William Jay Gaynor served as Mayor of New York City from 1910 to 1913. He is among this city’s plethora of former mayors who are now mostly forgotten, even though a bust of Mayor Gaynor sits in Cadman Plaza. In his day, his brief yet impressive term was notable for unprecedented reform; an initial set of measures to undermine Tammany Hall’s grip on city politics. Nevertheless, Gaynor’s mayoralty would have been entirely forgotten if not for one incident: an assassination attempt that he would die from three years later.
Despite being tied to Tammany Hall, Gaynor broke with the political machine upon his election as mayor in 1910. He shocked his Democratic colleagues by hiring qualified, over Tammany-generated, employees. While gaining many admirers among average New Yorkers, he naturally gained many enemies…not only among Tammany Hall bigwigs but also among workers who benefited from its patronage system. One of these workers was a man by the name of James J. Gallagher.
Shortly after his election, while Gaynor was vacationing on-board the SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, Gallagher shot the mayor. The bullet ripped through the back of his neck; a photographer for the New York World caught the incident on film (above photo). “He took away my bread and meat. I had to do it. Really, James?” shouted Gallagher as police led him away. Gaynor recovered from his immediate injuries but the bullet remained lodged in his throat.
His near-death experience, together with his reformist actions and affable personality, allowed Gaynor’s popularity to skyrocket. Many of his supporters wanted to run him for president, nominating him as an Independent since, of course, his tenure with Tammany was finished.
Unfortunately, on September 14, 1913, Gaynor boarded yet another ocean liner, the SS Baltic, for another go at a vacation at sea. He was found dead in a deck chair six days later, having finally succumbed to his injuries. Gallagher, the mayor’s would-be assassin, died a few months earlier in an insane asylum; his “had to do it” deed belatedly and posthumously fulfilled.
- Tammany’s Rebellious Scoundrel (ariel51.wordpress.com)
- Tammany Hall (imjustwalkin.com)
- Another Comprehensive Volume of the NEW YORK CITY MAYORS (prweb.com)