Thanks to the collection’s files on fluoridation (which generated an article Feb. 24 for The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/24/health/new-yorks-fluoridation-fuss-50-years-later.html?ref=science) we know how Gulick prodded his good friend Mayor Robert F. Wagner to stop dithering and take a stand for fluoridating New York’s water. (Wagner had always taken his Senator-father’s advice to heart: When in doubt, don’t.) It took eight years but fluoridation finally came to New York in 1965, 50 years ago this October. https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/ipaprocessing/wp-admin/post.php?post=1591&action=edit Half a century later, it remains a hot button issue around the globe.
Now we find Gulick also behind the scenes counseling Wagner on his political ambitions, namely trading City Hall for a seat in the United States Senate — the seat his late father, Robert F. Wagner Sr., held from 1926 to 1949 — and who knew what beyond?
Here’s the background: In 1956, Wagner was in the third year of his first term as Mayor. (He would serve three terms, along with Fiorello LaGuardia, Edward Koch, and Michael Bloomberg, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.) In 1956, a prize Senate seat from New York opened up with the retirement of Herbert H. Lehman, Franklin Roosevelt’s successor as Governor of New York who had taken Wagner senior’s place after he resigned for ill health. Lehman and Gulick had a long connection, having worked closely together on refugee relief issues during World War II.
For the ’56 campaign, headed nationally by President Eisenhower and VP Nixon seeking reelection, the Republicans, eager to pick up a second Senate seat from the Empire State, put up New York State Attorney General and former Congressman Jacob Javits. But although Wagner would not be risking his city job to run — he would not be up for reelection as mayor until 1957 — he characteristically hesitated.
According to a revealing letter from Gulick, the Democratic National Committee and Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson (making his second run for the White House after losing to Eisenhower in 1952) were pressuring Wagner to become their Senate standard-bearer in New York. To win, they needed New York, and Wagner was a charmed Democratic name.
But was a Senate race good for Wagner? Gulick shrewdly weighed the pros and cons.
Once Wagner agreed to run, Gulick urged him to take off the gloves. This would be a bitterly-fought campaign and Gulick confidentially urged Wagner to target the Eisenhower Administration for “perpetrating a political fraud on the people of the State of New York” in housing policy, immigration, urban affairs and much besides. Ike himself, “whom we all respect as a fine old man” was not spared in Gulick’s harsh rough draft for Wagner. Though once an ardent Republican, Gulick was devoted to FDR and the New Deal and despised Richard Nixon. https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/ipaprocessing/?s=nixon
When he calmed down, Gulick produced a cleaner copy for Wagner.
We know how the story ends: Javits swamped Wagner by almost 460,000 votes. Wagner went on to run and win again for Mayor in 1957, and a third time in 1961. Meanwhile, however, he flirted with another run for the U.S. Senate in 1958, to challenge the GOP neophyte, Kenneth Keating.
Once again Gulick weighed in with advice: “…this will require a much better planned effort than last time.”
But this time Wagner took his father’s advice. He was in doubt — and didn’t. (Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan ran as the Democrat, losing to Keating by nearly 400,000 votes).