John Purroy Mitchel

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John Purroy Mitchel
John Purroy Mitchel on May 11, 1914 at the memorial for the Veracruz dead.png
Mitchel on May 11, 1914 at the memorial for the dead from the United States occupation of Veracruz
95th Mayor of New York City
In office
January 1, 1914 – December 31, 1917
Preceded by Ardolph Loges Kline
Succeeded by John Francis Hylan
Personal details
Born (1879-07-19)July 19, 1879
Fordham, Bronx, New York City
Died July 6, 1918(1918-07-06) (aged 38)
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Political party Fusion
Spouse(s) Olive Child
Parents James Mitchel
Mary Purroy
Alma mater Columbia College
New York Law School
John Purroy Mitchel and Leonard Wood reviewing the 30th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment on January 20, 1915

John Purroy Mitchel (July 19, 1879 – July 6, 1918) was the 95th mayor of New York from 1914 to 1917.[1][2]At age 34 he was the second-youngest ever; he is sometimes referred to as "The Boy Mayor of New York." Mayor Mitchel is remembered for his short career as leader of Reform politics in New York, as well as for his early death as an Army air officer in the last months of World War I.[1] Mitchel's staunchly Catholic New York family had been founded by grandfather and namesake John Mitchel, an Ulster Presbyterian Young Irelander (Irish nationalist supporter) who became a renowned writer and leader in the Irish independence movement.

Early life[edit]

John Purroy Mitchel was born on July 19, 1879 at Fordham, Bronx, New York City to James Mitchel, a New York City fire marshal, and Mary Purroy, a schoolteacher until her marriage. Purroy graduated from secondary school at Fordham Preparatory School in the late 1890s. He obtained his bachelor's degree from Columbia College in 1899 and graduated from New York Law School in 1902 with honors. Mitchel then pursued a career as a private attorney.[3]

Early career[edit]

In December 1906, Mitchel's career took flight when he was hired by family friend and New York City corporation counsel, William B. Ellison to investigate the office of John F. Ahearn, borough president of Manhattan, for incompetence, waste, and inefficiency. As a result, Ahearn was dismissed as borough president of Manhattan. Mitchel began his career as assistant corporation counsel and then became a member of the Commissioners of Accounts where he investigated city departments. Mitchel gained results and recognition for his thorough and professional investigations into various city departments and high-ranking officials. Mitchel, with the help of Henry Bruere and other staff members of the Bureau of Municipal Research turned the insignificant Commissioners of Accounts into an administration of importance.[3]

The young John Purroy Mitchel's reputation as a reformer garnered him the support of the anti-Tammany forces. In 1909, Mitchel was elected president of the Board of Alderman (an organization similar to the current City Council). As president of the Board of Alderman, Mitchel was able to enact fiscal reforms. Mitchel cut waste and improved accounting practices. Also Mitchel unsuccessfully fought for a municipal owned transit system and the city saw Mitchel vote against allowing the Interborough Rapid Transit and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit companies permission to extend their existing subway and elevated lines. In a six-week period in 1910 after current Mayor William J. Gaynor was injured by a bullet wound, Mitchel served as acting mayor. His biggest accomplishment during his short tenure was the act of neutrality during a garment industry strike.[3]

Political career[edit]

Mayoral campaign[edit]

As the mayoral election approached in 1913, the Citizens Municipal Committee of 107 set out to find a candidate that would give New York "a non-partisan, efficient and progressive government." After nine ballots, Mitchel was nominated as a candidate for mayor. During his campaign, Mitchel focused on making City Hall a place of decency and honesty. He also focused on business as he promised New Yorkers that he would modernize the administrative and financial machinery and the processes of city government.[3]

At the age of 34, Mitchel was elected mayor on the Fusion (Party) slate as he won an overwhelming victory, defeating Democratic candidate Edward E. McCall by 121,000 votes, thus becoming the youngest mayor of New York City to that date. He was often referred to as "The Boy Mayor of New York."

Tenure as mayor[edit]

Mitchel's administration introduced widespread reforms, particularly in the Police Department, which had long been highly corrupt and which was cleaned up by Mitchel's Police Commissioner Arthur Woods. Woods was able to break up gangs and in his first year in office, he arrested more than 200 criminals. Woods also launched an attack on robbery, prostitution, pickpocketing and gambling. Woods ultimately transformed the police department into a crime-fighting machine.[4] Mitchel aimed to get rid of corruption wherever he saw it. Mitchel’s administration set out to restructure and modernize New York City and the government. Mitchel was able expanded the city's regulatory activities, ran the police department more honestly and efficiently and much like in 1910 he maintained impartiality during garment and transportation workers strikes in 1916.[3]

At 1:30 pm on April 17, 1914 Michael P. Mahoney fired a gun at the mayor as Mitchel was getting in his car to go to lunch. The bullet ricocheted off a pedestrian and hit Frank Lyon Polk, New York City's corporation counsel in the chin.[5]

Mitchel's early popularity was soon dented based on his fiscal policies and his vision of education. Mitchel was heavily criticized for combining vocational and academic courses. Mitchel began to trim the size of the board of education and attempted to control teachers’ salaries.[3]

Mitchel advocated universal military training to prepare for war. In a speech at Princeton University on March 1, 1917, he described universal military training as "the [only] truly democratic solution to the problem of preparedness on land." His universal military training alienated New Yorkers and was not popular. Many felt he focused too much on military patriotism and was indifferent to politics. This soon led to a loss of support for his re-election bid in 1917.[3]

Mitchel ran again for Mayor in the highly-charged wartime election of 1917. His re-election bid took a hit as many New Yorkers felt he was socializing with the social elite, focused too much on the economy and efficiency and his concern on military preparedness.[3] He narrowly lost the Republican primary to William Bennett after a contentious recount, but ran for re-election as a pro-war Fusion candidate against Bennett, the anti-war Socialist Morris Hillquit and the Tammany Hall Democrat John F. Hylan, who won the election without taking a clear position on the War. (Mitchel barely beat Hillquit for second place.)

Death and legacy[edit]

John Purroy Mitchel memorial

After failing to get re-elected, Mitchel joined the Air Service as a flying cadet, completing training in San Diego and obtaining the rank of major.[6] On the morning of July 6, 1918, when returning from a short military training flight to Gerstner Field, near Lake Charles, Louisiana, his plane suddenly went into a nose dive, causing Mitchel to fall from his plane due to an unfastened seatbelt.[1][6] Mitchel plummeted 500 feet to his death, his body landing in a marsh about a half mile south of the field.[6]

Mitchel's body was returned for burial to New York City.[6]

Mitchel Field (Mitchel Air Force Base) on Long Island was named for him in 1918.[7] A bronze memorial plaque with Mitchel's likeness is also affixed between the two stone pylons at the western end of Hamilton Hall, the main college building at Columbia University.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Belt Unfastened, Ex-mayor Mitchel Falls To Death. His Scout Plane 500 Feet From Ground When The Accident Happened. Find Body In Marsh Grass". New York Times. July 7, 1918. Retrieved 2010-03-14. "Other Airmen Believe He Was Trying To Make Landing When He Fell. Wife Not On The Grounds. Bears Shock Bravely And Will Bring Body From Louisiana Field To This City. Widow Hears The News. Major John Purroy Mitchel, former Mayor of New York City, and an officer in the Aviation Section of the Army Signal Corps, was instantly killed today when ..." 
  2. ^ "The Green Book: Mayors of the City of New York" on the official NYC website
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Cerillo, Augustus “American National Biography Online: Mitchel, John Purroy.” Web. 1 Oct. 2013.
  4. ^ Chiles, James “Disaster-Wise Blogspot: Before FEMA: Arthur Woods of the NYPD” Web. 15 Oct 2013.
  5. ^ "Identified as Michael P. Mahoney, Man with Many Grievances". New York Times. April 17, 1914. Retrieved 2013-12-25. "In the midst of the noon-hour crowd on Park Row an attempt was made on the life of Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, yesterday afternoon, just as he was starting in his automobile for luncheon from the east end of City Hall Plaza. The would-be assassin of Mr. Mitchel was a shabbily dressed man of 71 years, who fancied he had a series of grievances against the Mayor for his mode of administering the City Government." 
  6. ^ a b c d "Mitchel Killed by Fall from Aero; Safety Belt Loose: Ex-Mayor Plunges 500 Feet at Gerstner Field Near Lake Charles, La." New York Tribune, vol. 78, whole no. 26,166 (July 7, 1918), pg. 1.
  7. ^ USAFHRA Document 00489043

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Ardolph Loges Kline
Mayor of New York City
1914—1917
Succeeded by
John F. Hylan