Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Guest Post: Peter J. McGuinness, My Hero

As you know, we're running some guests posts from some of our favorite Brooklyn bloggers. Today, we have the pleasure of presenting something from our friend and collaborator Miss Heather of newyorkshitty, AKA, our Greenpoint correspondent or the Dogshit Queen of Greenpoint. If you've ever wondered about the gentleman after whom McGuinness Boulevard is named, here you go:

I have always had a soft spot for good-natured rogues and in his day Pete McGuinness was probably the biggest one of them all. Literally: “The Fighting Alderman” of Greenpoint weighed in excess of 300 pounds and was once described as having “the bearing of a beefy Roman emperor”1.

Pete’s love of Greenpoint was even more expansive than his body. Not only did he tout the 17th Ward, as “the garden spot of the universe” but he also asserted that “a more moral race of people” could not be found anywhere else. The more closed-minded among you probably brand such effusive rhetoric as being “bullshit”, but to focus on trivialities such as “the truth” or “facts” is to overlook Mr. McGuinness’s unique charm.

As part cheerleader, part snake-oil salesman, and full-on badass Pete knew how to get things done. And if the truth happened to get in his way, well, it was promptly dispatched. McGuinness “was in to win”, take the bet he made with New York City’s very own Robert Moses (as featured in the August 27, 1943 edition of the New York Times) for example:

    Hughes, in Letter to Moses, Reports That He Lived in Greenpoint 9 ½ Years

    Peter J. McGuinness, Greenpoint Democratic boss, yesterday was privately showing his downtown Brooklyn friends a letter indicating he had won a victory over Park Commissioner Robert Moses on the question of whether Charles Evans Hughes ever had been a permanent resident of Greenpoint, a district that Mr. McGuinness usually describes as “the garden spot of the universe”. In this case, the former Chief Justice of the United States (Supreme Court) was the final arbitrator…

    On Mr. Moses’ personal stationary was a short note addressed to “Dear Pete”. It said: “I thought you might be interested in the attached letter from Justice Hughes. You win.” The letter was signed “Bob.”

    Mr. McGuinness refused to show the copy of the letter from Justice Hughes. He said the information was confidential. However, from another source it was learned what the retired jurist had told Mr. Moses.

    “My home was in Greenpoint for about nine and a half years--- from October, 1874, to May, 1884--- while my father was pastor of the Union Avenue (now Manhattan Avenue) Baptist Church,” Justice Hughes wrote. “It is fair to add that I was not exposed to the beneficial atmosphere of Greenpoint for as long a time as this might indicate. I was away from home most of the time… But I had many good friends in Greenpoint and I cherish the memory of my association there,” Mr. Hughes wrote.

    The question as to how long Mr. Hughes had lived in Greenpoint was first brought to Mr. Moses’ attention by the Greenpoint Democratic boss. But in a recent article in The New York Times’ Sunday Magazine, the Park Commissioner attempted to set The McGuinness straight.

    In stressing neighborhood loyalty, Mr. Moses wrote:

    “Pete once told me that Charles Evans Hughes was brought up in Greenpoint. I checked this and found that Mr. Hughes’ father had been a Baptist minister in Greenpoint for only a few months. “ Undaunted, Pete replied that the weeks of his early youth the Chief Justice had spent in the Garden Spot of America were the most impressionable and important of his life”.

The Fighting Alderman of Greenpoint: 1
The Power Broker: 0

--Miss Heather

1”Grief in Greenpoint”, Time Magazine, June 21, 1948



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