July 29, 2004

Carmine De Sapio, R.I.P.

Today's New York Times features a nice reminder that the distant past sometimes isn't as distant as you'd think: Carmine De Sapio, the last boss of Tammany Hall, died this week at the age of 95. I expect to read about Tammany Hall in history textbooks, not in newspapers, and I wonder if this is the last time The New York Times will publish a news article on the city's fabled political machine.

The Times obituary is worth reading if you're interested in New York politics. My favorite part was this discussion of how De Sapio tried (and failed) to change Tammany Hall's reputation:

Mr. De Sapio sought to end Tammany's image of smoke-filled back rooms where major political decisions were made hidden from public view. (In fact, a chronic eye disease forced him to avoid tobacco smoke and made him so sensitive to light that he always wore dark glasses - which created the very gangsterlike stereotype he was trying to dispel.)

In another amusing passage, the article quotes former mayor Ed Koch's assessment of De Sapio: "He is a crook, but I like him." This emphasized, in my mind, just how much Tammany Hall is a thing of the past; after all, Koch himself strikes me as a figure from another era, and the article describes how he helped end De Sapio's career by twice defeating him for the leadership of the Greenwich Village party organization. History, it seems, has moved on.

Update: Harold Meyerson has written a short article on De Sapio's death for The American Prospect Online. The Telegraph's obituary is also quite good.

Posted by Ed at July 29, 2004 04:10 PM

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