Monday, 1 September 2008

Robert Ferdinand Wagner, Jr.

Robert Ferdinand Wagner, Jr. - Three term Mayor of New York City; Ambassador to Spain; US Representative to the Vatican; Member of Scroll and Key

Robert Ferdinand Wagner, Jr., usually known as Robert F. Wagner, Jr. (April 20, 1910 – February 12, 1991) served three terms as the mayor of New York City, from 1954 through 1965.

He was born in Manhattan, the son of United States Senator Robert F. Wagner. Wagner attended Taft School and Yale University, where he became a member of Scroll and Key.

Political Career

Wagner served in the State Assembly (1937 – 1941) and as Borough President of Manhattan (1950 – 1953). He served as delegate to conventions and was nominated for the Senate and the Vice-Presidency. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Corps.


His nomination and election as New York City mayor in 1953 caused a rift in the Democratic Party, and instigated a long-standing feud between Eleanor Roosevelt and Carmine DeSapio, Boss of Tammany Hall.

During Wagner's tenure as mayor of New York, he built public housing and schools, created the City University of New York system, established the right of collective bargaining for city employees, and barred housing discrimination based on race, creed or color. He was the first mayor to hire significant numbers of people of color in city government. His administration also saw the development of the Lincoln Center and brought Shakespeare to Central Park.

In the fall of 1957 after the Dodgers and Giants left the city of New York he appointed a commission to see if they could bring back National League baseball to New York. The New York Mets were born out of this committee.


After deciding not to run for a fourth term in 1965, Wagner served as ambassador to Spain from 1968 to 1969. In that year, he decided to run for a fourth term but was soundly beaten by Mario Procaccino in the Democratic primary. He also made a brief run four years later, but withdrew before the primary took place. In 1978 he was appointed by Jimmy Carter to be his representative to the Vatican, where the College of Cardinals had recently elected a new Pope, John Paul II.

Personal Life

Wagner, a Roman Catholic was married to Phyllis Fraser, widow of Bennett Cerf, from 1975 until his death. Her five-floor townhouse at 132 East 62nd Street, designed by Denning & Fourcade, "was so magnetic that the statesman moved in."[1]


He died in Manhattan of heart failure in 1991, aged 80. His funeral Mass was offered by William Cardinal Baum at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Subsequent burial atCalvary Cemetery in Sunnyside, Queens. "Mr. Wagner was buried beside the graves of his father, United States Senator Robert F. Wagner, and mother, Margaret, and first wife, Susan Edwards Wagner, and not far from the grave of New York's Governor Al Smith."[1]

The Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University is named in his honor, as is the Robert F. Wagner, Jr., Secondary School for Arts and Technology in Long Island City, Queens.

At the Concourse Plaza Hotel, Francis Cardinal Spellman (left) and New York City Mayor Robert Wagner (center) greet Bronx Borough President Joseph F. Periconi during a reception in 1964 celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Bronx County. The special Golden Jubilee banner can be seen above the heads. - Photo courtesy of The Bronx County Historical Society

Presentation of Department of Correction Medal of Honor to Ass’t. Deputy Warden James C. Harrison by Mayor Robert F. Wagner and Commissioner Anna M. Kross.
Robert Wagner, ex-mayor of New York, President Jimmy Cater's special envoy to the Vatican, And William Wilson, current emissary to the Holy See, are both SMOM [Knights of Malta] members.
Wagner, Robert SMOM • Mayor of New York (1954-65)
• Ambassador to Spain (1968-69)
• Ambassador to the Vatican under Carter
• D. 1991
SMOM by mention:
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