by Hank Boerner
April 21 2020
Alas, dear reader — I seem to have been neglecting my Stay Tuned web commentaries for quite a while. I have been writing and posting many comments in our other platform, G&A Institute’s Sustainability Update. Apologies. Please do visit the other blog and follow us there as well if you find the content is of interest.
Take a look: https://ga-institute.com/Sustainability-Update/
Today, I’d like to share some timely thoughts in this essay about two, or three, and maybe a few more (very prominent) guys from Queens, New York — and some background on the fascinating little corner of our wide country from which they come.
OK – I will also talk about some guys from Brooklyn, the (Kings) county neighbor of Queens County.
But first about two of the men in the news every day from Queens. They are both very aggressive characters, as you can see in their public lives. It’s forward, pressing on, always, and no backward movement. They appear to take no prisoners in their business and political and governance activities.
That Queens spirit, you see, is in their blood.
On our TV screens and other viewing devices now each day we are getting news & views and boasts and asides, some nasty and some humorous from the prominent Queens duo: President Donald J. Trump and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Both men are broadcasting live from New York and Washington out to the millions (the national and perhaps global audience tuning in every day to see what is going on with the virus crisis and government response).
And today (April 21) the two are meeting in the White House to discuss the way forward in the coronavirus crisis.
Alpha males. Clash of the Titans. Coronavirus drama.
They are very different people, as we can readily see — but interestingly, they do have a few things in common that shaped their lives growing up and moving into the business and political spheres.
Being from Queens, I would say, had something to do with that. I say that as a Queens-born and raised guy myself. Being from Queens is always part of who we are, we like to say.
You need to know about Queens — it’s in the blood.
About “Queens” – the Homeland – Some Context For Our Story
First, some background to help you understand the origin story: “Queens” is the official name of the populous county (2.3 million) in New York City where both men now prominent on the national scene were born and grew up and lived — and get this, lived quite near to each other for a time. Other than that coincidence, of course there is very little in common that we can see between them.
To provide some context: Queens is also the name of the boro (or borough), a legal county within the Greater New York City incorporation. It’s one of five NYC counties- an “outer boro”.
Outer boros, that’s what many people call the parts of the city that are not Manhattan.
What is unusual if you don’t live in these parts, or perhaps you do live here but feel it isn’t worth thinking about, is that four of the five counties/boros of New York City are actually on islands.
These are: Queens, Manhattan (what most people think of as New York City, with its Wall Street and Times Square), Kings (which everyone calls Brooklyn – 2.5 million – more later about that), and Staten Island — all islands free of connections to mainland U.S.A. – only the Bronx is “attached”. (And millions commute into the Manhattan Island for work every day.)
Queens and neighbor boro Brooklyn are on Long Island. Two suburban counties are to the east on the island (Nassau and Suffolk – what locals refer to as Long Island).
“Queens” can be just Queens to locals. No boro, no county. “Queens”. You’ve probably been here if you landed at LaGuardia or Kennedy International airports.
Some folks may say their neighborhood name and Queens, like “I live in Jamaica, Queens”. Not the island of Jamaica. Or Astoria, Queens. Like Anthony Dominick Benedetto, who you know as Tony Bennett. But I digress.
You do see Queens many nights on CBS dramas as many shows (Blue Bloods, FBI, Bull and many more are regularly shot in the county). Queens was the original home of the movie industry long ago and even today there are major film studios here (Silvercup, Kaufman-Astoria).
Oh, and Archie Bunker, the lovable bigot (played by actor Carroll O’Connor) was set in Queens. That tells you something, I think, about some of the neighborhoods. The actor was born in Manhattan but grew up in Queens.
It’s a historic American place: Queens was settled by the Dutch back in 1624 and a bit of it by the English; it was part of New Amsterdam for 40 years until the English fleet sailed in and said “it’s ours.” (And named the place for the Duke of York, the brother at the time of the English king.)
The Dutch and English settlers displaced the small Native American population (the local Algonquin nation clans) and then came the wave-upon-wave of immigrants from all over the glob — to Queens. And the newcomers today continue to pick Queens as their new home. Hundreds of thousands of newcomers.
For example, one of the largest Asian-American settlements is Flushing (near to the national tennis center) – it was named for Vlissingen, The Netherlands — home of the first Dutch immigrants. Now it is home to folks from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, and other Asian centers.
Queens, proudly, is America’s premier melting pot.
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It’s 2020: The Queens Boys Are in Charge!
And so to the Guys from Queens. One of the immigrants coming to New York Harbor was a German from Bavaria, Friederich Drumpf (anglicized to “Trump” – when & how is of course debated). He was an entrepreneur, and through ambition built a small fortune.
His son, Fred Trump, became a very prosperous homebuilder, in Brooklyn and Queens, had five children and his son became…that Donald Trump, also a developer and then, President of the U.S.A. The Trumps were apparently wealthy from the first generation born here onward..
Nearby to the Trump home but really a world away, lived another set of early 20th Century immigrants – Andrea and Immacolata Cuomo, who sailed to New York from Salerno (near Naples) Italy, and settled on the wrong side of the tracks in South Jamaica. They opened a small, local grocery store and the couple and their three children lived in back of the store. They were not wealthy at all. The couple struggled to speak English.
Their son, Mario Matthew Cuomo, described his childhood neighborhood as Italian-Black-German-Irish-Polish. Mario grew to be a man of towering intellect and great ambition, a liberal and progressive recognized early on by the local Roman Catholic clergy, who arranged for him to attend prep school and then to gain a university education. (At St. John’s University, in Queens, established by the Vencentian Brothers. You probably know the school today because of its prominence in March Madness playoffs.)
Mario Cuomo became a greatly admired and respected constitutional law professor at St. John’s University and led a few widely-praised civic campaigns in Queens on behalf of everyday citizens and the working class. Often going up against powerful forces like the patrician, Mayor John Lindsay of New York City and park and road builder Robert Moses in his crusades for the local residents and business owners.
He and wife Matilda (nee Raffa, classmates at university, she became teacher) moved to a home way above the poor South Jamaica neighborhood that he grew up in and where they raised five children in Jamaica Estates.
In the hills where the well-to-do lived — above the streets of Jamaica and Jamaica South.
Their home was very near to the Trump household in Jamaica Estates. And from there, both Donald and Mario and his children Andrew and Christopher began their climb to prominence! (Mario’s daughter Maria would marry designer Kenneth Cole. Another daughter became a doctor.)
The head of the clan, Mario Cuomo became governor of the State of New York and served three terms (1983-1994). You might remember his thundering cadence at the 1984 Democratic convention (nominating speech) as he took on the Republicans. Or his Notre Dame speech. Or many of his progressive-but-pragmatic campaigns while in office.
It is his son – Andrew — who you see now every day on TV. He today is Governor Cuomo, following dad’s footsteps. Into politics. (He was his father’s campaign manager and later served as President Clinton’s Secretary of HUD; became attorney general of New York and on to the governor’s office).
As Donald Trump followed his father into the real estate business, Andrew followed his father’s path to become governor. (Andrew Cuomo was married for a time into another powerful political dynasty, to Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and wife, Ethyl. They have three daughters.)
Politics, politics..it’s in the Queens blood, we could say. Dynasties – it’s also in the blood in Queens.
And as Governor Andrew Cuomo told us in his updating on the situation in his state..New York is strong, tough and caring. Strong enough to be caring.
That is in the New York State blood!
Brother Christopher – On Our TVs Every Night!
And another Queens guy we must mention here is Chris Cuomo, the CNN commentator — Governor Andrew’s younger brother — he was an ABC-TV newsman earlier. Now he is the nightly host on CNN, keeping the nation updated.
Often the Cuomo brothers are on TV together trading news & quips and “ranking” each other out, to use a 1950’s Queens phrase.
Father of the Clan Mario Cuomo was brought to public prominence by another Queens kid — journalist and author Jimmy Breslin, who created a media presence for the civic crusader.
Jimmy was a journalist colleague of mine when I was new to the newspaper business. He started out at the Queens-based newspaper, The Long Island Press and then moved on to national fame at larger papers and magazines.
(A word later on about the Jimmy and Mario relationship.)
When we watch the TV coverage of Washington and national news, i keep thinking that it is all about these hometowns of men and women who by and large rose from modest beginnings to the seats of power in these United States of America.
Of course, there are substantial differences in styles and substances and behavior toward others.
One Queens guy argues with journalists he doesn’t like and insults them and yanks their White House press credentials. The other today schmoozes New York-style, engages in lively back and forth banter, and has regularly met with journalists over the weeks rather than hiding behind press office staff. Jousting: And I really like the appearances of the very-human governor and his brother on the Chris Cuomo CNN program.
As Bill Clinton used to say — they (the Cuomos) can feel our pain.
One man is the son of a man who throughout his life took the side of the poor, the politically-helpless, those he identified with from his early days south of the LIRR tracks.
The other with his wealth builder father discriminated against people of color that the pair did not want living in their rental apartment houses in Queens and Brooklyn (the federal government brought charges).
Facts: UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F. # EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, – against – FRED C. TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP and TRUMP MANAGEMENT, INC., – – – X Defendants.
You can check that out at: https://www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/public/FH-NY-0024-0034.pdf
The New York governor was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development looking after the needs of many low-to-moderate income families. And on and on.
I mentioned Brooklyn early on. This is the other New York City boro or county on Long Island’s west end. It was named for the Dutch hometown of farmer-settlers who immigrated from Breucklen back in the early 1600s.
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Today Brooklyn is also populated by a wonderful, rich mix of ethnic and nationality and faith backgrounds. People here (including my family members) don’t talk of “Kings County” — they only seem to speak of Brooklyn,
Brooklyn at the beginning was a very small farming settlement across from Manhattan Island that grew to a populous city itself, competing with across-the-river Manhattan/New York City.
The Statue of Liberty in the great harbor welcomed immigrants sailing by to “the twin cities” (New York and Brooklyn). The welcoming message (partly) reads…
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
In the late-1800s a beautiful bridge across the East River – the Brooklyn Bridge! — linked the two cities.
Many Queens kids’ families had moved “out” from Brooklyn (that is, Kings County) over the years — but of course not everyone. The guys who were born and raised in Brooklyn are very visible to us every day, especially during the coronavirus emergency.
# # # #
These days we’re watching Dr. Anthony Fauci, a Brooklyn boy, son of a pharmacist who is head of the National Institutes of Health’s infectious disease center. And on our TV sets every day with powerful, accurate, comprehensive sharings about the virus.
And another Brooklyn kid — still living there – often jousts with President Trump and his Republican counterparts. That’s Senate Minority Leader Charles “Chuck” Schumer.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries represents New York’s Eight Congressional District, which takes in Kings and Queens counties (a Democrat, he lives in Brooklyn/Kings on the Queens line). A respected member of Congress, he was prominent in the Trump impeachment hearings and other Washington political dustups.
Then there’s the presidential candidate with very enthusiastic followers — Senator Bernie Sanders. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he fled to Vermont and then on to national fame.
We’re from Queens — and some from Brooklyn — for many of us, feeling your pain is in our blood. You see it in our politics. Most of us.
On a personal note…
For me, a kid born and in early days a kid from Queens, I am fascinated by rise of the people guiding the nation today through the virus crisis, and by the wondrous little piece of land in the Magical City (New York) from whence much of us came.
On a personal note, one of the boys of Queens who rose to prominence who had great influence on my life as a young writer was William J. Casey — attorney, author, publisher — and my first boss in journalism and a friend and early mentor.
You might remember him – he helped Ronald Reagan sail to electoral victory in 1980 and became head of the CIA. (Casey was early in his life a leader of the OSS battling Nazi Germany in WW II!)
And you know a little bit more of this corner of these United States of America and the bright, resilient, influential men and women who are in the news. Those Queens guys.
For whom some things, and some characteristics, and some crusades…it’s in the blood – they are from Queens. OK, and from Brooklyn,
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P.S. You can read my remembrances of Governor Mario Cuomo when he passed in January 2015, here: https://www.hankboerner.com/staytuned/tag/queens/
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And if you are not tired of reading yet, here’s some more notes on this magical city:
Great New York City Comes Into Being – Including Queens
Back after the American Civil War and the beginning of the astonishing wave after wave of immigrants coming into New York harbor, there began a movement to create a very large, consolidated city. Manhattan Island would be the city center, with the nearby Bronx, Kings County (Brooklyn), Staten Island, and Queens incorporated in the confederation. This city would come to be the most populous in the country.
The eastern townships of Queens County were then rural farmlands with small villages — and heavily Republican in politics.
So the deal was struck — those areas to the east would become new county ( and Republican!) and the western portion of Queens (more settled and heavily Democrat) would join New York City.
The new county of Nassau was created – President Teddy Roosevelt was the prominent “R” living there. He was governor of New York – then VP – then President of the United States.
And the political divide lasted close to a century! (And the divide still exists — we are two nations in so many ways in these parts, just like the rest of America.)
“Nassau” was the Dutch royal house; the Roosevelts are among the prominent Dutch descendants. This area is all about immigrants – that why it is so magical to me.
Rural Queens exploded in population growth after World War One (100,000 people a year moving in) and again after WWII. Many newcomers were moving east from Brooklyn, as my family did, and others were newly arrived on our shores from Europe.
Queens today is a totally minority county and one of the most populated counties in the U.S.A. And that gives it its rich flavor. Immigrants – the working man and woman – those struggling to make a better life for themselves and their children.
Queens is in the blood that is replenished by those coming from all over the world to this special corner of New York.
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I mentioned Jimmy Breslin and his connection to Mario Cuomo. Breslin’s coverage of Mario Cuomo began when Mayor John Lindsay asked Cuomo to help settle a housing dispute tinged with racial overtones. This was “The Crisis of Low Income Housing” in the Queens area, Forest Hills. Mario Cuomo was the volunteer mediator working to resolve the issues with local citizens.
At the time, Mario Cuomo was generally unknown to the public, a partner at a Brooklyn law firm, serving as adjunct professor at his alma mater, St. John’s University of Law.
In 1974 Mario Cuomo wrote a book about the classic set off of middle class residents and proponents of low-income housing coming to the neighborhood – “Forest Hills Diary”. It’s a classic today about mediating (or attempting to) the divide along racial, ethnic and wealth lines. Such as in housing and education.
In the late 1960s, Mario Cuomo was asked by a group of homeowners in Corona, Queens, to help when New York City government planned to build a high school and condemn their homes to make way for construction. Mario Cuomo defended “the Corona Fighting 69” and stopped the displacement. Jimmy Breslin and other journalists covered the battle and helped to make Mario a well-known crusader locally and beyond.
And here is what Jimmy Breslin wrote in the preface to Forest Hills Diary: At a meeting of the residents, a local public official came in and asked who was helping the 69 — a “little local lawyer” someone said. Cuomo got up and spoke. Jimmy, covering the meeting for The Long Island Press, was asked who Cuomo was.
He remembers saying: Cuomo. And then, Breslin remembered the that Congressman Hugh Carey telling him months earlier this:
“I got a genius nobody knows about. He’s a law professor at St. John’s. Brilliant sonofabitch. Nobody knows him. I begged him to run with me (when Carey campaigned to be governor). The first time they ever hear of him, they’ll be right there in his hands…”
Soon, Hugh Carey would appoint the little local lawyer Mario Cuomo to be Secretary of State. Then Cuomo became Lt. Governor. In 1982 Mario Cuomo was elected Governor of New York State and went on to be re-elected two more times.
Mario Cuomo died in January 2015. Vice President Joe Biden said the governor “…was a forceful voice for civil rights, for equal rights, for economic opportunity and justice. He had the courage to stand by his convictions even when it was unpopular…”
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Thank you for reading all of this if you got this far in the essay. Fascinating folks, the Queens and Brooklyn Guys. And now if you did not know much about them…you do.