When Franklin Roosevelt Campaigned in Greenpoint

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McGuinness in the background standing next to FDR.

In 1932 New York State Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running for president as the nominee of the Democratic Party. The country had been in the throes of the Great Depression for two years and in these days before the safety net many Greenpointers were actually hungry. Roosevelt’s promise of a New Deal was very appealing to the many struggling locals. In those days New York had the most electoral votes and Roosevelt wanted to make sure he rolled up a huge majority in the city to offset more Republican upstate New York. One of the largest areas of Democratic voters was Greenpoint so Roosevelt came here to campaign.In 1932 the undisputed king of Greenpoint was Democratic Leader Peter J. McGuinness who also served as our local Alderman (later to be elected City Councilman). The charismatic McGuinness took FDR all over his ward and the Roosevelt saw many of the local ethnic groups. He saw Jewish candy shops, Italian restaurants, Polish churches—but no signs of McGuinness’ ethnic group Irish-Americans. Confused, the Governor turned to McGuinness and asked him why he had seen no signs of the Greenpoint Irish.

McGuinness was a huge six-foot-tall, two hundred and seventy pound ex-boxer with a booming voice. The question seemed to strike McGuinness with all the force of an unseen left hook. The Alderman’s broad smile suddenly disappeared and McGuinness reeled for a few seconds and explained in an unusually sad and solemn voice that many of the Greenpoint Irish had in fact died and were actually now buried across the water in Calvary Cemetery.

A few seconds of tense silence occurred and then suddenly McGuinness raised his head and said in a booking voice with a broad smile.

“But don’t you worry now Governor. All those dead Greenpoint Irish over in Calvary will still vote for you come election day!”

About Geoff Cobb

Geoffrey Cobb is a Brooklyn high school history teacher and writer of the blog historicgreenpoint.wordpress.com. He has lived in Greenpoint for over 20years and is the author of a book on the history of the area, "Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past."

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