meantime, development of the parks and parkways continued, powered by contracts given to influential politicians and contractors and supported by a public eager for the new green spaces. The lessons Moses had learned is that first, once a project had started, and costs had begun to be sunk into it, it was increasingly difficult to stop it, and second, justice delayed is justice denied. But the key lesson was that his previous efforts as a reformer and opponent of the establishment was not the way to achieve things. His success had come from using the levers of power as an insider and this is how he would continue.
Given $1M through the Parks Commission, throughout 1926 Moses began buying up land across the state and started sinking money into opening up the spaces to the public. In August construction of the Southern State Parkway, connecting all the parks on the south of Long Island, started. Moses himself began to design the bath-houses, park amenities and parking facilities that would serve the thousands of people who would flock to the parks via the new parkways. Moses’s preferred designs were ambitious. His design for the bath-houses would mean that each would use the entire budget for the whole of Long Island. Despite opposition, Governor Smith was able to use money from other departments to finance the construction.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Foreknowledge is always a problem in cases where you abuse that knowledge for personal financial gain;
- Being a reformer is not the way to change things evidently. Changing the rule to the game is 10x more difficult then playing the game as it is currently played;
- Parkways = Highways under a different name: it was a stroke of brilliance to call them different to a highway in order to gain special powers rather then be subject to the highway act;
- Opening up the park spaces to the public was a brilliant idea: it appealed to the middle and upper class sensibilities.
Chapter 13 – Driving
Moses was now working towards a deadline. Governor Smith would only be in office until 1929 as he was planning to run for President, and even if another Democrat was elected, they would never have been as supportive as Smith. Moses’s only hope was to complete enough of the parks to allow the public to see them and support them. Construction work was therefore carried out at breakneck speed.
Moses spent his time rushing between New York City, Albany and Long Island, working long hours at a relentless pace. His energy was transmitted to the workers who found the projects exciting and enjoyable. People were inspired to work long hours and with great imagination. Tremendous efforts were put into the engineering and design of all the elements of the plans, with Jones Beach providing the focus. Work carried on through the winter months, despite inclement weather.
In early 1927, the contractor building the causeway ran out of money. Moses borrowed the $20,000 required from his mother, and the work proceeded. However, the east of Jones Beach was still not his (it was owned by Babylon County) and without it, his grand plan, linking Jones Beach to Fire Island, would be unfulfilled. Researchers found that Babylon County did not actually own the fishing rights to the bay, the main source of the locals’ income and so Moses swapped the fishing rights for the right to buy the east of Jones Beach. In a referendum, with every trick in the book pursued by Moses, the approval of the sale of the whole of Jones Beach passed by seven votes. By the end of 1928, all the land required for the causeway and the Southern Parkway was secured and the Water Board and Jones Beach parks were fully developed.
The New York press were making Robert Moses a hero. This had the practical benefit of securing the Long Island dream, although this was only a part of the state park system. There were upstate parks to be considered such as on the shore of Lake George, north of Albany. This land was owned by a group of wealthy men, who Moses persuaded to either donate, or sell at a reduced price, to the state. Once he had the parks, he built the roads to join them to the highways. The parks were becoming a great success. The upstate press lauded the upstate parks, and the New York City press praised the Long Island parks. However, none of the press expressed in full the magnitude of the parks and highways development that Moses had achieved, almost fully completing the plans first put forward in 1922.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses rented a boat and traveled around the New York area looking for something to carve out a major beach for New Yorkers, standing in the weeds on the side of his boat, he looked at a stretch of white sand beach and concluded this would be the beach;
- Having the ear of the leader is only valuable as long as that leader stays in power. You also need to build relationships with the future leadership: unfortunately those folks aren’t as easy to identify in advance therefore influence will waver according to your ability to predict who will be the next leader, decision-making with the powers;
- Moses lied about the cost of Jones Beach and then go back to the legislature for more money;
- Robert Moses also targeted the legislators who had a mortgage with the 1st National Bank to turn him to support Jones Beach
- Moses was worried that poor people (typically Black and Latino people) would come to Jones Beach by bus so he made the bridge clearances under 10 feet which would prevent buses from travelling to Jones Beach; legislation is easy to change, a bridge structure is not so much; such an elitist jerk!
- Moses was anti-democratic because what he saw at Tammany hall suggests that democracy has never really occurred yet (true democracy that is).
Chapter 14 – Changing
Bob Moses had changed from an idealist to a pragmatist, one whose interest was primarily in power. Many people became to suspect that Moses was interested in power as an end in itself. However, even they had only scratched the surface of his ambition, driven by the character of his mother and grandmother. He was Bella Moses’s son, with his own version of her arrogance and sense of infallibility. Now he had power this flowered into full bloom.
His contempt spread from the general public to state legislators.
Moses began to conflict with the more elderly parks commissioners whose idea of parks were more inclined towards conservation rather than recreation. Moses had needed their backing during the last few years, but now they had become surplus to requirements. Moses now ensured that all requests for funds now had to go through the States Parks Council, previously seen as merely an advisory body and in effect, through Moses as its chairman. Moses has taken their promised control of local parks away from them. The old park men tried to replace Moses as chairman, but they discovered that the council had a majority of Smith placemen, and so Moses stayed.
Moses’s arguments with the old park men became less and less about parks philosophy and more about Moses’s desire for power and control. An example of this was the fight over the Niagara State Park and its commission’s representatives, Judge Clearwater and Ansley Wilcox. Both parties were in agreement on the need to increase the speed of development and enlargement. The only disagreement was over who should be in charge of this development. Moses saw this as a threat to his overall control.
Moses attempted to appoint an executive director of the Niagara Parks Commission. The Commission refused. Moses then called a meeting of the Parks Council to investigate a deal for land that the Niagara Commission had made with the local power company. Moses tried to imply that the deal was in favour of the power company. Despite assurances of the Niagara Commission’s innocence during the meeting and the subsequent report which exonerated them, Moses continued to hound the old men on the Commission, charging Wilcox with discourtesy by falsifying the tone of an exchange of letters and trying to remove his opponents from the Commission with charges that they were dysfunctional. By a strategy of wearing the old men down, Moses eventually gained the control he desired. With the help of Governor Smith, to whom the development of parks was a vote winner, Moses had turned parks into a lever for power.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
Robert Moses Titles with 4 year overlapping terms from 1924 to 1975:
- Long Island State Park Commission (President, 1924–1963);
- New York State Council of Parks (Chairman, 1924–1963);
- New York Secretary of State (1927–1928);
- Bethpage State Park Authority (President, 1933–1963);
- Emergency Public Works Commission (Chairman, 1933–1934);
- Jones Beach Parkway Authority (President, 1933–1963);
- New York City Department of Parks (Commissioner, 1934–1960);
- Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (Chairman, 1934–1981);
- New York City Planning Commission (Commissioner, 1942–1960);
- New York State Power Authority (Chairman, 1954–1962);
- New York’s World Fair (President, 1960–1966);
- Office of the Governor of New York (Special Advisor on Housing, 1974–1975).
- Moses seemed to love power as an end in and of itself. However, it was really his grandma talking.
Chapter 15 – Curator of Cauliflowers
In 1925, after vicious infighting with Moses as one of the main protagonists, the Reconstruction Bill reorganising government departments, originally drafted by Moses in 1919, was passed with minimal amendments. This reconstruction became the main structure for governing New York. This gave the governor immense legislative, executive and budgetary powers. Al Smith used these powers to enact large programmes of social reforms, including huge housing projects. Moses was the architect for this consolidation of power. The new structure included the appointment of a Secretary of State, who would be able to use this power in the name of the governor. There was uproar in New York political circles when Robert Moses was appointed as New York’s first Secretary of State. The Democrats objected because Moses was a Republican. The Republicans objected because they knew Moses was the servant of Al Smith, the leading Tammany Democrat. However, because of Moses’s popularity with the press and public, nobody dared to object to the appointment.
With his new powers, Smith was able to start a program of public works, involving parks, housing and hospitals. As the main executive in these projects, Moses threw himself into his work.
He turned his limousine into an office, even holding meetings in there so as not to waste a second of the day. He gave his secretary, Miss Tappen, three chauffeurs available twenty-four hours a day, and three secretaries of her own to carry out the tremendous volume of work that Moses was generating. He had buzzers included in each of his executive’s office and would expect them to be in his office immediately if he wanted them.
Moses had physically filled out. He had a big face, a big smile and a big body. He had developed a fearsome temper. He no longer inspired men, he commanded them. Only water seemed to calm him. He insisted every office and home he used was near the water. Still a keen and strong swimmer, he would swim every day.
He had a gift, however, to pick men to work for him. He seemed able to know which men were able to handle responsibility. He communicated almost entirely by memo. Only a few executives spoke with him directly and was increasingly unable to accept advice. He required absolute loyalty from his staff and he rewarded that loyalty with rapid advancement. They became part of an elite, known as “Moses Men.” He ensured that all their letters were written in a house style; his style. He taught them the social skills to allow them to communicate with people of power, and delegated authority to them. He had parks workers build and maintain houses for his executives on park land. Most of all, he gave his workers a sense of mission and purpose. They saw their plans turn rapidly into physical reality. Everybody knew that with Smith at the helm, whatever Moses wanted to happen, happened.
In the meantime, Moses was able to show some compromise with the barons of Long Island. He negotiated skilfully to allow his Northern State Parkway to pass through the baron’s estates with the minimum inconvenience, sometimes driving it through the land of poor farmers instead. Moses knew that he would have to negotiate with men of wealth and influence, but with the powerless, he could afford to be ruthless.
More power came to Moses due to Al Smith’s Presidential bid. He did not play a great role in the campaign (this was run by Mrs. Moskowitz) which was eventually lost, but while Smith was campaigning, Moses was effectively governing. Time however, was still of the essence, as Smith would not be able to serve as Governor if he was made President. Moses was therefore worried that without Smith, his plans would be shelved, and the man who was to follow Smith as Governor was to be Moses’s deadliest enemy.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Being a good judge of the kinds of people you bring on board is critical but difficult;
- Moses applied a cruel distaste for the poor; he knew they were vulnerable and acted to undermine their interests if they conflicted with his and the ‘public interest’ which he hid behind. The public interest for Moses was the above average income bracket, it seems to not include non-white Americans, Robert Caro called Moses a racist in interviews but not explicitly in the book, this is substantiated by Moses’ planning tactics, the Jones Beach bus blockade and the cold pool water examples come to mind;
- Fait Accompli strategy is to start a project that cannot be fully paid for with the agreed-upon budget but then embarrass the government into paying for the remaining.
Chapter 16 – The Feather Duster
Robert Moses and Franklin Delano Roosevelt had known each other for a long time. The patrician Roosevelt had been helpful to Al Smith by shoring up the Democrats’ more conservative wing. He had, however, never been one of Smith’s inner circle. Moses took Roosevelt along, but Roosevelt had always been restrained, never being comfortable with Smith’s Tammany crowd. He was called the “Feather Duster” at school due to his propensity to fly in and out of interests and Smith had little good to say of his ability. None of them ever guessed that Roosevelt was using his position to make a future presidential bid of his own. Only Belle Moskowitz saw Roosevelt’s potential and she saw him as a continuing threat to Smith’s own bid to be President.
When Smith appointed Moses onto the Long Island State Park Commission, he also appointed Roosevelt to the Taconic Parks Commission. Roosevelt had an assistant called Louis Howe who he required due to his disability through polio. He could not afford to pay Howe a salary and so tried to employ him as a secretary. Moses dislike Howe and tried to prevent the move. This was one of the elements of their rivalry. Another was Roosevelts interest in parks, one as strong as Moses’s own. Conflicts arose between the two arose over Moses’s rejection of Roosevelts budget requests for development of the Taconic parks and parkways. Roosevelt complained to Smith threatening to resign, and as Smith required his support for his Presidential bid, Smith made great efforts to smooth things over, supporting Roosevelt to succeed him as Governor. Moses disagreed with this, but political expediency ensured that Roosevelt got the nomination. Moses called him “a pretty poor excuse for a man.” Roosevelt’s dislike for Moses was just as intense. Smith lost the presidential race to Herbert Hoover, but Roosevelt won the governorship of New York in 1928.
Smith retired and prepared to assist Roosevelt into the governorship and help him carry on the previous policies, but Roosevelt was evasive. He was against leaving Mrs Moskowitz and Robert Moses in their posts and he was already planning for the presidential race in 1932. However, Moses was difficult to remove. He had erected a power structure in New York all his own, buttressed by public opinion. In the end, Roosevelt had to live with Moses, if not as Secretary of State, then as Chairman of the Parks Commission.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- When the powerful are fighting over power; they tend to dislike the person as well as the policy; but the personal is easier to describe and very immediately: there is not a lot projection being forced between Roosevelt and Moses
- Authoritarian CEO or consensus driver? This is the conceptual challenge of government. It is the people’s revenue! Why is it not treated like an extension of democracy (public review every 4 years)? Because that would be harder to pull off.
- FDR and Moses have an obsession with parks…Brokerage politics is about getting the vote out with your existing political machine: that has changed now that people are less locked in based on relationships proxy which was about if you like Al Smith then you should vote for him since he is Catholic etc etc. Now there is more voting based on ideology (another proxy for preferences but an effective tool for organizing). But Roosevelt had sway against Moses because Roosevelt could marshal support for Al Smith’s presidential bid.
Chapter 17 – The Mother of Accommodation
Now Moses had to operate with limited executive support and he still needed to secure the route of the Northern Parkway on Long Island and this meant negotiation with the barons. Moses accommodated the barons by diverting the route around their land. Moses claimed that the barons, as part of the deal, had contributed substantially to the cost of the parkway, but in fact, the vast majority of the cost of the detour was funded by the public. On top of that, the parkway would be detoured around the most attractive parts of northern Long Island. This compromise was, in effect, a surrender.
Although Roosevelt did not give the easy ride to Moses he was used to under Al Smith, he nevertheless continued to fund Moses’s projects. Moses’s years of ingratiating himself with a large number of New York political organisations made him electorally indispensable to Roosevelt. Moses had in a large part created the new political structures of New York and he knew how to use them. Moses aided Roosevelt with his budget negotiations. He helped with numerous legislative programs. In fact, Moses’s power continued to increase in the Roosevelt years and his reputation as the creator of parks with the press and the public remained undiminished. They continued to praise the architecture and attention to detail that were a hallmark of Moses’s park designs, especially the jewel in the crown, Jones Beach.
The success of Jones beach had its problems. By 1930, the park had over two million visitors a year. The traffic on the Southern Parkway was frequently backed up due to the continued existence of rail crossings. Moses was able to get funds to build bridges over the railway, thus alleviating the traffic problems and continuing to develop the Southern Parkway to stretch further east across Long Island. Land owners began to see the value of their land increase due to the developments and they became more willing to let go of their land. Moses’s popularity was at its peak at this time, and he would manage to get his way with Roosevelt simply by threatening to resign. With this lever, Moses’s parks and parkways in Long Island began to extend and develop rapidly. Roosevelt’s forbearance of Moses was continuing to reap political benefits for the governor. Thus, the uneasy partnership between the two was held together due to mutual benefits and grudging respect.
Left to a large extent to his own devices, a more unsavoury aspect of Moses began to appear. Although the development of the parks system was primarily for the benefit of the public, he had little regard for the public as people. He discouraged the use of the parks by black people and the working and lower middle class. He resented the fact that they messed up his beaches. He thought them dirty and slovenly. He limited access by buses and trains, the normal transport of the poorer citizens. Black people were discouraged from using “white” beaches. He lowered the temperature of the swimming pools because he thought “negroes” didn’t like cold water. He increased parking fees at the parks to discourage the working classes. Roosevelt protested, but Moses brought out the resignation card and Roosevelt relented.
When Al Smith decided to run against Roosevelt for the 1932 presidential nomination, Moses took time off to support Smith. However, Moses soon realised that Smith’s bid was doomed. Roosevelt had taken much of Smith’s support. Moses continued to battle for Smith to the end.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses’ racism is bound up in his hate for the poor. It is morally repugnant today and it was then, however, it was socially acceptable then;
- Gaining political influence within the various groups in a city is important.
- Look at Project In Isolation Not In Reference To Other Projects (A Persuasion Tactic): in government should not be viewed against other projects but should be looked at in isolation. To look at the project without reference to funding other projects is the opposite of the reality of how government works where the budgets are finite however Moses had a much easier time to make it work.
- Disregard for people versus love of the public: Moses loved the public generally hated the various people, not a healthy way of thinking.
Chapter 18 – New York City before Robert Moses
Nowhere had the Great Depression hit harder than in New York City. More than one person in every three had lost their jobs. The rest were often paid a fraction of their former salaries. Malnutrition was rife. Children missed out of education. There was fear and terror of the future.
Tammany corruption within the city was endemic. Federal relief payments were being syphoned off. The test for employment was politics rather than need. By 1932, New York’s debts were over $1 billion, equal to the debt of all the other states combined. The reckoning for Tammany rule had arrived.
The city’s failures were not entirely due to the Depression. They were also caused by under-investment in crucial infrastructure. Corrupt employment practices had resulted in a lack of qualified technical staff. Public works were either lacking or substandard. The development of parks and parkways driven by Moses stood out even more starkly as an example of what could be done. Road connections, both by bridge and tunnel, between Manhattan and the mainland were seriously inadequate. New York City, in terms of the state of its parks, playgrounds, statues and other public provisions, was a crumbling disgrace.
Central Park was a good indication of the demise of the city. The idealist construction of the 19th Century had been destroyed by the Tammany governance. The zoo there stank from neglect, the animals either sick or malformed.
The city was surrounded by beaches, but their use by Tammany insiders restricted the general public to severe limitations. The beaches that were available were inhabited by lifeguards who couldn’t swim, or homeless people’s makeshift shacks.
During the Depression the parks started to fill with shack towns or “Hoovervilles.” There was a tremendous strain on housing and the slums were overflowing, with barely an acre of green space to provide relief. In 1932 there was only one playground for every 14,000 children. This did not prevent the construction of a casino in Central Park, at vast expense, by Mayor Jimmy Walker, who proceeded to use it as his own personal domain; somewhere to wine and dine his cronies.
Moses had other things on his mind, namely, the construction of metropolitan parks and parkways, the Triborough Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge and connecting roads to alleviate the city’s traffic problems. Moses was planning to connect Manhattan with the northern states, Long Island and New Jersey. It was the most ambitious city development plan in the world. But was it achievable?
Moses persuaded Roosevelt to allocate funds as part of the State Budget. The rest of the money however, was to come from the city. Roosevelt’s successor, Herbert Lehman, was a champion for Moses and set up a special commission with Moses as chairman to start the development. Some of the initial funds were syphoned off for other purposes and it was a struggle for Moses to persuade the funders. New York City meanwhile, was unable to pay its employees and was close to being declared bankrupt. However, in the summer of 1933, Moses was to bring fresh hope to his plans by running for Mayor.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- The bridge is power, it’s the layers, public relations, and banks. Moses used the power of the bridge in order to leverage towards other projects;
- Any jurisdiction runs the risk of being mismanaged when the same people get re-elected time after time; it goes from democracy to kleptocracy rather rapidly. Mismanaging funds is often the act of screwing the future to help the present (since we don’t know what the future may hold).
Chapter 19 – To Power in the City
The Good Government Movement had been revitalised by lawyer and politician Samuel Seabury while presiding over the extensive 1930–32 investigations of corruption in the New York City municipal government. The Tammany hold on the city was beginning to loosen, and Reformers were beginning to get the upper hand. Moses was still a hero to many Reformers, and the changes to Moses’s character over the years were considered less important than his high purpose and ability. When Seabury turned down the nomination for Mayor, the way seemed clear for Moses to run on an independent or “fusion” ticket. Seabury however, was hostile to Moses. As an enemy of Tammany Hall, Seabury felt Moses, through Al Smith, was too close to Tammany and would be unable to stand up to the endemic corruption in the city.
Moses’s main rival was to be Fiorello Henry La Guardia, son of immigrants and raised in tenements, a Republican considered too liberal for most members of the GOP. The Reformers were suspicious of La Guardia because of his upbringing, his radicalism and his aggressive championing of the have-nots. At a late stage of the nomination process, Moses seemed to have it in the bag. However, Seabury turned against Moses, accusing the fusion leaders of selling out to Tammany Hall. The fusion leaders panicked and looked around for another candidate. Moses had wind of this and withdrew his nomination. The nomination went to La Guardia.
Moses refused to become involved in the race for mayor. However, when La Guardia’s campaign started to flag, Moses was asked to offer his support. Moses agreed and made a number of press attacks on Tammany Hall while at the same time extolling La Guardia’s virtues of honesty and integrity. Although Al Smith would not endorse any candidate, the fact that Moses supported La Guardia seemed to imply Smith’s support, a notion La Guardia’s supporters did nothing to dispel.
La Guardia became the new Mayor of New York. As first order of business, La Guardia appointed Moses Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Commissioner of the Triborough Bridge Authority. Both state and city legislatures voiced opposition to these appointments as it would give Moses immense power, as well as breaking a long-held precedent that a person could not hold both a state and a city job at the same time. This opposition was blasted by the press and the Reformers, and the barons of Long Island pulled their strings. On April 9th, the bill bringing all Moses’s posts together and appointing him as head, was passed.
Roosevelt’s New Deal for New York, assigning unemployed men to carry out public works, began operation. However, when Moses inspected the work being carried out on his parks by these men, found that they had few tools and little training. Moses arranged to have 80,000 of these men carry out renovations as part of his parks plans. Moses meanwhile was touring the sites in his office cum car with his secretary and his engineers. Moses extolled his engineers to use their imagination and design structures appropriate to the individual places. His concentration was not reserved for one park, but all the parks.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Tammany hall broke the idealistic spirit of Robert Moses and left him turning to the darkside of ignoring democracy ;
- From 1930 to 1968, Robert Moses became the Darth Vader of New York…advocating for prejudicial, biased projects based on income and even race to a certain extent.
Chapter 20 – One Year
In early 1934, Moses was appointed as Commissioner for State Parks. Moses moved quickly to get rid of all staff who could not work at the pace he required. Moses then hired an army of architects and engineers from all over New York State. The ranks of Civil Works Administration (CWA) workers were also being addressed through discipline and training enforced by new superintendents, backed up by the local police.
The winter was bad that year with temperatures plummeting to -14C. Nevertheless, workers were still expected to wield their pickaxes, shifts working around the clock. By May however, the weather changed, and New Yorkers headed for the parks. By then, the parks had been transformed through the completion of 1700 projects.
Moses was not only transforming existing parks but was creating new ones using as much public land as could be identified. During a six-month period, Moses created nearly seventy green spaces, playgrounds and parks amongst the slum tenements. Other government departments looked on in anguish as all their land, planned for housing and other public works, was eaten up by park development. Occasionally, La Guardia would intervene, but for the most part, Moses had his way.
The press and people of New York cheered the new developments. The achievements of the new Commissioner in his first six months of office were seen as near miraculous. His picture stared out from the city newspapers over one hundred times that year. Al Smith however, was struggling in his new role. He was being rebuffed by Roosevelt and his association with the new Empire State Building was becoming stressful due to the difficulty of finding tenants. His one shaft of light was the opening, by Moses, of the Central Park Zoo. Moses had arranged a hero’s welcome for Smith at the opening ceremony, making him Honorary Night Superintendent of the Central Park Zoo.
Moses’s attention to detail was becoming his hallmark. Even though finances were tight, his prompted his architects and engineers to use their imagination. Tight budgets meant that the materials used had to be cost-effective, but that did not seem to limit unduly the scale and attractiveness of the Zoo and associated park developments.
The Triborough Bridge development meanwhile was coming the fruition, linking three boroughs and two islands. More than five thousand men worked on the site and many times more were servicing the construction from across the state. The development totally transformed traffic flow across the city and between the city and neighbouring states. The combination of cheap labour, bridges and parkways to serve the parks, and attractive parks to persuade motorists to pay the bridge tolls, meant that even in the age of depression, a huge program of public works could be achieved.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Parks were more popular than movie theatres in the early 20th century which illustrates just how much the future is an undiscovered country;
- Robert Moses’ success in understanding that the toll revenue from the infrastructure projects were critical to not just paying down the Bonds but could be a source of further capital to follow his goals; he would draft those goals on yellow legal pad;
- Moses issued bonds outside of the tax revenue and normal budgetary powers, so elected officials were then going to Moses to decide what they should be investing in;
- Moses was a passenger on many small plane flights over Manhattan so that he could plan his next projects in 1934, hence the benefit of a higher vantage point.
Chapter 21 – The Candidate
In 1934, Moses started to run for Governor as a Republican. The “old guard” of the GOP, the barons and property owners, hated Roosevelt and were keen to retain power in their hands. They also had a fight within their own party, with the incumbent Macy. At the centre of this was the battle over control of the power utilities; between public and private.
The “old guard” turned to Robert Moses. They shared Moses’s often expressed disdain for the masses and his hatred for the President and the New Deal. In public however, Moses was still seen as a man of the people, which would protect him against Democrat attack. Eventually Moses was nominated for, and accepted, the Republican nomination for Governor. His previous supporters in the press were mystified by Moses’s campaign. He made a number of campaign pledges which pleased both the young and old in the GOP. He then looked towards his ex-Democrat friends for support, but in such an antagonistic way that he alienated them. He also attacked his recent supporters in the press for questioning his closeness to the old guard. He assumed he had La Guardia’s support, and announced it without consulting him. He thus also displeased the Mayor of New York.
Moses refused to play the campaign game; there were no drive-throughs or cocktail parties. He campaigned mainly by press releases. Moses also attempted to deny his Jewish heritage.
He then turned to attack Governor Lehman and his links to Tammany Hall. He called Lehman “weak” and “snivelling.” A previous supporter of Moses, Lehman hit back. He repeated the accusation that Moses was being run by the old guard. He also used the public ownership of the power utilities to get the press and public on his side.
Late in the campaign, Moses went too far and called Lehman a liar, a charge never previously used in campaigns. Moses’s own supporters turned against him saying he was unfit for office. Moses continued to harangue all and sundry, friend and foe. Finally, Al Smith joined the fray. The former Governor respected Lehman and started to campaign for him. He would not actively campaign against Moses but his intervention was crucial. Allied with his alienation of his supporters, Moses’s popularity waned.
At the polls, Moses was heavily defeated, getting less votes than any other candidate in New York State history. The old guard were never again allowed to choose a candidate. Commentators said that it was Moses’s personality and personal attacks that had lost the election. Once the public had seen Moses not as a fighter for parks but as a man in himself, their trust in him had disappeared.
On election night, Moses seemed to disregard the result, saying that we would return to his State Park work. There were moves to remove Moses as Chairman, but Lehman and Smith, despite Moses’s behaviour during the election, continued to support him. However, the shine on Robert Moses had dulled. His arrogance and contempt had been seen by the public and they had not liked what they had seen.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses team was never explicitly about money for votes. Moses was asking for people to get power. He was not money hungry. Moses was power corrupt; he had the money to be money clean but power corrupt he was for sure.
- Moses was a public servant at his core. La Guardia was an equivocating double talking politician. Duplicitous and conniving;
- On the campaign trail, Moses denied his Judaism during his gubernatorial campaign in 1934 as the Republican candidate. He denied it and even threatened to sue a Jewish publication that claimed Moses as their own. His kids were in Episcopalian school and his Tammany hall friends were of course Catholics;
- Moses was all about road to the parks. And the public focus in elections is on the person; the public didn’t like him because the ends he pushed for. Moses was an intellectual and very arrogant; he did listen to other people. He needed to show himself as smarter; he shunned public appearances’
- Moses attacked Lehman. Lehman was the puppet. Keenan from the Lehman brothers. Moses tried to make up stuff about Lehman. And he tried to link Lehman to high milk prices. Lehman brother was connected to milk prices. Moses lies about control “he did lie about it.” Moses was seen as unfit; too nasty. Jim Farley the Big Bag Man. Wholesale liable. Accused some folks of slick traders and pretending to be civic champion….”he is entitled to all the fun of being an emotional stability.” Moses did not get Alan Smith’s political style and was not able to learn it for the election: “Moses, you know I play this game like a regular” said Al Smith. Moses list both houses and then 35% GOP lost in upstate New York. Sinking of a poor candidate; he was caught in the badness. Republicans lost across the US…Moses’ personality really sucked for the role of actual politician;
- Robert Moses realized that he was not going to get elected and sort to be a permanent civil servant, he wanted to be the locus of corruption (power).
Chapter 22 – Order 129
Roosevelt as President felt it was time to get his revenge on Moses. Roosevelt withheld money from New York City and the Mayor, La Guardia, now knew about the feud between Moses and Roosevelt. Roosevelt said La Guardia would not get vital funding if Moses remained. La Guardia now tried to get Moses to resign from the posts he currently held. Moses was still held in high regard in terms of parks and this was not easy. Moses could not be removed unless he was charged with a misdemeanour.
In December 1934 Roosevelt raised an order to the PWA, Order 129, that stipulated that no funds would be given to any authority whose head held public office. This obviously referred to Moses. This gave La Guardia a public excuse to fire Moses. Roosevelt also told La Guardia that funds would be resumed if Moses was simply not appointed the following year.
In response, Moses leaked the order to the press, showing Roosevelt to be involved in New York affairs. Moses was showing himself as an underdog fighting for the city against the powers that be. The press firmly lined up on Moses’s side and the public also returned their support. La Guardia now came under intense pressure to relax the pressure on Moses or resign himself. Moses had turned the situation around and now enjoyed the full support of the city.
Roosevelt however would not give an inch. He still wanted to go through with the order. Unfortunately for him, the press found out that Roosevelt was aware of, and even directed the order. The Reformers then joined on Moses’s side. They made it a matter of the principle of the division of powers, of the city being held hostage by the President. By mid-February 1935, the level of protest became countrywide and unignorable. A congressional investigation was talked of. A report from the Attorney General judged the order to be illegal.
Roosevelt was desperate to find a way out. La Guardia suggested that he would apply the order in the future, but not retroactively. Al Smith had been persuaded by his supporters to intervene and now he decided that now was the time. He called a press conference, supporting Moses but not directly attacking Roosevelt but attacking his administrators. Roosevelt decided that this was the time to back down. Moses had won the battle and retained public confidence.
With funding resumed, the Triborough Bridge project was finally completed. Moses arranged a grand opening. The press speculated whether the President would attend. The President said he would attend but only if he was introduced by La Guardia. Both Roosevelt and Moses avoided voicing their mutual animosity, effectively putting their public spat to rest.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- When La Guardia was angry with Moses, he threatened but Moses said look at the contract! The contracts had been signed by the mayor because he trusted Moses to be just. Also don’t forget Moses could get projects done without a scandal! On time for the election;
- La Guardia believed lawyers were like prostitutes except they sell their knowledge of the law; Moses believed that tax payers had a right to get value for money coming from all workers and employees, both would be somewhat right and somewhat wrong;
- Graft through fees for lawyer was a common thing, commissions for real estate agents. Insurance broker fees called commissions and public relations fees called retainers….no coincidences goes unpaid. How do you prove a lawyers fee for billable hours is not graft?
- Tom Shanahan was a banker who was able to get into construction contracts and would basically ensure a cash back to Shanahan fees for banking services and then a donation to the Democrat party. Shanahan would basically say I will expose the nasty stuff from the 1930s. Shanahan worked with Moses.
Chapter 23 – In the Saddle
Mayor La Guardia was now free to concentrate on the city. He seemed to be everywhere, dominating the whole of his domain. He slashed all non-essential jobs and reduced overall the city payroll. All eyes however were on the relationship between him and Moses.
La Guardia had the reputation of treating all his public servants like dogs. The turnover of his senior staff was high. However, his relationship with Moses was different. Moses often kept him waiting and would not cower in his presence, usually giving as good as he got. Moses’s threats of resignation as a weapon returned frequently and successfully. La Guardia eventually countered this ruse by treating all the resignations as a joke, which reduced their occurrence without fully eliminating them.
In July 1936, La Guardia decided to recommission the Triborough Ferry, drawing traffic away from the new bridge. He was supported by regular users and further bolstered by a new development nearby which could use the ferry. Moses attempted to use his construction plans to block the ferry by removing one of the piers. The Mayor sent the police to try to keep the pier open, but the construction crew refused to stop the destruction. The police removed the crew by force and the pier was replaced. However, Moses wrested control of the ferry and continued the removal of the pier and the shutting down of the ferry.
Another battle followed. To reduce the payroll, La Guardia ordered Moses to reduce staff. In reply, Moses removed all the playground attendants, effectively shutting them down. After public uproar, funds were restored.
Despite their disagreements, both men were so driven by public works that their hostilities could soon be forgotten. They both seemed to understand that they were kindred spirits; both were dreamers. Apart from that, La Guardia soon realised that the reason New York was getting one sixth of the PWA funds for the entire country was because of Moses’s attention to detail and expertise with bureaucracy. However, Moses paid back by ensuring that La Guardia was kept centre stage in all the major developments and allowed to accept the plaudits in the middle of grand ceremonies. In 1936, Moses opened ten swimming pools in ten weeks, using all the latest developments of lighting and pool chlorination. One of the pools was called the finest pool in the world. It was La Guardia who pulled the switch that turned on the lighting.
Moses continued to cultivate the press, charming the press barons with lavish banquets. He met the owners outside of business hours to plant headlines and editorials. Moses had an especially close relationship of the New York Times whose owner, Iphigene Salzburger, was a particularly vocal supporter of parks. Until the end of her life she was to call Moses the greatest of public servants. Moses cultivated this relationship by involving her at early stages of his plans. Despite some disagreements – she was a conservationist – she was in the end always supportive of Moses’s grand scheme for parks. Moses was becoming too big, and his accomplishments too successful, to fire. Moses’s parks projects began to succeed to the detriment of more important infrastructure vital to the city. Moses’s plans had become separated from the public will.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses and La Guardia had a very tumultuous relationship. Moses threatened to resign many times which was apparently a trump card since La Guardia needed Moses for support, running the government: could Moses have over played the value of his hand?
- Moses and La Guardia fought over a pier; it is actually the stuff a great movie script;
- Moses pulled the playground attendants in response to La Guardia’s strategy of cutbacks: Moses used the public outcry to control La Guardia;
- Both Dreamers; cannot fire each other as kindred spirits;
- Wining and Dining the Press: obviously a great way to get their attention. In hospitals, the Pharmaceuticals treat Nurses to informational seminars which include free delicious food. Do the Nurses complain? Not all of them, after all the hours are tough. In Moses’ world, the press barons were very powerful and gaining favour with them meant distorting reality.
Chapter 24 – Driving
With his new sense of power, Moses now sought to remake the city. For this he needed federal resources. He started to ignore or circumvent many of the laws of the city in order to keep up the pace of development. He continued to fight other departments with all his political skills, using the press when necessary to spearhead his attacks. If any of his projects were delayed, Moses sent word through the press that they were being held up by bureaucratic red tape.
At this time, press barons such as W.H. Hearst were drumming up scare stories about the “red peril.” To be called out as a communist at this time was the worst anybody could be called. Moses used information about opponents, especially with regard to memberships of suspicious organisations, in order to smear them. One target was Paul J. Kern, key assistant to La Guardia, who Moses felt was interfering with his plans. Moses called Kern a Russian agent because of some unfortunate pro-Russian sympathies in the past. The Hearst empire began hunting for Kern’s scalp. Kern was eventually fired.
Moses’s developments turned to the city itself. This was more complicated than Long Island. The city had evolved into a thriving community and could not be rearranged by the broad brushstrokes Moses was used to. Every change made a multiplicity of consequences. A highway would have an immense impact on neighbourhoods, destroying good things as well as bad. Success in city planning required a more subtle and sophisticated formula. A more human aspect had to be added, but Moses would not allow it to be added.
To find out what ordinary people really needed, the public had to be talked to. Moses was not used to this, in fact was not interested in this. He was only interested in the grand designs. There were tough choices to be made, but they could only be made using in depth knowledge of the people who were to be served. However, Moses only ever considered common people in the mass. Parks were no longer there simply to provide nice views for motorists.
Despite all these real needs, Moses refused to adapt his designs. He started to hire people who would bend to his will and by this, lost out on the great talents who had advised him before. More and more the designs would be Moses’s alone, and however brilliant he may have been, it could never match the co-operative working using all the talents of before. By working like this, Moses was running out of hours needed to supervise everything. The majority of parks began to decline in quality. Original creation was being superseded by repetition with cheap materials.
Moses was not interested in anything small, and so many small projects, mainly in the slums where the poor and ethnic minorities had to live, were given the lowest priority. The Reformers understood that if the government didn’t provide parks for the poor in the city, then nobody would. This especially affected the black community. Their swelling population was not being provided for by the city. Moses’s parks system had effectively barred them from the great state parks due to lack of rail or bus transport. Small parks were thus essential, but they were not part of Moses’s plans and this was becoming increasingly obvious. For the 300,000 people of Harlem there was not a single green space. Conservation was giving way to recreation; concrete was replacing grass. The Reformers wanted to discuss their concerns with Moses, but Moses wasn’t listening.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Playground and Swimming Pool Discrimination: the realization that Moses is a total asshole is complete. Robert Moses did not build playgrounds for black children. Moses was intentionally not supplying parks in Harlem. Spanish Harlem was also discriminated against according to Caro; particularly by employing only white lifeguards (i.e not looking after other races lifeguards)….the cold water would deter black swimmers or so Moses thought: what a douch bag! Moses said he wanted the water colder so only white swimmers would feel welcome: horrible if true! Moses did not like Small Parks, these parks would help the black community most. There was no green space in Harlem….concrete replaced grass…this is where we see the dark said of Moses.
- Remember that the slums were not exactly beautiful places to live, but instead of restoring those neighbourhoods, the city of New York would incrementally remove basic amenities like gas, water. The slums would be starved until there were fewer and fewer residents making it easy to then bulldoze the houses to build new lucrative developments which would make New York too expensive for folks making less then above the national average.
PART 5 – The Love of Power
Chapter 25 – Changing
Moses’s need for power was strong and it was growing. He seemed to take pleasure in antagonising people who disagreed with his plans. He also started to act badly towards people who were nothing to do with his work. Sometimes because they were unable to fight back. An element of sadism seemed to have entered Moses’s character. He started to have physical encounters with people he knew could not fight back. He wasn’t content with ignoring opponents but was intent on destroying them.
A streak of maliciousness was becoming apparent as well. He ousted the members of the Columbia Yacht club from their clubhouse on a potential park site before they had time to consult with their members, merely because they asked for a few months delay to move their belongings. A judge agreed with the delay, but work went ahead. The clubhouse’s electricity was shut off. Then its water. By the time the injunction was put in force, trenches had been dug denying access. The clubhouse was then demolished even though the plans were not finalized for the park.
Moses’s methods were successful in that they intimidated people, allowing him to press on with his plans. He continued to create great works by creating new land and planting trees and flowers. His monuments were everywhere. The public cheered rather than moralized. The press were right back on side. His playground schemes were judged an unqualified success even though most of the playgrounds were placed in areas that needed them least. There were few in areas that needed them most, especially those containing black communities like Harlem, despite the evidence that the lack of well-run playgrounds was resulting in children wandering the streets and becoming involved in crime. Appeals were made directly to La Guardia but he was unwilling to cross swords with Moses.
Moses paid more attention to his expensive swimming pools. The success of these became a smokescreen to the failures of the playground program. His distaste for the black community was also evident here. Only white lifeguards and attendants were employed. At swimming pools in black neighbourhood, the water was kept significantly colder because Moses thought that this would deter blacks.
New parkways to were opened in 1936, but the traffic congestion returned in under three weeks. Moses’s solution was to build even newer parkways. The Triborough Bridge was also opened this year, to adulation from the public and the press. Soon after the opening New York City experienced one of its worst ever traffic jams. Again, Moses’s solution was to build more parkways. Again, the press agreed. But traffic growth was heading far ahead of estimates. It started to become clear that building more bridges and parkways increased the use of cars and this, along with the rise in car ownership, was the cause of the problem. There were calls to increase rail traffic to take the pressure off of the roads. However, Moses built the new $70 M Whitestone Bridge. It soon became jammed as well. Moses opened new city highways in 1939 and 1941. They filled up as quickly as the others.
Worst of all, Moses tore down the lively Third Avenue neighbourhood to make way for a ten-line highway which plunged Third Avenue itself into noisy darkness. Half the stores, restaurants and theatres were gone. Once it was a place for people, now it was a place for trucks and cars. The side streets, once the playground for children, were now too dangerous to play in. Third Avenue became a paradise for gangs, drunks and drug addicts, full of abandoned shells of cars, mattresses and rats.
Moses then turned his attention to his original dream, the Riverside Parkway heading north out of the city. The job had started in 1929 and over $100M had already been spent before being abandoned at the start of the Depression. Moses required $109M more. Moses found that the railroad owed the city $13M. This would provide Moses with a start. Moses needed to find a source of funds that the railroad could use to pay off the debt. He found this in funds available to build in the Grade Elimination Fund, set up to build bridges over railroads. Governor Lehman was persuaded to sign off the loan by promising that he would get the credit for the improvements. Moses got his money, but he needed $86M more. Moses scoured around for new funds to use and adapted his designs to qualify for them. The overall plans were labelled as Grade Elimination Plans to qualify for federal funding.
Although the fundraising was progressing, economies had to be made. This was made by drastically reducing the quality of work as it ran through poor areas as well as changing the route of the parkway to run straight through parkland. By these changes to the plan and strenuous fundraising, Moses need only $10M to complete his dream. He thought that this last pot of money would be the easiest to obtain, but it became the hardest. He attempted to interest Wall Street in a $10M bond issue, but the bankers would only release $3M. Moses worked to reduce the cost. As the PWA was to receive a new dispensation, he was able to get some funds from there, but he still had a significant shortfall. Then one of his engineers had a brainwave. They could build a smaller bridge, reduce the number of lanes, then strengthen and expand it when more fund became available. With this last economy, the funding for Moses’s dream was complete.
However, having the new parkway cut straight through a park – a park that was a considered one of the last great conservation areas of the city – created opposition. On top of this it was discovered that the original route was cheaper and would cause far less damage to the parks and connected waterfront. Moses refused to listen and pre-emptively began cutting down trees. Approval for Moses’s plan was given and by 1937 his dream was complete, but at a cost, during the Depression, of around two hundred million, skilfully hidden dollars and little of benefit to the poor and black neighbourhoods. As for the traffic congestion, this would continue to worsen. Despite these reservations, Moses’s reputation was at its zenith.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Mary did his finances…
- Moses was interested in grand design: not listening to the public. He was a kind of a Steve Jobs-type.
Chapter 26 – Two Brothers
One person who was not impressed by Robert Moses’s success was his brother, Paul Moses. Paul always claimed that Robert had cheated him out of his inheritance. Robert’s slightly older brother shared his personality. There were however differences in their idealism. Paul, unlike his brother, wanted class distinctions eliminated, especially with regards to the black community. He was much more interested in common people. He would also disagree with his mother, unlike Robert.
One difference looms largest of all. Paul never went into public service. He had a job offer as a consulting engineer, but it was vetoed by Al Smith. Paul always suspected that his brother was involved. Previous to 1930, relations between the two had been friendly, but when Paul irrevocably fell out with his mother and was effectively left out of her will, the relationship changed. At the age of 43, Paul had nothing. He was also alienated by the rest of his family and would never be able to figure out why this had happened, but he would always suspect Robert’s involvement.
Whether Robert had any part in denying Paul his share of the will is unclear, but Robert’s part in denying Paul a job in public service is undeniable. It was clear to contemporary observers that Robert advised La Guardia not to employ Paul. Paul was able to secure temporary jobs but permanent positions were denied him. By 1938 he could not find anybody to employ him at all and his investment in a swimming pool complex was using all the savings he had. He became encircled by a net of debts and he was receiving next nothing from his trust fund.
His appearance changed, as did his spirit, becoming bitter and frustrated. Robert was refusing to talk to him. When Paul found out that Robert was asking to be paid for being a trustee of the funds from which Paul was receiving little or no money, Paul’s frustration turned to rage. Paul hired an attorney to challenge the operations of the trust. However, Robert arranged that the case was to be heard by a judge more favourable to himself. The case went against Paul. Paul’s feeling of injustice became an obsession. Paul turned every conversation into an assault on his brother.
During 1942, Paul became an engineer in the Navy, which rehabilitated him somewhat. After the war however, his difficulty in obtaining work resumed. Although his brother was hiring a multitude of engineers, no offer came Paul’s way. Paul lived the last ten years of his life in poverty. Paul died in 1967.
Robert’s attitude to his sister, his father and his mother in later life was similarly disparaging. He also cut off relations with his wider family. His only close family relationship was with his wife, Mary and his two children. People remarked how different Moses was at home. Mary mothered him, looking after his money and the family bills. She was hostess for his luncheons; a witty and successful one. She was Robert’s respected confidant and advisor.
As Robert gained success however, he became louder and Mary became quieter. The brighter he shone, the more Mary disappeared into the shadows. Robert still spent as much time with Mary, but she had begun to drink. She was hospitalised with alcohol and nervous problems as was to remain in the shadows.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Brother’s undermining each other is a bit weird. Accidents can be cascaded. Paul Moses was not able to get permanent work at the city because his brother undermined him. Was there something about Paul Moses that justified Robert Moses’ choices? Was Paul a drunk or something?
- Moses is working to delay the projects that he could not be in control of. And destroyed the projects he could not control…
- Moses was not shy about circumventing the mayor. Moses was shut out of the housing projects as retaliation;
- Moses developed a habit of taking small institutions and turning them into a great sources of power.
Chapter 27 – Changing
Power and Personality – Interplay.
Moses now started to seek power for its own sake. In 1936, the New York City Tunnel Authority was established to build a Queens Mid-town tunnel. Moses asked to be a member but received no support from La Guardia and as a public official was ineligible. Moses persisted to get appointed but failed. He therefore resolved to destroy it.
The Mid-town tunnel experienced delays which threatened the necessary funding. Moses worked to delay it further by keeping the enabling bill stuck in committee. Most contemporaries thought that Moses tried to destroy the project purely because it was a challenge to his power. This revealed the lengths Moses would go to gain control.
As Federal housing funding became available, Moses hastily made up his own housing plans. The vast power involved attracted Moses. Moses circumvented the Mayor and presented his housing program directly to potential investors and the media, a program that conflicted with the Mayor’s own. However, a copy of the plan had fallen into La Guardia’s hands. As Moses was supposedly broadcasting his program to a large audience, La Guardia had cut him off the air. La Guardia also ensured that the Housing Committee rejected all Moses’s plans. Moses did not receive any of the housing projects.
La Guardia then moved to reduce Moses’s power in parks and transportation. The Mayor started to try to channel Moses’s energy into other areas of public works. However, Moses had always been skilled in taking a small institution and turning it into a source of great power. He was now to turn his mind to the institution known as the Public Authority.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses gained equal status with La Guardia through various means.
Chapter 28 – The Warp on the Loom
The Public Authority was a part private, part public authority and new in the United States, originally set up to collect tolls on rural roads. They mainly became established during the New Deal. Each had been established to fund one new development through the issue of bonds before turning them over to the city. The authority would thus be wound down.
The tolls collected for the new bridges was earning far more than was originally conceived. Normally this meant that the tolls would end faster than usual. However, Moses saw the extra revenues as a source of funds for further development, funds which would have little of the restrictions applying to federal funds. The increase in traffic over the bridges made them a much more attractive investment for the bankers and authorities could issue bonds to raise even more funds. There would need to be a change in the law to allow Moses to keep the surplus and to extend the life of the authority indefinitely. This change would give him the power and the money equivalent to running a sovereign state.
Moses drafted a new Triborough Act for the running of the Triborough Authority, allowing it to re-issue bonds indefinitely. As the authority could only be wound down once the bonds were paid off, the authority could exist indefinitely. The Act also expanded the role of the authority which would now encompass any connected development to the original development. This would allow the Triborough Authority to effectively develop parks, roads and bridges anywhere in the city. More than this, it could develop anything that connected with these developments such as housing. When the Act was passed, the Triborough Authority, and Moses as its Chairman, had as much power over city development as the City of New York.
With the new power of the Authority, Moses has a major say in any development over the whole of the New York metropolitan area. Moses’s methods of persuasion would require secrecy and the Authority would give that secrecy. It would also give him the image of independence over red tape, the champion of the people over the dead hand of bureaucracy. This new institution would be the vehicle for the realisation of his dreams and the new head office would be on Randall’s Island, a moat protected kingdom outside of the jurisdiction of the city.
Moses no longer needed the protection of the Mayor and it was no longer politically possible for the Mayor to fire Moses. From then on, Moses no longer treated La Guardia as a superior, but as an equal.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Robert Moses’ largest defeat was pushing for the Brooklyn Battery Bridge: it was because of Mrs Roosevelt that his plan was thwarted apparently. Or it was just not a good plan and with hindsight, car dependency was a growing problem.
PART 6 – THE LUST FOR POWER
Chapter 29 – And When the Last Wall Was Down
Anxious as he was, La Guardia could not raise the funds he required to create a new system of highways and tunnels necessary for the Great Belt System city. When he went to Moses for the funds, Moses said he could only have it if Moses could be Chairman of the Tunnel Authority. La Guardia had no choice and acceded to Moses’s demand.
Moses started by changing the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel into the Brooklyn Battery Bridge. This plan, for the greatest bridge in the world, provoked significant opposition due to its projected cost which some feared would bankrupt the city. It would take funds away for other essential developments such as schools and hospitals, subways and care centres. However, La Guardia supported Moses and the plans were approved.
What followed was a cry of outrage from some of the richest and most influential citizens of New York. The impact of the bridge on the surrounding landscape would be immense. Battery Park would be effectively destroyed. Local real estate would be devalued. Local office blocks would be blocked of light and air, and taxes would thus have to be reduced, causing a fall in city revenues.
Battery Park and the harbour of Lower Manhattan were of special historical significance to the Reformer aristocrats as being a key site during and after the Revolution, as well as being a haven of peace in the crush of concrete surrounding it. Through its winding lanes and under its trees, the city could be left behind. There were green lawns and wildlife with the lapping of the sea, and within it, the City Aquarium, built on top of Fort Clinton which protected the city during the War of 1812 and which provided the starting point for some of the city’s great parades. The new bridge with its highway would cast the park into shadows. The fight between Moses and the Reformers over the bridge marked his final break with his Reformer past.
Stanley Isaacs was a long time Reformer who in 1939 was elected Borough President. He had led his public life very much in parallel with the early Moses but had continued to keep to his principles. He had come to believe that Moses had abandoned his. Moses, now at the helm of the powerful Public Authority, did not need the support of the Reformers any longer and now turned his fire on them.
The reformers began by challenging Moses’s statement of costs for the bridge, saying that the costs had been grossly underestimated. They claimed that Moses had not included the costs of the associated approach roads and the rebuilding of Battery Park, and that the Tunnel would in fact be cheaper. Despite the case presented by the Reformers, the bridge was approved as the only development which had the funding, from Moses, and Moses was unwilling to build anything else.
Stanley Isaacs had studied the bills and found that there was a clause that ensured that the city would in fact have to pay a vast sum towards the bridge. He attempted to delay the bill in order for other options could be studied. The Reformers started to drum up support from across the city, including artists and architects, to attempt to preserve Battery Park. The Committee to oppose the bridge also had the ear of the press, allowing much greater discussion. The tide of public opinion started to move against Moses. However, they did not understand how much power Moses had been given. Moses sent an ultimatum to La Guardia that if the Mayor wanted a Battery Crossing at all, it would have to be the bridge.
During the hearing to discuss Moses’s plan, the Reformers demolished the plans in terms of the proposed costs and the effect to Battery Park. When Moses rose to speak, he started by comparing the opposition to the Battery Bridge with the failed opposition to the Brooklyn Bridge. He then followed with a number of personal attacks. As for Battery Park, Moses said it wasn’t much of a park anyway. He said that the city could either have the bridge or not. There would be no alternative. The bill in favour of Moses was passed by the city and the Governor. Only approval by the War Department remained, and perhaps an intervention by the President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt.
In July 1939 the War Department mysteriously rejected the Bridge plan as an obstacle to navigation during war time as well as being a potential target. On top of this, the War Department loaned the city sufficient money to build the tunnel. Moses was never to forget this defeat and he always suspected Mrs. Roosevelt’s intervention with the President as the cause of it. The key point arising from the “Battle for Battery Park” however, was that it had taken the intervention of the President to stop Moses. The powers of the city government and the New York establishment had been powerless to stop him.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses engaged in revenge tactics; he couldn’t have the Brooklyn Battery Bridge so he tried to destroy Battery Park anyway, first by attempting to destroy Fort Clinton.
Chapter 30 – Revenge
After this defeat, Moses, with his power over parks, made plans to demolish the Battery Park Aquarium at Fort Clinton and replace it with a larger structure near the Bronx Zoo. Most contemporaries agreed that this was purely an act of revenge as it would effectively destroy Battery Park. Again, Moses cloaked his reasons for this development in false reports and surveys, as well as diminishing the value of the structure both aesthetically and historically.
In 1941, the aquarium and the Park was closed in order to start work on the tunnel.
As this was occurring during a Mayoral election, Moses began to pull political strings and threw his support behind La Guardia. The Mayor, once re-elected, felt bound to support him. A vote was cast in favour of demolishing the aquarium, but the fate of the underlying fort remained undecided. Moses stated that the fort had to come down as well as most of it had been largely demolished but upon inspection the fort was seen to be still there. There were moves in Congress to declare the fort a national monument. Moses moved quickly and prepared to demolish the fort, but an injunction arrived just in time to delay the demolition and allow time for the national monument bill to be passed.
The construction of the new aquarium however was to go ahead, not at the Bronx Zoo but at Coney Island. The cost, estimated by Moses as being $200M to be paid by the Zoo Authority, was on completion $11M to be paid for by the city. As the construction wasn’t completed until 1955, the cost of Moses’s revenge was not only in dollars, but also the removal of an aquarium facility for over a decade.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Monopoly power is best, especially if you are the monopoly owner; it doesn’t make it right, it just is.
Chapter 31 – Monopoly
Robert Moses still required power over the Tunnel Authority if his desires were to continue to be fulfilled. Moses asked that construction of the tunnel should stop for the period of the war as the steel linings to the tunnel would be required for war production, even though the linings were in fact cast iron and unsuitable for war production. Moses continued to lobby the La Guardia to hand the construction over to the Triborough Authority siting inefficiency. Moses also tried to smear the Ole Singstad, the Tunnel Authority’s Chief Engineer and Moses’s chief adversary over the Battery Tunnel, by attacking his brother-in-law, but a Port Authority hearing overruled him. Moses wrote directly to the Mayor. Eventually, Moses’s pressure won through and in 1945 the Triborough Authority took control of the Tunnel Authority. The tunnels and their revenues were now his. He now had a monopoly over all river crossings in the city, all future crossings and all of the combined revenues. Through all this the press had kept silent.
Although Ole Singstad was to design the Battery Tunnel, he had to hand the designs over to the Triborough Authority. Singstad was never to be given credit, and he was never to receive another commission from the city where he lived. Although Moses had deliberately underestimated the revenues to be made from tunnels during his fight with Singstad, Triborough was in a large part to be financed by the tunnels in the following years.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- La Guardia stood up to Moses. Moses was responsible for the Triborough Bridge so standing up to him was tough;
- Don’t tell me, show me what your working with. Moses noticed that models of bridges had a superior way of manipulating people rather then telling them about bridges.
Chapter 32 – Quid Pro Quo
In early 1945 Mayor La Guardia was dying of cancer. Roosevelt was dead, and President Truman was not an ally. His popularity had waned. He announced in the spring that he was not going to run in the next election. The Tammany candidate, William O’Dwyer, despite Moses’s lifelong antagonism towards Tammany Hall, received Moses’s blessing and support. In a paid announcement, four days before the election, O’Dwyer said he was to create a new post to cover all major infrastructure developments in the city. He also announced that Moses had graceful agreed to serve. O’Dwyer won the election by a landslide.
Most people thought that Moses would not last long working with the corrupt Tammany Hall, but most people underestimated how much Moses had changed. He was no longer the Reformer and idealist, but a hard-nosed, power hungry politician. Mayor La Guardia in his last years regretted the amount of power Moses had been given. He thought that now he was gone, nobody would be able to stand up to Moses.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses’ reputation was very clean because he was relatively non-partisan and the general public thought he was the park manager for the most part;
- Robert Moses knew how to work with Tammany Hall, not against Tammany hall which was an Irish catholic political machine in New York from 1789 to 1966. It was a political movement with ability to raise funds for candidates, coordinate voting blocks and retain a major controlling influence on the Democrat Party in New York. The organizations role evolved over its 200 year history. There were various bosses who ran Tammany Hall and directed political campaigns in order to extract move influence for the core cause of supporting new immigrants particularly new Catholic Americans which were the first non-England immigrant groups to define the New York culture and ambiance. In the Moses era, Tammany Hall was still very powerful although Mayor La Guardia became an new Italian centric political movement dissipating the political machinery of Tammany Hall. There were consistent concerns about corruption because the organization outvoted other coalitions within the Democrat Party to let your supporter know when the inspections is coming with a signal…corrupt. After the Lindsey mayoral election in 1966, Tammany Hall was no longer a factor in voting blocks, unions or otherwise.
Chapter 33 – Leading out the Regiment
After the war, the federal government became more involved in urban development. During the New Deal, most federal funds had been channelled through the city governments. Moses’s new role, as Construction Co-ordinator was seen by many as far too powerful, but O’Dwyer signed it into law. Hidden in the enabling act was a provision for the co-ordinator to negotiate with federal funding bodies, in effect becoming the main broker for the city over desperately needed funds. All roadbuilding in the city was henceforth determined by Moses.
In 1948, Moses was visited by an old Yale classmate, Robert A. Taft, who talked to him about a new concept called “urban renewal”. Moses was already pushing for large projects as head of O’Dwyer’s Slum Clearance Committee and so news that this would attract large amounts of federal funds meant that these plans could be made real.
Moses continued to foster close relationships with the city and state machinery, especially those areas with jurisdiction over his plans. Governors Dewey and Harriman, who ran New York in the post war years, provided little control over Moses, due to the many directorships Moses held and by his control of the city press and his continuing public adulation. Harriman found himself often influenced by expert opinion, many of whom were employed by Moses.
He had also, due to his reorganisation of the civil service years ago, a unique understanding of civil service machinery. Moses offered lucrative consultantships to civil servants to gain favour. Moreover, his control over the Department of Public Works meant he had a veto over all highway projects. When Nelson D. Rockefeller became Governor in 1958, he received a letter from Moses recommending one of his men to the DPW board, continuing his control. Moses would continue to have a stranglehold over the state and federal governments with regards to public works projects.
With the demise of La Guardia, the post war years saw the old Tammany Hall practices begin to take hold. Public office more and more became a means to private profit. Bribery, or the giving of “retainers”, “handling charges” and “fees” in exchange for favours was now back in fashion. Without these, no public work would be forthcoming.
Through his control of housing, roadbuilding and slum clearance, Moses was able to control the sum of three billion dollars in the fifteen post-war years. Most lucrative of all to Moses himself continued to be the Triborough Bridge Authority, which in the fifteen years after the war raised three quarters of a billion pounds independent of state authority.
Moses continued to have a smooth ride from the press. Many attempts to open and audit Triborough’s books was followed by a stern editorial in one of the city’s newspapers, asking why the reputation of the great man should be questioned. Moses carried on spending Triborough funds with complete discretion. The only criteria Moses had to consider when distributing the money at his disposal was how much influence an individual had, and how willing the individual was to use that influence on Moses’s behalf.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses’ reputation was very clean, the reality was less so: Moses was anti-union, pro-banks. Moses would work with a politician then get some incriminating misdeed on the man that is quantifiable and then leverage the threat of private or public exposure…Moses would have a politician do a favour for Moses. And then there would be a dossier. Moses also had private detectives and turned the dark secrets of men’s past. If you ever went out into the cold because Moses wanted these guys to be killed for life from politics. Moses was powerful and so were the banks and legal work as well. They can give you loans. Make them rich beyond their dreams…
Chapter 35 – RM
Age had not slaked the appetite of Moses for work and power. Every morning a vanilla envelope would be ready to be picked up, bursting with Moses’s orders. He was still working long hours, many of them in his Cadillac cum office. Nothing seemed to deflect him. His impatience was legendary. He would pace his office like a caged tiger and his treatment of anybody who displeased him was brutal.
His physical strength was awesome. He would swim daily, often for hours. He wrote a full-length novel at the same time as running eight departments. Work seemed to make him stronger. This work made him a lot of money, but he spent this money in an attempt to make more by buying influence. His bank account was often nearly empty.
He did however, divert enough Triborough funds to entertain on an epic scale. He had a number of dining rooms, fifty feet long, at a number of his properties. He entertained around one hundred and fifty times a year, with guests numbering between ten and fifty diners. All of the guests were people Moses needed something from.
As for his employees, all were on tenterhooks in case Moses needed their services. His aides referred to him almost as if he were a god. They nodded when he wanted them to nod. They laughed when he wanted them to laugh. They acted as functionaries for his many banquets and entertainments for clients, including lavish shows at the Long Beach Stadium.
For opening ceremonies for large projects, the feast provided, both of food and entertainment, were of a scale rarely seen in a democracy. Attendees were often in the thousands, including Moses’s own court, often flown out of town in a specially chartered plane if it was required. Moses used his hospitality as a subtle reward for services rendered.
Robert Moses held shaping power in New York for forty-four years. He changed the course of rivers. He reshaped the hills surrounding the city and the beaches. He created the parks and parkways. He altered the region’s skylines with his civic buildings and apartment houses.
Robert Moses believed his works would make his name immortal. Barring catastrophe, the works of Robert Moses will be part of New York for centuries to come.
But as well as being an elemental force, he was a blind force. His arrogance, gorged with power, became absolute. As he was above rules, he was above the law. His ego became as titanic as his imagination. His detractors compared him to Hitler. His supporters compared him to Lincoln. His most frequent pose was one of lofty indifference, his arms crossed with hands gripping the opposite bicep, his head tilted back, like an emperor surveying all his works. He surrounded himself with sycophants, the only opinions sought being confirmations of his own opinion.
Three aspects helped to sustain his myopia. Robert Moses had never driven a car, even though his mobile office was in one. His work however was devoted to highways and transportation. These plans had no basis in a lived reality. His work ethic forced him to create projects, not always for the benefit of the city, but to fuel his desire for work and power. And Robert Moses was going deaf. This deafness was partly symbolic, an inability to listen to anybody else. However later that deafness became a physical disability. Then, he couldn’t listen even if he wanted to.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses was a highly social animal. He would entertain guests 150 times per year;
- He pushed for projects because he enjoyed it, the project would strengthen his power rather than the city needed it.
Chapter 36 – The Meat Axe
The history of road building and urban development through the ages has been one of immense constructions through relatively unpopulated areas, such as the Silk Road bringing goods from the Far East to Europe. But the developments carried out by Moses could only be compared to the reconstruction of Paris carried out by Baron Haussman, in that they were constructed in a heavily populated urban environment. This involved not only a substantial engineering effort, but the management of multiple disruptions in a busy city. In order to construct the new highways which criss-crossed the city, Moses’s engineers had to hack their way through whole communities. In terms of size, Moses’s development was comparable to anything in history. In terms of complexity, it would dwarf them all.
As impressive as the engineering feats were, Moses’s ability to raise the funds for these developments were equally impressive. To Moses, wars were mere inconveniences. Even during the height of the Second World War, Moses was still able to obtain the necessary funds and materials.
Moses manipulated the city like a player moving buildings around on a Monopoly board. He was never happier than when he was developing plans that would totally transform communities as if they were blocks on a child’s game. This also involved complex political manoeuvring. It took the mind of a dictator to carry out these plans, when the persuasion of a specific mind is sufficient. In a democracy, the scale of the public works carried out by Moses was unprecedented. This was carried out, in effect, by ignoring democracy. Moses just laughed at the protests against the highways he built. He said, “You can indulge your every whim on a clean slate…but when you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat axe.”
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- He loves the public but hated the people, especially the poor anyone who intervened in his vision was a threat, in a democracy, there would always be a significant group willing to block progress in exchange for rents;
- A Man For All Seasons; “I would rip down all the laws to get at the devil, but the problem is what if the devil were to turn on you what tools would be left to defend yourself with?”
Chapter 37 – One Mile
Robert Moses built six hundred and twenty-seven miles of roads in and around New York City. This is the story of one mile. It was part of the Cross Bronx Expressway and unlike most of Moses’s roads which carved straight lines through the city, it swerves and bulges. The key to why is in the apartment houses that are located in the route. By going straight on, the road would only have demolished a handful of apartments. By taking the route it eventually did, it destroyed a whole neighbourhood.
This was a poor area called East Tremont with a large, integrated immigrant community. There were few open spaces but there was a large popular park nearby, as well as the Bronx Zoo. There were bustling streets of shops full of small businesses. Many people worked in the garment industry. There were good schools with high standards. The apartments were old but roomy and the rent was low. There was a sense of community; of belonging.
Black and Hispanic residents started to appear after the war and by 1952 they represented ten per cent of the neighbourhood. They were also integrated with few problems. People with decent housing and low rents are more likely to adapt than move out.
In December 1952, letters started to arrive at the apartments, signed by Robert Moses, telling the residents that their home was to be demolished to make way for a new highway and giving them ninety days to vacate. The result was panic. When the residents found out about rent rates in other parts of the city, local committees began to form. They visited other sites where the highway had driven through apartments and saw the chaos it left behind. The city housing department had done little in terms of relocation. This was to be the future of East Tremont.
There was still hope in the form of the mystique of Robert Moses. The committee was sure that they could persuade Moses to change the route. They hired one of Moses’s engineers to plan a new route. By running the expressway through the nearby park, many of the apartments would be saved. But neither Moses or any of his aides would consider a change.
The committee formed into the East Tremont Neighbours Association (ETNA) and appointed a local housewife, Lillian Edelstein, as their head. They tried their arguments with other members of the city authority. They received support from their congressman and city officials. The borough president approved of the new plan, but Moses angrily threatened to remove funds and resign. At the first board hearing, Moses’s plans were denied, partly due to pressure exerted by one hundred East Tremont housewives including Lillian Edelstein. However, in the following board meeting Moses got his way and his destructive plans were waved through. Edelstein needed ten thousand dollars to mount a legal challenge and she worked tirelessly to raise it. Engineers worked on detailed plans for an alternative route which were sent to the press, but the press were of little help.
However, elections were due and the Association directly challenged the politicians. They had positive reactions from Mayor Wagner, who promised to vote for ETNA’s plan. After an intervention from Moses however, where he again threatened to withdraw funds, Wagner broke his promise. At the final board meeting, Moses assembled a group of his own engineers. The tenants had their own engineers and a reporter, who was ejected. ETNA walked out and in their absence Moses’s plans were approved.
So why didn’t Moses change the route? One story is that one of Moses’s connections had property in the area and the curve on the route was in order to avoid it. It could have been merely of whim. More likely, it was to avoid pulling down a bus terminal in which local politicians had an interest. Whatever the reason, once Moses had made a decision, any attempt to overturn it would be seen by Moses as a personal affront.
The final struggle for the residents was relocation. Despite promises from the Mayor, there was little or no provision for relocation and at best, residents were offered properties that were much smaller, much dirtier and much more expensive. Utilities were switched off at the condemned tenements. In mid-1953, the residents were sent letters giving them a month’s notice. By June, have the residents had left. Workers began tearing down the tenements while the remaining people were still living there. Vandals moved in and stripped the vacant properties. Fear would be the greatest relocator of all.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Eminent domain is a contractual weapon Robert Moses used to exact his vision….
- Wagner had a change of heart and the project goes forward as the community goes up against Moses contra the Cross-Bronx Expressway and there was no reason to go through the East Treamont, Robert Moses didn’t care about the small people; Moses’ slum clearance committee didn’t help him out;
- Robert Moses believes that if you build a park then you are on the side of angels. So of course the parks are the organic part of the project and the inorganic side was the infrastructure revenue generating tactic.
Chapter 38 – One Mile – Afterwards
The Cross-Bronx Expressway was not to complete development until 1960, five years after the residents had been evicted. To keep the Expressway level, the engineers had to blast through solid rock. Tenements nearby began to crumble. The noise was deafening from the constant drilling and the dirt and dust got everywhere. There were ten thousand people living near the development. They began to move out. New impoverished people, many of them poor blacks, moved in.
After completion, the Expressway caused new problems. The rise of carbon-monoxide from the six-lane expressway below was visible. The noise was constant. Most of the new residents shopped at their old neighbourhood. East Tremont began to die. The park became dangerous. People left faster and faster, and the decay became worse.
The remaining residents tried to work with the city to develop new housing projects. Robert Moses seemed to offer support, but delay followed delay. When they tried to protest, nobody listened. After a while only the very old still lived there. Everybody else had gone.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Cross-Bronx Expressway seems discrimination motivated but there are other factors at play, namely getting what Robert Moses wants done;
- He used eminent domain to direct the bridge traffic through the Bronx. The controversy was massive, there had been urban renewal projects that hadn’t helped; the people who were cleared from an area had no where else to go, so Moses was the embodiment of this controversial strategy for clearing.
Chapter 39 – The Highwayman
In 1948, automobile production had begun and petrol ceased to be rationed. Traffic increased rapidly and soon New York had serious congestion problems. Moses hit the press with new plans for highways and river crossings. Existing highways and parkways were to be widened. The program announced was to dwarf all previous plans. However, there were increasing calls for a balanced transport system, not one obsessed with the automobile. Mass highways had to complement mass transportation facilities, not compete with them.
Highways influenced housing development differently from transport systems like the subway. Subways required concentrated housing to allow stations to be in walking distance to the stations. Highways served car-owning residents, allowing the development to be more spread out into suburbs further away from the city. But these drivers still needed to work in the city and they would travel there by car and find somewhere to park.
New York’s press was still enamoured with Moses and were failing to express alternatives to Moses’s plans. There were planners and others with more informed opinion who recognised the importance of a more balanced program, but the series of post-war Mayors continued to be persuaded by Moses.
Moses did not seem to be fully aware of the impact of his planning decisions. He was insulated from the people who had to use his highways and move to make space for them. He was especially blind to the poor who could not afford cars and relied on public transport to get to work and live their lives. Despite the clear evidence that more highways meant more traffic and slower progress, Moses continued his highway programs without change.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Paying attention to the poorest people seems to not be his priority….what did Jane Jacobs have to say about him? Oh!
- Transit in subways was challenging and cars filled the express way. The Lexington Avenue LRT line was an example of a crammed commuter struggling with a model of commuter transport that led to traffic jams. So turns out that they save money by doing fewer inspections in the transit system to save money so Robert Moses from 1934 to 1968 did not emphasize public transport. As a result, Robert Caro argues that the quality of public transport was in serious decline throughout with swearwords written in graffiti everywhere on the train system because they didn’t prioritize spending on mass transit. Instead New York prioritized upper middle class commuters who use the roadways;
- Robert Caro (the author) believes that mass transit is the solution to all of New York’s transit problems. Bob Moses believes that investing in car pathways highways is the solution. There’s no clear answer for the time frame in question since the care was just starting to become mainstream when Moses was pushing for highways to cross over Manhattan but Caro has very strong inclination. So the biography of Bob Moses is fantastic detailed, amazing but of course there will be biases.
Chapter 40 – Point of No Return
By 1952, capital revenues from the highway and bridge tolls was half a billion dollars. Moses now had more money for development than the city. Allied to this, the U.S. government were proposing a new Federal Highways fund. Moses increased his plans to use up the money.
Only the Port Authority had more funds than Moses. Moses decided to cooperate with his old enemy in order to tap into their funds to carry out his new programs. The Port Authority realised they had an identification of interest with Moses. Both their plans could only be achieved by cooperation. They agreed to build three new bridges and a connected series of new expressways across the city and stretching out into the suburbs. The two authorities were to make vast profits out of the road tolls; in effect out of the traffic chaos they were creating. Behind Moses was the coalition of special interests: oil companies, the motor industry and politicians, known colloquially as “The Highwaymen.”
In 1955, the two authorities had combined funds of one and a quarter billion dollars, more than enough to create a mass transit system, serving the city into the future and removing thousands of cars from the choked roads. Instead, the two authorities spent their money on the automobile. Not a cent was spent of mass transportation.
Travel on the subways were inhuman. The crowds pushed and shoved on the platforms before being crammed like sardines into ageing trains. By 1965, crowds were being jammed into the trains just short of suffocation. Because of lack of ventilation systems, the subways almost too hot to bear. Trains were constantly breaking down. From being one of the safest subways in the world, the New York system had degenerated into one of the most dangerous.
The floors were filthy. Walls were covered in abhorrent graffiti. Trips into the city from the suburbs took more than an hour.
Railroads were in a bad way as well. Moses’s highways had sucked all the funding away, the highwaymen providing the lobbying and support. The railroads grew poorer and started showing losses. Fares had to be raised and services cut back. This pushed even more people onto the highways in their clean, air-conditioned cars rather than use the crushed, dirty carriages.
The total cost of Moses’s treatment of the railroads and subways needs to be measured in the effect on commuters’ lives. A new illness was diagnosed, “Commuter Stress Syndrome”, and one in four commuters suffered from it. The commute on the starved subways and railroads dominated peoples’ lives. Many considered it more taxing than their actual work. The lives of the residents of New York were being eaten up by the attempt to move from one place to another.
Another effect of the highways was the spreading out of New York into suburbs with spaced out housing but little local infrastructure such as stores and theatres. With this type of low-density housing, mass transit is un-economic. There would need to be a change to high-density housing to allow enough people to use the stations. Building expressways no longer make sense. Only mass transit – the combination of buses, railroads and subways – made any sense. Robert Moses was planning to build a new highway costing $500M. If only $20M were spent on a new railroad, the impact on reducing congestion would be far greater.
Robert Moses was not interested in mass transit. It would mean revising his plans. He quashed all discussion of rapid transit plans, even though they had been fully worked out. The highways and bridges went ahead and as each section opened the congestion got worse. In fact, the bridges had been deliberately built with such low clearance that buses couldn’t pass through as it would have ruined Moses’s original concept. One man’s dream had become a nightmare for generations to come.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses loved power not to become wealthy because he was already wealthy for the most part. He wanted the grandeur of building amazing things. The Borough presidents are powerful at least they thought they were but they aren’t actually and so in the 1965; this turns out wrong under Moses; the board of estimate should have more power…borough courtesy was the logic that borough presidents should only push something that was approved by the borough mayor;
- He was not beholden to public opinion; Moses used economic forces rather than political bias. Non Democratic forced was the machine.
Part 7 – The Loss of Power
Chapter 41 – Rumours and the Report of Rumours
Highways were only one field of Moses’s activities. There was also housing and the associated slum clearance. A few perceptive people began to see something sinister in what was going on.
In the early 1950s, Reformers had heard rumours about Moses’s clearance sites. When the Reformers visited Moses’s clearance sites they saw the disaster that was the relocation programme. In front of some of the brownstones, large garbage cans began to appear. This meant that many more people were living in these houses than before. Neighbourhood became more racially mixed and significantly poorer, and with poverty came social problems. Good neighbourhoods were becoming slums. A repository for all the people cleared out in the wake of the new highways.
By 1953, people began to be fully aware of what was going on. If people were being hounded out of their homes, they would move to other areas, increasing the size of the slums. They felt the people should be made aware of what was going on, but their main means of communication, the press, was not interested. They were reluctant to attack Moses.
The Reformers therefore decided to do the research themselves. Statistics were difficult to come by. Moses and his colleagues had manipulated them had hidden them well. Many volunteers visited the highway sites and saw the reality of the relocation programs. Many people had been moved to buildings that were mere shells. They saw the implications for the city. New slums were being created faster than the old ones were being developed. Backed up with the research into the true statistics and plans, the true nature of the relocation plans was revealed. The researchers expected prominent display of their report in the press, but Moses and his team suppressed this. False statistics were inserted into the report. The report was issued nine months after it had been completed, with the changes added by Moses which changed the entire argument of the report. Of all the city’s press, only the New York Post published the report. It was never mentioned in the press again.
However, a commission was set up in late 1954 to investigate the sales of $15M worth of real-estate to one of Moses’s preferred partners for $1M. On investigation it was found that far from being demolished, the apartments were being kept open and rented out. A network of collusion was uncovered where everybody involved in the project was getting rich, and this was only one of many contracts. A normal press investigation would have blazed this all over the city. But the press, still enamoured with Moses, kept his name out of it. Not one investigative reporter was put on the story. As late as 1956, the protests to the plans was still an underground movement. The legend of Moses would have to be tarnished before a real change could occur.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses was able to control the press in order to suppress the story.
- Corruption requires a network.
Chapter 42 – Tavern in the Town
This chance came when an engineer left his blueprints in a little glen in Central Park. This place was popular with mothers and children, despite being disfigured by a restaurant and carpark by one of Moses’s schemes. It was the centre of the local neighbourhood.
One day, one of the mothers saw some surveyors in the glen. After they had left she walked over and picked up a blueprint they had left behind. The blueprint was for a new carpark to be built on the glen.
When a petition was raised, some notable residents in the area added their names. One of the mothers’ husband was a reporter, who pushed the story. Initially, Moses ignored the protests and planned to go ahead with the development. Twenty-three mothers protesting about a small glen was nothing to worry about, seeing as he had already displaced thousands of mothers building his highways. The Deputy Mayor was interested however.
This protest was different. The protestors were well-heeled, including a number of lawyers, and the issue was clear-cut. A park was being torn up for a carpark serving a posh private restaurant. Central Park was special to New York, frequented by some of its most influential residents. It was also a positive symbol, championed by the press, proclaiming that every part of it was sacred. Not even Moses could convince the city that this was a good idea.
Work started in April 1956. Residents who overlooked the park noticed a bulldozer. A group of women rushed out and went to the site, stopping the earth-moving machine. Reporters and photographers arrived from many papers and media outlets. Within hours, the story was on every TV newscast. The headline became “The Battle of Central Park.” The tactics Moses was using were the tactics he had used for thirty years. But this time, the whole city was aware of it.
For Moses, things had gone far enough. The builders came back under cover of darkness. They surrounded the site with a fence and then the bulldozer arrived. By the time daylight arrived, a tree had already been felled. The women surrounded the site in tears. Papers labelled the Parks Commissioner a bully. The pictures taken were just as devastating to Moses’s reputation. Weeping women were on the front page of every newspaper, dripping of drama and pathos. On a single day, Mayor Wagner received four thousand letters. The image of Moses had been maintained for decades, but now the image was cracked. For the first time he had been portrayed not as a creator but as a destroyer.
This did not stop the work going ahead. An injunction was granted to the mothers, temporarily stopping the work. Moses was confident that this setback was purely temporary, but the lawyers were at work. Any restaurant in the park was meant to be affordable. When the prices of the new restaurant were shown to be far beyond the means of most New Yorkers, another weapon was available to thwart the plan. On top of that, the profits made by the owner of the Tavern on the Green were shown to be the result of paying minimal rent, a concession from Moses. The hint of scandal was in the air.
While Moses blithely went on holiday, the protests raged behind him. The Mayor came into the firing line. The criticism became more wide ranging. The slum clearances were highlighted. On Moses’s return he was door-stepped by the press. His temper broke. He criticised the protestors with his usual vitriol, but this time the protesters were able to respond. Worst was to come. A trial look set to go ahead and many other Moses projects were likely to be aired. For once, Moses had to back down. He hatched a plan with the city council to delay the work to let the furore die down and then offer to build a new playground rather than a car park. The Tavern on the Green fight was over, but Moses’s reputation was never to be regained.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moses miscalculated the power of the mothers and the press. Robert Moses went so far as to attack the mothers of Central Park to prevent them from taking down his plans. And there was a television debate with Bob Moses where he said one of the key protesters didn’t even have children so what does she know. And that obviously backfired;
- Political organizing was becoming a thing. This furore was a critical moment because the democratic forces were able to channel their dis-approval into the mainstream. Probably because of the race and gender of the protesters as well as the timing of liberation in the late 50s. Optics is democracy’s double-edged sword. Poorly informed but powerful in shutting down projects and progress because the flash of a camera bulb made the front pages of the broad-sheets.
Chapter 43 – Late Arrival
At about this time, investigative reporters from the World Telegram decided that there was more meat to the Moses story. In the current climate, the editor gave him the go-ahead. Some groundwork had been done by other reporters, especially around the re-locations. He uncovered few facts not already available, but now they were publishable.
His articles documented the failure of the relocation plans and the subsequent growth of slums. Most importantly, he nailed the responsibility to Moses’s door.
Moses still had purchase with the press. He was allowed a right of reply to all the stories, but the stories kept coming. Disgruntled employees and residents had been looking for such a forum and now letters to the journalists began to flood in. Not one of them was willing to go on the record but the inside story of the Moses regime began to build up. The press remained largely silent.
There was a development that the papers found harder to ignore. The original buyers of the slum real-estate had not paid their taxes. Wagner had no choice but to grant an interview. In it he confessed that he had been miss-led. The journalists still did not understand that it was Moses, not Wagner or the city authorities, who was in charge. City Hall then leaked the arrangements involved in the selling of the real-estate. The original buyers were receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars for doing nothing. Outcry in the press panicked City Hall. They swiftly changed the arrangements of the sale, but what remained was still a scandal.
Meanwhile, Moses was planning the development of Lincoln Centre. Four thousand people were to be relocated, and the remaining land, bought by the Kennedy family, would be worth a fortune. Mayor Wagner was asked to intercede. The New York Times backed him up, citing Moses’s past record of success. Moses also called in support from Washington, which duly arrived. The image was chipped but it was still there.
In 1959 it was triumph as usual for Robert Moses now celebrating his 70th birthday and announcing new projects including the Niagara Falls development. However, a new spate of stories was about to break. A new slum clearance revealed the name of the landlord, Sydney J. Ungar and he was denounced in the press as a slum landlord. A reporter went to the slum clearance location and spoke to the residents. The stories and pictures resulted in a new set of revelations in the New York Post. By March it had become the scandal of “Robert Moses’s slum clearance committee.”
Then came an issue that set the press alight. Again, it centred around Central Park and one other headline grabbing figure; William Shakespeare.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Robert Moses is seen as responsible for causing the Brooklyn Dogers and the New York Giants to leave the New York area. Walter O’Malley wanted to build a stadium on Brooklyn but Moses refused to support O’Malley’s call for Moses to initiate eminent domain. In fact Moses wanted to build a stadium in Flushing Meadow where all the professional sports teams would play at one facility. O’Malley refused and moved to LA.
- Slum clearance committed relocated people in order to get Lincoln Centre built, what was the point of that? To get poor people out of New York generally;
- Robert Moses was an advocate for the car (individualism and ending the tyranny of train departure times) and disliked public transport: and so Moses underfunded mass transit systematically.
Chapter 44 – Moustache and the Bard
Robert Moses loved Shakespeare and was keen on the presentations of the plays in Central Park’s amphitheatre, one of Moses’s projects. These were put on by Joseph Papirofski, better known as Joseph Papp. These were well received presentations put on for free attracting all incomes and classes. Moses was pleased with the success. Moses said he would raise the money for a new season and his Executive Officer at the Parks Department, Stuart Constable, informed him of it. Constable however was suspicious of Papp, suspecting him of being a communist. Three months before the festival was to begin, Constable informed Papp, without consulting Moses, that there was no money to put it on.
Moses was unaware of this, but he was famous for supporting his staff. When Papp asked Moses directly, Moses sent him a letter informing him that, despite his promise, there would be no more money. Papp soon realised that the barrier to him was one of political philosophy. However, Papp was a master publicist. He went to the press on the attack. Papp used quotes from the Bard to make his case. Moses showed some respect, but still refused to overrule Constable. However, the press was on Papp’s side. Moses responded by organising behind the scenes pressure and innuendo. Moses followed Constable’s lead and accused Papp of communist sympathies. But the McCarthy era had ended in 1954 and these accusations did not have the same weight. Pub continued his literate attack. He highlighted the civilising effect of Shakespeare in the Park. He attacked Moses’s innuendos directly and he had the press on his side. It was Moses against Shakespeare.
The further erosion of Moses’s name was continuing. Moses now started to fear what was happening and this showed itself in failing health. He had started to look old. The press now wanted the decision to be reversed and started to put pressure on the Mayor. Eventually, Wagner succumbed to pressure and arranged a meeting with Moses, but emerging from that meeting, Wagner had been persuaded to support Moses.
Moses imposed new criteria for the festival, that the festival should raise their own funds. But with the help of local philanthropists, Papp overcome them and the festival went ahead. Papp was now a hero to the local liberals. By 1965, Papp’s troops were playing Shakespeare all over the city.
This battle further tipped the balance against Moses. Moses had become a villain to the public and the press. They knew that in the power struggle between the Mayor and Moses, Moses held the upper hand. The press became merciless.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- The press turns against Moses.
Chapter 45 – Off to the Fair
In May 1959, the New York’s Citizens Union made an information request to Moses regarding the sponsors of the slum clearance program. Moses replied that the records would be available to any responsible body. This was to be one of Moses’s biggest mistakes. At this time, Moses was preparing for the opening of a new dam and he was often working sixteen hours a day so he may have been distracted. Also, his influence with the press may have assured him that nothing would come of the revelations.
He tried to stall, but he could not stall indefinitely. Eventually the files had to be released and journalists were given access to Triborough headquarters. This was the first time in thirty-five years that any of Moses’s files had been made available. The files had been stripped of much crucial information, but the journalists continued to look and one day they found something.
They found an application by a potential sponsor for slum clearance who had links to gangsters. This scandal had something different. The press now had evidence of Moses’s links, however tenuous, to organised crime. A whole platoon of investigative reporters descended on the files. The deals between the Public Works Commission and shady sponsors, including politicians and Mafia bosses, at the expense of the people of New York, became clearer day by day, and Moses was at the centre of it.
The effect on the press on the publication of the revelations was profound. Previously cynical old hacks now became more friendly with the young investigative reporters, resulting in a press room at City Hall no longer cowed by the prestige of Moses and the Mayor. Publishers who had previously blocked stories about Moses were allowing them through. Even the Moses friendly New York Times was running front page stories linking Moses with scandals.
Moses continued to bombard publishers with complaints about the stories as well as seeking support from influential friends and contacts, but these efforts were starting to tip the balance against him. By the end of 1959 the truth about Moses was clear and his reputation was in ruins.
Moses however had one last thing going for him. Due to the amount of power and money he controlled through Triborough, he could not be fired. Reporters continued to ask Wagner what he was going to do about Moses, but Wagner was helpless and could only bluster. The showdowns between the Mayor and Moses were waited for with expectation by press and public alike, but they never came.
In the summer of 1959 however, a graceful way out was offered to Moses: The World’s Fair. Spending for this would be on an international scale. He could not keep his current city jobs if he was to be involved in the World’s Fair, but he could keep his lucrative Triborough job and through this retain control of over $2 billion worth of public works projects. The World’s Fair would give him a clean slate on a clean site. The Fair would rescue his reputation. It would be big news nationally and internationally. Moses thought it would be the project that would crown his career.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- World’s Fair excites Moses.
Chapter 46 – Nelson
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.
Chapter 47 – The Great Fair
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.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- He screwed up the World’s Fair.
Chapter 48 – Old Lion, Young Mayor
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.
Analysis & Key Takeaways
- Moving against Moses…
Chapter 49 – The Last Stand
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…
Chapter 50 – Old
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).