Strong personalities dominated the New York City mayoral race this year, but none were as controversial as William O’Dwyer, who left Ireland for New York at age 20, abandoning studies for the priesthood to be a Brooklyn cop.
He won the mayor’s seat in 1946. For four golden years he was immensely popular with every immigrant group in the city, including his own Irish, Italians and Jewish-Americans. But after his ties to mafia dons were revealed, he left the city. Harry Truman appointed him ambassador to Mexico, where he lived until his death 10 years later.
Kevin Baker’s new novel The Big Crowd (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2013) is inspired by O’Dwyer’s life, and by the cadre of politicians, union bosses and mafia leaders who surrounded him. For The Big Crowd, Baker researched politics and organized crime in the 1940s. Baker is also the author of three novels set in turn-of-the-century New York (Dreamland, Paradise Alley, and Strivers Row).
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