Wagner, Robert F. (Robert Ferdinand), 1910-1991

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Wagner, Robert F. (Robert Ferdinand), 1910-1991

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  • Robert Ferdinand Wagner II
  • Robert Ferdinand Wagner Jr.

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1910 April 20-1991 February 12


"The son of a famous U.S. Senator who was a chief architect of Social Security, Robert Wagner Jr. graduated from Yale University in 1933 and received his law degree from Yale Law School in 1937. Fresh out of law school, Wagner, a lifelong Democrat, was elected to the Assembly, where he served three terms. He enlisted in the Army during World War II, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel. Upon returning to New York City, Wagner served in different capacities under Mayor O'Dwyer, until he successfully ran for Manhattan Borough President in 1949. In 1953, Wagner ran in the Democratic primary for mayor with the backing of Tammany Hall. He beat Vincent Impellitteri by a large margin and went on to win the general election. At his inauguration, Wagner pledged to create a "government dedicated to the best interest of all people" and extolled the virtue of public service as "among the most noble challenges and among the greatest responsibilities.""

During Wagner's twelve years as mayor, several large scale projects were initiated or completed, such as the construction of the Van Wyck Expressway, the Grand Central Parkway, the Long Island Expressway, the Verrazano-Narrows and Throgs Neck Bridges, Shea Stadium, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. During Wagner's tenure the city also hosted the 1964-65 World's Fair. Wagner is credited with making gains in slum clearance and the creation of public housing. He reduced corruption in city government and expanded the police force. He appointed talented professionals to serve in his administration and greatly increased the number of minorities in civil service. Twice reelected, Wagner decided not to seek a fourth term in 1965, instead returning to private practice. He was appointed ambassador to Spain from 1968 to 1969, resigning to run unsuccessfully in the mayoral primary. In 1976, President Jimmy Carter named him US representative to the Vatican. He practiced law in New York City and also served on the City Charter Revision Commission in the 1980's. In 1989, New York University named its graduate school of public service in his honor. Wagner died of heart failure at his Manhattan home on February 12, 1991."


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