Vincent R. Impellitteri, New York’s 101 Mayor was an Ansonian. He was born on February 4, 1900, in the village of Isnello, Sicily. In 1902, his father, Salvatore Impellitteri, was a shoemaker, moved the family first to New York’s Lower East Side and then to Ansonia where Impellitteri attended local elementary schools and graduated from Ansonia High in 1917.
On his election day as Mayor of New York, Impellitteri gave credit to his success in life to Annie E. Larkin his teacher at the Elm Street School who taught him to speak English. Larkin, the one of 12 children of Irish immigrant parents, also taught catechism at Holy Rosary Church for 25 years, where again, Impellitteri was one of her charges. Larkin went on to become principle of the Elm Street School which was later renamed the Larkin School in her honor. The school serves today as the police headquarters.
The parishioners of Holy Rosary later commissioned a headstone, at Larkin’s grave in St. Mary’s cemetery which reads (In Italian on one side and English on the other) “Annie E. Larkin. For 50 years as a school teacher, for 25 years instructor in catechism to Italian American children. To All, kind and self-sacrificing.
After a stint as a Navy radioman on a destroyer in World War I, he attended Fordham and later Fordham Law while working full time as a night bellboy and manager at a Broadway hotel, the Ansonia. He became a US citizen in 1922 and earned his law degree in 1924.
Always active in Democratic politics he joined a law firm in which Martin Conboy, an influential Democratic figure, was a member and so his political career began. For nine years, from 1929 to 1938, Impellitteri served as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan before returning to private practice, mostly criminal law.
He entered public life again in 1941 as law secretary to Justice Peter Schmuck of State Supreme Court. And later became secretary to Justice Joseph Gavagan, a liberal progressive.
In 1945, the soft spoken and unassuming Impellitteri, with Tammany behind him, (They needed an Italian-born Roman Catholic to balance out O’Dwyer’s overwhelmingly Irish-American ticket) was elected president of the City Council, the No. 2 position at City Hall, in 1945 yet he was virtually unknown to most New Yorkers.
The slightly built, shy, Impellitteri was known for his old world courtly manner, his calm demeanor, scholastic approach to the city’s issues. Aside from chain smoking cigars, he was somewhat drab and predictable a drastically different figure from the non-stop, almost maniacal energy of former Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia and the backslapping good humor of his boss the very colorful William O’Dwyer.
But Impellitteri’s lack of flamboyance was what the people of New York wanted in their Mayor in 1950. Besides it was widely accepted across the city that it was Impellitteri, an O'Dwyer protégé, who was running the city behind the scenes in large part due to O’Dwyer’s all too frequent vacations.
In September of 1950, with a major political scandal about to break, William O'Dwyer resigned as Mayor and took an appointment as President Truman's Ambassador to Mexico and Impellitteri - who had been City Council president since 1946 - became Acting Mayor.
A special election was called to fill the three remaining years of Mr. O'Dwyer's term but Impellitteri, due to his bickering with the Manhattan Democratic machine, Tammany Hall, was denied the democrats nomination. It has been said that one of the causes for the slap was due to Impellitteri refusal to knuckle under to Mafia Boss Frank Costello, who, in the early 1950s, virtually ran the Manhattan Democratic Party. So Impellitteri ran as an independent under the banner of the Experience Party.
During the election the Republican candidate for Mayor charged that Mafia boss Tommy Luchese was behind Impellitteri campaign and had proof that Impellitteri (and eight other powerful Democrats) has shared a table sponsored Luchese at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation, Inc., dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on October 16, 1946. It was all rumors and there has never been any substantial evidence that Impellitteri was involved with the mob.
Political experts wrote him off. But the little man from Ansonia and his stand against the machine inspired New Yorkers and seemingly overnight, as massive grass roots volunteer organization came to life across the city. Impellitteri won the race with a 225,000-vote plurality in a three-way race.
The shoemaker’s son was the first person to not only become mayor of New York without the support of a major political party and in direct defiance of the all-powerful Tammany Machine.
His first trip outside the city as Mayor was to a banquet held in his honor at the Armory in Ansonia as a guest of Mayor Frank Fitzgerald.
After his election Impellitteri quickly reached out to the Democratic bosses across the city but spurned Tammany powerful and revengeful Boss Carmine Gerard DeSapio by denying him patronage.
DeSapio, Tammy’s last boss, was about Impellitteri’s age, and like him was born the son of an Italian immigrant, worked his way through Fordham and climbed the Tammany ladder although DeSapio started at the lowest ranks as a messenger and street organizer. DeSapio became district leader for lower Greenwich and was a key player in the struggle between the Irish and Italians to control the machine.
In 1949, DeSapio became Tammany’s youngest boss and although nationally recognized as the nation’s most prominent Italian American politician he was also considered a tool of organized crime. Impellitteri probably took on DeSapio because like almost everyone else on the political scene he recognized that Tammany’s days were nearing an end.
Impellitteri inherited one deadly scandal after another, from mob control of the waterfront, to corrupt cops. That, combined with post war inflation, an inability to stand up to the state government and the flight of the middle class from the city, painted Impellitteri as an incompetent, which he certainly wasn’t but he may well have been in over his head.
When Impellitteri sought re-election in 1953, Tammany Hall and DeSapio threw their entire machine against him, instead backing Manhattan Borough President, Robert F. Wagner, a reliable go-along-get along Tammany loyalist who went on to serve three terms as mayor. The election was an easy win for Wagner. Two days after leaving office, Wagner named Impellitteri to a judgeship.
Impellitteri, called “Impy” in political circles, retired as a Criminal Court judge in 1965 due to the increasing severity of Parkinson’s disease. He had married Elizabeth Agnes McLaughlin in 1926. They had no children and Elizabeth died at the end of 1967.
The couple kept an apartment at the New York Athletic Club but was fond of pointing out that his fame was fleeting since he was rarely recognized on the streets as the former Mayor.
Impellitteri eventually moved into Carolton Convalescent Hospital in Fairfield. He died of heart failure at age 86 in Bridgeport hospital on January 29, 1987. He was waked at the Spinelli-Malerba Funeral Home in Ansonia and was given a burial mass at Holy Rosary Church, his home parish. Mayor Impellitteri is buried at Mount Saint Peter's Cemetery in Derby.