Al Smith

Al Smith bigraphy, stories - Governor of New York

Al Smith : biography

30 December 1873 – 1944-10-4

Alfred Emanuel "Al" Smith (December 30, 1873 – October 4, 1944) was an American statesman who was elected Governor of New York four times and was the Democratic U.S. presidential candidate in 1928. He was the foremost urban leader of the efficiency-oriented Progressive Movement and was noted for achieving a wide range of reforms as governor in the 1920s. He was also linked to the notorious Tammany Hall machine that controlled Manhattan politics; was a strong opponent of Prohibition and was the first Roman Catholic nominee for President. His candidacy mobilized Catholic votes—especially women who previously had not voted. It also mobilized the anti-Catholic vote, which was strongest in the South.

As a committed "wet" (anti-Prohibition) candidate, he attracted millions of voters of all backgrounds, particularly those concerned about the corruption and lawlessness brought about by the Eighteenth Amendment.Daniel Okrent, Last Call, 2010. However, he was feared among Protestants, including German Lutherans and Southern Baptists, who believed the Catholic Church and that Pope Pius XI would dictate his policies. Most importantly, this was a time of national prosperity under a Republican Presidency, and Smith lost in a landslide to Republican Herbert Hoover. Four years later Smith sought the 1932 nomination but was defeated by his former ally and successor as New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. Smith entered business in New York City and became an increasingly vocal opponent of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Early life

Smith was born and raised in the Fourth Ward on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and it was here he would spend his entire life. His mother Catherine Mulvihill’s parents, Maria Marsh and Thomas Mulvihill, were from County Westmeath, Ireland,. His father, Alfred Emanuele Ferraro, took the name Alfred E. Smith (‘ferraro’ means ‘blacksmith’ or ‘smith’ in Italian). The elder Alfred was the son of Italian and German immigrants. Al was their first son. His father, a widower with a daughter, served with the 11th New York Fire Zouaves in the opening months of the Civil War.

Al Smith grew up in the Gilded Age as New York itself matured. The Brooklyn Bridge was being constructed nearby. "The Brooklyn Bridge and I grew up together," Smith would later recall.Slayton (2001), p. 16 His four grandparents were Irish, German, Italian, and Anglo-Irish,Josephsons 1969 but Smith identified with the Irish American community and became its leading spokesman in the 1920s.

His father, Alfred, a Civil War veteran who owned a small trucking firm, died when the boy was 13; at 14 he had to drop out of St. James parochial school to help support the family, working at a fish market for seven years. Prior to his dropping out of school, he spent time as an altar boy. He never attended high school or college and claimed he learned about people by studying them at the Fulton Fish Market, where he worked for $12 per week. On May 6, 1900, Al Smith married Catherine Ann Dunn, with whom he had five children.Slayton 2001

Political career

In his political career, Smith traded on his working-class beginnings, identifying himself with immigrants and campaigning as a man of the people. Although indebted to the Tammany Hall political machine, particularly to its boss, "Silent" Charlie Murphy, he remained untarnished by corruption and worked for the passage of progressive legislation. It was during his early unofficial jobs with Tammany Hall that he gained notoriety as an excellent speaker.

Smith’s first political job was in 1895 as an investigator in the office of the Commissioner of Jurors as appointed by Tammany Hall. In 1903 he was elected to the New York State Assembly. After being approached by Frances Perkins, he sought to improve the conditions of factory workers. He served as vice chairman of the commission appointed to investigate factory conditions after 146 workers died in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Meeting the families of the deceased Triangle factory workers left a strong impression on him, and together with Perkins, Smith crusaded against dangerous and unhealthy workplace conditions and championed corrective legislation. In 1911 the Democrats obtained a majority of seats in the State Assembly. Smith became chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. In 1912, following the loss of the majority, he became the minority leader. When the Democrats reclaimed the majority in the next election, he was elected Speaker for the 1913 session. He became minority leader again in 1914 when the Republicans reclaimed the majority and remained in that position until 1915, when he was elected sheriff of New York County. By now he was a leader of the Progressive movement in New York City and state. His campaign manager and top aide was Belle Moskowitz, a daughter of Prussian-Jewish immigrants.