About Robert Ferdinand Wagner, II
Robert Ferdinand Wagner II, usually known as Robert F. Wagner, Jr. (April 20, 1910 – February 12, 1991) served three terms as the mayor of New York City, from 1954 through 1965.
Life and early career
He was born in Manhattan, the son of United States Senator Robert Ferdinand Wagner I. Wagner attended Taft School and Yale University, where he became a member of Scroll and Key. In 1942 he was the Exalted Ruler of New York Lodge No. 1 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. A residential building is named after him on the Stony Brook University campus.
Wagner served in the State Assembly (1938 – 1942) and as Borough President of Manhattan (1950 – 1953). He served as delegate to conventions and was nominated for the Senate and the Vice-Presidency. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Corps.
His nomination and election as New York City mayor in 1953 caused a rift in the Democratic Party, and instigated a long-standing feud between Eleanor Roosevelt and Carmine DeSapio, Boss of Tammany Hall.
During Wagner's tenure as mayor of New York, he built public housing and schools, created the City University of New York system, established the right of collective bargaining for city employees, and barred housing discrimination based on race, creed or color. He was the first mayor to hire significant numbers of people of color in city government. His administration also saw the development of the Lincoln Center and brought Shakespeare to Central Park.
In 1956, he ran on the Democratic and Liberal tickets for U.S. Senator from New York, but was defeated by Republican Jacob K. Javits.
In the fall of 1957 after the Dodgers and Giants left the city of New York he appointed a commission to see if they could bring back National League baseball to New York. The New York Mets were born out of this committee.
Like his father, Wagner was aligned with Tammany Hall for much of his career. However when he sought a third term in 1961 Wagner broke with Carmine DeSapio and won the Democratic primary anyway, despite a challenge from Tammany's candidate Arthur Levitt Sr. A Democratic Mayor not aligned with Tammany was a new development and marked a milestone in the decline of traditional clubhouse or machine politics in New York City.
Wagner was mayor at the time of the controversial demolition of the original Penn Station, which began on October 28, 1963. In 1965, he signed the law that created the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
By the early 1960s, a campaign to rid New York City of gay bars was in full effect by order of Mayor Wagner, who was concerned about the image of the city in preparation for the 1964 World's Fair. The city revoked the liquor licenses of the bars, and undercover police officers worked to entrap as many homosexual men as possible.
In 1965, Wagner decided not to run for a fourth term as mayor. Four years later, however, he ran for mayor again, but lost the Democratic primary. In 1973, he talked with the city's five Republican county chairmen about running for Mayor as a Republican, but these negotiations collapsed.
After deciding not to run for a fourth term in 1965, Wagner served as ambassador to Spain from 1968 to 1969. In that year, he decided to run for a fourth term but was soundly beaten by Mario Procaccino in the Democratic primary. He also made a brief run four years later, but withdrew before the primary took place. In 1978 he was appointed by Jimmy Carter to be his representative to the Vatican, where the College of Cardinals had elected a new Pope, John Paul II.
Wagner was a Roman Catholic.
Wagner's first wife was Susan Edwards, by whom he had two sons, Robert Ferdinand Wagner III and Duncan. Susan Wagner died of lung cancer in 1964.
He married Barbara Cavanagh in 1965. They divorced in 1971.
Wagner married Phyllis Fraser, widow of Bennett Cerf, in 1975. They lived together until his death in 1991. Her five-floor townhouse at 132 East 62nd Street, designed by Denning & Fourcade, "was so magnetic that the statesman moved in."
He died in Manhattan of heart failure in 1991, aged 80. He was being treated for bladder cancer. His funeral mass was offered by Cardinal William Wakefield Baum at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and he was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Sunnyside, Queens. "Mr. Wagner was buried beside the graves of his father, United States Senator Robert F. Wagner, and mother, Margaret, and first wife, Susan Edwards Wagner, and not far from the grave of New York's Governor Al Smith."
The Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University is named in his honor, as is the Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park in Battery Park City and the Robert F. Wagner, Jr., Secondary School for Arts and Technology in Long Island City, Queens.
Wagner's papers, photographs, artifacts and other materials are housed at the New York City Municipal Archives and at La Guardia and Wagner Archives.