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A Legacy of Leadership

Building the City: Politics, Architecture, Culture

From Alexander Hamilton to New Deal legislator Emanuel Celler '10C '12L to Jerrold Nadler '69C, our alumni have represented New York City residents in virtually every session of the U.S. Congress. DeWitt Clinton and Seth Low 1870C 1914HON were just two of fifteen New York City mayors to have been educated at Columbia.

The challenges posed by our town have also engaged New York State governors from John Jay to George Pataki '70L.

Much of New York's political life from the late eighteenth to the twentieth century involves the formidable influence of Columbia alumni and the institution they battled—Tammany Hall, as the Executive Committee of the New York County Democratic Committee was popularly known. An offspring of the Society of Saint Tammany, or Columbian Order in the City of New York, the group was founded by New York veterans of the American Revolution. (The original handwritten minutes of the Society's first meeting in 1789 are among the extensive holdings of New York City historical documents in Columbia's Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.) Early members included Robert Livingston and DeWitt Clinton, who later was denied renomination as mayor by Tammany for having turned against President James Madison.

Some of Columbia's best-known alumni enhanced their political careers by fighting the "bosses" of Tammany Hall, who exercised political control through a winning blend of charity, patronage, and bribery. Theodore Roosevelt 1880–82L, elected state assemblyman from Manhattan after leaving Columbia Law School, was still in his twenties when he wrote a biography of Gouverneur Morris and ran unsuccessfully for mayor against a Tammany candidate. In 1886 he assumed the presidency of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners and moved quickly to demote or retire the most glaring grafters on the force, in the process drawing opposition from politicians of both parties for his antipatronage reform policies.

Nonetheless, Roosevelt's popularity during the Spanish-American War prompted the Republicans to nominate him for governor, though they soon found him to be as uncooperative a reformer in that role as he had been as president of the police board. They moved him out of New York by nominating him for vice president on William McKinley's ticket. Roosevelt helped McKinley win the presidency with the same antibossism strategy that had resonated with the voters of New York.

The benefits of honest, efficient municipal administration likewise attracted national attention during the two terms that Seth Low, valedictorian of the Columbia College Class of 1870, served as mayor of Brooklyn. He then spent eleven years as Columbia's president before being elected the fusion mayor of New York City in 1901 with support from Republicans, disenchanted Democrats, the City Club, and other reform organizations brought together by the Citizens Union. Low's election ended the career of a powerful leader of Tammany Hall and briefly gave a good name to New York City governance, but within two years a new Tammany boss brought in a new mayor and a new scandal that implicated the borough presidents of Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. Removing them from office required the resolve of another renowned Columbia alumnus—Charles Evans Hughes 1884L 1907HON, whose nomination for governor of New York had been arranged by President Theodore Roosevelt in opposition to the Tammany-backed candidate, William Randolph Hearst.

Morningside campus, looking south from Low Library, circa 1930.

As governor, Hughes set about reforming the state government. His integrity and high standing in the legal community earned him an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. He later stepped down from the Court in an unsuccessful bid to challenge Woodrow Wilson for the presidency. Hughes returned to the city and his law practice, widely considered to be the best in the country. With the outbreak of World War I, President Wilson named him chairman of the New York City draft appeals board. Hughes later served as secretary of state and in 1930 was appointed chief justice of the United States, which later placed him in conflict with another extraordinary alumnus, Franklin Delano Roosevelt '07L.

During his first year at Columbia, FDR married President Theodore Roosevelt's niece Eleanor and frequently visited the president, whose passion for politics proved contagious. After graduating from Columbia, FDR set up his law practice in Manhattan and made his mark as a 29-year-old freshman legislator by publicly opposing the Tammany candidate for U.S. Senate, an unthinkable act for a young Democrat in those days. Roosevelt's support for Woodrow Wilson, whom Tammany had deserted, struck many as being the end of his political career. But Wilson won and named FDR assistant secretary of the Navy. Crippled by polio, Roosevelt made a dramatic appearance three years later at the 1924 Democratic National Convention to nominate the de facto leader of Tammany Hall, Al Smith, for president. He nominated Smith once again in 1928, and Smith in turn supported Roosevelt's successful run for governor. In 1930 Governor Roosevelt instigated the Seabury investigations into Tammany influence in City Hall, which helped him secure the presidential nomination in 1932.

It was as governor and president that Roosevelt had the greatest impact on the citizens of New York City. By expanding government concern for social welfare, he undercut the power in New York City of Tammany clubhouse politics, with its Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas buckets of coal. The people of New York City, hard hit throughout the Depression of the 1930s, had found a new hero. With the passage of Social Security and the imposition of new tax policies, Roosevelt became the most popular (and controversial) Columbia graduate since his distant cousin Teddy. His administration included a number of prominent Columbians, among them Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins '10SSW and Judge Samuel Rosenman '15C '18L, FDR's close adviser and speechwriter.

Harlan Fiske Stone 1898L was dean of Columbia Law School (1910-24) and later chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two other Columbia alumni proved to be thorns in FDR's side: New York Governor Thomas Dewey '25L '47HON, who opposed Roosevelt in a strenuous presidential campaign, and Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, who presided over a Supreme Court that ruled unconstitutional some of FDR's most cherished recovery measures. Also serving on the Supreme Court during the early days of the New Deal was Benjamin Cardozo 1889C 1890GSAS 1892L 1915HON. A native New Yorker who practiced law in Manhattan for twenty-three years before his appointment to the New York State Court of Appeals, Cardozo is still considered one of the great legal minds of the twentieth century.

In 1941, FDR appointed Harlan Fiske Stone 1898L 1925HON as chief justice. Stone had taught at Columbia and practiced law in the city for a quarter-century. He served as dean of the Law School from 1910–24, an era dubbed the "Stone Age" by alumni who still celebrate his memory at the annual Stone Dinner.

An impartial, nonpartisan approach to elective office characterized the more recent careers of Frank Hogan '24C '28L '52HON, a Columbia Trustee, elected eight times as Manhattan district attorney, and Arthur Levitt, Sr. '21C '24L who won six terms as New York State comptroller. Robert Abrams '60C served three terms as Bronx borough president, three terms as assemblyman from the Bronx, and four terms as New York State attorney general. And reform leader Edward Costikyan '47C '49L presided over a transformed Tammany and also served Columbia as a Trustee.

As in politics, Columbia's alumni and faculty have made an indelible imprint on the physical, commercial, and cultural landscape of our city. They have reached the heights: New York's signature skyscraper, the Empire State Building, rose from the drawing board of William Lamb '07ARCH and Arthur Harmon '01ARCH. And they have conquered the depths: William Parsons 1878C, a longtime Columbia Trustee, did much of the design and engineering of the city's subway system in the 1890s and early 1900s.

LaGuardia Airport, Rockefeller Center, and the United Nations were designed by the architectural firm of Max Abramovitz '31ARCH, as was Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. The acoustics for Avery Fisher and the Metropolitan Opera House, also at Lincoln Center, were created by Professor Emeritus of Architecture Cyril Harris, who is also the Batchelor Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering.

Among the city's most prominent religious and civic structures, Riverside Church was designed by Henry Pelton 1889ARCH, Temple Emanu-El by Robert Kohn 1890ARCH, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument by Arthur Stoughton 1888ARCH, and the downtown Federal Reserve Bank by Philip Sawyer 1892ARCH.

The dialogue between past and present that characterizes much of the city's best architecture is exemplified by the work of former faculty member Robert A. M. Stern '60C, now the dean of Yale's Architecture School, whose sensitivity to context appears in our new undergraduate residence hall at the corner of Broadway and 113th Street. During his years on campus, Stern directed our Historic Preservation program, a training ground for talented Columbia professionals; he now serves on the City Landmarks Commission and in the Municipal Art Society. (Historic preservation was practically invented as an academic field by Professor James Marston Fitch at Columbia.)

New York is also a place of constant renewal, both in the built environment and the sense of commitment that reinvigorates the city's leading institutions. A striking example is the all-new Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in the American Museum of Natural History, designed by former Columbia Architecture Dean James Stewart Polshek and opened in February 2000 under the direction of Neil de Grasse Tyson '91 '92GSAS. The reconstruction of the Planetarium is the latest link in a long chain of association between Columbia and the Museum of Natural History, forged at the turn of the twentieth century when the legendary Franz Boas founded Columbia's anthropology department and shortly thereafter assumed the curator's duties at the Museum. His protégée Margaret Mead '23BAR '29GSAS '64HON arrived at the Museum in 1925 and in 1940 taught her first course in what would become Columbia's School of General Studies. As the site of such events as popular lectures by Joseph Patterson, professor of astronomy at Columbia, and last year's Biodiversity Exhibit, assembled by Niles Elderedge '65C, the Museum reflects the continuing strong leadership of Ellen Futter '71BAR '74L '84HON, former president of Barnard College and head of the Museum since 1993.

Even as Columbians have joined in building New York and its preeminent institutions, they have also contributed enormously to the commercial vitality that impels the city's continuing growth. Dating back to the first half of the twentieth century, alumni like George T. Delacorte '13C '82HON, Jerome L. Greene '26C '28L '83HON, Morris A. Schapiro '23C '25E '87HON, and Lawrence A. Wien '25C '27L '74HON set a towering standard for achievement. Among the many alumni who continue this tradition of excellence on New York's business and financial scene are Benjamin Botwinick '26B, Eugene Lang '40B '88HON, George Scharffenberger '40B, Washington Sycip '43B, John Thomas '48C '50B, Jerome Chazen '50B, Warren Buffett '51B, Henry Kravis '69B, and Philip Milstein '71C.


And in times of hardship, as when the fiscal crisis of the 1970s brought the city to the edge of bankruptcy, the restoration of New York's financial strength engaged the leadership skills of outstanding Columbia graduates, among them, Arthur Burns '25C '34GSAS '70HON, then chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Richard Ravitch '55C, builder and problem-solver, and Ira Millstein '47E '49L, lawyer, mayoral adviser, and expert on municipal bankruptcy.

Former Columbia Trustee Franklin Thomas '56C '63L '79HON, past president of the Ford Foundation, during his seventeen-year presidency (and previously as head of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation) stressed the policy of putting more community development funds in the hands of local groups. M. Moran Weston '30C '54GSAS '69HON, rector of St. Philip's Church and founder of the Carver Savings Bank, was the first African-American leader to be appointed as a Columbia Trustee. Weston was honored last year by the establishment at SIPA of the M. Moran Weston Distinguished Lectureship in Urban Affairs and Public Policy.

The information revolution that is helping to drive today's "new economy" owes much to a band of communications revolutionaries who have called New York and Columbia home. Michael Pupin, who arrived penniless in the United States from a small Serbian village before enrolling in Columbia as a member of the Class of 1883, conducted experiments that made possible the first long-distance telephone call; as a world-famous professor of electromechanics at the University, and Nobel Laureate, he worked to create an entirely new technology in radio communications. The invention of FM by Edwin Armstrong '13C '29HON in the basement of Philosophy Hall led in 1941 to the establishment of the first FM radio station, Columbia's still-thriving WKCR. Yet another radio and communications pioneer, John W. Kluge '37C '88HON, came to the United States from Germany as a boy and went on to graduate with honors from Columbia College on the way to achieving remarkable success in business, including the creation of Metromedia Company, and as a visionary philanthropist committed to opening the door of opportunity to others.

In print communications, the combined tenure of two extraordinary Columbia alumni and Trustees—Arthur Hays Sulzberger '13C '59HON and Arthur Ochs "Punch" Sulzberger '51C '92HON—as publishers of the New York Times spanned more than half of the twentieth century (1935–92). Under their leadership, the Times helped sustain New York as one of the world's great centers of media and culture, thanks to reporting by such Columbia notables as Max Frankel '52C '53GSAS, the paper's peripatetic foreign correspondent, then executive editor, and now columnist, who was succeeded as executive editor by Joseph Lelyveld '60J.

A Columbia School of Journalism student interviews a local resident for The Bronx Beat, the School's weekly newspaper.

Today, the University has 80 graduates working at the Times, 35 at The Wall Street Journal, and more than 100 at the three New York-based television networks. To gain a sense of Columbia's role in training the people who have made New York the communications capital of the world, one need only consider the achievements of some of Max Frankel's classmates at Columbia College: Roone Arledge '52C, the creator of Nightline, 20/20, Monday Night Football, and World News Tonight, and now chairman of ABC News as well as a University Trustee and namesake of our new Roone Arledge Auditorium and Cinema; Richard Wald '52C '53GSAS, who started out as Columbia correspondent for the old New York Herald-Tribune, rose to become the newspaper's managing editor, went on to be senior vice president of ABC News and president of NBC News, and is now the first Fred Friendly Professor at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism; and Lawrence Grossman '52C, former PBS president and NBC News president, who is still a major force in the media as critic and entrepreneur.

New York's newspaper and magazine readers are served each day by the work of Louis Boccardi '59J, president and CEO of the Associated Press; Thomas Glocer '81C, CEO of Reuters Information; Richard Smith '70J '71SIPA, chairman and editor-in-chief of Newsweek; Stephen Shepard '64E, editor-in-chief of Business Week; Anna Kisselgoff '62J '63GSAS, chief dance critic of the Times; Michael Musto '76C, gossip columnist for The Village Voice; sports writers Dick Schaap '56J, Leonard Koppett '44C, and Ray Robinson '41C '41–42L; and Jim Dwyer '80J, subway columnist for the Daily News, formerly edited and published by Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Willse '68J. Some residents of the South Bronx are reading The Bronx Beat, published by current Journalism School reporters and editors under the supervision of E. R. Shipp '78J '94GSAS '96L, assistant professor of journalism.

In an age before worldwide media conglomerates and the new electronic technologies, New York's cultural landscape was shaped by such legendary publishers as Alfred Knopf '12C '59HON; Bennett Cerf '20C and Jason Epstein '49C, both of Random House; and George Delacorte '13C '82HON, the benefactor of Columbia's Delacorte Center for Magazine Journalism, fondly remembered by New York residents and tourists for the many urban amenities he provided, from Central Park's statue of Alice in Wonderland, to the Delacorte Theatre, to the dancing animals on the clock welcoming visitors to the Children's Zoo.

Jacques Barzun, a former provost, his writing is informed and enriched by his fascination with New York City.

Among the authors published by these giants of the book world are major figures of twentieth-century intellectual life, including a trio of Columbia alumni and faculty members whose writing was informed and enriched by their fascination with New York City: Meyer Schapiro '24C '26 '35GSAS '75HON, Lionel Trilling '25C '26 '38GSAS, and Jacques Barzun '27C '28 '32GSAS, who last year published to wide acclaim his latest, monumental work—From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life.

New York itself is the subject of other recent works by Columbians, including the 1,240-page Encyclopedia of New York City, whose editor-in-chief is Kenneth T. Jackson, the Jacques Barzun Professor of History and the Social Sciences, and Writing New York, a thousand-page anthology of literature about the city edited by Phillip Lopate '64C. For those who have immersed themselves in its history and cultural life, New York provides a wealth of subject matter. Power broker Robert Moses '14GSAS was the central figure of an exhaustively researched, best-selling biography by Robert Caro '67J. Mysterious doings on the Columbia campus are the specialty of mystery writer Amanda Cross, a.k.a. Carolyn Heilbrun '59GSAS, the Avalon Foundation Professor Emerita of Humanities. Before the flowering of Haight-Ashbury, New York was the literary scene of the Beat Generation led by novelist Jack Kerouac '40– '42C and poet Allen Ginsberg '48C.

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