A Brief History of Mayoral Vacations

A Brief History of Mayoral Vacations

A Brief History of Mayoral Vacations
July 11, 2014

New York City mayors, they're just like us! 

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday that he would be leaving next week on an 8-day family vacation to Italy with his wife, Chirlane, and their children, Chiara and Dante. Aside from a brief getaway as mayor-elect in Puerto Rico right after the 2013 general election, this marks the first time that Mayor de Blasio has taken extended time off, and is reportedly the longest vacation taken by a mayor in 25 years. 

New York City mayoral vacations are almost never simple, fun-filled excursions. Some are fraught with controversy, others are innocuous getaways with media present, and some a mix of business and leisure. Dating back to Fiorello La Guardia on through to Michael Bloomberg, City & State compiled a brief history of how some of the Big Apple's mayors spent their down time.

Fiorello La Guardia (1934-1945)

De Blasio often cites the "Little Flower" as one of his political heroes, but while the mayor has wasted no time in scheduling his first vacation, La Guardia was supposedly famous for taking very few days off. Shortly after taking office in 1934, a reporter asked La Guardia whether he planned on taking a vacation, to which the dimunitive Italian-American replied, "That depends on the budget—both the city's and my own." 

Interestingly, according to a book titled La Guardia on the history of the airport that bears his name, Mayor La Guardia's convoluted return flight from a vacation was the impetus for the construction of the airport. La Guardia reportedly refused to deplane in Newark, claiming that his ticket said "New York" and that he would only step off the plane on New York soil. The plane instead landed at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, where La Guardia noted that the small field was too far from Manhattan to meet the needs of commercial airlines and their passengers.

Still smarting from almost having to disembark in New Jersey, La Guardia would later purchase North Beach Airport in Queens, a small airfield at the time, with the intention of developing it into a full-scale commercial flight air terminal. Soon thereafter, La Guardia became the first mayor of a major United States city to lobby the federal government to pay for the construction of a metropolitan airport, successfully getting the FDR administration to largely pick up the tab. Fittingly, there is now a renewed call from city, state, and federal legislators to renovate the outdated La Guardia, one of the busiest airports in the entire country.

William O'Dwyer (1946-1950)

O'Dwyer is best known for resigning as mayor amid a police scandal in Brooklyn (and subsequently taking a job as ambassador to Mexico under President Harry Truman), but before that O'Dwyer was a popular public figure who evidently was not shy about taking frequent vacations (for which he was often criticized) and carousing with various women. Unfortunately for him, several of those trips would be cut short or scrapped as a result of controversy back home.

O'Dwyer's Christmas trip to the West Coast in 1947 was interrupted because of an impending storm back East. O'Dwyer would cancel another California vacation in 1948 in order to fly to the city to decide on a potential subway and bus fare increase. One year later Dwyer would cut short a vacation in Mexico to deal with a three-day old bus strike in the city—the seventh time O'Dwyer had to cancel a vacation to tend to a municipal crisis.

Vincent Impellitteri (1950-1953)

Impelliterri is more famous for replacing O'Dwyer after his resignation than for anything he did as mayor, but he did manage to spark a minor outcry when he decided to take a vacation in Florida in 1951 despite not having filled six vacancies in the city's magistrate court. Impellitteri defended his decision to go to Miami (where, in a sign of a different time, he met with Cuba's president, Carlos Prio Socarras), noting that it was the first he had taken since becoming mayor. 

"I haven't had a vacation in a year and a half," he said. "I think it's about time the mayor of New York was entitled to a two-week vacation after working 12 to 14 to 16 hours a day—and that's seven days a week."

Robert Wagner (1954-1965)

Like O'Dwyer, Wagner cut a vacation short to deal with an escalating situation back in the city. Unlike O'Dwyer's crises, which were mostly weather or labor-related, Wagner's vacation was interrupted by the Civil Rights Movement. Wagner had taken a European vacation in the summer of 1964 at a time when hundreds of black New Yorkers in Harlem held a three-day demonstration over racial inequality. The demonstration had reportedly grown violent, with riots breaking out as well as fights with policemen, leading Wagner to return to the city sooner than expected.

By the time he returned home, further riots had erupted in black neighborhoods of Brooklyn, leading to an FBI investigation of the disturbances described in some news accounts as "anti-American." Wagner's deputy mayor, Paul Screvane, who was acting mayor while Wagner was away, went as far as alleging that the disturbances in the city had been incited by "fringe groups, including the Communist Party," a claim Wagner said he would investigate. 

John Lindsay (1966-1973) 

Despite being a Republican, Lindsay was seen as the great liberal hope of the late 1960s and was also something of a celebrity mayor, hobnobbing with Robert Redford out in Provo, jetting down to the Bahamas to play tennis with then Sen. Jacob Javits, and bringing an excitement to the city during a turbulent time. 

One of Lindsay's more famous political moments came after a brief vacation toward the end of his tenure as mayor in the summer of 1971. Lindsay returned home from a trip to Colorado to announce that he would be switching his registration to the Democratic Party in order to seek the 1972 Democratic nomination for president. Said Lindsay, "Whether this means I will run for president, I do not know. But it does mean that I am firmly committed to taking an active part in 1972 to bring about new national leadership."

Lindsay would eventually launch a brief, unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination. 

Abe Beame (1974-1977)

Beame's tenure as mayor is most notable for the financial crisis the city endured under his watch. Beame spent most of his one term trying to stave off bankruptcy, slashing the workforce, freezing salaries, and pleading for help from the federal government. 

The fiscal crisis cut into Beame's Mediterranean vacation after the state Court of Appeals struck down the city's moratorium on repaying $1.8 billion in short-term municipal bonds. The moratorium was a major part of the city's plan to pay off its debt, and the court decision stunned the city's fiscal experts to the point that Beame was forced to return home early.

Ed Koch (1978-1989)

Koch was the quintessential New York City mayor, constantly peppering New Yorkers on the street with his trademark "How'm I doin'?" But Koch still managed to carve out considerable down time for himself. Over the course of his three terms in office, Koch visited Israel, Spain, Ireland, Poland and Hungary, among his destinations. His Poland and Hungary trip was the longest vacation taken by a New York City mayor until de Blasio announced his Italy vacation. Koch's family is Polish, and he spent part of his trip visiting the Nazi death camps Auschwitz and Birkenau; his aunt and uncle had died at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. 

David Dinkins (1990-1993)

Dinkins, a tennis buff, would often take time off during the U.S. Open to take in some of the action in Queens, and like Koch, used most of his vacation days in the city. The few times Dinkins did travel abroad, he was hit with criticism, and in one case a national crisis.

The first controversy arose when Dinkins accepted an offer to attend the Compaq Grand Slam Cup in Munich, Germany at the behest of the German promoter at a time when the city's crime rate was becoming problematic. Dinkins insisted that the promoter had no ties to the United States Tennis Association and that the trip did not pose a conflict of interest. 

"I don't expect that I should get gold stars because I'm willing to make such a trip," Dinkins told reporters at City Hall. "But I certainly don't expect to be condemned for doing what I think is in the best interests of our city."

During one of Dinkins' final foreign trips in 1993, a trade mission to Japan, the World Trade Center was attacked when a bomb hidden inside a van exploded in an underground garage. NY1 was the only local television station covering the Japan trip and when the bombing news broke, Dinkins agreed to deliver a televised address to New Yorkers before immediately flying back to the city. 

Rudolph Giuliani (1994-2000)

No recent mayor took a harder line against vacations than Giuliani, a stance that fit his no-nonsense, iron-fisted style as mayor. Two years into his first term, the New York Times noted that Giuliani did not take a single vacation day, aside from several long weekends in the Hamptons with friends. The mayor worked painstakingly to uphold his image of dogged exertion, claiming that he only got four or five hours of sleep every night, and refusing to wear an overcoat at winter press conferences or to take off his suit jacket during sweltering summer events. His vacation days were so rare that reporters marveled at the fact that he took some time off during a business trip to Miami in 1998 to play several rounds of golf.

Giuliani's anti-vacation mantra was not limited to himself. He even rolled back vacation time for new city employees, giving them 10 days instead of the previously allotted 20.

Michael Bloomberg (2001-2013)

Of all of the mayors on this list, no one could match Bloomberg in terms of the quality of his vacations. The billionaire mayor has a compound in Bermuda where he would reportedly spend many of his weekends, though exactly how many weekends is unclear as the mayor's office kept most of his getaways under wraps

Upon entering office in 2001, Bloomberg told the press: "The public has a right for their employees to conduct their private lives in a way that doesn't embarrass the city. But short of that, there's absolutely no reason why I should not be able to have a social life, a personal life, without having the public involved in it."

Bloomberg's desire for privacy came back to bite him when his private plane was discovered in Bermuda right before a devastating blizzard, which shut down the city in 2011. Airports closed, mass transit ground to a halt, and streets went days without being unplowed. While the city never confirmed whether Bloomberg was indeed out of town before the weather crisis (he ended up making it back to the city before the storm was over) the mere optics of New York City—which normally handles snow removal with great success—buried under a mountain of white came to symbolize Bloomberg's sometimes detached personality.


CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that Michael Bloomberg's private plane was discovered in Bermuda "during" a devastating blizzard that hit New York City in 2011. The article has been corrected to reflect that the plane was discovered in Bermuda before the storm hit and that Bloomberg made it back to the city before the storm was over.

Nick Powell