Born and raised in the Italian section of New York City's Greenwich Village, Carmine DeSapio eventually rose to political prominence as the leader of the Democratic party's organization in Manhattan - the infamous Tammany Hall machine. Although much of Tammany's power had eroded during the 1930s and early 1940s, DeSapio engineered the political machine's resurgence in the early 1950s. As an ethnic New Yorker, DeSapio was interested in expanding Tammany's reach into communities that had traditionally remained aloof from machine politics. In particular, these included the large number of African-American and Latino voters that populated north Manhattan. At the same time, DeSapio also skillfully chose candidates and threw the weight of his organization behind them. His support played a decisive role in electing Robert F. Wagner to New York City's mayoralty in 1953, and W. Averell Harriman to the state's governorship the following year. Wagner, Harriman, and DeSapio formed a powerful political triumvirate, and by the mid-1950s DeSapio had emerged as the undisputed kingmaker of New York politics. At the height of his power, DeSapio "could make – and break – Council members, mayors, even governors. He controlled patronage. He was the power broker who burnished into the political history of New York the names of Harriman and Wagner, and countless others in lesser positions." Nonetheless, DeSapio's prominence was rooted in his demonstrated ability to deliver the voters and, when Tammany's candidates for governor, attorney general, and U.S. Senate all lost their elections in 1958, DeSapio's days as kingmaker were over. A reform movement led by Eleanor Roosevelt, Herbert Lehman, and Thomas Finletter organized the New York Committee for Democratic Voters to oppose Tammany's influence and enhance the democratic process in New York. Eventually they succeeded in having DeSapio removed from power in 1961, after which the Tammany organization all but ceased to exist. DeSapio continues to reside at his home in Greenwich Village.
Sources: Kenneth T. Jackson, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 328; Jonathan P. Hicks, "DeSapio Remembers an Era of Leadership and Loyalty," The New York Times, 12 March 1997, sec. A, p. 24.
Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based on unpublished letters. .
For more information, visit The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers home page at https://erpapers.columbian.gwu.edu/.
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