The Power Broker #04: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

ROMAN MARS: This is The 99% Invisible Breakdown of The Power Broker. I’m Roman Mars.

ELLIOTT KALAN: And I’m Elliott Kalan.

ROMAN MARS: Today we’ll be covering pages 283 to 401 in my book–Chapters 16 through 20. And this is the middle section of Part Four: The Use of Power. And our special guest for today’s book club is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She represents the New York 14th Congressional District, which is home to a number of Robert Moses infrastructure projects and atrocities. And it is also the congressional seat once held by Fiorella LaGuardia, who makes his first appearance in this section of the book. We have a long, fun, enlightening discussion with AOC after we do the book summary. So when we left off last episode, in a stunning turnabout, young idealist reformer Robert Moses has turned around and embraced corruption and dirty dealings to get things done. And this is the freight train that has been coming at us from page one.

ELLIOTT KALAN: The heel turn is taking place.

ROMAN MARS: And as a result, in three years with the backing of Governor Al Smith, he massively expanded the amount of public park space in New York state. He turned Jones Beach into the world’s greatest weekend spot and built expressways leading to all that stuff. And he has become this absolute hero to New Yorkers. He’s seen as this man who stands up to the wealthy, and he can get stuff done. He creates parks for the people even though we’ve seen that he will totally get in bed with these powerful people to make his projects possible and he will ruin some small time farmers. He does some dastardly stuff, but the public doesn’t see that. They just see these beautiful parks he’s made. And this public idea of Robert Moses and the private reality of how Moses gets things done are really divergent at this point. And through this, the reason why he’s able to get all this stuff done is he has the support of Al Smith. And unfortunately in 1928, Al Smith runs for and loses the presidency. He cannot run for president and run for governor at the same time. So he goes for the presidency; he reaches for that brass ring. He does not reach that brass ring at all. And Robert Moses is left trying to do the things he’s trying to do, but there’s a new governor in office and this is the man who Caro promises will be one of Moses’ most powerful enemies. He is known as “The Featherduster,” which is the title of Chapter 16. Who is The Featherduster?

ELLIOTT KALAN: As you can guess, the Featherduster from his name is a figure of power–a figure of strength–a figure of intimidation. And I’d like to start getting into that chapter with the opening of that chapter, which I love so much. It says, “There’s an expression used in Albany to describe the relationship of two men between whom there exists bad feeling when that feeling has existed for years, has resisted every attempt at reconciliation, and has only deepened with the passage of time to a point where ‘dislike’ is not so fitting a name for it as ‘hatred.’ In discussing two such men, one assemblyman will say to another with a knowing shake of his head, ‘They go back a long way.’ Robert Moses and Franklin Delano Roosevelt went back a very long way.” That’s right. It’s Franklin Roosevelt. We’ve all heard of him, right? Roman, you’re familiar with the name Franklin Delano Roosevelt, right?

ROMAN MARS: Once or twice he’s come up. Yeah.

ELLIOTT KALAN: He comes up sometimes in the talk of American history, so we all know who this guy is. He’s eventually going to become one of the massive figures of the 20th century. He’s going to be known as FDR, but this is the pre presidency FDR. This is not yet the four-time elected president, rallying America through the depression, fighting most of World War II Franklin Roosevelt. At this point, Franklin Roosevelt is just a snooty state politician with a very famous last name. His distant cousin was president, and that gets him a lot in the political world of the early 20th century. And something I want to point out before we get into the death rivalry between Roosevelt and Moses–which doesn’t really seem to hamper Moses that much to be honest–is that Caro seems to be making a real point of never saying “FDR” but instead saying “Roosevelt.” He always says “Roosevelt” or “Franklin Roosevelt.” And I wonder if that is to keep us from bringing to his discussion of Roosevelt all the kind of mythic freight that even by 1974 when this book came out had already been accumulated by FDR. I think he wants us to remember that this is not FDR, the titan. This is Franklin Roosevelt, the upstate New York politician. And so I want us to try to follow that. It’s very hard. I was going through my notes and I kept saying FDR in them, but I want to try to incentivize us not to say “FDR.” So every time we say “FDR” instead of “Roosevelt” or “Franklin Roosevelt,” we’re going to have to put a quarter into this jar. Insert jar sound effect. That’s the FDR Jar. If we say “FDR,” we gotta put a quarter in there. So Roman, I am going to need you to be honest with me on this. I hope you have quarters in your pocket.

ROMAN MARS: Yeah, I do. I have plenty of quarters. And I think this is totally right because this is actually a point that is brought up a lot in the Lyndon Johnson books is that because Lyndon Johnson is so obsessed with FDR and is this acolyte of FDR, he actually insists that people call him “LBJ.” And he’ll do this thing–he’ll go, like, “FDR. LBJ. FDR. LBJ. See? See? See?”

ELLIOTT KALAN: “I have a middle name, and he has a middle name. We’re the same guy!”

ROMAN MARS: And he does that, and it must have just burned his ass that JFK came along before him to usurp the initials as an icon. What it reminds me of our guest for this episode later on is AOC. She entered the stage as a national figure very quickly, and that three-initial nickname really became part of her brand.

ELLIOTT KALAN: It’s funny how in the United States–I don’t know if it’s in other countries, I apologize, foreign listeners, if this is a thing you also do–that the three-initial branding became such a branding tool. Like you’re saying, after FDR eventually we had JFK. Harry S. Truman was never HST. Dwight David Eisenhower was never DDE. But JFK and then LBJ–there’s a rhythm to it that is so inescapable, I guess, if the letters allow it. And it’s such a way of attaching yourself to the feeling that comes off of, I assume, FDR. And I have to assume that FDR started being called that partly because Teddy Roosevelt or Theodore Roosevelt–who hated being called “Teddy”–his distant cousin, when he’s president, was often known as “TR.” and maybe FDR was like, “I’m one better. I’ve got another letter in my name.” And FR sounds weird.

ROMAN MARS: I don’t know. I had this sort of a hypothesis that was sort of forming in my head that maybe the middle name has to be kind of a long, three-syllable middle name for it to work. But that’s not true because of LPJ. Baines is just one syllable.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Just one amazing, amazing syllable that gets its own letter. You should do a 99PI episode about initials. I dunno why you haven’t done that yet.

ROMAN MARS: I mean, I have done some reading about middle names because what’s notable is that John Quincy Adams–being our first sort of middle name known president–is actually a very early example of an American with a middle name.


ROMAN MARS: Which is kind of interesting.

ELLIOTT KALAN: That’s true. Middle names don’t go back that far.

ROMAN MARS: They do not.

ELLIOTT KALAN: But John Quincy Adams–since his dad, John Adams, is also president–I assume that the President’s Guild said, “You can’t be John Adams. You have to register your middle name also the same way that, like, Michael J. Fox had to register his middle initial because there’s already a Michael Fox in the Guild.” Anyway, that’s not initial talk. So Franklin Roosevelt–he is a democratic politician, but he’s a state democratic politician. In the New York State Democratic Party at the time, Roosevelt and the Al Smith Circle, which is the city Democrats–they had this relationship based on need. Al Smith is part of this Irish Catholic, Tammany, urban environment, and they need the help of someone like Roosevelt to get the upstate, Protestant, Tammany-hating, city-hating country folk, which is funny because I think a lot of people, if you’re not from New York state, kind of assume New York City and New York state are kind of the same thing. And it is, especially at the time, a huge state compared to other states. And the outside of the city areas are very different from the city itself. But Franklin Roosevelt–he has the trust of those kind of upstate farmers that make up the backbone of the state Republican party because in 1911 he stopped the Tammany candidate from being appointed to the U.S. Senate. And that made him some enemies in the Tammany side but made him kind of a name people trusted outside of the city. And also, as we mentioned, he’s got that famous name. People love Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt served as president–had the most successful third party run for president anyone’s ever had. People still remember him in living memory. This is only 20 some odd years after Theodore Roosevelt was president. And Roosevelt had supported Smith for president multiple times. In 1924, he had given the nominating speech at the Democratic Convention that was where Smith got the nickname the “Happy Warrior,” which is along with East Side, West Side, that’s the other part of the Al Smith brand–being called the “Happy Warrior.” And the song East Side, West Side, as we mentioned, will come up again. And something that was interesting, which plays into the Roosevelt story a little bit, is that that appearance of that convention–this was the first time, Caro points out, that Roosevelt made a major public appearance after contracting polio and being essentially paralyzed for the most part from the waist down. And it meant a lot to Smith that Roosevelt was the one giving that nomination. It gave him that support. But on the other hand, Roosevelt never fit in socially with the Smith crowd. And Caro kind of describes Roosevelt kind of, like, awkwardly calling Robert Moses and being like, “Hey, if you’re going to go hang out with Al Smith, can I come with you? Can you take me with you?” which seems so pathetic. And it’s always awkward when he does it. And Smith likes Roosevelt well enough. But Caro quotes him as saying, “Franklin just isn’t the kind of man you can take into the piss room and talk intimately with,” which is a real old school politics way of thinking about your allies.

ROMAN MARS: And this is one of the things we talked about last time and we’ll talk about a lot this time is the politics of personality. And even though Al Smith and Robert Moses might seem like sort of odd political bedfellows, they just like each other. And it’s real simple. And Roosevelt doesn’t really get along with these good time guys. I feel like I am firmly in the Franklin Roosevelt camp that I’m not also the type of man that you can take into the piss room and talk intimately with. And so I feel for Roosevelt at this point.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yeah, it’s hard to see it and not feel for the person who’s kept on the outside, even though Roosevelt is much wealthier than either of these two guys and has had a, in some ways, easier life until that moment that he gets polio and then his life becomes incredibly difficult. But everyone underestimates Roosevelt. He’s spent his life being underestimated. He’s seen as flighty. He got that nickname, the Featherduster, when he was at Harvard. His classmates nicknamed him that because he was not considered particularly deep or someone you could rely on to stay interested in something. And in politics, he’s seen as kind of, like, this prissy snob who is entitled but doesn’t have the achievements to back that up. And what Caro points out is they’re not taking into account the personal strength it took to get back into the political world after being paralyzed. And there’s a thread that runs through the Roosevelt story throughout his life of him not letting people know just how debilitating his physical handicap is. And it’s something that causes people to underestimate him completely because it takes so much willpower for this guy to get to the piss room–so much strength even to stand up and make it to the bathroom- that to get back and become a public figure is astounding. And nobody seems to realize that FDR is laying the groundwork to run for governor himself someday and then the president eventually, except for Belle Moskowitz. She sees… I was about to say FDR. You know what? I said it? Okay, I’ll just put a quarter in the jar. Hold on. She sees FDR as a threat, but everyone tells her that she’s wrong. “Belle, your instincts are off. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

ROMAN MARS: But Belle Moskowitz is never wrong. She sees FDR as FDR, like, from the get-go.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes. Yeah. She knows that Roosevelt sees himself as FDR, too–sees himself as this figure. I’m just dropping coins in left and right. Okay. 1924. So we’ve jumped back a little bit to 1924. When Al Smith appoints Moses President of the Long Island State Park Commission, he also points Roosevelt to Chairman of the Taconic State Park Commission upstate. They are immediately at each other’s throats. And Moses tells Caro that he thinks this is because he’s kept stopping Roosevelt from giving a patronage job to this advisor Louis Howe, who everybody thought was horrible, but who was very loyal to Roosevelt, and who gave up a lucrative job to help Roosevelt after Roosevelt was stricken with polio. But Caro thinks it’s a different theory. He thinks these are just two arrogant, ambitious men. They both want power at the same time. They’re both big fish in a small pond. And Roosevelt also has his plans for parks and parkways for his native Dutchess County outside the city, upstate. And Moses is always like, “Yeah, Roosevelt, yeah, you can build those parks. That’d be great. You’ve got a whole park system in mind? Yeah, definitely. You’ll definitely get the resources to build that,” until Moses is in charge. Then he is like, “No, this money goes to the Long Island State Park system. Sorry, Dutchess County. Sorry, Featherduster.” And every year, Roosevelt requests money and Moses says, “No, you can’t have it.” And Roosevelt gets so mad that he threatens to resign–very ironic. He’s pulling a Moses play, and Al Smith has to personally smooth things over because he wants Roosevelt to nominate him at the 1928 Democratic Convention when he’s going to run for president again. That convention happens. Roosevelt nominates Smith. Smith wins the nomination. We know that he’s not going to win the presidency due to kind of anti-urban, anti-Catholic sentiment throughout the country. And he asked Roosevelt to be a successor as governor. How do you think Moses feels about that idea of Roosevelt taking the boss’s seat?

ROMAN MARS: Moses hates this idea. And this is one of the few times where Moses changes his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat–just so he could maybe be considered for that seat if Al Smith vacates it to either become president or loses and therefore is no longer the governor.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes. And this is an instance where Moses has such an amazing instinct for a certain type of politics–the politics of negotiations and deals and getting things done. And he has such a poor instinct for the politics of voters and the electorate and getting people to vote for things because it would be very clear to any kind of party figure that Moses is not someone that you can run as governor and keep that seat, especially in a year when, as the election continues, it’s more and more the election of what they call “Rum, Romanism and Tammany,” where they need a candidate who is the opposite of all those things. And Moses, the man who is Al Smith’s right-hand man, also is a city guy–is Jewish on top of that. The idea that, like, “Well, the Klan vote doesn’t want to vote for Al Smith for president, but I guess they’ll vote for Robert Moses for governor upstate.” That’s not going to happen. Not to say everyone in upstate New York is in the Klan. I am not making that implication at all, but it was a much bigger force at the time than it is now. And so they need someone who is the opposite of Al Smith in many ways so that they can keep the governorship in a year where it’s very clear Al Smith is not going to win the presidency. But the thing is, Moses has just reorganized the state government. His reorganization is so good that state parties–even a lightweight like Roosevelt can’t screw it up too much. We’ve got the Moses system working here.

ROMAN MARS: That’s right. And at this point, Roosevelt has had these longrunning, long-gestating plans to take both the governorship and maybe eventually the presidency by storm. But he knows that this is probably a Republican year when it comes to the governorship of New York, and he does not want to run. But Al Smith persuades him to run anyway.

ELLIOTT KALAN: But as Roosevelt’s campaigning, Moses is seeing this future where he’s going to be working for Franklin Roosevelt. And he hates it. And his private comments about Roosevelt are getting more and more vicious. And these comments are getting back to Roosevelt. And Moses is insulting Eleanor Roosevelt’s looks, which is just a cruel thing to do–just a mean thing to do. He’s implying that maybe we don’t know just how debilitating Roosevelt’s polio was. And Caro dances around this, but I have to assume that he’s implying that Roosevelt is impotent–that he’s not a man anymore. And Roosevelt learns of all this, and he starts saying, “If I’m elected governor, I want Moses out.” I do not want him in my government. And on election day, as we know, Herbert Hoover trounces Al Smith. Al Smith doesn’t even win New York State. That’s bonkers. It’s his home state, and he doesn’t even get it. But Roosevelt makes it in as governor, and Al Smith… There’s a couple of sad things that happen with Al Smith. So he takes this private job, and he retires from politics. But he’s always like, “Franklin, if you ever need advice, just call on me. I’m always here. I’m always at your disposal. Just call on me if you ever want advice as governor.” And Roosevelt’s like, “I’ll do that, Al.” And he never does. He never calls on him. Al Smith is demoralized by this. Nobody is ever sure why. Maybe he has political reasons for it. Maybe he just likes to use people and then discard them when he doesn’t need them anymore. Or maybe it’s because Al Smith underestimated his intelligence and thought that Roosevelt would be kind of a puppet for him afterwards. We don’t know for sure.

ROMAN MARS: Well, I mean, I think the most generous interpretation of this is that Roosevelt wants to be governor and he’s following up the most popular governor in New York state’s history. And he wants to run his own administration.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yeah, that’s the generous, positive one. But the negative one would be that he’s got a vendetta. He wants to hurt an old man. But I think you’re right; Franklin Roosevelt is like, “Well, I’m governor now. Why would I do the things that you want me to do just because you want me to do them?” I think you’re right. Caro is so in love with Al Smith that I think any slight on Al Smith he gets sensitive about.

ROMAN MARS: He does seem to have great affection for Al Smith and his role. And there’s some very sweet scenes that are empathizing with Al Smith in this position. I mean, he is not old at this point. I mean, he’s in his early 50s, I think, right?


ROMAN MARS: And so for him at this point to become inactive in this world that he really found himself, learned politics, basically taught himself to read in law books in Albany, and becomes this titan–it’s a real fall for him. I just can also see the point of view of Roosevelt going, “I have to run things my way. I mean, I’m the governor. And I appreciate it, but I don’t need any advice right now.” And so I kind of get it.

ELLIOTT KALAN: I get it, too. And Smith says to Roosevelt, “You can fire anyone in the administration, but you gotta keep Mrs. Moskowitz and Robert Moses.” And Roosevelt is like, “No, I don’t want to keep them. And I especially don’t want to keep Moses.” He tells Smith, “No, he rubs me the wrong way.” Of course, Roosevelt can only remove Moses from the Secretary of State office because Moses has done such a good job of writing the law that gives him his parks jobs that those aren’t in Roosevelt’s control. He’s the Head of the Long Island Park Commission; that position doesn’t expire until 1930. He’s Chairman of the State Parks Council; that’s elected by the council itself, which he has control of. It’s his people who along with him are on that council. And Moses–the rule says that he can only be removed for illegality. And nobody even knows what he’s doing inside the parks. It’s so opaque that you’d have to launch an investigation. He’s so popular that an investigation of him–if it didn’t find anything–would be a huge risk. And he’s established this independent power for himself. And Caro makes a mention of a very serious four-hour interview with Moses where, at the end of it, Moses finally laughs at how the law made it nearly impossible for Roosevelt to remove him. That was still a chuckle buster years later. And when Moses learns he’s not going to be reappointed as Secretary of State, he preemptively announces his resignation to the press to embarrass Roosevelt. And Roosevelt has to put out a public statement thanking Moses for staying on in his park posts–that even though he’s leaving Secretary of State, that position of Secretary of State gets demoted considerably from the powerful position that it was when Moses had it. Roosevelt Reappoints every one of Smith’s officials except for Moses and Moskowitz basically and a couple of others. And at the inauguration, Roosevelt and Smith put on the show of friendship. But Moses makes a point of walking out before Roosevelt can give his inaugural address. They are being so petty. These are the most powerful people in the state. They’re being so petty with each other. It is ridiculous.

ROMAN MARS: I guess I changed my mind. It’s probably just a bunch of back and forth nonsense that’s making them fight.

ELLIOTT KALAN: No, I like your interpretation of it better that it was generous. I mean, Roosevelt is someone who does not come off amazing in this book. But he’s someone who I genuinely–except for one or two things in his tenuous presidency… Obviously, the Japanese relocation camps are abominable. But otherwise, I find him to be such an amazing figure–such a titanic, unbelievable figure–that to see him being this petty throughout the book is really disappointing.

ROMAN MARS: But you can also just imagine what level of pain in the ass Robert Moses is. I mean, I could totally just, like– “I’m not inheriting this guy. I have no interest in this.” And Belle Moscowitz seems perfectly great in so many respects but also seems so loyal to Al Smith that, again, you’re just like, “Well, why is she working for me here? She’s just working for Al Smith in this role.” And so I can totally understand that reason. And when you’re doing all this stuff and you have all these people and all these responsibilities, having this thorn in your side the whole time–Robert Moses–I could totally say, “I am just going to dig this thing out. I don’t care how bad it feels to dig it out. I want it out of my body.”

ELLIOTT KALAN: Definitely. To have Moses, this guy who loves Al Smith– It comes up later that he calls Al Smith “Governor,” but he calls Roosevelt “Frank.” He never calls him “Governor.” You’d be like, “Do I have to deal with this guy? Come on. Let’s bring in some of my people–some people who call me governor for crying out loud. That’s my title.” But they’re stuck with each other for now. So we go do Chapter 17–the next one–The Mother of Accommodation.

ROMAN MARS: And it’s a great chapter that sort of explains why Robert Moses, through this tumultuous period of not having the support of Al Smith, still both retains and actually grows his power. And it is because Roosevelt learns, just like Al Smith learned, that having noticeable improvements to people’s lives–NIPLs is a great way to stay governor.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes, exactly. So Moses enters this administration not sure he’s going to have the executive support that Smith always gave him. And that gets tested very quickly because it turns out that there’s this one spot where he is building the Northern State Parkway where there’s no space between the baron estates that he wants to run the road. And the barons–it seems like they’re going to use Roosevelt’s background against Moses because they actually hire one of Roosevelt’s old Harvard classmates, a guy named Grenville Clark, who, again, sounds like an attorney who went to Harvard at the turn of the century. They hire him to fight Moses, and Clark learns of Moses’ biggest secret–the thing that literally Moses stopped talking to Caro when Caro brought up years later, which is the $10,000 that Otto Kahn gave to Moses’ road building in order to route the Northern State Parkway around his golf course and through a series of family farms basically or one in particular. And Clark gives this information to those Moses-hating state legislators, Hutchinson and Hewitt, that Moses kept outwitting last episode like a legislative Bugs bunny–like a bureaucratic administrative Daffy Duck. And they make it clear that any attempt to route the road through this area called the Wheatley Hills, where the barons are, will lead to a public fight. They will expose Moses’ deal with Khan, and they’ll do it so that it stretches into 1930 when Roosevelt will be running for reelection as governor. So Roosevelt agrees to this compromise. They’re going to do a two-mile detour around the area. And the barons will pay a little bit toward the cost of the detour. But more than 90% of that road cost will be covered by the taxpayers. And Caro takes a moment to point out that this compromise and the compromise with Otto Kahn meant that commuters from east of the Dix Hills–using the Northern State Parkway to commute in and out of New York–they have to go 11 extra miles each way every workday. That’s an unnecessary 22 miles of driving every workday. That’s 5,500 unnecessary miles a year. And so by the 1960s, tens of thousands of commuters are wasting tens of millions of hours of their lives on these extra unnecessary miles of road because of these political deals. And each twist in that road is a tribute to the power of the barons who could work behind the scenes to thwart ostensibly public government. It all gets at this idea that Caro has throughout the book that each of the things that we live in the built world is based on a choice that was made possibly because of power that was undemocratic or anti-democratic. But it’s not the powerful people who force those choices that have to live with it usually. It’s the ordinary folks like you and me–Joe Podcaster–right, Roman?

ROMAN MARS: That’s right. Yeah. We have to bear the weight of that choice. And it is one of those things that… I think one of the reasons why it is so devastating reputationally and why it is a good lever to use to control a little bit of what Robert Moses does– t is so antithetical to his image as a champion of the people.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes. I mean, it’s the old Trump conundrum. Trump can openly do any number of bad things, but it’s like, “Yeah, we kind of expect that from him.” He’s a guy that we expect that from. But if an upstanding type politician gets found out doing something slightly shady, then it destroys that reputation that they have. It’s more damaging because of the context of the reputation that it’s happening in. So for Robert Moses, it’s almost like if people already knew that he was such a dealmaker and deal-breaker–if he was such a power broker and power smoker–that they would…

ROMAN MARS: A midnight toker?

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yeah! And a midnight toker. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Oh, if ever there’s a guy who is not a midnight toker, I imagine it’s Robert Moses. He’s too busy tromping the hills of Long Island, looking for roots for roads, and looking for places to build beaches. But it’s because–like you’re saying exactly–he has this reputation as this virtuous kind of man of the people that it would be especially damaging to be seen making deals with the barons, who are ostensibly his enemies. And part of this compromise is also that Moses promises he’s never going to build parks along that North Shore section that’s owned by the barons. And as of the writing of the book in 1974, this was still pretty much the case. Since then, it’s not the case. And a lot of the estates up there are now parks and are now open to the public. And they’re very beautiful to go to. It makes you mad that it was just privately owned for such a long time. And Caro suggests that maybe Al Smith wouldn’t have fallen into this trap–but that Roosevelt suffers a little bit in Albany because he’s not seen as trustworthy. And Moses comes to not see Roosevelt as trustworthy. People expect Roosevelt to lie to them. And it comes to the point where Moses will be like, “Will you sign this law that I pushed through?” And Roosevelt’s like, “I’ll sign it,” and then he doesn’t do it. So Moses has to literally hang out in Roosevelt’s office and physically refuse to leave until Roosevelt signs those laws. Here’s the place where I start to feel like Caro was misleading us a little bit because, as you mentioned, despite this big buildup about Roosevelt being his enemy, Moses grows in power during this time. Roosevelt signs most of the bills Moses wants. As we mentioned before, Moses doesn’t even call Roosevelt by his title; he just calls him “Frank.” I have to imagine most people at least call him by his first name–call him “Franklin” at least. The only worst thing would be if he called him, like, “Frankie,” which would be very funny. And he does things without telling Roosevelt. He won’t take Roosevelt’s patronage suggestions, which is big because Moses now controls 1,500 jobs at least. And Roosevelt has this dream of turning this old army base in the Bronx into a merchant marine academy, which is the kind of stuff he loved. And Moses blocks that really for no reason just to annoy him literally until Roosevelt is leaving to become president on the third to last day of his governorship. He knows he’s been elected president. He quietly is like, “And I sign this law, giving this space over to become a merchant marine academy,” and doesn’t tell anybody. And it just seems like Moses is needling him for no reason. But he’s also able to do this because he understands the mechanics of the state government better than anybody else. He literally wrote the law. And later on in the book, you’ll have young people say to Moses, “Oh, well the law says this thing.” And he’ll go, “Yeah, I know. I wrote that law.” It came out of his head. And that means that he is someone who occasionally Roosevelt can rely on. So in 1929, Roosevelt has his first budget. It’s the first state budget drawn up under the Moses budget system. And the legislature is like, “We’re attaching a rider to this that gives us equal power to the governor in allocating government spending.” And Roosevelt’s like, “What do I do about this?” And Moses says, “Just veto the bill. We’ll find other ways to pay for the government. There’s always money to be found hidden in places in the government. And the courts will say it’s unconstitutional.” And that’s exactly what happens. Moses is this kind of frenemy consiglieri that he can rely on to understand things, even though I’m sure Roosevelt was mad. Even though it helped him, he was mad that Moses was right–I guarantee.

ROMAN MARS: Yeah. He really did reform the government to such an extent that he does know the ins and outs of this. And Caro presents him as being extremely sanguine when anything goes to court because he feels like his writing of these laws is so ironclad that no one would rule against him. And he’s right.

ELLIOTT KALAN: It’s like you’re playing a board game against the Parker Brothers and they’re like, “Yeah, we think we’re going to win this one.”

ROMAN MARS: But the real thing–the real reason why Moses accumulates power–is because he gets things done. This is a time period in which all these things that Moses has been working for are opening up and he’s getting more and more attention, he’s getting more and more acclaim, and he’s just getting more and more power.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes. Roman, like you mentioned earlier, he is making NIPLs happen. He is noticeably improving people’s lives in ways that are now finally coming to fruition. And so, for instance, the Wantagh Causeway opens. Now, New Yorkers can drive all the way to Jones Beach. On the first day, 25,000 cars drive across it. In the first month, 325,000 people are going to Jones Beach State Park. And now that it’s accessible to people from the outlying areas, they can see just how amazing it is. And reporters from New York can come and see how beautiful it looks and all the little design details and things that make it like a little swimming fantasyland. Moses is always big on little touches that are kind of whimsical. And a lot of it’s stuff like ship-themed water fountains and everyone who works there is wearing kind of sailor type outfits. It sounds a little cheesy to me, but I have to imagine, in 1929, this kind of whimsical recreation land for ordinary people was mind-blowing. This and later on we talk about the Central Park Zoo–he’s, like, making little proto Disneylands that just feel like you’re walking in a different world.

ROMAN MARS: I mean, you have to imagine that most of these people’s lives were bereft of delight.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Oh, that’s such a sad phrase. Yeah, I think you’re right.

ROMAN MARS: And when you see all this stuff and all this attention and all these cute touches… Caro liberally uses the word “gay” to talk about happy and light and free. And it is this word that obviously has changed so much over time in how we use it, but it’s perfect for describing this feeling that is about happiness and lightness and goodness and whimsy. That must have just felt like Dorothy walking into Oz for the first time.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes. That’s such a fantastic parallel for it. These people coming from the gray world of the city are middle or lower class people–mostly middle class people because they have cars. But maybe they brought their lower class friends with them in the backseat of the car. They’re able to enter a world where they can forget about the rest of their lives for a day and just enjoy it. And that’s such a new experience to people, I have to imagine. And the other thing that everyone is amazed about with Jones Beach–the same as all adults are amazed about with the Disney parks–is how clean it is. It’s amazingly clean. And you’re coming from a city that still has horse dung all over the streets in lots of places. And they make a point that the attendants who wear sailor suits–if there’s a piece of litter, they don’t have sticks to pick it up with. They have to stoop down and pick it up with their hands, so everyone sees that someone dropped a piece of litter. And it is especially embarrassing for the litterbug because they know that someone had to put effort into cleaning it up. And Caro says that if a bag of garbage is found on the side of a Moses parkway, the troopers who work the parkway will open up the bag and try to identify the owner from the contents. And they’ll go to their home and issue them a summons, and they’ll bring newspaper reporters with them so that there’ll be a story in the paper, like “Litterbug Caught.” You know, “This litterbug from Manhattan was caught because they analyzed his trash.”

ROMAN MARS: I’m a hundred percent on Moses’ side about this. This is the one crime. I believe firmly in the decriminalization of most things. But littering? I want to have stiffer penalties and fines and shame.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yeah, you’re a hardcore litterbug death penalty advocate.

ROMAN MARS: Exactly.

ELLIOTT KALAN: And as a result, by 1932, the attendance is in the millions of people. The facilities have to be expanded. It’s a huge success. And that all reflects on who’s in charge at the time–the Governor. It reflects on Moses, but also on Governor Roosevelt. And Moses’ projects have this kind of snowball effect where once people see how successful and how beloved one is, they want to build more. So he opens this two-mile long ocean parkway in 1930, and it goes from Jones Beach in the direction of Fire Island. And he’s like, “Actually, I want to build 98 more miles of parkway all the way from Rockaway to Montauk Point.” And these local communities that used to stand in his way are like, “Yeah, yeah, this is going to bring money to us.” And he says to the legislature, “I’ve got millions of dollars worth of land that’s just been given to the state so I can build this road. Are you going to let it go to waste?” He’s using his whipsawing and his… What’s the other one? State driving methods. And in 1931, the legislature appropriates the money to extend the route. And it doesn’t make it all the way through Fire Island, according to Caro, because there’s two old lady sisters who live there who will not sell their land. They just refuse to. And Moses is like, “I’ll deal with them later. I’ll get around to that.” And luckily for everybody, he never does. So I guess we have those two old ladies to thank for Fire Island not having a highway running straight through it–for it still being a place where you can go and it feels like you’re not in the New York area anymore. And it’s funny that Caro told us in his interview that he was talking to Moses, and Moses was pointing out to Fire Island and being like, “Shouldn’t there be a parkway out there?” He still was like– I’m sure in his head he is like, “Those two old ladies–they stopped me from my dream.” And everyone loves Moses’ work. He takes a big advantage of that. His projects are an enormous part of the budget. There’s 70%–more than 70%–of the state’s metropolitan construction budget. And when Roosevelt wants to cut the budget because when he runs for president he doesn’t want to be seen as a spendthrift, Moses threatens to resign. It becomes his go-to move, and this time it works. But, Roman, tell us again. It didn’t work when he was a Yale swimmer. Why does it work now?

ROMAN MARS: He’s got the power. He’s got the power, and therefore he cannot be allowed to resign. And this is the first moment where this move that he goes over and over again, even to the point where people like LaGuardia kind of laugh at him through the process– You know what I mean? And it really works, and it works big. And it really matters here because, half a chapter ago, Roosevelt was ready to fire him. Roosevelt was ready to get him out by any means necessary to endure whatever pain it was to get rid of him. But now he pulls the resignation move, and it totally works. And he’s going to use it for the next 50 years.

ELLIOTT KALAN: And it’s going to work every time until the one time it doesn’t work, in which case it really doesn’t work. But we’ll get to that much later in the book. And Moses–he knows his playbook now. He’s going to ask legislature for a big amount of money. He’s going to build something. Part of the way, he’s going to say, “I actually need more money.” And they’re going to say no. And he’s going to say, “Are you going to let all that go to waste? You’re going to tell the voters that you wasted all this money?” And he almost always gets what he wants. And by 1930, the Long Island State Parks, according to Caro, are seeing 3 million visitors a year at a time when the attendance at all national parks combined is 3.4 million. It’s hugely popular. And he always includes Roosevelt in the big opening ceremonies and other politicians that he needs. That way they get the media attention and they get the public credit. And Moses starts to say to people, “You can get an awful lot of good done in the world if you’re willing to let someone else take the credit for it,” which is very funny considering he is also getting a massive amount of credit for everything. It’s not like he’s the man in the shadows that nobody knows about. He’s still getting credit. But politicians–especially if they’re running for reelection–they need that record of achievements. And that means very early on in their terms, the projects have to start because they’ve got to be done in time for election day. They’ve got to be able to point to it and say, “Look at that road. Look at that beach. They can’t point to a plan. They can point to a thing.” And for those projects, a governor can’t unfortunately just steamroll over people and break the guardrails of democracy. Democracy’s whole point is it slows action down so that you don’t run roughshod over people. But because Moses is an appointed official, he doesn’t need to be reelected. He can throw his weight around–be a jerk to people. He can be mean to voters. It doesn’t matter. And everyone–if they get mad–they’ll get mad at him and not the governor. But then when the project is done, the governor can be like, “Look at this great road I built. Look at this beach I built.”

ROMAN MARS: And this is an amazing thing because these terms might seem interminable to us when we have to endure a politician we despise. But they are very short in terms of getting things done. And Robert Moses–not only does he have all these qualities to get things done–he might be the only person in history that can put a road in inside of two years. I mean, it’s really stunning how different as a sort of weapon of accomplishment that Robert Moses is compared to most people.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Recently in Los Angeles, we had a problem where a major freeway–there was a fire under it, and it fell apart. And it was closed for a little bit, and people thought it was going to be closed forever–for a long, long time. And they finished rebuilding it in a relatively short amount of time–within a matter of weeks. And everyone was so amazed. You would’ve thought a magic trick had taken place in Los Angeles. People couldn’t stop talking about it for a long time. “Can you believe it’s up already? You can drive on it again. Can you believe it?” Because this stuff is so difficult. It’s so hard to push it through. And Robert Moses is consistently doing it. I mean, if I had built Jones Beach, I would’ve been like, “That’s my monument. I did it. That was a lot of effort. Now I’m going to rest on my laurels a little bit.” But he just keeps doing these things. And as a result, he can get away with a lot that other people don’t. And Caro talks about how Moses gets away with actually strangling–not to death–but strangling another member of the Parks Council during a meeting. To be fair, the council member refers to Moses by an anti-Semitic slur. And Moses gets so mad that he starts strangling him. And when he’s pulled off of this guy, he picks up a three-foot, like, ashtray stand and hurls it at him and luckily only misses him because another guy hit his arm to stop it so it wouldn’t hit this guy. But he gets so mad, and the council member goes to Roosevelt and is like, “Are you going to do something about this guy who strangled me?” And Roosevelt’s like, “Nah, I don’t think I’m going to.” And the council member resigns. He is so politically important that he can get away with this kind of thing. Most people would probably lose that job if they strangled a coworker, let’s say.

ROMAN MARS: That’s true.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Maybe it’s because this is a view of the more negative aspect of Moses that this is when Caro starts to transition into Moses’ efforts to dissuade Black people, especially–poor people in general, but Black people especially–from using these parks and facilities. And he quotes Frances Perkins, who has known Moses for years and years, saying that Moses saw the public as “dirty.” And Caro talks about how Moses kept the Long Island Railroad from going to Jones Beach. And he makes the claim that has become surprisingly controversial in recent years that Moses was deliberately keeping the overpasses on his parkways too low for buses to pass under. And there’s been a lively debate over the past few years about whether this was standard parkway practice or not. One of Moses’ top lieutenants told Caro that this was a deliberate move. But it’s hard to know the truth about that. Although every time I’ve seen it fact checked, the fact-checker is always like, “I guess Caro’s technically correct since Moses’ lieutenant told him that’s why Moses did it.” But it’s become a surprising controversy recently.

ROMAN MARS: Yeah, I mean, I think there was some bus service to Jones Beach. It wasn’t widespread. It was from the very beginning. Clearly it was never meant to expand. It was meant to be very small. And there were lots of other things about how Jones Beach was run that comports to this idea of not complete exclusion but enough discomfort, enough shame, and enough just making people feel uncomfortable that he was designing Jones Beach for a certain type of people. And poor people–especially black people–were not among them.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes, they hired a couple Black lifeguards and would post them at the farthest reaches of the beach–farthest from the bathhouses–to give a little subtle pressure that that’s the place where Black bathers should go. He would keep the water in the Jones Beach pool cold under the impression that Black people hate cold water, so they won’t go into the pool if it’s too cold. I remember reading this book years ago, and it was the first time I had ever come across that stereotype. And I was like, “Really? What was he basing that on?” But Black civic groups notice this, and they complained to Roosevelt. And he has an investigation. It finds that Moses is discouraging Black people from using the parks. And Roosevelt brings it up to Moses, and Moses goes, “No, I’m not doing that.” And Roosevelt never brings it up again because I think he just needed to be seen to go through the motions, but Moses is too valuable to him. It’s too valuable to the state, in his mind, to get him into trouble for this. And even when Moses wants to raise the price of parking at the parks to 50 cents, which is a lot of money in the ’30s… That’s a huge amount of money to raise it. It leads to a backlash. And Roosevelt wants him to lower the price. He threatens to resign. Roosevelt goes, “Uh, nevermind.” Then Roosevelt even vetoes a bill banning fees in state parks because 1932 is coming, Roosevelt’s running for president and he can’t afford a public spat with his incredibly popular guy. And the chapter ends with everyone knowing Roosevelt’s running for the Democratic nomination for president. He’s got a very good shot because it’s the Depression, and people want to change. Al Smith–he decides he’s going to run against Roosevelt basically out of spite. And Moses takes a leave of absence to help his old boss try to defeat his current boss, which is a real jerk of a move to do. And Moses does this, knowing Al Smith does not have a chance. There’s no way he’s going to get this nomination. And Moses, in a show of loyalty and spite of Roosevelt–those things dovetail beautifully here–he kind of stands by Smith through the moment when Smith knows he has lost. He doesn’t abandon him before then, which is a rare moment of maybe… I don’t know if it’s compassion or comfort from Moses. He really does feel this relationship with Al Smith that will sit with him for the rest of his life. And if it means that he gets to try to unseat this guy, he hates his current boss, then he’ll do that, too.

ROMAN MARS: Yeah. It is really interesting to watch how pure his affection for Al Smith is. And this comes up, but we’ll get there. But it is one of my favorite sections of the whole book. And despite his general political savvy and political calculations, although–as you mentioned before–he has a blind spot for, like, electoral politics. He has different bureaucratic politics, like superpowers. But electoral politics he doesn’t have. He seems to just not be able to crack that code. But he really does want to stand with them, and he sort of stays with them all night with the Democratic nomination until he realizes that it is not going to happen. And a bunch of people break for Roosevelt, and they secretly leave the convention by a side door. He always wants to maintain the dignity of Al Smith. It’s very clear.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes, I think that’s a great way to put it. He always wants Al Smith to be seen the way he sees Al Smith–as this just true heroic figure that is deserving of not just respect but love. And there’s something very beautiful about that. And you almost wish you could say to Robert Moses, “Imagine everybody in these buildings that you’re evicting to build your expressway was Al Smith. Would that change the way you feel about this?” And I dunno, maybe it would, but maybe it wouldn’t. Al Smith seems to be his one true love, which is very sweet.

ROMAN MARS: And while we’re piling on all these horrible things that Robert Moses does–except for his devotion to Al Smith–Robert Caro changes gears again in the next chapter that we will get to after this. So the next chapter is Chapter 18: New York City Before Robert Moses. It’s a little bit of a misnomer. There’s only a little bit of before Moses, and then there’s a lot of after Robert Moses in this chapter.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yeah, that’s very true.

ROMAN MARS: But I think the point here is there is so much bad going on in the world–there’s so much bad when it comes to parks and to politics and to everything–that the environment that Robert Moses steps in and reforms is really in need of reform. And there’s a reason why he accumulates this power and goodwill.

ELLIOTT KALAN: I think you’re exactly right. This chapter is Robert Caro switching gears so that we can’t just be like, “Robert Moses! Boo! Boo!” but instead to show us why there was a need in some ways for someone like him and that allowed him to do these things. So it’s 1932. It’s the Great Depression. It’s hit the country. New York is hit particularly hard. This chapter is so full of–I feel bad that I get such pleasure out of it–this kind of terrifying, urban apocalypse, like, everything’s falling apart writing. And there’s some of this right here where it says, “New York in 1932 was half-completed skyscrapers, work on them long since halted for the lack of funds, that glared down on the city from glassless windows. It was housewives scavenging for vegetables under push carts. It was crowds gathering at garbage dumps in Riverside Park and swarming onto them every time a new load was deposited, digging through the piles with sticks or hands in hopes of finding bits of food. New York was the soup kitchens operated from the back of army trucks in Times Square. It was the men, some of them wearing Chesterfield coats and homburgs, who lined up at the soup kitchens with drooping shoulders and eyes that never looked up from the sidewalk.” And he goes on and on about New York, at this time, is people being evicted. It’s people living on the streets. More than a third of the manufacturing firms in the city have shut down. Nearly a third of the employable people in New York are out of work. There’s 1.6 million people on welfare. Kids are without proper food. And what makes the problem even worse is that the previous couple of mayors, Hylan and our old pal, James Walker–Beau James Walker–they were so ridiculously corrupt. They were so corrupt. They’re just hundreds of thousands of dollars in graft every year. Caro has this detail about how common it was for vice cops to just frame women as prostitutes and tell them that if they aren’t paid off, they’re going to take them to jail. And this stuff doesn’t really become super public. Everyone knows that these guys are slimy, but the extent of it doesn’t become public until this former judge, Samuel Seabury–who we’ll see more of later in this episode–he investigates. And he brings it all to light. He confronts Mayor Walker in court. He’s like, “Look at all these bribes you took.” And Mayor Walker is like, “Um… I resign.” And he flees to Europe with his mistress. And his replacement is not much better. His replacement–Mayor O’Brien–he’s another Tammany man. And at one point they ask him who his police commissioner is going to be, and he goes, “I don’t know. They haven’t told me yet.” So he is one of two incredibly bumbling New York mayors. And there’s a lot of statistics on top of this about New York’s population getting bigger. The budget costs are ballooning. And what that means especially is that the city is in debt. It has had to borrow so much money to pay its bills, and now the interest is coming due. The payments are coming due on that debt–on those loans. And the tax collections are falling just as all this money is coming due. They’re going to have to pay. And the only way to pay it is to borrow more money. So the banks demand more budget cuts, which means cutting funds for infrastructure-cutting services. And the Tammany leaders–they won’t fire anyone who’s politically connected. So in 1931, they fire 11,000 teachers because the teachers have no power. They can just get rid of them. And 1933 is coming. And in that year, hundreds of millions of dollars in loans are going to be coming due, and New York simply cannot pay them. And at the same time, this corruption also means that the people working in the government are incredibly incompetent. You’ve got engineers working for the city who don’t have high school diplomas. Every time you want to build something, there’s a series of payoffs that have to be made. So nothing is getting built. And the physical infrastructure of New York is so old and so crumbling. Caro mentions that from 1918 to 1932, the number of cars in New York City multiplied more than sixfold. And at the same time, they’re building no new major roads within the city or not finishing any of them. They haven’t built a new route between the boroughs in 25 years. It’s traffic jams all the time. The only way to get across the Harlem River from Manhattan to the Bronx is a three lane drawbridge. So traffic gets backed up because so many cars would get across it, and then it might have to stop because a ship has to pass through. This is bonkers. This is the 20th century. I mean, there’s somethingg about it that’s kind of quaint. The Queensborough Bridge is 25 years old. They haven’t even painted lanes on it yet. So when you’re driving on it, you have to navigate where your car is supposed to go. It’s just incredibly bonkers. This is so not the image I have of New York City, which is skyscrapers, Broadway, and the amazing things about New York. But the physical living in it was falling apart. And I’ll give you two examples of how unfinished New York was at the time that in Riverdale in the Bronx, where my mom spent her first 13 years, they had built a hundred foot high marble column. And in 1909, they’re like, “We’re going to put a statue of…” Caro calls him “Hendrick Hudson” the whole time, but I’d always known him as “Henry Hudson.” “We’re going to put a statue of Hendrick Hudson up there, and we’re going to build a Hendrick Hudson Bridge.” By 1932–23 years later–the column is the only thing there from the original plans, the statue’s not even there, it’s just an empty column. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn and Bay Ridge, they’ve tunneled 96-foot deep holes that are going to be for a narrow tube to link Brooklyn and Staten Island. And from 1921 to 1923, the city spends 7 billion digging it. And then they just stop. And they just leave these huge holes, and eventually they put a fence around it because kids are falling in them or threatening to fall in them. The city’s falling apart. And to make it even more Mosescentric, the parks are in bad shape. They’ve rented out city parks to private owners in exchange for kickbacks. The parks are staffed by the Tammany job seekers they couldn’t put anywhere else. Everything’s overgrown, except for the trees, which are stumps. Every single park structure in the city needs to be repaired. Monuments and statues are crumbling in Bryant Park, which is now a kind of weed-filled vacant lot full of drunks. The statues there–I know there’s one of Washington Irving, I can’t remember what the other statue was–they’re just lost. Nobody knows where they are. They just lost the statues. And Caro doesn’t mention this, but I did some research. In 1934, they eventually found them under the Williamsburg Bridge, so they did find those statues. They were under a bridge. And corrupt vendors who paid for their license are selling kids unsafe hot dogs that make them sick. It’s just– everything’s going wrong in the parks.

ROMAN MARS: And you can see why the reform movement is particularly centered on parks because of all this stuff. I mean, these are the only places of respite in the entire city–a city that is falling apart–and parks just become the symbol of the reform movement. It’s like the physical embodiment of everything that they want, and it is all falling apart. And Robert Moses ends up being the answer to it. I mean, one of my favorite parts of this is that Central Park–this jewel–this thing that I think to this day is one of the most amazing parks in the world…

ELLIOTT KALAN: If you talk to New Yorkers, there’s this general admiration for the foresight of the people who laid out the city–that they kept that space open for a park when they could have easily just filled it in with buildings and it would’ve been worth so much more. To have it there is so necessary to life in the city. But yeah, Roman, tell us about Central Park in 1932.

ROMAN MARS: Well, it’s been neglected for decades. All of the lawns are turned to dirt. The paths are broken. Benches and garbage cans are overturned. And what’s amazing to me–most amazing to me at all–is the Central Park Menagerie, which is the predecessor to the Central Park Zoo, has become so rotted that guards are given rifles to shoot lions in case they break free.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yeah, they’re like, “In case of a fire, the lions will probably just break through the cages because they’re so weak now, so you have to carry this gun so you can shoot this lion. That’s an extreme situation for a zoo to be in. And even to call it a zoo is not fair because as Caro mentioned, it was called a menagerie because people would just leave their pets there. If you were tired of the pet, you just donated it to Central Park Menagerie. And the whole thing is full of rats. And in the sheep meadow, there’s this flock of inbred sheep that’s become malformed over the years. And of course it’s depression, so there’s a Hooverville there. And yeah, this amazingly beautiful park has just fallen apart, and sports facilities are inadequate. There’s only two outdoor swimming pools in the entire city, which is amazing. There’s not enough baseball diamonds or things like that. And Caro talks about these public restrooms where women who are connected to Tammany would be assigned as the overseers. And they would just turn them into private apartments that they would invite people to and host gatherings in, and you couldn’t use them. They were not available to you. It’s really amazing. Roman, as you were saying, parks have become this very potent and very visible symbol for the city reformers and the activists about what could be done to make life so instantly better for so many of the people in the city who don’t have cars and can’t drive out of the city and are just stuck there. And especially for children. On the Lower East Side, there’s 500,000 people who live there. There are two small parks. On the Upper West Side, between a 110th Street and a 150th Street, there’s basically no green space. There’s just tenements that block out the sun. It’s heartbreaking, I feel like. Caro talks about children just standing in spots where the sun happens to be avoiding the buildings–happy at cracks between buildings that sunlight is going through because they want sunlight so badly–and waiting for hours on line just to dig in little plots of dirt. You have to wait on line to dig in dirt. That’s how bad the recreation is for children in the city at that time. It’s abominable. And the ultimate kind of symbol of Tammany’s inability to deal with this is the Central Park Casino, which is the big infrastructure project that Walker is really invested in. There’s a nightclub in Central Park. He throws out the owner. He leases it to this guy that Caro says owes him a favor, I guess, because he introduced him to his favorite tailor. And he gives him a sweetheart deal to this casino. And Walker’s very invested in the building and the design of it, and he treats it at his private social club, where he and other Tammany politicians are drinking champagne. Motorcycle cops are escorting chorus girls, when Broadway shows finish, to the casino so that the politicians can spend time with them. It’s really a bad situation for the entire city. Moses has been trying to get the city to follow through on its promise to build new roads since 1926. And six years later, none of those roads are built. The lands that he was hoping to use for roads are filling in with housing developments. They have the plans to build this Triborough Bridge, and they didn’t even make any plans to build roads that would link the Triborough Bridge to the streets in the city. It would just be a bridge with no roads on either side, and that’s okay. They don’t have the money to build the bridge anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Why would they plan for it? This is when Moses starts to step in. Moses named the chairman of an activist organization, the Metropolitan Parks Conference, and he’s got all these workers in his state parks office that he can use to start coming up with plans to submit to the city. And he’s driving around New York at night, just kind of dreaming about roads and new parks. I was like, “When does he have the time to do this? He’s so busy. How does he have time to just drive around New York City?” But it all culminates on February 25th, 1930. There’s a big black tie event, and he presents this massive plan for parkways and new bridges to connect New York City to the outside world and between boroughs to make it possible to drive through the city, around the city, and out of the city without getting stuck in local traffic. And he’s laying out what’s going to become the Belt Parkway, the Bronx Whitestone Bridge, the Henry Hudson Parkway–these many routes. This chapter–I was going to go into more detail about it. It’s a lot of New York metropolitan area-specific traffic talk. It’s bridges that you know if you drive around New York. But otherwise, the point is you can go from New England to Long Island, and you won’t get trapped in Manhattan traffic jams. His big goal is to make it so that people outside of New York can get to Long Island without having to go through Manhattan. And you’d have parks alongside all these parkways. And he says, “We can do it, folks. We can do it. We just have to issue a bond of $30 million. Help me fight to make this happen.” And the audiences are like, “We love it! Yeah! This is amazing! Moses, you’re the best!” And the city is like, “Huh? Hold on a second.”

ROMAN MARS: With good cause because, at this point, everything has been deteriorating for so long and nothing gets built and nothing gets maintained. It must seem like complete science fiction to them.

ELLIOTT KALAN: It’s like he’s going to someone who is out of shape and just watches TV–never gets off their couch. And he’s like, “Next year, you’re winning a gold medal in the Olympics. We’re going to make this happen.” That’s how New York feels. And they do pass that bond issue, but most of the money goes unspent until 1933.

ROMAN MARS: 1933! Roosevelt is now in the White House.

ELLIOTT KALAN: He’s in the White House.

ROMAN MARS: There’s a new governor: Herbert Lehman from the son of the Lehman Brothers, who become famous in other ways.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yeah, he’s the Lehman nephew, I guess you’d call him. And he has so much respect for Moses. He’s going to give him even more power. I know, Roman. You thought there was no more power left to give. But he gives him this very important post that sounds very boring. He makes him Chairman of the State Emergency Public Works Commission, which means he’s the one person who will determine which construction projects are going to be submitted to the federal government for funding now that the government under Roosevelt is doing all this public works funding to try to get out of the depression. And Moses is like, “Uh, I have some projects I will submit to the federal government.” And he immediately gets funding for a ton of work in the Niagara Falls area, which Caro… Caro throughout the book will occasionally be like, “Oh yeah, and this enormous dam that Moses builds at Niagara Falls…” And he seems to understand that his audience is a New York roughly centered audience that is not that interested in the Niagara Falls stuff.

ROMAN MARS: But this is the dam that bears his name. Yeah.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes. This is the Robert Moses Dam. And so it’s very important to Robert Moses, and it’s almost… I admire Caro so much. I like the honesty of him mentioning it but almost implicitly being like, “But that’s not why we’re here, right, folks? We’re not here to hear about dams on Niagara Falls.” But also the Lincoln Tunnel housing projects–he’s starting to get federal funding for those things in New York. Even more important for Moses’ future, he’s finally able to get the legislature to establish the Triborough Bridge Authority. As a semi-private, semi-public organization, it can issue its own bonds to be paid back by toll revenue, which makes it immediately eligible for $44.2 million from the Public Works administration from the federal government. And this is the moment that I feel like when rereading it where it really struck me, “Oh, the federal money is big money.” There’s no more scrounging from the state to a certain extent. He still does plenty of that. But now if he can get the state to get a little invested in something, he can go to the federal government and get an enormous amount of money. Suddenly, he has so much more potential to play with. And the authority–of course–it’s instantly corrupt. So the federal government is like, “We’re not giving you any more money. This is ridiculous.” And Moses is like, “Tammany guys, we could change the city. We could make it so much easier to get around it.” And they’re like, “Yeah, but how much money are we going to make off of this?” And so the city is in bad financial straits. More loans are coming due. Things are really bad. Robert Moses sees only one solution. He’s going to have to be mayor.

ROMAN MARS: Okay, now we’re onto Chapter 19: To Power in the City. I find that to be a little awkward to read out loud.

ELLIOTT KALAN: It’s a very Marvel Comics type story title. Yeah. It’s the kind of thing Stan Lee would write, where he’d be like, “Lo, a God Cometh! To Power in the City! Daredevil Discovers!”

ROMAN MARS: And this is where we focus on the mayor of New York. A lot of this has been sort of bouncing around to the governor, and we’re focusing here more on the city and what it would mean to have a mayor also on Robert Moses’ side.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes. To not have to deal with the Tammany machine, which would be a first in New York for a long time. And it starts with one of Caro’s best chapter opening lines. He has so many great ones. This is: “In New York City, 1933 was the year of the goo-goo,” which I love. But it’s only now that I realize that “goo-goo” is a way of saying “good government,” like a derogatory way of referring to a good government person, which makes it a little less fun to me. I thought it was Al Smith calling people babies. But I like that it’s the year of the goo-goo. The good government movement is back. Judge Samuel Seabury–who we mentioned earlier–he is spearheading it. And because of the depression, the electorate is seen as being more sympathetic to this type of good government movement because they need help so badly. You can no longer just be like, “Yeah, the government’s corrupt. What are you going to do?” because you can’t feed your family. And a mayoral election is looming. Public sentiment is against Tammany. It doesn’t help that. John Patrick O’Brien–the guy they installed after Walker–is a gaff machine. And Caro points out two genuine gaffes. He’s talking to voters in Harlem, and he says, “My heart is as black as yours,” which is crazy. And he’s talking to a synagogue audience, and he tells them how much he admires the scientist, Albert Weinstein, which is… He’s like a cartoon version of a bad mayor. And not too long before recording this, we talked to some of our listeners in a Discord AMA, and we were talking about moments of humor in the book. And I feel like Caro is very good at isolating some of these that are just silly. It’s silly for him to go to an audience and say Albert Weinstein like this. So the environment is favorable for that most desired of all things by all reformers who hear about it even now all the time: a fusion candidate. That’s right. People from different political parties working together. The political media in the United States loves this. They love the idea of a bipartisan candidate, even though it almost never works–almost never. And it’s not always a good idea. It’s often not a good idea. So the reformers who would normally be kind of activists liberals, you could say, and the Republican Party–they form the City Fusion Party. They ask Judge Seabury to run for mayor, and he says, “No. I don’t want to do that.” And so they consider Robert Moses. And Robert Moses is very attractive to them. To the older reformers who don’t know that Robert Moses is a shady individual, They’re like, “oh, this is our protege. We saw him come up from a young man. He’s our son in a way.” And the younger guard look up to him; they see him as their idol. And he’s considered a public servant and not a politician, which is not a real differentiation. And Caro kind of criticizes this as a naive way of categorizing officials, but then it feels very real. He’s not a dirty politician. He’s a noble public servant. Moses is like, “Yeah! I’ll take that nomination for sure.” But Judge Seabury–the latest in a line of Moses opponents–he does not like him. And Caro takes a moment to talk about Seabury, who is this kind of, like, old-fashioned, descended from pilgrims, kind of sternly imposing patrician idealist. He’s elected judge at age 28, and he spends nearly his entire life fighting Tamy Hall. And in 1916, when he was 43–one year older than me, which makes me feel very unaccomplished–he runs for governor, and he almost makes it. But Tammany orchestrates his defeat, even though he’s their candidate, He’s the Democratic candidate. He’s their party’s candidate. And there’s a footnote that I have to mention because I love it where Caro says that one of the reasons that Seabury ran was that Theodore Roosevelt, who at the time has been president of the United States, convinces him to run. And at the last minute he pulls his support and supports Republican, and Seabury goes to Roosevelt’s home and calls him a blatherskite. He’s so mad that he goes all the way up to Oyster Bay to call him a blatherskite, which I just love.

ROMAN MARS: Do we know what a “blatherskite” is other than the greatest thing?

ELLIOTT KALAN: It doesn’t sound good. It doesn’t sound positive.

ROMAN MARS: I have to look this up right now. Okay. So a blatherskite is “a person who talks at great length without making much sense.” Well, that’s a little more mild than I thought it was.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yeah, I thought it was going to be worse. I thought it was going to be something that involves farm animals, but it’s still not a great thing to be called, especially in 1916. That’s powerful stuff. And he wants to run for governor in 1918. The nomination goes to Al Smith, who Seabury does not like. He sees him as “the friendly guy who puts a nice face on the Tammany Tiger.” He makes this corruption presentable. And Seabury returns to private life, always believing, according to Moses, who I assume told this to Caro, that if Al Smith had stepped aside, he could have been governor and then someday president. And this is the lesson from every book about politics I’ve ever read. Everyone who goes into politics assumes they will be president someday. It’s the same way you read James Clavell’s Shogun. Every character is like, “Yeah, yeah. And I do this and this, and I’ll become Shogun.” And it’s like, “You’re never going to be Shogun. You’re four levels down.” Everyone who goes into politics is like, “Yeah, I’ll probably be president at some point.”

ROMAN MARS: And this is the one time or probably one of a handful of times where Robert Moses’ association with Al Smith really hurts him because Seabury really hates Al Smith. Robert Moses is rightfully considered his right-hand man. And even though I think, on the merits, Seabury wouldn’t have huge problems with Robert Moses and what he did and how he gets things done, he just hates Al Smith so much that Robert Moses is unacceptable to him.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes. And so he will not support Moses, and his support is crucial for a fusion candidate. Even today in politics, personal endorsements–personal support–from specific individuals is so important. And if Seabury won’t support Moses, it’s impossible. The party goes after a lot of different potential candidates. They all turn it down for various reasons. There’s one guy though who wants the nomination so badly, but he is literally the reformer’s last choice. They do not like him. And that is brash, ambitious, ultraliberal, Republican, Jewish, Italian, Fiorello LaGuardia, the little flower, former congressman, and previously failed candidate for mayor. And I just want to mention the way Caro describes him says, “LaGuardia obsessed qualifications for making the run beyond the fact that half-Jewish and half-Italian, married first to a Catholic and then to a Lutheran of German descent, himself a mason and an Episcopalian–he was practically a balanced ticket all by himself,” which I think it’s a fun way to describe him. LaGuardia–he’s been anti-corruption before Seabury. But he’s this fiery guy from the tenements. He’s an outsider to the kind of upper class reformers. And he’s very open about demagoguing and he’s nakedly ambitious, and that repels them. And on top of that, LaGuardia is a New Deal liberal. Even though he is a Republican, he is all about the New Deal. Whereas the older reformers are less liberal. They’re pre-New Deal liberals. They don’t love the fact that the government is now stepping in and doing so much. He’s too radical for them.

ROMAN MARS: So because Seabury just hates Moses so much, and even though LaGuardia is the last on the list, he becomes the fusion candidate and then eventually becomes mayor. And Moses is not a fan. even though he’s a Republican–his liberalism and his sort of commie leanings with the support of the New Deal–he’s very suspicious of all that sort of stuff. And the key to this is, I think, the key to a lot of different parts of the book–these certain individuals who step into Robert Moses’ life and alter his course. And so far, in Belle Moskowitz and Al Smith, they’ve seen some potential in him and lifted him up beyond his station, and he’s delivered for them. Seabury, even probably more than Roosevelt, just as an individual decided Robert Moses is unacceptable, and he just denies him this chance to become mayor.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes. And Caro lays it out. “All the reformers wanted Moses to be mayor. It was the year that a reformed candidate was almost certainly going to win.” And Seabury said, “No. I won’t have him as the candidate.” So in a very practical sense, you can say, “Except for this one guy, Robert Moses would’ve been elected mayor of New York.” And it’s this clash of individual personalities, and it risks falling into the kind of great man school of history where history is just all about titanic figures punching each other and shoving each other and stepping on little people. And little people go, “Ah, I don’t know! I have no control over this,” which is an anti-democratic way of looking at things. And Caro was very much about pro-democracy and wanting to show how democracy functions or misfunctions or dysfunctions. But in this case, it does feel like one of those things that, if you’re looking at it from Robert Moses’ point of view, I’m sure he felt, “I would be mayor except for this one guy. This one guy got in my way.”

ROMAN MARS: Yeah. But here’s the question I have for you, Elliott. Do you think that Robert Moses would’ve been an effective mayor? I mean, we learn about him being an effective candidate later on. But would this have been…? It would’ve been the end of the book, The Power Broker, to be sure at this point. But do you think he was more powerful not being mayor than if he would’ve become mayor?

ELLIOTT KALAN: Not knowing everything in the world about politics, I think yes–for exactly the reasons that Caro was saying earlier, which is that when you’re an elected official, you have to at least show that you’re willing to bow to the will of the electorate. And you have to work with different people to compromise because your power, if you’re an appointed official like Moses, comes from the money or the jobs that you control. Your power as an elected official comes partly from that but in a greater sense from the votes that you get because there’s a political reality to needing votes to win elections to get elected office. And Moses is so bad, as we’ll see later in the book, at being a candidate that I think he would have an incredibly effective first term as mayor and then immediately lose reelection because he will have made so many people angry. And I also think he would’ve been so busy with the boring stuff of administration–the public stuff that he doesn’t like–that he wouldn’t have gotten as much done. You don’t have as much time to just tromp around Long Island or drive around the city planning parks. When you’re the mayor, you gotta go do things.

ROMAN MARS: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think he does his best job not being beholden to the public directly and sort of only inviting them in as a support mechanism through fawning coverage in the press and things like that. But if he was really, really beholden to the electorate in terms of votes, this huge source of his power would erode very, very quickly and then everything else would fall apart. But he is really important to those elected officials who can do the other part, can do the glad handing, can at least pay lip service to the public and the public needs. And he’s just a really good arrow in the quiver of those people. And LaGuardia knows this, and he wants him and his administration badly. Yes.

ELLIOTT KALAN: LaGuardia’s like the anti-Roosevelt in this way, where Roosevelt is like, “Whatever I can do to remove this guy would be great.” Whereas LaGuardia is like, “How can I get more of you? How can I have more of you working for me all the time?” And he’s got a lot of good reasons. He wants to make the city physically functioning and beautiful again, he admires people who build things, and he’s promised to run the government using experts not partisan hacks. And on top of that, LaGuardia wants to keep Al Smith happy. There’s always the chance in the back of everybody’s mind that Al Smith could run for mayor, in which case he would probably win almost instantly. And LaGuardia knows the city has no money, but we have to build things. The only money we can get is federal money. And there’s one man who knows how to get federal money. And that’s Robert Moses.

ROMAN MARS: Yeah. And for this to become part of the administration, he demands complete control over these previously separate Borough Park departments. And he wants parkway development, and he wants to control the Triborough Bridge Authority. And he wants to be able to keep his state jobs, which is the source of his power. And the problem is, is that you are legally not allowed to hold state jobs and city jobs at the same time. And so he begins to engineer a method in which he can do both.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Moses the Lawbringer enters into the story once again, and he says, “Hey, look. I’ll take care of it. Let me write the law that’s going to make all this legal.” And he buries in Section 607 of the bill–it says, “Un unsalaried state officer is not ineligible for an unsalaried city post.” And so all he has to say, which then still backs up the idea that he is a public servant and not a politician and not corrupt is, “Look, I’m not getting paid for any of this, so I can hold all these jobs. It’s not like I’m making money off of them.” And everyone in legislature are iffy about this, but the press supports Moses. The reformers–who would normally be against someone holding all this power–they support him because they trust him. The Long Island barons–who know that they can do business with him–they support him, the mayor and the governor–they both want him in these positions. So the bill passes, and Moses is sworn in. And as we’ll see in the next chapter, he immediately gets rid of everybody that is not one of his people in the parks department. And at this point–it’s February, 1934–Moses is now head of the Long Island State Park Commission, the New York State Council of Parks, the Jones Beach State Park Authority, the Bethpage State Park Authority, the New York City Park Department, the Triborough Bridge Authority, and the Marine Parkway Authority, which he institutes right afterwards. Every group controlling parks and major roads in the New York metropolitan area he has pretty much personal control of. He’s 45 years old, and he’s got this. And he’s come a long way from the guy who was about to turn 30, who figured that his career in public life was over. And he gets to work right away. The work that the New Deal has been doing to refurbish the parks has been generally “crappy” to use a technical term. And he has his engineers go out, and he goes, “Do an inventory of New York City Parks. There’s no complete record anywhere of how much park space New York City even has or what conditions it’s in.” And they put together this one foot thick notebook with plans for 1800 renovations. It’s going to employ 80,000 people. And there’s this constant stream of staff members. He’s sending them to parks, going with them, dictating his plans as they walk around, sending them to the main office in Babylon that he still has to get it turned into plans. And he’s persuading all these experienced landscape architects to work for him. And his ideas are big and they’re expensive, and his workers are like, “That’s going to cost a lot of money.” And he’s like, “Let me worry about that. Don’t you worry about that. But while you’re working on this, make sure the parks are fun. Parks are for fun.”

ROMAN MARS: Parks are for fun, and Robert Moses is there to work. And the next chapter, we learn about all the things he can do in a very short amount of time. That chapter is called One Year. And that is after this break. So this is Chapter 20: One Year. It sort of starts at the moment that Governor Lehman signs the legislation allowing Moses to be the Citywide Parks Commissioner. And in one of these great moments of Robert Moses being Robert Moses, he gets sworn in, he steps outside, and he tells everyone who used to work for that department, “You’re all fired.”

ELLIOTT KALAN: Up until that point, each borough had its own park commissioner who had their own staff. And it’s almost as if he swears them in and then turns around is like, “They’re all gone by the way.” He just fires them instantly, takes his own people to the Fifth Avenue Arsenal–that’s going to be their headquarters building. Their first job–they’re going to make life so unpleasant for all the civil servants who got patronage jobs that they’re going to quit. So he’s like, “You. You live in the Bronx? Well, you work in Southern Brooklyn now. You live in Brooklyn? You work in Harlem now.” Just make their commutes as bad as possible. He gives them jobs that they hate. And there’s this old lady who has a do nothing job that is kind of like a patronage version of a pension. And they force her to work through the night until at 2:00 AM she’s like, “I’m retiring. That’s it. I don’t want to work here anymore. So they’re just ruthless with it.”

ROMAN MARS: And he also recognizes that there’s a lot of these plum jobs where people do nothing, but there’s a lot of underpaid positions in this part of the government. And he wants to make parks fun above all. He wants to make roads that are good. He wants to have good plans for these things. And the architects and engineers of this time–a lot of ’em are out of work. He wants to attract the best of them. But the salaries are set so low, and they’re set so low because of some sort of different federal guidelines.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yeah, the Civil Works Administration is like, “We can’t spend too much money on this so no one can be paid more than this amount.”

ROMAN MARS: And he’s just like, “Screw all that. I need to get the best people to do this.” So he begins finagling his own sort of system of how to pay people so he can get the best and get these people that–instead of having a foot deep of things that have been undone and neglected and done poorly–he wants to start working through this. And so he’s just trying to solve it in every way possible.

ELLIOTT KALAN: And he has this kind of cattle call for architects. He wants to hire 600 architects. And this is another occupation that’s been hit hard. Like you said, if the depression is going on, people are not building things. And so if you’re an architect or an engineer, you’re out of work–you can’t make any money. And this is a time when there’s no unemployment right now. There’s no unemployment insurance. These are all things that are being introduced during this time. And so people from all over–they flock to this kind of cattle call. And in one day in January, people are there from dawn until the early evening, interviewing for jobs. If you meet most qualifications, you’re put to work that day. And they send you to the basement, and they say, “That’s your desk. There’s a cot next to it. Work on this plan. Don’t leave. Sleep here until it’s done. We need those blueprints ready.” And he’s also unhappy with the workers that have been doing this refurbishing job in the parks. So he says to contractors who he knows, “Send me your toughest ramrods. These are the people whose job is just to bully people into working harder.” I guess they’re supervisors. He goes, “Send me your toughest ramrods. I’m going to have them backed up by police officers. We’re going to force everybody to work harder.” And they’re working through the winter. And this is winter in New York. Now, Roman, you’re a Northern California guy. The winter’s there are pretty mild, right?

ROMAN MARS: It’s very mild. Yeah.

ELLIOTT KALAN: I live in Southern California. The winter’s here–it just means rain sometimes. But this is New York. Winter is a real thing there. And the winter of 1934 when this is all happening is severe. The city gets 52 inches of snow. Caro says, “The mean temperature for February is 11.5 degrees.” And Moses has people working in eight-hour shifts, three shifts a day, through the night, in the cold, to get these projects done. On February 22nd, it snows 18 inches. They keep working through it, and they’re working so hard that they’re actually working ahead of plans. And the architects have to keep changing their blueprints to accommodate work that’s being done, things that are being dug, and pipes that are being laid because it’s happening so fast. And one of the big projects, which we’ll spend more time on a little bit later in the chapter, is a new Central Park Zoo to replace this menagerie full of lions that you have to shoot in case they escape. And the architects finished the plans for the zoo in 16 days because they’re working just so many hours and they’re working so hard on it.

ROMAN MARS: It’s amazing.

ELLIOTT KALAN: The first culmination of this: Saturday, May 1st, 1934. For anyone who has lived in New York, you know that when spring hits in New York City, it is like the world has turned over. Everything feels so different. Everyone comes out kind of like their eyes blinking because the sun is so bright. They’re all wearing coats, and they just shed them. People are just shedding clothes in the street because they’re not used to the heat that’s coming up. And New Yorkers emerged from the winter doldrums to find that, out of this 1,800 park renovation projects, 1,700 have been completed. And there’s a… Hold on. We’re already going long, but I’m going to just say a little bit of this description here just to give the scale of it. It says, “Every structure and every park in the city had been repainted, every tennis court had been resurfaced, every lawn had been reseeded, eight antiquated golf courses had been reshaped, 11 miles of bridal paths rebuilt, 38 miles of walks repaved, 145 comfort stations renovated, 284 statues refurbished, 678 drinking fountains repaired, 7,000 wastepaper baskets replaced, 22,500 benches re-slatted, 7,000 dead trees removed, 11,000 new ones planted in their place and 62,000 others pruned, 86 miles of fencing–most of it unnecessary–torn down, and 19 miles of new fencing installed in its place.”

ROMAN MARS: Necessary fencing, I suppose.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yeah, the unnecessary fencing, I have to assume, is around things that are damaged–that people can’t use anymore. And the parks look better than they have in at least a generation. And for the first time in years, the USS Maine Memorial on Columbus Circle, which is still there. I used to walk by it all the time when I worked in that area. For the first time that anyone can remember, it’s clean and has all its pieces. Part of that statue is a little boy. And the arms of that boy had been missing for so long. And for movie fans, this is where, in the movie Taxi Driver, Robert De Niro’s character–Travis Bickle–is about to assassinate a presidential candidate and then runs off when he gets noticed. And so you have to imagine that scene loses some of its power or maybe it gains some–I don’t know–if the statue behind Charles Palantine, the candidate, is just wrecked and is just in bad shape.

ROMAN MARS: That’s right. And this is happening all over the city. Parks all over the city are getting refurbished. They’re getting to a state where people can really enjoy them again. And this is, again, why that whole last chapter spent so much time on this. It’s to show you how far the city had come and how far it had come because of Robert Moses.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Caro is presenting a real Moses before and after on this city. There’s a real rebirth in the parks facilities, and there will be again with the roads later on. But I wanted to highlight two things. One of the things they did is they rebuilt the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, which I’m very thankful for because I went to that zoo many times. I took my children there probably a hundred times. It’s a great little zoo. And reading this, I was like, “Oh yeah, Robert Moses didn’t just cause problems in my life around mass transit. He also did things that were still positive in my life years later.” Like, Bryant Park–which is a beautiful, necessary park–was garbage. And then they refurbished it. They restore Central Park, they remove the shantytown, they evict the deformed sheep, they kill 230,000 rats, they build new equipments and facilities, and they build the restaurant Tavern on the Green, where 40 some odd years later, my father proposed to my mother before they got married, leading to me. So Robert Moses is very responsible for me at this point for my existence. The city doesn’t have money to buy new land for parks, even though the land is very cheap right now during the depression. So Moses sends one of his men–a man named Bill Latham. He goes, “Inventory every piece of publicly owned land in the city. Any city department that owns a piece of land–go find out about it, look at it personally, and see if it’s being used.” And they find just a ton of unused or abandoned land all over the city. And Moses is able to convince LaGuardia to give the parks department almost all of that land. And he starts plans right away for 69 parks and playgrounds in slum areas. And they redeveloped this whole multiblock, downtown plot that is now Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, which I mentioned just because, as an NYU student downtown, if I was going a little bit further downtown, I walked through that park all the time. You can walk through the city and still see so many footprints of Robert Moses all over the place. And he’s so knowledgeable about the law and about public funding mechanisms that even when it seems like there’s no money, he’s always finding money. He’s like, “Oh yeah, there’s all this land that the state owns in the city that they forgot about. Give it to us.” He’s like, “Wasn’t there a memorial fund for a World War I Memorial that never got built? Well, we’ll build War Memorial Playgrounds. We’ll use that money.” He’s like, “Didn’t Arnold Rothstein, the mobster…? When he died, didn’t he have a lot of unpaid back taxes, but he owns some land? And so he goes to his Arnold Rothstein’s estate, and he’s like, “Well, in exchange for this land, we’ll forgive the back taxes.” He’s constantly wheedling and finding ways to get what he wants. He goes to the Catholic church and the gas company and all these rich philanthropists, and he is like, “Hey, don’t you want to give us some land for some parks and playgrounds? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” And the press is orgasmic about all of this. They just love him. He’s in the New York Times nearly once a day for all of 1934, which is certainly more times than Albert Einstein–to use Caro’s earlier metric for how many times Moses is in the paper. Although actually in this chapter, I think he mentions that he’s in the paper more often than J. Edgar Hoover. That’s the metric he uses for this chapter.

ROMAN MARS: Yeah. It is really remarkable. And again, this is one of these things where you just get through this and you think, “If I was a person around at that time, I would have a Robert Moses foam finger. I mean, I would just be all about all of this.” And it is really stunning. And I love these ways that he gets around things like using the War Memorial Fund and then building the War Memorial Playgrounds. And he just puts a plaque that just says, “War. Remember it.”

ELLIOTT KALAN: “‘In Honor of Those We Lost.’ We did it. Great. Bring in the playground equipment.” But it’s something that I’d be curious to talk to a historian of parks, I guess, about whether that started the idea of public parks having war memorials embedded in them because there’s certainly a lot of them now. I was just at a park with my kids where there was this memorial to the soldiers who came from the San Marino area near Los Angeles that lost their lives in World War II and Korea. And there’s a statue of a soldier kneeling bareheaded in remembrance. And my son could not stop climbing on it. And I was like, “Please don’t climb on that. Let’s respect their memory.” But there’s so much of that now, and I wonder if it starts here. But this part of the chapter culminates in this beautiful section of the book–this five page section–all about the new Central Park Zoo. Those plans were put together so fast. On December 3rd, 1934, my birthday– Not that year. I was born 47 years later. But at the end of the year, Moses opens this new Central Park Zoo as a way to personally honor Al Smith. Al Smith is so depressed that Roosevelt won’t consider him for a federal job, and he spends a lot of time at the Central Park Menagerie. As we know, when he was governor, he had his executive mansion menagerie. He loves animals. And he’s like, “As a special favor to the old man, won’t you improve the Central Park Menagerie?” And because he loves Smith, Moses makes the zoo a top priority. And he’s diverting people from other projects to it. And he turns it into another one of these kind of not quite early Disneyland, kind of fantasy, fairy worlds. And he is such a master at public ceremonies–at public presentations. And he has this ceremony, and Caro does such a great job describing it. There’s 1,200 people there. And a team of white ponies pulls a miniature coach up, and a little girl gets out, holding a big gold key. And LaGuardia uses that key to unlock a door in the middle of an oversized picture book. And when he opens it, he’s like, “Now the Picture Book Zoo is open! It’s officially open!” And they surprise Smith. They give him a badge naming him “Honorary Night Superintendent of the Central Park Zoo.” And a horse drawn wagon full of boys from the Fourth Ward, his old neighborhood, singing East Side West Side shows up. And they present Smith with a Christmas turkey, which is this strangely Dickensian choice. I mean, Christmas is coming up. They’re like, “Yeah, we love you. Here’s the turkey.” And Moses is not there because he was working so hard that he collapsed from influenza. He was working through a sickness, and he just literally couldn’t stand up anymore. So he misses all this. But later that week, he gives Smith a real key–this master key–that unlocks the zoo and all the animal houses. And he goes, “As night superintendent, you can go in whenever you want.” And Al Smith will spend so many nights–years, I guess–just walking from his apartment to the zoo, unlocking it at night, and just going in and petting the animals at night. If there’s a sick animal, he’ll go and talk to it for a while. And he likes to bring guests. And he’ll go up to the tiger cage and he’ll go, “La Guardia!” to make the tiger roar back because of the idea that the Tammany Tiger is mad at what La Guardia is doing to the city. And there’s something so adorable about all of this. It’s so delightful–just this act of love for Al Smith in making this zoo beautiful and giving him a special key to it.

ROMAN MARS: I love it so much. It just cracks me up. And it’s one of those things of all these sort of different indignities that probably he wouldn’t have suffered if he didn’t have the ego he had. There weren’t true indignities. They’re just, like, life moves on and it’s okay type of thing. But the fact that he gets this in his later life and it means so much to him and it is so innocuous and cute–you know what I mean? It’s just the greatest. I mean, it’s so funny that this thing means more to him than his $50,000 a year Empire State job that he does not give a fuck about. And the fact that he has this for the rest of his days absolutely cracks me up.

ELLIOTT KALAN: I feel every adult has a child inside of them, which is what, I guess, the Disney brand is built on. And if you’re a pregnant woman, even more literally so. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. But in terms of, like, certain powerful people and politicians, that child lives even closer to the surface. I’m always surprised when I read about presidents, and I’ll just hear about the childish things that they loved or that meant a lot to them. And there’s something in Al Smith that he just loves the zoo. And he just wants to be around these animals. And it means so much to him. It’s very sweet. And once again, Moses has done all these amazing design touches that make the zoo a fun place to be. And people go there in droves. And Caro says here, “The purpose of a park–Moses had been telling his designers for years–wasn’t to overawe or impress. It was to encourage the having of a good time.” Like we were saying earlier, parks are for fun. This is Moses’ philosophy in good and bad ways. In good ways because parks should be fun. In bad ways because he’s like, “Why would we want a natural grove of trees that have stood here since the beginning of time when we could have a baseball field?” It’s bad for conservation, but it’s good for recreation. But we can’t spend too much time on the Central Park Zoo, as much as I would love to stay there, because on page 386, we get a momentous sentence: “And the Triborough Bridge was finally being built.” That’s right. The Triborough Bridge. This is the biggest project that Moses has taken on yet, and let’s just get… How big is it? Well, let’s find out by looking at the thing here. This is Caro, not me. “Its approach ramps would be so huge that houses–not only single family homes, but sizable apartment buildings–would have to be demolished by the hundreds to give them footing. Its anchorages–the masses of concrete in which its cables would be embedded–would be as big as any pyramid built by an Egyptian Pharaoh. Its roadways would be wider than the widest roadways built by the Caesars of Rome. To construct those anchorages and to pave those roadways, just the roadways of the bridge proper itself, not the approach roads, would require enough concrete to pave a four lane highway from New York to Philadelphia–enough to reopen depression shuttered cement factories from Maine to Mississippi, to make the girders on which that concrete would be laid. Depression banked furnaces would have to be fired up at no fewer than 50 separate Pennsylvania steel mills to provide enough lumber for the forms into which that concrete would be poured. An entire forest would have to crash on the Pacific Coast on the opposite side of the American continent.” It’s just like this is a massive project. It’s so huge. It’s the pyramids. It’s the Roman roads. It’s enormous. And it’s really four bridges with which you’re going to link three boroughs and two islands. There’s the Harlem River span that connects Manhattan and Randall’s Island, the Bronx Kill span connects Randall’s Island to the Bronx, the Hellgate span between Wards Island and Randall’s Island–they’re basically the same place, I think they filled them in and made it one big thing–connecting Wards Island and Queens, and the causeway that connects Randall’s Island and Wards Island itself. And this will include the largest vertical lift bridge in the world and one of the largest suspension bridges in the world at that time. And on Randall’s Island, there’s going to be this Cloverleaf exchange where 22 lanes of traffic have to wind around each other, never crossing at the same level. They have to go above or beyond, forcing drivers to stop at one but never more than one toll booth along the way. And Caro calls it “the largest traffic machine ever built.” It’s just this astonishingly sized bridge. It’s just huge.

ROMAN MARS: And if you are not from the area, which I am not–so I’m not sort of intimately familiar with how all these things connect–this section here is, like, a little jarring. You’re like, “It does this and this and these things and joins this and stuff.” And just know, I think, the big lessons are that it is a huge project. It’s one of the biggest that the world had ever seen. It’s linking all these places that had never been linked before. And I think importantly for the rest of the book, this traffic engine funded with nickels and quarters from people passing through it is going to be one of the other major pillars of Robert Moses’ power from here on out.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes. And he will eventually become kind of synonymous with the Triborough Bridge Authority. And he has offices all over the city, but the offices on Randall’s Island of the Triborough Bridge Authority–that’s his headquarters. Roman, I know you’ll be delighted when they talk about how they had their own flag and their own seal. They’re basically like a city within a city. All that is going to happen. And so this big project–we’ll see in future episodes–Moses is not just thinking this is a huge bridge. He’s thinking this is a huge lever of power–that the Triborough Bridge Authority, which is ostensibly built and ostensibly exists to build this bridge and then go away.

ROMAN MARS: Build the bridge and stop. The key is that it usually stops–but not under Robert Moses.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Not under Moses. It doesn’t have to stop. But we’ll get to those future machinations when Caro tells us about ’em. The point is that in 1934, Moses is, as always, seeing this as a way to get his other stuff done too. He’s going to link this up to his parkways. He’s going to build new parks on Randall’s Island and Wards Island, even if that means kicking out the city hospital for the feeble-minded and tubercular and the Manhattan State Hospital for the insane. This was… He’s so good at finding things that have been undervalued and then making value out of them. And one of these things is these islands because until now they’ve just been a place–even though it’s centrally located in the middle of the city–a place just to dump the unwanted. And unfortunately, the plans that Tammany put together for the Triborough Bridge are not great. We mentioned already they didn’t plan any roads to actually get to the bridge. He finds that the Manhattan terminus for the bridge is 25 blocks farther north than it really should be, which means that if you go do that, you’re going to have to drive 50 unnecessary blocks–25 up and then 25 back again–which is, like, two and a half miles. But he learns that they did that because William Randolph Hearst, one of the most powerful newspaper barons in the city–everyone knows that he was the slight inspiration for Citizen Kane–he owned some land there that he wanted to sell to the city. And Moses is like, “I’m not going to pick a fight with a guy who owns newspapers. So we’re just going to leave that there. We’re going to leave that on 125th Street.”

ROMAN MARS: And this is another one of these little jags in the road that were determined by rich people–that Robert Moses accepts despite his character of being the champion of the people.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Exactly. When power meets power, power will accommodate power. When power meets not power, it will get rid of it. Like, for instance, the whole bridge–the original plans call for it to be covered in granite because there’s some Tammany guys who own granite quarries. And that means the bridge is going to cost many millions of dollars more than it’s supposed to. And they also mentioned that in the designs, the lanes are too narrow. So where it says eight lanes in this part, it’s really only going to be six lanes on this doubledeck, 16-lane design. This bridge is not designed properly. And two years earlier, Moses had looked at these plans, and he was like, “Can we remove the granite?” And the engineer on the bridge was a guy who had been a Tammany man since 1886. And he goes, “No.” And now Moses–his boss–he calls him, and he says, “What’s more important, the granite or the access roads that we should spend the money on?” And the guy goes, “The granite.” And Moses goes, “You’re fired.” So he hires this new engineer, the Swiss designer of the George Washington Bridge. His name is Othmar Hermann Ammann, which is my new favorite name in the book. There’s so many good names in this book. I’ve never met anyone named Othmar. Someday I hope to. And they have this new plan. They’re not going to have granite. It’s going to be a single-deck. There’s going to be six lanes on the Manhattan arm and eight lanes on the other arms. And the cost of the bridge goes down from a projected $51 million to $30 million. And now there’s going to be a surplus in the budget that they can use to build some parkway links as long as they’re defined as “approach roads.” It doesn’t matter if the road goes many miles farther as long as long as it approaches the bridge.

ROMAN MARS: Well, that’s right because the money from the P.W.A. is bridge money. And rightfully, he goes to the P.W.A. and says, “Well, bridge money doesn’t matter if roads don’t connect to those bridges. So let’s use some of that money for approach roads.” And again, this is one of those things where it’s not quite like the War Memorial Playgrounds where you just slap a plaque on it and make it work. I think this is legitimately an expansion of the idea in the spirit of the idea.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Somewhat. I think so. He’s making the idea work for him. I think he’s making the spirit work for him. And when there’s not land available for approach roads, Moses makes it. He’s dumping sand and stone into the water off Jackson Heights to make land. And there’s a section where it’s all about these kind of elaborate Rubik’s Cube moves he has to do in order to find the land along 125th Street that he can use, where he’s finding old covenants written to the deeds of the businesses there that say the city can take some of the land. And then he’s kind of making deals with one business that will build this tunnel if it means you don’t have access to the water anymore. And he manages to finagle money from the city government and the federal government, and then the authority’s going to pay for some of it. He’s brilliant at not just seeing what can be built but then making the deals and the arrangements so that it can be built–so not just what should be there, but what can be there. And this is kind of a little preview of a chapter we’ll see later on where Caro will go into a lot of detail about the different ways Moses cuts down the amount of money that he needs for a project. And finally by the end, he gets permission to build parks on Randall Ward’s Island. They say, “You can build a 10,000-seat stadium.” He goes, “No, I need a 70,000-seat stadium, and it needs the largest movable, outdoor stage in the world.” And as we’ll see later, this theater gets drastically misused just to present the kinds of things that Robert Moses thinks people should watch, which is… Well, we’ll get to that later, but it essentially becomes the private kingdom of… Is it Guy Lombardo, I think? And he’s like, “The labor won’t cost the city anything because the federal government’s going to pay for it.” So he convinces the mayor and the governor, “Kick all the asylum patients off the islands. Tear down those buildings. We can do it.” But while he’s doing all this reconstruction for positive reasons–defensible reasons–he has one thing at the end of the chapter that he does out of a sense of pure hatred and spite just for hatred of Jimmy Walker. He says, “I control Central Park now. I’m going to tear down the Central Park Casino.” And there is no financial sense in this. It’s still a functioning business that could give the city money. There’s no aesthetic sense in it. It’s a beautiful building. It was lavishly and lovingly made. It’s a historic piece of the city. There’s a community sense to keep it up. It is something that the community could use. But he refuses to let it stand because he just hates Walker. He hated the way Walker treated Al Smith. And this causes the first kind of glimmers of defection from these reformers. And they realized that this bill that Moses wrote that they supported gives him the power to do anything to any park–anything without oversight and without reason. He can destroy anything. This one judge puts an injunction in place and he goes, “If he can tear down this, he can tear down the obelisk in Central Park”–this Egyptian obelisk that is thousands of years old and sits outside the Metropolitan Museum. And that gets appealed to the appellate court. And the appellate court is like, “We don’t like it, but the way this law is written–yeah–he can tear that down. He can do whatever he wants.” And they start to realize, “Oh, all this stuff that we did because we trusted him… He can do things that we did not intend for him to do.” And they tear down the casino. And except for some stained glass windows that get repurposed in a police station, it’s just gone. It’s gone forever. We’ll never see it. And I can’t help but wonder, if it was still standing, maybe my dad would’ve proposed to my mom there instead of Tavern on the Green. We’ll never know. That’s one of those what-ifs folks–the sliding doors moment–alternate universe.

ROMAN MARS: And this is really true. And it’s really kind of odd because Jimmy Walker has left this stage and gone to Europe with his mistress at this point.

ELLIOTT KALAN: He’s a non-entity. Yeah.

ROMAN MARS: And he’s just associated with this casino because it was his sort of personal playground. There’s no reason why you can’t scrub it of these associations and make it into something that would work for the city. You could make it something wholesome or whatever, but this symbol–he wants it erased and eradicated. And he does it. And as soon as the appellate court rules, before anyone else can appeal to another higher level of court, he just knocks the thing down.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yeah, he just destroys it. And the lesson from this that he learns is I can do whatever I want. I know this. In the parks, I’m a king. And it’s going to eventually lead in a later episode… He will attempt to destroy a much more historic structure in New York City that has much more meaning to it, fully knowing that the laws that he wrote says he can do it. And if no one else is going to stop him through the other levers of power, he’s unstoppable. And so it’s this first moment we see– Robert Moses started making the bad guy turn in our last episode. He is now kind of a bad guy working for exciting and good purposes. He’s building all these parks. He’s making this big bridge. But he’s going to get more and more bad guy from this point on.

ROMAN MARS: The real thing that changes for him is that he’s going to be focused on things that are not just parks anymore, and it’s going to center more on roads. And then it’s going to center more on housing. And all of a sudden these reformers are very much not going to like this man.

ELLIOTT KALAN: It turns out when the parks man turns his godlike eye to things that are not parks, they’re like, “Oh, hold on a second. Wait, maybe we shouldn’t have given the best bill drafter in Albany the ability to get whatever he wants. Hold on a sec.”

ROMAN MARS: That’s right. But we’ll cover that on the next episode. But on this episode, we’re going to now talk to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about what it means to get things done and grind people under her heel.

ELLIOTT KALAN: It’d be so funny if we talked to her, and she’s like, “Yes, that’s what you have to do. You’ve got to crush people.” “Wow. This is not what we expected.”

ROMAN MARS: Our special guest on this episode of The 99% Invisible Breakdown of the Power Broker is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She has served the 14th New York Congressional district since 2019, taking office at the age of 29, making her the youngest woman to serve in the US Congress. Years ago, in her first term, someone asked her what she did on the train from New York to D.C., and she said that, among other things, she listened to 99% Invisible. So I’m delighted that we get to have her on the show. Representative Ocasio-Cortez, what is your relationship with Robert Moses and this book, The Power Broker?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, in some ways I actually think if it wasn’t for Robert Moses, I probably wouldn’t have run for Congress. My dad grew up when the Bronx was burning, and he actually became an architect as a direct inspiration of… And in a lot of ways he was inspired by all this calamity around him. He saw all of these buildings that were burning down–the arson that was happening–at a very young age, at six years old. He decided that he saw all of these buildings tumbling down and he wanted to be one of the people who built them back up, and that’s how he decided to become an architect. That’s how he remained committed to staying in the Bronx. It was very rare for people, especially from the Bronx, especially Latinos, especially Puerto Rican, at that time, to get any sort of highered degree in that era but particularly to become an architect. And so I grew up with a very unique and distinct perspective about why this happened and also the community response to it and kind of, like, this alternative perspective of what was happening to the people on the ground while the Cross Bronx Expressway was constructed, while landlords were setting fire to their own buildings and all of the fallout and social fallout that happened as a result of civil engineering and urban design decisions.

ROMAN MARS: That’s so fascinating. I feel like I was very late to this in terms of incorporating this into my worldview, but you had it so young. What did that do to you?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think it really was a big source of the commitment to community in my family actually. It’s interesting because I didn’t grow up in a particularly explicitly political family, I’d say. They didn’t strongly identify as Democrats or Republicans. I mean, they always tended to vote for Democrats–we’re in New York–but it was a family that was very rooted in community and the impact of these decisions. And so I think I grew up a lot with that idea of the decisions around us are made by people, and it’s really important for us to not just pay attention to it but that we can have a hand in it. And most of the times it wasn’t even through an explicit political process, it was largely done through organizing communities around us and in much less formal ways–getting someone a job down the street, checking in on people, and seeing if we could get them a good Union City job. And that was a big part of what shaped my upbringing.

ROMAN MARS: And when did this idea that there were people making these decisions that were possibly or probably making lives worse by those decisions–when did that coalesce into the name “Robert Moses” in your consciousness?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: That I think happened maybe a little bit later on. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had heard the name growing up, but it probably kind of washed over. I think maybe in my late teens or early 20s is when I started to really connect those dots more explicitly because that’s when I started really asking my dad these stories because he would always talk about this time about why the buildings were going down and the arsons that were happening. And I started to dig a lot more into why that time happened, and it came to really the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway when Reagan came and said that the South Bronx looked like Dresden after World War II. And then I kind of dug into why the Cross Bronx and how did that happen. And I think that’s where Robert Moses came into the picture of my consciousness.

ROMAN MARS: Your district includes so many Robert Moses projects: the Triborough Bridge, the Bronx–Whitestone Bridge, the Throgs Neck Bridge, the Cross Bronx Expressway… What is it like living in a district shaped by so many Moses productions?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: It’s like the opposite of entering houses of faith, where you’ll walk into this cathedral and every design decision is to make it feel liberatory and expansive and soaring. And I think one of the things that I really did not appreciate until I went to college and lived in a different city is how much the civic and urban planning really affects the psyche of the communities that occupy and have to endure these decisions because, until you experience something else, you’re just living in it. You think it’s just life, and there is a psychic weight to living in communities that are designed to be disconnected. It affects your social life. My neighborhood that I’m from in the Bronx in Parkchester–we have some of the longest commutes in all of New York City. And it is a commute not just to work, it is a commute to do anything. It is a commute to connect socially. It is a commute to connect spiritually if you are part of a faith community. It is a commute to go get your groceries. And so these decisions are designed to disconnect, disempower, and isolate people. And when you layer that with a lot of Robert Moses’ racist intent to very much do so to a very specific kind of people–Black, brown, low-income, poor, etc.–and when you contrast that with other neighborhoods or other cities, you can really see how it actually builds in organizing challenges to communities who actually want to empower themselves politically.

ELLIOTT KALAN: It makes sense that it would have that kind of psychic toll. His stated reason is that people need to get through this area much faster. And what that means is it’s an area that you’re not meant to go to or to stay in. Its only value is as a way to get from one place to another. And I was on the Cross Bronx Expressway just a few weeks ago and was looking from side to side on it, just thinking, “Yeah, to walk from that building to that building should take a couple minutes, but there’s this enormous road. There’s this cut going right between the two. And what an almost biblical sized division that is between two places.” You were saying that it’s a real… It gets in the way of organized and things like that. How do you get around something like that to maintain a life that might have to be on opposite sides of this enormous almost, like, moat cutting off two sections from each other?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, it still persists today. I think there are things we can do, but there’s a certain aspect to it that there’s no getting around it. This is a gash through an enormous community, not just in New York City but also one of the more famed communities in the United States. And it is designed to separate. I think it was like a year or two ago, the New York Times had come out with this New York City visual map, and it kind of pegged what people called certain neighborhoods in the city. “What is Greenwich Village? What counts as Bed-Stuy?” And one of the interesting responses that I saw is that when you would go to the Bronx, if you live in the Bronx, they don’t always call where they live by their neighborhood. They will say the street that they live on, or they’ll call it by the boulevard. So in Hunts Point, a lot of people don’t say, “I live by Hunts Point.”” Sometimes they do. But a lot of people will say, “I live on Southern Boulevard.” Or people will say, “I live by East Tremont.” And I think that really shows, even today, the culture of the Bronx is very much defined even in very small ways in how we relate to the infrastructure around us because so many of these neighborhoods have been artificially cut through. If you take the example of Hunts Point, Hunts Point is on the other side of Longwood. And what goes in the middle–it’s Hunts Point. Then you kind of have, I believe, the Bruckner Expressway. And then on the other side you have the neighborhood Longwood. But a lot of these neighborhoods have been artificially segmented, and so people don’t even sometimes know what to call where they live. And so they’ve developed these new ways of relating to the built space around them. And so to me–how you organize around that–it is very challenging. And it’s unsurprising that now the Cross Bronx itself has become a unifying target of activism in the Bronx. And that is actually the thing that has separated us for decades is now the thing that is starting to unite us in order to build a movement around capping the Cross Bronx, around environmental justice activism, and many, many other topics as well.

ELLIOTT KALAN: So in a way, you could say Robert Moses is a real hero by giving them something to unite around. Finally, he made it happen!


ROMAN MARS: So in the book, The Power Broker, Robert Caro explains both Robert Moses and Governor Al Smith coming to Albany, studying really hard, learning the way the government works, and learning how to get things done. And when we spoke with Jamelle Bouie in our second episode, he expressed his disdain for term limits because he thinks that the first couple of terms, you’re just learning how to do things. And what is your experience with that? Has government– Is it the same way? Has it gotten more intuitive? What does it take to learn the ropes the way they did a hundred years ago and today?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: It’s really, really true. I am in my third term here in Congress, and it really does take years to truly map out and understand how things work. There is the way that people tell you things work or on paper or if you read the law. “This agency’s responsible for that thing.” But then there’s the way that the world actually works. And having to map out–yes–this agency technically has jurisdiction over that thing, but the people who really have influence that make the call as to whether that agency gives it a green light or a red light is someone else entirely. And one of the most effective political tools that oftentimes the opposition uses in government is the wild goose chase. And a lot of times you spend your first couple years trying to do something and being sent on wild goose chases–trying to track down what is the door that actually opens the possibility that you are seeking. And there is no way around that, I don’t think. I think that’s just part of a function of not just government but almost any organization–knowing who the real gatekeepers are and who the real positions of influence are. And that is ever evolving and shifting and changing because knowledge is power and knowledge should be power. I think that people who know how to do things well–who are skilled and effective–ideally, and of course democratically, we want to make sure that there’s multi democratic structures around it. But at the same time, you do want the people in charge to be knowing what they’re doing and having that balance between those two things. And so for me, I feel like I’m just kind of hitting a place where I’m able to be more effective than I have been before. And the steps between wanting to do something and getting it done are shortening not just because of a substance understanding but because of a social and bureaucratic and governance understanding.

ELLIOTT KALAN: The only way to learn that, it sounds like, is to really experience it–is to be actively seeking it and paying attention. It isn’t like they swear you in and then they’re like, “Here’s the… Let me hand you the actual instructions for how these things work. Don’t show anyone what I just gave.” You have to put in the work of learning it yourself is what it sounds like.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: To be honest, especially if you’re a woman or if you come from a community of color or if you run and you come from a working class background and you don’t come from a highly connected political or wealth-based background. You have a different track; you have a steeper learning curve. Mentorship is everything. And people from certain backgrounds or even sometimes from certain political spaces or political circles have access to a certain degree of an inside track of greater mentorship–greater social esteem–that can get you to move faster. And it’s not just a question of identity, but it is a factor. If you come in as a woman and you don’t know how to golf and you are less relatable to the people who have historically held these positions, you either need to really, really fight to win the trust of those folks or you just need to keep really fighting for longer. And so sometimes it’s just a scrap. Yeah.

ELLIOTT KALAN: That makes sense. It’s something that has come up a few times while we were talking about the book is personalities. Robert Moses so depends on Al Smith’s mentorship. It’s because Al Smith just likes being around him. They just get along as two guys who like to sing together. Whereas I imagine it’s much harder if there’s not someone already there who sees that connection in you and is like, “well, you remind me of me, so I want to be with you and kind of guide you through this.” It’s all personality.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: It’s hugely personality-driven. And I think it’s understandable to look at things like this and be like, “I can’t believe this is how decisions are made in our government. Really? Just because some guy–some other guy–or whatever? That’s how this happened?” But you think about your own workplace, and this is how things happen oftentimes in our own workplace. It’s important to like the people that you are spending huge amounts of time with. I’m going to be honest. I see it behind closed doors. Yeah, sometimes certain decisions suffer because the person advocating for it is annoying. Just straight up. I’ve seen people in power having to choose. And sometimes this happens where it’s like all things are equal and there’s a tiebreaker, right? And what breaks the tie oftentimes… It’s not that huge, enormous decisions are just all made just because of this one thing, but there’s a lot of ties. And people in positions of power are tiebreakers. And a lot of times it comes down to gut. Who do I trust? How do I feel about this? What do I think about that person’s judgment? Do I understand where they’re coming from? And it matters! It matters. It’s crazy, but it matters. And likability matters.

ROMAN MARS: This comes up a lot in the book because Robert Moses’ graduate thesis was pretty much a treatise on why people like Al Smith shouldn’t be governor. But they become friends, and then he amasses so much power because of the support of Al Smith. And contrary to that, Al Smith pretty much agreed with Roosevelt on almost everything–his successor–but when the New Deal was enacted, Al Smith was just completely against it, even though it sort of contained all the values he seemed to have when he was governing, just because by that point he was mad at Roosevelt. He didn’t like Roosevelt, and so he hated the new deal. And it just is like, over and over again, you see this in this book. And it sounds like that really rings true to today as well.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Oh yeah, I have seen… I mean, it’s terrible. It is awful. And it’s not to say that everybody operates in this way. But when we think about governance, there are hundreds of members of Congress, there are thousands of people in positions of decision-making power, and some of them are going to be spiteful and human nature. And I have seen people make terrible, hurtful decisions because they had an ax to grind. And especially the more you are in places of elevated kind of bird’s eye view decision making, the more the decisions can feel smaller even though the impact is so large and especially because a lot of times it’s about trade-offs. It’s not just “Are you going to do this or not?” But it’s “Who is going to get this?” And that is a lot easier to facilitate if people are trying to settle scores and things like that. To be honest, score settling is also a function of power. If you are a person in a position of power and you continue to allow yourself to be disrespected or crossed or you let people break their word to you and there is actually no consequence, then people learn that they can break their word to this person and it won’t be a big deal. And if you want to be effective, you need to be able to hold someone accountable. And so sometimes it’s spite, but also sometimes it’s just accountability. You can’t let someone walk all over you if you want to get and secure things for the communities that you advocate for.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Well, it’s interesting the way you’re putting it is such a great way of illustrating kind of the two sides of the idea of power–that when we think about power and someone wants power, there’s kind of an evil feel to that. But in order to accomplish things, you need a certain amount of power and you need to have other people respect your ability to do it and also trust that you can do it. And so what you’re saying is sometimes it’s almost like you need to be slightly petty in order to maintain the foundation that allows you to convince other people that they should do things or you can do things, which is unfortunate–I guess–that it can’t just be just sweet wishes and good arguments to get people on your side.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think about it as a proper sense of justice.

ELLIOTT KALAN: That’s a great way to put it. That’s a great way to put it. This is the difference between– you are an effective politician and I’m an effective comedy writer, so I’m like, “yeah, yeah. So it’s just power.” You’re like a mob boss, and you’re like, “This is about justice. This is about effective justice.”

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: But I think you hit at a very good point, which is– But also it illuminates a certain paradox, which is if we all think that only terrible people want power and we adopt that as almost like a cultural cliché or norm, then only terrible people will pursue power because people who want to be good and goodhearted then associate power with a negative thing. And then the people that does not bother so much will seek it. And so then we get a self-selection bias. And so I think that it’s not about power or not power, it’s about how you use it. It’s about standards for which we pursue it and standards for which we allow ourselves to be held accountable to when power is in the mix.

ELLIOTT KALAN: It gets so at the heart of what we’ve been talking about with the book where Robert Moses, at times, is this very ambitious public civic person. And he has goals that are often positive goals–not as much when he’s carving up the Bronx but earlier in his career when he wants to build the best public beach that there’s ever been, and he wants to have park space. And the way he does accomplish so much of that is by misusing that power and being kind of a monster. And so how do you– You strike me as not a monster.


ELLIOTT KALAN: How do you exert power to achieve those goals without losing sight of the ideals that brought you to those goals in the first place? How do you keep yourself balanced in that way?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, to me, I think of it as a discipline. People think about politics in terms of the food fight that you see in the media, but it is a vocation actually. And I think we don’t talk about the vocation of politics that much in our public discourse. And what we rob ourselves when we don’t discuss politics as a vocation are the skills, disciplines, and kind of lifelong sharpening that is required when you are in a position of public service. And so to me, that question of efficacy and ethics are… That’s the iron sharpen iron element of this. There are certain tight ropes that you’re always walking, and you cannot lean too far in one way or another. If you are trying to be far too kind of answering every single ethical question under the sun in whether you decide what printer paper you’re going to use in the library, then you’re never going to get anything done. You’re never going to build the world that we’re fighting for. At the same time, if you are too expedient in your decision making and too dismissive in the name of efficacy, then you will end up unrecognizable. And so when I think about the sets of questions that I’m asking myself on a near daily basis, this is often one of them. It’s on literally a day by day, case by case basis. “Should we make this trade off or should we stand and fight?” is a daily question. What is the hill worth dying on? And that is something that I think is very often communally and community-based. We do a lot of consensus building, and so it’s not just me making a decision, but I will ask and talk to a lot of people and say, “You know what? On this one, let’s just say ‘F it’ and go for it.” And on other times, it’s like, “This is too important to get wrong.” That’s a huge element. But there are many other strings like that, too.

ROMAN MARS: People who really hate Robert Moses can sort of admire him in two different aspects. One is that Jones Beach is pretty great. Okay.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: So is Orchard Beach, by the way, which is also in the district.

ELLIOTT KALAN: I feel like that’s the most amazing thing is it’s like, “how do I promote my district? Hold on. My district has the better beach. This is great. Hold on.”

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I’m shrewd! I’m shrewd!

ELLIOTT KALAN: Exactly. Every opportunity to bring somebody to the Bronx–somebody to the district. Yeah.

ROMAN MARS: But the other thing is that he got big things done. A lot of people say that there should be some more Robert Moses spirit in things–just the things that I want to do. And you have big ambitious plans for the world. You’ve sort of brought the Green New Deal to people’s attention when you joined Congress. How do you sort of implement big things? I would imagine those ethical and efficacy questions get more and more complicated–exponentially more complicated–the bigger and bigger the idea is, the more land you have to move, the more people you have to get on board, and the more social systems you have to change from the ground up. How do you make that stuff happen and dream big?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, I mean, we’re also in such a different political landscape in terms of power now than we were back then, too. Now, private interests–special interests–have much more sophisticated lobbies. The power of the state was much stronger back then. There was no CBO score and budget hawks back then. But I think now what it requires too is different techniques and a willingness to experiment. I think a lot of times folks talk about efficacy, and they’ll say…You hear this all the time. I hate this phrase in D.C. They go, “Oh, I’m not a show horse. I’m a workhorse.” And it’s like, “So you’re just giving up the entire mantle of public power and the interest of public power?” It is a part of being effective, and we can’t moralize or consider some avenues as more or less virtuous than others. I think that for me, when it comes to implementation, we rallied enormous public interest and continue to rally enormous public interest. And I think in D.C. that’s considered dirty or lowbrow. And I just lean into it because I’m like, “Great. A lane unto myself. I have no competition.”I’m from the Bronx. I don’t care. I don’t care about if it’s highbrow or lowbrow. If it’s there, I’m going to use it. But then on top of that–okay–then you hit the institutional power. “This will never get passed. I pissed off all of the gatekeepers and ring holders and all that.” And it gets to a point where then they just don’t want to move anything out of spite. “You didn’t kiss the ring–you didn’t do the proper things–so we’re not going to move it.” And that was, I think, the story of those early days. And so then I kind of look around, and I say, “Okay, what other levers can I use? I don’t need to pass this thing to do the thing actually because it’s passed in the public consciousness.” And so what I started to do was to look for the small ways and unnoticed ways. And so I started to turn to how do I do things without my name being on it and without Green New Deal being on it but it actually being a Green New Deal project. And so my next step was that I started to marshal community project funds. And so in the last couple of years, for the first time in over a decade, Congress started to renew the practice of community funded projects by members of Congress. And so I said, “How can I make a Green New Deal project in my community? And then also how can I contact the hundred or so other co-sponsors of the Green New Deal and get them to build green New Deal projects in their communities? And we won’t put Green New Deal in the text, but it will meet all of the standards–that it creates good union jobs, that it focuses on underserved communities, and that it helps us decarbonize our economy in 10 years.” And so slowly but surely, one of the things that I did my project in my first cycle was we went Throgs Neck right near the Throgs Neck Bridge built by Robert Moses. and I went to SUNY Maritime College, which is one of the only public merchant marine academies that we have in the United States.

ELLIOTT KALAN: That’s the one I think we talked about earlier in the episode where Franklin Roosevelt wanted it so badly, and Robert Moses would not let him have it until Roosevelt was leaving to become president–clash of worlds.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: And so we went to Maritime College, and we said, “We would like to fund a training program where we train folks here to build the underwater pylons that are good union jobs for offshore wind.” And SUNY Maritime said, “Sounds great, let’s do it.” We built an entire facility. You get electricians putting on scuba gear and diving into pools, learning how to do electrical work way out in the ocean. And you’ve got simulators where people are learning how to actually navigate these ships through offshore wind farms. And we’re training really good union jobs for people in the Bronx to access, in order to access jobs and have jobs that help us decarbonize our economy. None of the people in power knew what I was up to when we were doing that–not one. And that first cycle we authorized 60+ such projects across the United States. No one’s hearing about it, no one knows about it, And that’s all the better for me because the more they know about it, the more other people are going to try to block it. And so I did that very quietly because there were too many axes to grind at the time that I didn’t want to imperil the goal. And so sometimes being really big and out there is to our advantage, and sometimes it’s not. But it’s not an either-or universal application. It’s about understanding and having the discernment of when you use what tools–and that takes time. That takes time and practice to develop.

ROMAN MARS: Yeah. You see that happening with Robert Moses in the book, too. He’s trying to figure out how much credit do you give the boss upstairs to get things done? How much do you take on your own so that when the boss gets mad at you, the public rallies to your support? It’s fascinating how universal this is. And it totally makes sense.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, it’s like with organizations where sometimes you’re frustrated at work and it’s like, “Ugh. The personality stuff. But also humans are a medium. And we would love for it to be just like math or science, but it’s not because we also need to weigh costs and benefits that are not always immediately apparent. I think sometimes that’s the part of the social science of decision-making.

ROMAN MARS: Also in this section of the book–the episode that you’re going to be on–is the introduction of Fiorello La Guardia, who is your predecessor in your district–not your immediate predecessor–but…

ELLIOTT KALAN: No, there are a number of predecessors between him and you.


ELLIOTT KALAN: Yes. Yeah, your ancestral predecessor.

ROMAN MARS: How does La Guardia loom in your consciousness growing up and your consciousness in this job?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think La Guardia–while he’s not as large of a looming figure as Moses is–I think he’s also an example of someone that marshaled the public. And that is in contrast to Moses, who was much more of an internal operator. And it shows how both of these kinds of power can be wielded and also that it’s not necessarily an either-or decision either. And a lot of times people kind of shun one and valorize the other, but if you can kind of lean into both, then you can really clear a lot of road–if you will–or I should say subway track.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Yeah. Yeah. We’re all about mass transit.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Express! We’re not taking the local! We can take the express from one place to another.

ELLIOTT KALAN: But you’re right. We see that in Moses and La Guardia working together, where Moses is very much the backstage operator and La Guardia is the one who specializes seemingly in appearing publicly everywhere in the city every day at all times. Moses before that is working with Governor Al Smith where he’s the one behind the scenes and Governor Al Smith is the one who’s out in public, making the case for things and rallying people to it. They’re such complimentary modes of power. And I guess if you can have two people who partner in that way, those are some of the times that Moses is able to accomplish so many of his better, bigger projects Before he goes into the darker side and he’s just like, “Well, why should we have people in the city when we can just have roads in the city? People just go through it all the time.” Do you find that’s something that’s a method that you’re thinking about where it’s like, “Who can I partner with on this thing? Who’s someone who can take this aspect of a project and I’ll take this aspect so we can handle it in different ways to get it finished?”

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah. Absolutely. You can’t accomplish anything without public will and public sentiment. There are some things that you can, but it’s going to take a lot longer. And when you have public support for something–for better or worse, by the way–there are entire industries that are built around influencing public sentiment. And sometimes we see that even today in our politics where there’s some issue or there is something that has sometimes captured the public sentiment and it actually doesn’t line up with public health data at all. It doesn’t line up with facts on the ground at all. But if the vibe just gets contagious and everyone just starts feeling a certain way–even if it’s completely divorced from data, reality, and what we’re seeing–there are times when people just feel like crime is up, when crime is actually down. I think that’s a classic example. And it happens–I’m not even talking about just present times–it’s happened throughout history. And it is a very effective political tool. And so making sure that you have that public sentiment is important, even if it’s not explicitly around the project that you are talking about because whatever has public sentiment is what your goal is competing with. And so that can make things very, very easy. But if you don’t have the internal path, it can also be ineffective as well and vice versa. And so having both the decision makers and building that coalition is really important. I often think about when in the House you author a bill and sometimes you have co-leads on the bill. And who you select as your co-leads sends a message to the rest of the House about what kind of mission you’re on. And so if all of your co-leads are very outside-facing, then sometimes people get the message that “this is more of a messaging effort. This is not to pass. This is to send a message,” which is a tool that has its own role. But sometimes you have a coalition of people that indicate something else–that you are very serious about passing this thing or this is the shot off the bow or sometimes someone has a primary and they’re trying to get their base off their back and that’s why they signed onto it. And so people read your coalition as a signal of what your plans and intentions are.

ROMAN MARS: Yeah, that makes sense. You are an advocate for public housing. I’m an advocate for public housing. If it wasn’t for HUD paying my rent as a kid, I don’t know where I would be today. Robert Moses built most of the public housing in New York City, and a lot of it is considered not very functional–not very good. The execution and administration of public housing has often been lacking, and I think it has unfairly sullied public housing as a concept. How do you do it right?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I mean, it’s important. I think that the divestment and the dissolution of public housing is a story about race. And I think it’s important for us to talk about that very explicitly because the public housing of Robert Moses’ day–even though he was discriminatory and had a lot of class bias in addition to racial bias–when public housing was occupied by mostly white families, it was at its peak. It was quite idyllic in terms of public policy. You had housing that was affordable that you could raise a family in that was built with community infrastructure in mind. These weren’t just apartments in a building, but there were playgrounds, there are community spaces, there’s senior programming, there’s childcare, and it worked! It worked. It was when public housing began to be integrated and you started to have Black residents move in–in New York City, a lot of Puerto Rican residents start to move in–that we started to see the mass disinvestment of public housing because it started to be seen through a politically racialized lens. And in my view, it still is. But we also know that public housing has been enormously successful. And in fact, one of the pieces of legislation that I have introduced is the repeal of the Faircloth Amendment, which currently bans construction of new public housing units in the United States. And if we repeal that, I think once people experience public housing in an integrated and socially integrated way, it would create public will for more of it in addition to social housing models–in addition to lots of other kinds of housing models that can decommodify the housing market that we’re currently living in that is completely unsustainable.

ROMAN MARS: Yeah, I mean, this is the thing that people talk about when they really examine public housing projects, even ones that are sort of notorious, like Pruitt–Igoe. There’s a section or there’s a period of time when that existed–when it was integrated and there was proper investment and proper maintenance and proper care–and it functioned in all the high ideals in which it was intended. And then when white flight happened and the divestment happened, then that’s when it falls apart because these design systems are not quite as robust and they need to be more robust. Like, to take a light that goes out and that doesn’t turn into a hallway that becomes dangerous–it takes people constantly thinking about it as a system and treating it as a system. And I just think that people have gotten the wrong idea of it, and I want a better world in which public housing is just part of the fabric of our cities.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: And it’s a similar thing actually in New York City with free public college tuition. Our CUNY system was free. It was free. You could go to college for free. It was after the Civil Rights Act and the Civil Rights Movement, which forced integration of our public systems, that we started getting divestment from our public systems. And it’s really important that, I think, people understand that. This is not just government abandonment; this is a story about race. And part of our journey in healing our racial divide is by advocating for the reestablishment of integrated economic social safety nets that aren’t blind to racial injustice and that are conscious of it. But I think that the way that we do that is by reminding ourselves that we–as a people, as a society, as a working class, and even as a poor class–we deserve nice things, we deserve human dignity, and we deserve tuition-free public college. It’s not a pipe dream. We deserve housing that we’re not spending every single ounce of our non-food or medicine income–oftentimes people making those trade-offs–we deserve housing that doesn’t suck all of that up. We deserve good schools, but we have to demand them across lines of race and culture. And if we’re not fighting for Black Americans right to that–if we aren’t seeing cultural inequities–then what it means is that we’re denying it to ourselves. And it’s not just like a fight for equality. It’s a fight for access. That’s really what it is because we see this over and over again. Let’s just get real about it, right? If what people think of public housing is Black residents and then we have this internalized racialized construct about what that means or there’s some sort of media value on what that means, then people are going to otherize it and think, “That’s somebody else. This benefits somebody else. It’s not for me. So, I’m okay–I’ll look the other way–if it’s defunded or if in the wintertime the gas goes out and the heat’s off.” But when we reject that as an other and we say, “Wait, if that’s happening to them, it’s going to happen to me. It happening to them is it happening to me,” then that’s how we get there. That’s how we do that. And that’s why I think that the racial dimension of Robert Moses’ legacy is not just a cautionary tale. It’s not just, “Oh, yeah, and by the way, this guy was mad racist.” It’s not just that.

ELLIOTT KALAN: If only Robert Caro could have said it that way, the book would be so much shorter.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: It’s not that. It actually shows us the way forward. If this was truly unacceptable, not from a, “Oh, we don’t believe in inequality,” but like, “We are one. We are one.” If we oppose it on that basis, we probably would have a lot more public transit in New York City right now. We would absolutely, without a doubt, have a lot more and well-invested public housing. I think that we would still have a tuition-free public college system. And it’s not an accident that in the aftermath of Moses’ peak era, you see the emergence in New York City of the Young Lords and of the Black Panthers who are directly advocating for the infrastructure and investments and speaking to the inequities that he had just created. And I think that’s part of the story, right? Where his chapter ends, ours begins.

ELLIOTT KALAN: For me, it hearkens back to something you said at the beginning of the conversation where you’re talking about choices. And it’s something that comes up in our discussions on the episodes too is that each of these things is a choice. There’s no inevitable way that public housing has to be. It’s not that, “Oh, it always has to be like that. Or if the light bulb goes out, you just leave it out. There’s nothing you can do about it.” And if those are choices that they made, then it feels like we can make the other choice–the other choice is available. they haven’t fully foreclosed it, even if it does seem like it’s a lot harder after all that stuff’s been built to change things. It’s amazing how systems get so tied to physical things.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, kind of to your point earlier about some of Robert Moses’ earlier work that there were benefits for–his advocacy for public pools in New York City, the construction of public pools, the construction of beaches… He, of course, had racist intent with that. However, earlier on you saw that in how he administered–the administration of the pools–but not necessarily in the construction of them. And so as a result, to this day–now actually–public pools in New York City and access to public pools are not just an enormous racial benefit but a class benefit. People from all sorts of backgrounds who would normally not be able to access a club or whatever it may be can learn how to swim–can enjoy the pools that we have in places like Astoria Park. And I think of Orchard Beach and City Island as working class Hamptons. That’s where everyday people go to soak up the sun and enjoy the space. And those same plazas that Robert Moses built around that time–during this New Deal era–those same plazas still exist today and, in fact, are in the process of having just been reinvested in and overhauled because that is actually a 100+ year legacy that has withstood the test of time. And I think he would be appalled at who is going there today, but it is to all of our benefit.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Luckily, he doesn’t have a say in it anymore.


ROMAN MARS: Well, thank you so much, Representative Ocasio-Cortez for spending time with us and having us talk about Robert Moses and the book and your district. It means the world to me to have you here, so thank you so much.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Of course. It’s wonderful to be here. Thank you so much for having me on.

ELLIOTT KALAN: Next month, we’re finishing up Part Four: The Use of Power, covering Chapters 21 through 24. That’s pages 402 through 496 in my amazingly huge printed copy of The Power Broker. In the meantime, you can check me out on my other podcast, The Flop House, every Saturday.

ROMAN MARS: And you can also join the conversation with other Power Broker readers on our Discord. The link is on our website, or go to

ELLIOTT KALAN: The 99% Invisible Breakdown of The Power Broker is produced by Isabel Angell. It’s edited by committee. The music is by Swan Real, and the mix is by Dara Hirsch.

ROMAN MARS: 99% Invisible’s executive producer is Kathy Tu. Our senior editor is Delaney Hall. Kurt Kohlstedt is the digital director. The rest of the team includes Sarah Baik, Chris Berube, Jayson De Leon, Emmet FitzGerald, Gabriella Gladney, Martín Gonzalez, Christopher Johnson, Vivian Le, Lasha Madan, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Kelly Prime, Joe Rosenberg, Neena Pathak, and me, Roman Mars. The 99% Invisible logo was created by Stefan Lawrence. The art for this series was created by Aaron Nestor. We are part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM podcast family, now record six blocks north in the Pandora Building… in beautiful… uptown… Oakland, California. You can find the show on the usual social media sites as well as our own Discord server, where we have fun discussions about Power Broker, about architecture, about movies, about music, about all kinds of good stuff. It’s where I’m hanging out most of the time these days. You can find a link to that Discord server as well as every past episode of 99PI at They learn to work together in some way because of Franklin Roosevelt’s love of NIPLs, and so we will learn about that in the next section–Chapter 17: The Mother of Accommodation–when we come back.

ELLIOTT KALAN: What a tease! “Love of NIPLs.”


The 99% Invisible Breakdown of The Power Broker is produced by Isabel Angell, edited by committee, music by Swan Real, mixed by Dara Hirsch.

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