Letter to Ambassador William vandem Heuval February 27,2003

February 27, 2003


Ambassador William vanden Heuval

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute

711 5th Avenue/ suite 900

NYC, NY 10022


Dear Ambassador vanden Heuval,


I hope that this letter finds you and yours quite well. I had the pleasure reading about the Herbert Lehman symposium in yesterday’s NY Times. In reading the article I was reminded of Governor Lehman’s decency regarding the Gubernatorial campaign of 1934. In that race Herbert Lehman, who was elected to his first term in 1932, faced a very tough opponent with the candidacy of Robert Moses, the State and City Park’s Commissioner. Of course the campaign waged by the aggressive Moses was vituperative and insulting and resulted in the greatest numerical landslide in the history of the state or any state of the Union. It even broke FDR’s record landslide numerical victory of 1930. Lehman won by 808,091 votes, and Moses 35% of the vote was the lowest total for a major party in the 157 year history of NY State elections. In fact, the GOP lost both Houses of the State Legislature for the first time in 21 years. Within a year the GOP won back the assembly and didn’t lose it back for another 29 years until LBJ’s landslide of 1964.


The following is from Robert Caro’s book The Power Broker.


On Election Night, (Robert) Moses was careful to show an elaborate disregard of the vote. Reporters ushered into his apartment at 7 Gracie Square saw him poring over a map of the city “outlining park and playground prospects, while he whistled softly” and “giving only perfunctory attention, apparently, to the election returns relayed to him.” I haven’t the slightest regrets in any way, shape or manner,” her. “I’ve done the best I could. I’ve conducted an honorable campaign and adhered to my convictions. That is all there is to it.” And he said that he was planning to return to his park job the next morning.


There was no question about his returning to his city job, of course, but the fact that he included in the statement his state park work showed that he knew Herbert Lehman much better than his campaign attacks on the Governor would have made it appear. For Lehman’s treatment of Moses after the campaign was the definitive word on the Governor’s character.


Lehman was bitterly hurt by Moses’ charges, but he would not allow personal feelings to interfere with his duty. “We have differed in the past and probably in the future, but in planning and administration of parks, parkways and recreational facilities, Bob Moses has no superior on the face of the world,” the Governor announced. Moses would continue to head the state park system as long as he was Governor, he said. “He was terribly sensitive because he said that I called him a liar in the campaign,” Moses would recall, but “I found him a very nice fellow to deal with. A very decent, honorable, honest fellow. He always supported me when he was Governor.”


Moses should have known that Lehman would support him. After all, the “cowardly, sniveling, lying weakling” had always supported him before.


What a strange world we live in, when whole generations of young people have collective memory loss. I don’t know whether it is a matter of the teaching of history, or the fault of all of our institutions. Of course it isn’t restricted to one race, or class or religious group. I can clearly remember when one of my daughter’s friends from Scarsdale, was interning at the law firm Dewey Ballantine, and did not know who Thomas E. Dewey was and frankly had never heard his name! Therefore, as one who is interested in history, I was gratified to hear that there was a symposium on Herbert Lehman, and his illustrious career.


I hope we can talk one of these days. I will be in the city on Wednesday March 12th. Maybe we could have lunch together.




Richard J. Garfunkel



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