There was a musical play written about him that told of his love for the people of New York and their mutual love affair with him. Fiorello LaGuardia to many people represents the name of an airport, but there were countless recollections of who this man really was… this being one such story as told by author James McCutcheon in the book More Stories For The Heart.
Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of World War II. He was called by adoring New Yorkers, “the Little Flower” because he was only five-foot-four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and when the New York newspapers went on strike, he would go on the radio and ready the Sunday funnies to the kids.
One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her husband had deserted her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the old man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”
LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions… ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous hat saying: “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in the courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”
So the following day, the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her hungry grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner. Petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.