Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kosher in Gracie Mansion

Although New York has one of the oldest Jewish communities in the United States (the first Jews arrived in 1654), the first openly Jewish mayor of New York City was not elected until 1974.* His name was Abraham Beame, and he unabashedly loved New York.  

Beame’s parents (last name originally Birnbaum) were from Poland, but he was born, on March 20, 1906, in London. Three months later his family settled on the Lower East Side, New York. As an adult, Beame studied accounting. He and his wife Mary (née Ingerman), whom he met at a Lower East Side Social Services Center, were both active members of the Democratic party. 

In 1961, Beame, who had previously served as the city’s Budget Director, was elected city Comptroller. Four years later, he unsuccessfully ran for mayor against John Lindsay (winner) and William F. Buckley.  Two terms later (1973), his bid for mayor proved successful.

The 1970s were a difficult decade for politicians across the nation. Unfortunately, Mayor Beame was immediately faced with a harsh fiscal crisis (created by overspending in the previous administrations). His four years in office were marked by constant job cuts, wage freezes and service reductions, as well as a citywide blackout and the “Son of Sam” murders. On the other hand, during his time in office, the city successfully hosted both the 1976 Democratic National Convention and national Bicentennial celebrations. 

According to’s Tthe First Ladies of Gracie Mansion,” the Beames were down to earth people. The article notes, in particular, that while Mrs. Beame did hire one of Jackie Onasis’ cooks, she continued to order her meat from a kosher butcher in Queens.

During the 1977 Democratic primaries, Beame ran against six other democrats (including Bella Abzug). He placed third, and Ed Koch went on to win the general election. 

While Beame received much criticism over the frightening fiscal situation, many later historians praised his scandal free administration and his attempts to rectify the previous financial mismanagement. 

Abraham Beam passed away on February 10, 2001. 

*It should be noted that Fiorello H. La Guardia’s mother was Jewish, but he practiced the Protestant religion of his father.

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