Robert F. Wagner, Jr.

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For other people named Robert Wagner, see Robert Wagner (disambiguation).
Robert F. Wagner, Jr.
Wagner greets the Little Rock Nine (1958)
102nd Mayor of New York City
In office
January 1, 1954 – December 31, 1965
Preceded by Vincent R. Impellitteri
Succeeded by John V. Lindsay
United States Ambassador to Spain
In office
June 24, 1968 – March 7, 1969
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard Nixon
Preceded by Frank E. McKinney
Succeeded by Robert C. Hill
17th Borough President of Manhattan
In office
Preceded by Hugo Rogers
Succeeded by Hulan Jack
Personal details
Born Robert Ferdinand Wagner II
(1910-04-20)April 20, 1910
New York City
Died February 12, 1991(1991-02-12) (aged 80)
New York City
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Susan Edwards
Phyllis Fraser
Children Robert Ferdinand Wagner III
Religion Roman Catholic

Robert Ferdinand Wagner II (April 20, 1910 – February 12, 1991), usually known as Robert F. Wagner, Jr. served three terms as the mayor of New York City, from 1954 through 1965. When running for his third term, he broke with the Tammany Hall leadership, ending the reign of clubhouse bosses in city politics.

Life and early career[edit]

Wagner was born in Manhattan, the son of Margaret Marie McTague and German-born United States Senator Robert Ferdinand Wagner I. He attended Taft School and Yale University, where he became a member of Scroll and Key (as was his successor). 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 was a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co., 16th D.) in 1938, 1939–40 and 1941–42. He resigned his seat on January 13, 1942, and joined the Army Air Corps to fight in World War II. He was Borough President of Manhattan from 1950 to 1953. He also served as delegate to conventions, and was nominated for the Senate and the Vice-Presidency.


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 New York City's mayor, 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. During his years in office, the city experienced the 1962-63 New York City newspaper strike, its 300th anniversary in 1964, Catherine Genovese's murder, the Harlem Riot of 1964, the Beatles first visit amid mid-decade's British invasion and Beatlemania, Malcolm X's assassination, a 24-day New York Times strike in 1965 and Pope Paul VI's first visit of any pontiff to the U.S. in 1965.

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 New York City he appointed a commission to see if they could bring back National League baseball to the city. 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.

In February 1962, Wagner quit the New York Athletic Club because it barred blacks and Jews from becoming members.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

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.[7]

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.[8]


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.

Personal life[edit]

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."[9]

Death and legacy[edit]

He died in Manhattan of heart failure in 1991, aged 80. He was being treated for bladder cancer.[8] 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."[1]

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Private Club Policies Become Public". The Milwaukee Sentinel. November 17, 1965. Retrieved April 29, 2014. 
  2. ^ Henry Robinson Luce (1962). Time. Retrieved April 28, 2014. 
  3. ^ Jeremy Schaap (2007). Triumph: the untold story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Retrieved October 27, 2011. 
  4. ^ Hunt, Richard P. (February 10, 1962). "MAYOR QUITS CLUB OVER BIAS CHARGE – He Notes Allegations That the New York A.C. Bars Negroes and Jews Accused by 2 Groups Wagner Quits New York A.C. After Hearing Charge of Bias Rules on Entry Attorney General Quit – Front Page". The New York Times. Retrieved October 27, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Mayor Wagner Quits N.Y. Athletic Club". Toledo Blade. February 10, 1962. Retrieved October 27, 2011. 
  6. ^ ".". Point Pleasant Register. February 15, 1989. Retrieved October 27, 2011. 
  7. ^ * Carter, David (2004). Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution, St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-34269-1, p. 29–37.
  8. ^ a b Clarity, James F. (February 13, 1981). "Robert Wagner, 80, Pivotal New York Mayor, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2010. "Robert Ferdinand Wagner, who oversaw a vivid transformation of the city's politics and even its personality in three terms as Mayor, died early yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 80 years old. The police and emergency medical technicians were summoned at 3:30 am to his town house on East 62d Street, where the ailing former Mayor was pronounced dead of heart failure. He had been suffering from bladder cancer." 
  9. ^ Max Abelson (February 12, 2007). "Wendy's Warren". The New York Observer. Retrieved September 27, 2007. 

External links[edit]

New York Assembly
Preceded by
William Schwartz
New York State Assembly, New York County 16th District
Succeeded by
John P. Morrissey
Political offices
Preceded by
Hugo Rogers
Borough President of Manhattan
Succeeded by
Hulan E. Jack
Preceded by
Vincent R. Impellitteri
Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
John V. Lindsay
Party political offices
Preceded by
Herbert H. Lehman
Democratic Nominee for U.S. Senate from New York (Class 3)
Succeeded by
James B. Donovan
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Frank E. McKinney
U.S. Ambassador to Spain
Succeeded by
Robert C. Hill