Mayor Harold Stassen of Philadelphia

To understand the narrative below,  read my previous article on Harold Stassen or his biography on the internet.

Harold Stassen joined the effort to remove Richard Nixon from the Vice Presidential ticket in 1956.   Christian Herter of Massachusetts was the liberals’ choice.  With this move failing, Stassen’s  influence in the Republican Party began to decline.   One of his few high points was winning the Republican Primary for Mayor of  Philadelphia   in 1959.  The incumbent, Richardson Dilworth, easily defeated him in November with 67% of the popular vote.

Many people scoffed at Stassen because of his continual and futile efforts for many offices, especially his nine tries  for the Republican Presidential nomination.  I too laughed at him.   He reminded me  of Sisyphus in Greek Mythology except his rock never even got off the ground. In 1980,  Brian Lamb interviewed him on C-SPAN and I was surprised,  putting it mildly.  This  man was well informed,  took definitive stands on issues, implied  a  progressive  philosophy, and  had an amazing recall of prior events.   As an academic exercise,  let’s guess what Mayor Harold Stassen would have done for Philadelphia.  

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{Note this Spur please to Prevent Misunderstanding. Most of you already know this but I am a careful person.   We apply the term Congressman to a Member of the House of Representatives only; I will do so here.  Both Senate and Representatives are Congressmen.  I think the reason for the misstatement  is this- Senators are Representatives with each state treated as a sovereign, or two per state.  Population is the basis for the House of Representatives, with about one member for 600,000 people.} ————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Most candidates for Mayor rise  through party ranks in their cities.  Others, such as  John  Lindsay and Foirello LaGuardia, came from the House of Representatives. The first route is  provincial but the House is not that much better.  Congressmen do face and vote on both national and world affairs.   Even so,  each congressman serves on only one committee;  their expertise is very deep but quite narrow.  Their primary concern is the roughly 600,000 voters who elect them every two years.

By contrast, Harold Stassen had experience in all four levels of government- municipal, state, national, and international.   Very bipartisan, Harry Truman appointed him to the conferences to form  the United Nations at both Dumbarton Oaks in Washington and  San Francisco.  Stassen interacted  with Heads of State and their staffs from all over the globe.  This included  long personal interviews with leaders such as Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Charles DeGaulle. No doubt that these negotiations were hostile with bitter feelings the norm.  There was great compromise over the basic structure of the United Nations and who does what, where, and why. 

This experience from forming the United Nations would have been invaluable to Stassen  as Mayor of Philadelphia.   From meeting  Stassen, many foreign dignitaries or their successors  might have included Philadelphia in their trips to the United States. Negotiating first hand or merely observing others at the UN’s birth would have helped Stassen  dealing with business leaders, unions,  and social groups in Philadelphia.  He would have compared problems of our cities with those in other nations, noting similarities and differences.   The quality of life in metropolitan areas  determines the quality of life in every nation.   

Harold  Stassen had lost much of his political clout by 1959.  Nevertheless,  he still had some key, albeit tenuous, contacts in Congress  from both Republicans and Democrats.  He could have requested and perhaps received more money for the city.   Harold Stassen would have given a sense of   internationalism  to the Tri-State Area.  Philadelphia is, and will remain, a provincial city.    It looks even more so since it is about  halfway between New York and Washington.  In Stassen’s  age, there was not the communications  we have today;  but for that time,  Harold Stassen  would have the raised political awareness  well beyond our immediate area.


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