La Guardia: man of integrity, honesty, perseverence

Little Flower: The Life and Times of Fiorello La Guardia, by Lawrence Elliott. New York: William Morrow & Co. 256 pp. $13.95.

For those of us who grew up in New York during the 1930s and '40s, we knew only one mayor, Fiorello La Guardia - as we knew only one President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both were legends. They fought for many of the same things - guaranteed minimum wages for workers, old-age pensions, workmen's compensation, social security, and government regulation of utilities and the stock market.

But unlike FDR, La Guardia was no New Dealer. In fact, he was a Republican. He served 12 years in the House of Representatives under the GOP banner before taking on the Tammany Hall Goliath in New York and ultimately being elected mayor with a Fusion label.

Most remember La Guardia as a feisty, rolly-polly, lovable - but often irrascible - political maverick who read the Sunday comics over the radio to attentive youngsters, chased after fire trucks, and preached ''patience and fortitude'' to all who would listen.

Elliott's Fiorello is just as delightful as the one depicted in the hit Broadway musical a few years back. But he is much more - a sensitive young man who rose above his humble origins in Montana and Arizona; a patriot who ably served his nation in two wars; a visionary who spent his congressional years as a reformer and champion of the poor, from Indians on the reservation to Puerto Ricans in the ghetto.

Unlike other biographies, Elliott's focuses on La Guardia's career in Congress rather than his more famous stint in Gracie Mansion as mayor of New York.

What shines through is perseverence after repeated failures, unswerving personal integrity and honesty, and almost an obsession to accomplish anything he set out to.

The author is an advocate. He openly admires his subject and heaps praise on him. He criticizes only the insignificant. That said, this book is valid and important.

While many argue over ''greatness'' in American presidents, there is widespread agreement that Fiorello La Guardia provided what may have been the best reform government in the nation's municipal history.

And if Elliott is accurate (as it would appear he is) in chronicling La Guardia's congressional accomplishments, the ''Little Flower'' should also be seen as a significant federal lawmaker.

One thing is certain. In these days when politics and politicians remain in low public esteem, the nation could use another Fiorello La Guardia. If only the Little Flower were a perennial!

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