Former Mayor William O’Dwyer once said: “I wouldn’t wish this job on my worst enemy.”
Yet in many ways he was his own worst enemy. While he represented a breath of fresh air and hope after the rather grim days of World War II, he had his ups and downs, as did many of his successors. I have covered nine mayors in my journalistic career and I never found one who didn’t try hard to do a good job for New York and its citizens. And most found the job a lot tougher than they expected..
I had the greatest respect for Robert Wagner Jr., son of the senator who helped found Roosevelt’s New Deal . He was perhaps the most modest mayor I ever chronicled. As he told me: “My father told me -- if you ever feel you don’t want the job remember there are a hundred other guys out there who would be happy to have it.” Wagner’s patience and kindness made him skillful in handling bitter labor disputes and soothing people’s feelings.
John Lindsay, son of an actress, was the most charismatic. When he walked the streets of Harlem to reach out to people in the tumultuous sixties he was most effective. African-Americans trusted him. They were convinced he understood their pain, particularly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr,
Recently, for a joint NBC New York-NYC Media project called “Mr. Mayor” I interviewed three living former mayors. Despite the troubles they had, each looked back with nostalgia at the job.
“I say if one likes public service and likes people," said former Mayor David Dinkins, "This is the greatest job in the world.”
Rudy Giuliani found 9/11 to be his greatest challenge and he was proud of the way he handled it. When he looked back at the days when he was considering whether or not to run for mayor, he remembered saying to himself: “If I became Mayor, maybe I could straighten this out. I know everything that’s wrong with this city. Maybe, if I got a chance to be mayor, I could change it. And I said, 'Nah, I can’t be mayor. I’m a Republican!' ”
Ed Koch told me: “Being mayor was the best thing in my whole professional life. There was nothing like being mayor of the city of New York. You are responsible for seven, ultimately eight million people and their lives and making it better for them and I loved it. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
[“Meet the Mayor” will be on NBC Non-Stop on eight consecutive Sundays starting at 8 P.M.]