Italian Politics - New York Style

Italians had been active in Democratic and Republican politics since the 1890s. By the 1920s Italians were moving increasingly toward New York's Democratic clubs. While businessman Generoso Pope emerged as a major Tammany Hall power broker, a young attorney from East Harlem, Salvatore Cotillo, was the first Italian elected to the New York State Assembly. In 1933 Italian voters made possible the election of fiery reform candidate Fiorello La Guardia as mayor of New York. The "Little Flower's" progressive mayoralty (1933-1945) transformed the civic life of New York City. New Yorkers also elected a progressive congressman of Italian descent, Vito Marcantonio, a La Guardia protege and an outspoken representative of East Harlem in the 1930s and 1940s, to represent them.

The Left
At the turn of the century, anarchists, socialists and syndicalists were active in the Italian American community. By the early 1920s, when an Italian section of the Communist Party was formed, the Left began shifting its attention away from the struggle against capitalism to the new enemy-Fascism. Mussolini came to power in Italy in 1922. The following year anti-Fascists in New York organized the Anti-Fascist Alliance of North America. Carlo Tresca, who had been a leading labor organizer, became the acknowledged leader of the anti-Fascist movement.

The Right
In the years between the two world wars, Mussolini's Fascist dictatorship in Italy created political divisions in New York's Italian communities. The first Fascist organization in America was established in New York in 1921. Many Italians identified with the international prestige enjoyed by Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Violent clashes between Blackshirts and anti-Fascists often took place, culminating in a battle at the Garibaldi-Meucci house on Staten Island in 1932.