JULY 31, 1961
HYDE PARK—A group of New York women visited Mayor Wagner last week to discuss a program of political action that would be taken in the event of his reelection in the coming Mayoralty race.
They had come together, the night before, for a meeting at my apartment. Some of them were already working for the Mayor's reelection. Some, though far from being convinced that they could work for him, were not happy with either of the other candidates who had been nominated by the Democratic and Republican machine bosses. As one of them put it, they wanted more campaign promises. They wanted to feel that the man they backed would have imagination enough to work toward an ideal city. Nobody expected to achieve this overnight, but to have a vision of what might be done would be an inspiration to hard work.
As we talked together, there emerged the various problems about which women are much concerned. They were ashamed of the constant scandals that the papers brought out from day to day. They did not feel that Mayor Wagner's appointed investigator had been impartial enough; they wanted someone who would uncover corruption and treat it with equal-handed justice regardless of whose feelings were hurt. They wanted expanded rehabilitation of neighborhoods and increased safety in their neighborhoods. They wanted more representation for women, not because they were women or belonged to any particular race or religion but because they were capable and would fill positions well.
One of the concerns that stood out above all others was the question of the schools. They were troubled about the corruption in the building of new schools, and felt that supervision of construction should perhaps be taken away from educators and put in the hands of experts in that particular field. Of great concern, too, was the quality of teaching, for they realized that among fathers and mothers in their district there were many who made great sacrifices to send their children to school and keep them there.
As they talked, I thought of what a taxi driver recently said to me: "I have been a taxi driver for 40 years, but both my children have had a college education. My girl is a home economics teacher, my boy is an industrial engineer. Both of them have good jobs. I have been a good and decent man and tried to live the American way, so that my children could have more than I have had."
How many people in this country cherish this ideal in their hearts? And when public education fails, their ideals fail.
I heard the story of a man the other day who lost his job in one of the big automobile plants because of automation. He was not resentful of anything except that he and his wife had saved through the years to give their two children a university education and now the boy, an honor student in his second year, could not return to college because unemployment in the last two years had eaten up the educational fund.
The American way of life has given the people an enormous faith in the value of education. Over and over again parents have seen their children go ahead because of the opportunities they have been able to give them. This is why the schools of our cities and rural areas everywhere must be the best we can give. They cannot be allowed to slip downhill, to be overcrowded, to give only part-time education, to have teachers who are overworked and underpaid. This is not good enough, and the women gathered together knew this was so.
It was with these and other similar interests in mind that we visited Mayor Wagner next morning. We asked him if he felt he could work for the things we considered of paramount importance in our state. We said that if he agreed with our thinking we would work for his nomination and then for his election. We were not going to be a new committee because most of us belonged to enough committees already, but we promised to meet after election and push in every way possible for the implementation of the program which he would set forth as his desire to accomplish in agreement with our own dreams. This he agreed to do, assuring us that he would welcome any backing we could engender for a program of this kind.
Now we have done what we could in preliminary work, and we hope that every woman who can do so will urge people to sign petitions, to register and vote in the primaries. For hope of better government in the city of New York lies, I believe, in electing a man who does know the city government and who, if he senses that the people really want a better city, will have the courage to work for it. Mayor Wagner seems to us to be that man.