After Tuesday’s 41-7 vote to authorize Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Infrastructure Trust, Ald. Ricardo Munoz made an interesting historical analogy.
Munoz, of the “no” votes, compared the Trust to the public agencies run by Robert Moses, the subject of Robert A. Caro’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, The Power Broker.
Moses was never elected to any office, but he controlled more money and built more public projects than any politician in New York. As The New York Times put it in his obituary, Moses “played a larger role in shaping the physical environment of New York State than any other figure in the 20th century.”
As New York City Parks Commissioner, head of the State Parks Council, head of the State Power Commission and chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority -- all executive appointments -- “Moses built parks, highways, bridges, playgrounds, housing, tunnels, beaches, zoos, civic centers, exhibition halls and the 1964-65 New York World's Fair.” His works cost the state $27 billion.
An unelected official, Moses is now remembered for his indifference to the human cost of his projects. Caro documented how Moses’s Cross-Bronx Expressway plowed straight through the middle-class neighborhood of East Tremont, contributing to the borough’s social disintegration.
In Buffalo, they say that Moses’s “dead, gray hands are still strangling the city.” In the early 1950s, Moses built the New York State Thruway right alongside the Niagara River, cutting Buffalo off from its waterfront. Buffalo’s riverfront “parks” are half the size of football fields, and offer a view of automobiles whizzing by overhead.
The ordinance passed Tuesday gives the mayor authority to appoint the Trust’s Board of Directors, with the approval of the City Council, but it gives him sole authority to appoint the Trust’s chairman -- the unelected figure who could become Chicago’s Robert Moses.
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