An Atlantic portrait
NOT long ago the automobile in which Robert Moses was riding was stopped by traffic lights at a busy street crossing in Manhattan. Suddenly the driver of a large truck leaned from his cab and asked excitedly: 'Ain't that Commissioner Moses?' 'Yes, that's me,' was the reply. 'Well, I just want to tell you you're doin' a swell job on them parks,' the man shouted. Then the lights changed.
This spontaneous tribute is indicative of the growing appreciation of millions of New Yorkers of all ages and classes for the man who, in less than five years, has remade or refurbished a considerable portion of the metropolis. The Commissioner of Parks under Mayor La Guardia's Fusion administration is also head of the magnificent park system of New York State, which he conceived and largely created. He administers simultaneously a network of related agencies. His responsibility covers more than half a billion dollars' worth of new city parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, and other recreational facilities; transformation of old ones; acquiring and developing scores of large park areas throughout the state; reclamation for public use of miles of waterfront around lakes, along rivers, and at the seaside; and the linking of these vast playgrounds and scenic places by a system of parkways, causeways, and bridges that are bold examples of engineering skill and are solving traffic problems in the most congested area in the world.
In a period of prodigious public expenditures Robert Moses emerges as the most farsighted and constructive of public spenders. He has demonstrated in brilliant fashion that democracy can be made to work by skillful, resolute handling, and that 'public improvements' can be given a surprising amount of beauty.
'Bob' Moses is a Paul Bunyan of an official. Six feet plus, with the broad shoulders of a trained swimmer, he carries his one hundred and eighty-five pounds easily. He may be seen at his best before the Board of Estimate, the administrative body of the city, where he alternately explains, persuades, denounces, compromises, and usually wins because of the completeness of his preparations and his nimble political sense. A fighter quick of temper, he is ruthless in dealing with self-seekers and those who would obstruct his plans. He flatly contradicts opponents, tells them they don't know what they are talking about, puts them straight as to facts, or sears them with sarcasm and ridicule. He is quite as outspoken in arguing with the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and other officials as with subordinates.
That the fiery Mayor and the aggressive Park Commissioner have worked so closely together for five years is due to the fact that the two men greatly respect each other, and the Mayor simply ignores the Moses resignations. Not long ago the mild-mannered Stanley M. Isaacs, Borough President of Manhattan, proposed that New York's school children be admitted free, at least once, to the World's Fair. Moses quickly got on his feet and riddled the proposal. He is interested because the first $2,000,000 of profits realized by the Fair are to be turned over to him to convert the site of the exposition into a park. From the heated argument that took place an onlooker might have thought Isaacs and Moses were bitter enemies or political opponents. They have worked together for twenty-five years; or rather, as Mr. Isaacs said later, "'Bob" Moses keeps all of us working for him, but we like it.'
Moses frequently offends needlessly but the notion that he is ill-natured is banished when he smiles. Firm-jawed, with a large, straight 'executive' nose he has a generous mouth, his strong white teeth affording a striking contrast to smooth olive-hued skin, sombre eyes and heavy black eyebrows. At times his dark brown eyes seem tired, but the expression is more of impatience than of fatigue. His large, strong hands, with tapering fingers, suggest a sculptor.
His office is in the State Building in lower Manhattan, a reminder of the City Park Commissioner's unusual official status. The walls carry pictures of completed projects, and maps and progress charts of projects under way. Physically restless, Moses does most of his work standing or walking around, sitting on desk or table, dictating, arguing, explaining. A conference or meeting of one of the 'Authorities' is carried on in the same casual way. Holding numerous offices, he has only one unpretentious workshop, and uses the teletype to keep in touch with his capable staff, or staffs -- mostly young men whose tried ability is matched by their loyalty to 'R. M.,' as he is called. While he works his men hard, he is considerate and finds ways of showing appreciation.
It helps to an understanding of his activities to know that Moses himself drafted the laws creating every position he has held or now holds. These laws were written and the jobs legally defined to carry out specific purposes, most of them conceived by him. He has never been elected to office, and, with the exception of his two years as Secretary of State in 1927-1928, until he became Park Commissioner in 1933 had never received payment for public service. The only remunerative office he holds is his Park Commissionership at $13,600 a year, which consolidates the work of five borough park commissioners whose salaries totaled $62,000 annually. His career, unique in so many ways, is our best example of what can be accomplished in the field of public service by one who decides early what he wants to do, thoroughly prepares himself for the task, and possesses the character, energy, and singleness of purpose to keep going.
EMANUEL Moses, of Spanish-Jewish (unorthodox) extraction, was a successful department store owner in New Haven, Connecticut, where his son Robert Moses was born on December 18, 1888. Robert's mother, Isabella, was the daughter of Bernard Cohen, a prosperous New York merchant and member of the Commission of Education under William L. Strong, last Republican mayor before the creation of Greater New York. When Bernard Cohen died in 1897, he willed his New York home to Robert Moses's mother, and the family went there to live. Robert entered Yale in 1905. There he went in for running, and made both the freshman and the varsity swimming team. In the Yale Courant he fought successfully to secure a share of football revenue for minor sports. Taking prizes in Latin, mathematics, and public speaking, he qualified for a Phi Beta Kappa key. Besides writing on the Courant, he helped to edit a volume of Yale verse, experimented with poetry, served as president of the Kit Kat Club, and was elected to the Senior Council, which he helped to organize. A non-fraternity man could hardly get further at Yale.
Deciding to make public administration his special study, Moses matriculated at Wadham College, Oxford, following his graduation from Yale in 1909. At Oxford he captained the swimming and water polo teams, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in jurisprudence in 1911 and a Master of Arts degree in 1913. He has not been abroad since; in recent years his longest journeys have been for brief winter vacations at Key West, Florida.
A terrific outspokenness, which never counts the odds against him, appeared in one Oxford experience when he was selected to represent his college at a world congress on racial problems. His frankness so infuriated some of the intense nationalist groups that once he had to flee from the platform and escape through a rear exit. One of the delegates, an assistant to the Khedive of Egypt, was so impressed that he offered Moses a position as Secretary to the Khedive. Moses declined, but later he and a classmate visited Egypt to study what was being done under Kitchener and developed a profound admiration for British colonial administration.
Results of his studies on this subject may be read in his book, The Civil Service of Great Britain, started while at Oxford and completed as his thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in political science which he received from Columbia in 1914. This work sets forth the basic political philosophy of Robert Moses concerning efficient government under a democratic system.
While at Columbia, Moses was attracted by the work of the Bureau of Municipal Research and became a voluntary aid. New York, in revolt against Tammany Hall, had elected a Fusion Mayor, John Purroy Mitchel, and Moses worked on city budgetary and other municipal problems until the United States joined in the World War. Then he became superintendent of production and assistant to the manager of the Emergency Fleet Corporation. Impatience with red tape and open contempt for inefficiency led to a row that caused him to resign.
Meanwhile, on August 15, 1915, he had married Mary Louise Sims, of Dodgeville, Wisconsin. Granddaughter of the Reverend George Sims, a Methodist circuit rider, Mrs. Moses had grown up under the progressive political philosophy of Robert M. La Follette, and after being secretary to Governor F. E. McGovern she joined the forces of the Municipal Research Bureau in New York. The mutuality of interests that brought Mr. and Mrs. Moses together persists, and makes Mrs. Moses one of her husband's most valued advisers. With their two daughters, they live in an apartment on the upper East Side, overlooking the river, the island parks, and Triborough Bridge. They have a simple old house in the village of Babylon, Long Island. Moses's inheritance helps him to live comfortably, but he is not wealthy, as is commonly supposed, and public service has involved many family sacrifices.
FIVE days before the Armistice, in 1918, Alfred E. Smith was elected Governor of New York, and promptly named an unofficial, bipartisan Reconstruction Commission to study problems left by the war. Moses, as chief of staff of the Committee on Retrenchment and Reorganization, prepared its report. This was the beginning of the reform of the state government; it was also the beginning of a close relationship between the Democratic Governor and this young independent Republican.
The Moses report recommended consolidation of state departments, an executive budget, and a four-year term for Governor, all features of the Constitution of 1915 which had been rejected at the polls. Smith's defeat by Nathan L. Miller in 1920 caused this programme to be shelved, but the campaign continued. Moses became secretary and active head of the New York State Association, a nonpartisan organization. Its Bulletin became an organ for all the reforms fostered during the first term of Governor Smith, with special emphasis on reorganization. Smith again sought the governorship in 1922, and this time was reelected, to resume his long fight for basic changes in the structure of the state government. Moses moved into the executive offices at Albany along with Governor Smith.
"'Bob" Moses is the most efficient administrator I have ever met in public life,' declares the former Governor. 'He was the best bill drafter we ever had at Albany and wrote all the reorganization bills. I know he went to Yale and Oxford, but he didn't get that keen mind of his from any college. And he was a hard worker. He worked on trains, anywhere and any time. When everyone else was ready for bed he would go back to work.'
Moses's energy was matched by his zeal. Al Smith is a great fun lover and was not always as serious as his young assistant. On one occasion, when 'Bob' was earnestly expounding his ideas on legislation, the Governor listened speechless until Moses had completed his fervent exhortation, then dropped from his chair to the floor in a pretended faint. But he never faltered in his support of the young man he found so capable and useful.
Moses's apprenticeship as an administrator of varied agencies came when the Governor appointed him Secretary of State in 1927 -- an office which was a general catchall for bureaus left over in the reorganization. He was a busy man for two years under Governor Smith, then an active candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1928. Roosevelt became the candidate for Governor in the same year and was elected, while Smith went down to defeat. The only request Smith made of his successor was an appeal to Roosevelt to reappoint Moses as Secretary of State, yet Moses was the only member of the State Cabinet who was not reappointed. The relationship of Roosevelt and Moses is one of those tangles for which Albany is famous. Roosevelt is supposed to have turned down Smith's recommendation of Moses because Moses turned down the appointment of Roosevelt's secretary, Louis M. Howe, to a sinecure in the Council of Parks. Yet, as Governor, Roosevelt acquiesced in Acting Governor Lehman's appointment of Moses as Moreland Commissioner to investigate the failure of the City Trust Company in 1929.
As a result of this investigation the Superintendent of Banks was sent to prison. Significant were the recommendations made by Moses for reform of the banking laws to prevent the recurrence of such scandals. He urged segregation of 'thrift' accounts in commercial banks; official examination of private banks; regulation of brokerage houses; control of the issuance of securities, 'down to the last detail,' whether those of a bank or a utility company; abolition of private banks, and the holding of directors criminally liable for the management of financial institutions. These recommendations were disregarded by the joint legislative committee, whose alternatives were denounced by Moses as 'puerile.' He declared that the words of the legislative reports 'will come back to haunt the gentlemen who wrote them.' And it was not long before the failure of the 'Bank of the United States,' with $200,000,000 in deposits and 400,000 depositors, revealed more of the evils Moses had denounced. Moses's stinging prophecies have a way of coming true.
PRIOR to 1924, New York State had no unified park system. Scattered through the state were some forty parks and places of historic or scientific interest, directed by as many administrative bodies. In 1922 Moses drew up a State Park Plan proposing a unified system and a bond issue of $15,000,000 with which to expand and rehabilitate the parks and build highways leading to them. The Governor's early reaction was not particularly encouraging, but he finally became a park enthusiast. The bond issue was voted in the fall of 1923, and in 1924 eleven regional commissions were set up under a Council of Parks, with Moses as chairman. He was also made president of the Long Island State Park Commission.
In the next few years the State Park System of New York became a model for the country. From Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, through the Adirondacks, the Alleghenies, and the Catskills, to the sand bars of Long Island, there stretches a chain of seventy public parks of the most varied sizes and character. Mr. Moses has promoted and coordinated the work of the various commissions throughout the state, but his special interest has been on Long Island, a natural playground for the millions who live in metropolitan New York.
Long Island is one hundred and eighteen miles long and about fifteen miles wide for most of its length. Four million of the seven and one-half million inhabitants of New York City live at its westerly end, in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Several hundred thousand persons live in Nassau and Suffolk counties, which spread out a hundred miles from the city line. Many of these people work in Manhattan, daily battling their way back and forth in jammed subways or overcrowded bridges.
When Moses became head of the Long Island State Park Commission the only state 'park' in the section was on Fire Island, a sand reef reached only by boat. All the rest of the island, with its fine beaches, lakes, bays, and wooded ridge running through the centre, had been preempted by those who appreciated natural beauty spots, or by speculative realty interests. Moses's first big undertaking, and in many ways his most remarkable achievement, was the now famous Jones Beach. This stretch of clean, wide ocean beach, some thirty miles from the centre of the city, was almost inaccessible. Only a man of unusual vision would have selected the site as a likely seaside resort for a vast population. Engineers, architects, and experts thought he was dreaming, but he persuaded Al Smith to visit the beach and secured an initial appropriation for a bathhouse. There are now two miles of developed ocean beach, a milelong still-water swimming area in Zach's Bay, and a large salt-water enclosed pool for both swimming and wading. Almost eight additional miles of beach are available for future expansion.
Architecturally the two immense bathhouses, with a picturesque water tower dominating the vast expanse of beach and water, are impressive and pleasing. Between four and five million enjoy this park during the summer, yet there is no crowding. Sunday crowds run to 125,000. Concerts are given in the Music Shell on the Marine Boardwalk, and popular-priced operettas, operas, and concerts are staged over the water in Zach's Bay. Although a maximum of freedom is permitted, this is perhaps the cleanest and best regulated of public beaches. Robert Moses believes that giving the public the best arouses cooperation in maintaining high standards.
Since then Moses has acquired and developed thirteen parks on Long Island, totaling 10,631 acres and stretching from Montauk Point to the city line, which, with the connecting parkways, cost more than $50,000,000. He tramped the entire island, where he knows both farmers and millionaires whose land has been traversed by parkways or taken for parks. He had to overcome the most formidable opposition at every turn, using strong-arm methods at times. Many owners of large estates on the North Shore opposed the parkways, and millionaires on Great South Bay fought the creation of a park next to their club. Local politicians and officeholders threw obstacles in his way. Moses took on all comers in a rough-and-tumble fight with all rules suspended. 'I know that was not good government,' he says, 'but it was the only way to keep the programme going.' A characteristic note in Moses is his disregard of precedents in pushing things through.
In 1930 he began to extend the island parkways into the city. A Moses parkway means a 'ribbon park,' beautifully landscaped, usually from three hundred to six hundred feet wide, through which gracefully curving highway safely carries pleasure vehicles at forty miles an hour. There are no traffic lights, grade crossings, or left turns. Commercial traffic, signs, hot-dog stands, and gas stations are taboo, with the exception of a few service stations built to conform to the landscape and controlled by the Park Commissioner. Arched stone ridges enhance the charm of the contantly changing vistas. Lamp posts and low fences of hewn, unpainted timber blend with the background. Everything about these 'ribbon parks' is designed to convey naturalness.
When huge government spending was inaugurated to fight the depression, commissioner Moses was one of the few officials in the country ready with definite plans for putting men to work. In 1933 Governor Lehman made him chairman of the Emergency Public Works Commission to develop a programme for New York State. The more important projects adopted were the Saratoga Springs Authority, which has reatly expanded that spa; the Catskill Bridge Authority, to provide a new crossing of the Hudson River; the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, whose new international bridge through the Thousand Islands to Canada was opened in August 1938; and the Triborough Bridge, Jones Beach State Parkway, and Bethpage Park authorities. Mr. Moses administers the last three, as well as the New York Parkway Authority. In addition, the State Commission sponsored Knickerbocker Village, Hillside, and other housing developments, and secured funds for the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.
An 'authority,' as evolved in New York, is an ingenious corporate device calculated to get things done while a confused people hesitates between private and public ownership of natural monopolies. The authorities administered by Moses, whether financed by public or private funds, are self-sustaining and self-liquidating enterprises, supported solely by those who use them. Set up by law for clearly defined purposes, the authorities are empowered to issue bonds based on revenue to be collected from tolls or services rendered.
After his election in 1933, Mayor La Guardia asked Mr. Moses to take a place in his administration. The only post that interested Moses was one relating to parks, but he insisted that a single, unified city department be set up, with one head; furthermore, that he be permitted to retain his state positions in order to coordinate city and state programmes for parks, parkways, and recreational facilities. This was not a new idea. As organizer of the Metropolitan Conference on Parks in 1928, Moses had developed a plan of this kind. Special legislation giving him the status and powers he asked was passed, but he also wrote out, on a single piece of paper, a four-year park programme for the city and presented it to La Guardia before taking office. When developed in detail it called for 1700 work relief projects and the employment of 75,000 men.
This was the beginning of a miraculous transformation of the city park management, which was in a deplorable condition after years of neglect, inefficiency, political favoritism, or plain indifference. Old parks were redesigned or rehabilitated, and new parks and playgrounds developed. Playgrounds have increased from 119 to more than 400. Ten well-planned swimming pools -- costing more than $1,000,000 apiece -- were built, and the acreage of city parks doubled. Then Commissioner Moses set out to recapture New York's waterfront.
The 'West Side Improvement,' for thirty years in the air, was achieved by covering the railroad tracks along Riverside Drive and building a magnificent Ringstrasse extending to Westchester County and connected with the express highway on the lower West Side of Manhattan. One may now drive from the Wall Street district to the northern city line in less than thirty minutes, stopping only to pay a ten-cent toll at the new double-decked Henry Hudson Bridge over Harlem River. Along the way 132 acres of new park land were created. A similar treatment is now being accorded Manhattan's East Side, where the notorious 'Dead Ends' of slum sections are to terminate in parks or join a beautiful East River Drive. Harlem River Drive, as planned, will complete the encircling of Manhattan with express highways and 'ribbon parks.' Other East River improvements include the development of Ward's and Randall's islands as city parks, playgrounds, and recreational centres. Both of these large islands are connected with three of the city's five boroughs by Triborough Bridge, and a pedestrian bridge will open Ward's Island Park to the crowded upper East Side.
Reclamation of Manhattan's waterfront is being duplicated in the other boroughs. In Brooklyn a thirty-four mile circumferential parkway follows the outer harbor to the Narrows, where it swings inland north of Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay and runs along Jamaica Bay. It connects with the Long Island parkways, traverses Queens, and follows the shore of Long Island Sound to the new Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. An extension of Hutchinson River Parkway will connect this span with the Westchester parkways and Merritt Parkway, leading to New England. Marine Park Bridge, connecting Brooklyn and the Rockaway Peninsula, was built in less than a year to give the city a Jones Beach type of resort at Jacob Riis Park. An additional mile and a half of ocean beach is being reclaimed in the Rockaways. This undertaking was made possible by merging the Henry Hudson and Marine Parkway authorities in the New York City Parkway Authority and floating $18,000,000 in bonds, based on the collection of bridge tolls and parking fees. An even more comprehensive plan contemplates converting the entire Jamaica Bay section of 18,000 acres, largely city-owned, to residential and recreational uses. Even Coney Island may have its face lifted if its concessionaires don't watch out.
The projected Brooklyn Battery vehicular tunnel and its approaches will complete a system including more than one hundred miles in length of new highways and parks. Inside this will be an inner parkway and express traffic system of which Triborough Bridge is the heart, consisting of three main spans and numerous viaducts and ramps linking Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx, via Ward's and Randall's islands. With nineteen miles of approaches, all financed by the authority, Triborough now connects with the Long Island parkways, and the 'feeders' planned or under construction will completely integrate the system. Originally financed by PWA funds, Triborough cost $61,000,000 and was built so economically that it has since been refinanced by a private bond issue at a profit of $1,365,000 to the Federal Government. This bridge system has a capacity for 80,000 cars daily, and its tremendous success enabled Mr. Moses to issue an additional $18,000,000 in Triborough bonds to finance the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and its approaches.
This last-named structure is exceeded in length by only three other bridges in the world. Its graceful towers and cables are already a part of the landscape, and the bridge will be ready to bring New England motorists directly to the World's Fair next spring. Although the bridges built under Moses's direction are financially successful, they are not monopolies. They compete with free bridges and are simply timesaving alternatives for people who are glad to pay the moderate tolls to avoid traffic congestion on other routes. When they have paid for themselves, the toll system may be abandoned or the revenue used for additional facilities. The city parkway programme is by no means complete, but it is being steadily advanced by Mr. Moses's strategy of fighting for limited objectives.
One of Commissioner Moses's most striking miracles is the conversion of a vast swamp and a small mountain of odorous refuse in Queens into the site for the New York World's Fair of 1939. He was given the task of preparing this uninviting terrain for the great exposition and spent more than $50,000,000 effecting the change. By working twenty-four hours a day, with the aid of floodlights at night, the huge dump was leveled, two large lakes created, and the entire site transformed in less than nine months. Moses has seen to it that all schemes for the Fair conform to plans for the subsequent use of the site, with the result that the World's Fair of 1939 is being created in what will be the largest, and perhaps the most beautiful, of the city's parks. Many hot battles have been fought over this big enterprise with Moses in the role of landlord to the Fair corporation, which is using his park and parkways. He refused to permit Grover Whalen to lead the Preview of the Fair Parade, held in April 1938 over Triborough Bridge, because, as he says, it would have inconvenienced the regular paying users, and because he regarded the preview 'as a silly and wasteful stunt.'
DURING the past five years Commissioner Moses has spent considerably more than $300,000,000 on parks and parkways in New York City, exclusive of nearly $100,000,000 disbursed on bridges and their approaches, which were built by contract labor. Nearly $200,000,000 of the money spent on parks came from federal funds for work relief. That he has accomplished so much with relief labor, which he estimates has been about 50 per cent as efficient as contract labor on the average, is due to his insistence on preparing plans in advance, on securing competent supervisors to direct projects, and on retaining control over all park work. His policies have frequently provoked clashes with federal administrators, but he has held firmly to them.
Newspaper 'morgues' are filled with clippings of Moses's controversies running back to the earliest days of his public service when the young reformer, mistaken for a Britisher because of his Oxonian English, stirred the ire of civil service employees under Mayor Mitchell. He has been fighting over one thing or another ever since, with an utter disregard of consequences to himself or his political fortunes. With equal audacity he has attacked or defied presidents, governors, mayors, millionaires, trades-unionists, PWA administrators, judges, legislators, organized relief workers, and poor squatters in shacks along the right of ways of his projects. He doesn't win all his battles, but he has won most of them. No one questions his honesty, no matter what may be said of his methods and he probably numbers among his supporters more former opponents than any other man in public life.
Many of his controversies end in reasonable compromises. He fought hard in the Constitutional Convention for a grade-crossing provision that would put the full cost of such improvements on the state. Defeated in the convention, he blew up, resigned as a member of Mayor La Guardia's committee, and issued a blistering statement. Ultimately he rescinded his resignation, accepted a compromise, and started to work to get it adopted.
In controversy he is usually right, but likes to get in his punches first. That he receives so much favorable publicity is partly explained by his painstaking care to keep editors and reporters informed rather than by press agentry. His many rows and frequent 'resignations,' which are never accepted, may have created the impression in some minds of a disagreeable person. Actually his grin, which readily turns into robust laughter, more than discounts the effects of his sharp tongue. He gets a lot of fun out of his work and play. The stubborn refusal of bluefish in Great South Bay to cooperate in his plans for a beach supper arouses his ire as profoundly as most of his encounters in the realm of polemics.
New York's Art Commission, made up of distinguished artists and connoisseurs, complains that Mr. Moses frequently finishes and dedicates parks and structures before submitting his plans for the Commission's approval, but it has nothing but praise for his completed works. He uses the best available architects and engineers. The city's permanent building at the World's Fair, erected by him, is a fine and appropriate structure, as are his other new park buildings. Many of his bridges have received national awards. Several of the smaller parks, such as the Conservatory Gardens in Central Park and Bryant Park, are gems of landscaping and park design. At Fort Tryon Park, overlooking the Hudson in upper Manhattan, he provided an exquisite setting for The Cloisters, unique among American Art Museums.
Mr. Moses's contribution to city planning is by no means limited to the creation of beautiful parks and parkways. He insists upon protecting them by drastic 'zoning' of adjacent property. His curving parkways replace a monotonous gridiron street system over large sections of the city, and he provides special parks and playgrounds for new government housing projects. He was a membor of a committee that drafted the housing amendment to the new State Constitution and he has already made proposals for a gigantic slum-clearance project of $245,000,000 which has raised a storm of criticism from experts. Mayor La Guardia gives him many extra tasks ranging from the major problem of removing the remaining railroad grade crossings in the city to the creation of an opera and art centre.
Mr. Moses was offered the Fusion nomination for Mayor in New York in 1933, but declined it because of the opposition of Samuel Seabury, who had exposed the rottenness of the Tammany regime and was fearful of Moses's friendly relations with Smith. Moses cast his first presidential vote for Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 and has since supported the Republican Party in national elections, except in 1928 when he voted for Smith. He always made a sharp distinction between Smith and Tammany Hall.
Moses's biggest political mistake was in accepting the Republican nomination to oppose Herbert Lehman for the Governorship in 1934. His candidacy was hopeless from the start. Both Roosevelt and Smith were backing Lehman, and New Deal enthusiasm was running high. Moses prepared for a stirring debate with Governor Lehman. Finding himself attacked as the candidate of the reactionary G.O.P. 'Old Guard,' and linked by implication with all the powerful financial interests in the state, Moses exploited to the full Governor Lehman's connection with the Lehman Brothers' banking house. Incidentally, the Moses and Lehman homes in New York were on the same block, and the families grew up together. And Lehman Brothers handled the sale of bonds for Moses's New York City Parkway Authority in 1938.
When Governor Lehman refused to be drawn into debate, Moses lost his temper and blundered into violent personal attacks on the Governor. His charge that Lehman was a 'liar,' provoked by a statement on the milk controversy, and unrestrained onslaughts, contrasted with the dignified and mild manner of Lehman's campaigning, created an unfavorable impression. Moses further distressed his advisers and managers by espousing a state sales tax and other unpopular measures; it was difficult to get him to pose for photographers, and when a prominent banker came to see him at a time when campaign contributions were badly needed, he merely shook hands and asked, 'How is your wife?'
Before the campaign ended, Moses seemed to realize his errors. At least he became more philosophical and revived his sense of humor. He received the bad election news early in the evening, sent Lehman congratulations, and went off to a grand party of his campaign workers at Sardi's. The next morning he was back on his park jobs, ready to forget the strange interlude.
Some of his opponents were not ready to forget. Strong pressure was brought to bear on Lehman to remove Moses from his state park positions. An effort was made to persuade Mayor La Guardia to drop Moses from the Triborough Bridge Authority. This was followed by Secretary Ickes's celebrated Order No. 129, decreeing that federal funds be withheld from agencies administered by persons holding municipal positions. Moses fell under its jurisdiction, and the order, if carried out, meant that he must relinquish either his park commissionership or his bridge job. The way in which press and public came to the support of Moses in this controversy was the greatest tribute he has ever received. New Dealers and friends of the President felt that a serious mistake had been made. The President evidently came to the same conclusion, for Order No. 129 was withdrawn and both the President and Secretary Ickes spoke at the opening of Triborough Bridge, which was finished in 1936 on schedule.
Moses was named a delegate to the Cleveland Convention in 1936, but refused to go because he was out of sympathy with Charles D. Hilles, National Committeeman. During the recent Constitutional Convention, to which Moses was a delegate, he was outspoken in his criticism of the Republican leadership, and fought side by side on many issues with his old friend, former Governor Smith, a Democratic delegate.
The Moses political credo has changed little through the years. He believes the great middle class is 'inherently, fundamentally, and incurably conservative,' yet he is critical of standpatters. In accord with many basic New Deal purposes, he directs his fire at policies which he thinks are unworkable because administrative brains and trained personnel are lacking.
Mr. Moses diagnoses America's present troubles, and those of the world at large, as due primarily to the extreme economic and political 'nationalisms' in vogue since the war. 'I don't know why I didn't appreciate Woodrow Wilson while he was alive,' Mr. Moses says. 'I thought he was just a college professor. I realize now that he was a very great man. The League of Nations could not be made to work when it was first set up, yet the idea that this or any country can for any length of time pursue a policy of isolation is ridiculous.' He regards Cordell Hull as the bright particular star of the Roosevelt Administration and heartily approves the Secretary of State's efforts to promote international amity and reciprocal trade.
In the meantime Robert Moses has his work to do, and, if one can tell anything by what his limited objectives have meant so far, the people of New York State will reap a bright inheritance.