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Charles Poletti (July 2, 1903 – August 8, 2002) was an American lawyer and politician. He was the 46th Governor of New York in December 1942, and was the first Italian-American governor in the United States.

Charles Poletti

Charles Poletti.jpg
Poletti in 1942
46th Governor of New York
In office
December 3, 1942 – December 31, 1942
LieutenantJoe R. Hanley (acting)
Preceded byHerbert H. Lehman
Succeeded byThomas E. Dewey
Lieutenant Governor of New York
In office
January 1, 1939 – December 3, 1942
GovernorHerbert H. Lehman
Preceded byM. William Bray
Succeeded byJoe R. Hanley
as Acting Lieutenant Governor
Justice of the New York Supreme Court
In office
1937–1938
Preceded byJohn V. McAvoy
Succeeded byFelix C. Benevenga
Personal details
Born(1903-07-02)July 2, 1903
Barre, Vermont, US
DiedAugust 8, 2002(2002-08-08) (aged 99)
Marco Island, Florida, US
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)
  • Jean Knox Ellis Poletti
  • Elizabeth Munn Vanderloo
Alma materHarvard University
Harvard Law School
ProfessionAttorney
Civilian awardsOrder of the Star of Jordan
Order of Saint Agatha (Grand Officer) (San Marino)
Signature
Military service
AllegianceUnited States of America
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Years of service1943–1945
RankArmy-USA-OF-05.svg Colonel
UnitAllied Military Government for Occupied Territories
CommandsMilitary Governor of Sicily
Military Governor of Naples
Military Governor of Rome
Military Governor of Milan
Military Governor of Lombardy
Battles/warsWorld War II
Military awardsLegion of Merit
Order of Saint Gregory the Great
Grand Cross of the Crown of Italy
Order of the British Empire (Officer)

Born in Barre, Vermont to Italian immigrants, Poletti graduated from Barre's Spaulding High School, Harvard University, and Harvard Law School, and became an attorney in New York City. He became active in the Democratic Party, and served as counsel to the Democratic National Committee, counsel to Governor Herbert H. Lehman, and a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court.

Poletti served as Lieutenant Governor of New York from 1939 to 1942. He lost his bid for reelection in 1942, as did gubernatorial nominee John J. Bennett. In December, Lehman resigned as governor in order to accept an appointment with the United States Department of State; Poletti succeeded to the governorship, and served the final month of Lehman's term. After leaving office, Poletti served in World War II; he initially worked as a special assistant to the Secretary of War, and then served in the United States Army as a Civil Affairs officer responsible for rebuilding and restoring democracy in Italy following its liberation by the Allies.

After the war, Poletti practiced law, served as a member of the New York State Power Authority, and was an executive responsible for planning and overseeing execution of foreign exhibits at the 1964 New York World's Fair. After retirement, he resided in Florida and Elizabethtown, New York. He died in Florida at age 99, and was buried in Elizabethtown. At the time of his death, he was the earliest serving living former governor of a U.S. state.

Contents

Early life and educationEdit

Aldo Charles Poletti was born in Barre, Vermont to Dino Poletti (April 28, 1865, Pogno, Italy—February 12, 1922, Barre, Vermont) and Carolina (Gervasini) Poletti. Dino Poletti worked as a stonecutter in a Barre granite quarry.[1][2][3]

Poletti intended to manage a bakery after graduating from Spaulding High School in 1920,[4] but was encouraged by his principal to attend college.[5] He attended Harvard University on a scholarship, and worked at a variety of part-time jobs to finance his studies, including waiting tables, washing dishes, and tutoring.[6] He received his bachelor's degree in 1924, was admitted to Phi Beta Kappa, and then studied at the University of Rome, the University of Bologna and the University of Madrid.[7][8] Poletti later served on Harvard's Board of Overseers.[9]

Start of careerEdit

Poletti graduated from Harvard Law School in 1928. After passing the bar exam Poletti joined the New York City firm of 1924 Democratic nominee for president John W. Davis.[10]

In 1928 he was active in the presidential campaign of Governor Alfred E. Smith, and in 1932 he became counsel to the Democratic National Committee.[11] In addition, he was appointed to a seat on the state Board of Social Welfare.[12]

In 1933 Poletti was appointed on the recommendation of Felix Frankfurter to be counsel to Governor Herbert H. Lehman.[12] Lehman relied heavily on Poletti, asking him to move into the executive mansion, and assigning him tasks from drafting legislation and speeches to lobbying for passage of New Deal measures advocated by the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt.[13][14][15]

In 1937 Lehman appointed Poletti to a vacancy as a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, and later that year he was elected to a full 14-year term.[16][17][18]

Election as lieutenant governor and succession to governorshipEdit

 
Jean Knox Ellis Poletti, President, New York State League of Women Voters, May, 1938. She resigned when her husband became a candidate for Lieutenant Governor

In 1938, Poletti was elected Lieutenant Governor of New York on the Democratic ticket with Governor Lehman.[19][20][21]

In 1939 Poletti was elected to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's board of directors.[22] In 1940 Poletti threw out the first pitch at a game between the New York Cubans and the New York Black Yankees, opening the season of the Negro National League with a speech advocating the integration of Major League Baseball.[23]

Poletti was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in November 1942. When state Attorney General John J. Bennett was selected, Poletti accepted the nomination for reelection as lieutenant governor.[24] Bennett and Poletti were defeated by Thomas E. Dewey and Thomas W. Wallace.[25]

When Governor Lehman resigned on December 3, 1942 to accept appointment as Director of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation Operations for the United States Department of State, Poletti succeeded to the governorship.[26] He served 29 days, the shortest term of any New York governor.[27]

After leaving office Poletti was appointed special assistant to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson.[28][29] In this position Poletti worked on efforts to racially integrate the military.[30][31]

World War IIEdit

On Dec. 27, 1942 Poletti broadcast for the Office of War Information a radio address in the Italian language to the Italian people, urging them to "throw out both Hitler and Mussolini."[32]

In July, 1943 Poletti was assigned to serve as a U.S. Army civil affairs officer in Italy, selected largely because as a first-generation Italian-American who had studied in Italy, was fluent in Italian and had served as a state governor, he had an understanding of the local culture and sufficient stature to earn the respect of the Sicilian people. Initially assigned to assist in restoring civil government in Palermo, he became responsible for rebuilding efforts throughout Sicily.[33][34][35]

As the Allies continued to liberate mainland Italy Poletti's command would follow to restore water and electricity, distribute food and water, and begin the process of returning the formerly fascist country to democracy.[36]

Some sources state that while he served in Sicily Poletti's driver and interpreter was Mafia boss Vito Genovese, who had fled New York in the 1930s to escape prosecution for murder.[37] Genovese was allegedly heavily involved in black market activities with other Sicilian Mafiosi, including Calogero Vizzini.[38] Another Mafia boss, Lucky Luciano, is also alleged to have once described Poletti as "one of our good friends."[39] Poletti always stated that he had no connection to Genovese, Luciano, the Mafia, or black market activities.[40][41] In a 1993 interview for BBC TV, Poletti stated: "We had no problems at all with the Mafia. Nobody ever heard of it. While we were there, nobody heard of it. Nobody ever talked about it."[42] In addition, the stories alleging a Genovese/Poletti connection fail to explain why Poletti would have needed an Italian language interpreter, given his fluency in Italian (including the Sicilian and Neapolitan dialects), Spanish, and German as the result of his heritage, his college studies, a job in his twenties working as a tour guide for college students visiting Europe, and his regular visits to his mother after she began residing in Italy following the death of his father.[43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50]

Post World War IIEdit

After leaving the Army as a colonel Poletti became the senior partner in a Manhattan law firm, which was reorganized as Poletti, Diamond, Rabin, Freidin & MacKay, and later became known as Poletti, Freidin, Prashker, Feldman and Gartner[51] From May, 1946 to June, 1947 he carried out an appointment as an arbitrator assigned to resolve labor disputes in New York City's clothing industry.[52][53][54]

In 1955 Poletti was appointed to the New York State Power Authority, serving until 1960, the period in which the St. Lawrence Project and Niagara Project were built.[55][56]

From 1960 to 1965 he was the executive responsible for foreign exhibits at the 1964 New York World's Fair.[57][58][59]

Retirement and deathEdit

Poletti died at the age of 99. He was survived by his second wife, Elizabeth, and his children, Dr. Charles Poletti, Carla Tidmarsh, and Joanna Todisco. At the time of his death, he was the earliest serving living former U.S. governor. He was interred at Calkins Cemetery in Elizabethtown, New York.[60][61]

Awards and honorsEdit

Poletti received the Legion of Merit for his service in Italy.[62] In 1945 Poletti received the Order of Saint Gregory the Great from Pope Pius XII.[63] In addition, Italy's government named him a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Crown of Italy.[64] Poletti was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1948.[65] For his work at the World's Fair Poletti received the Order of the Star of Jordan.[66] He also received the Grand Officer of the Order of Saint Agatha of San Marino.[67] The Charles Poletti Power Project (renamed in 1982 to honor him) was located in Astoria, Queens, across the East River from Manhattan in New York City. In 2002 it was scheduled to be closed, and it was shut down in February, 2010.[68][69][70]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ State of Vermont Death certificate, Dino Poletti
  2. ^ 1920 US Census entry, Dino Poletti family
  3. ^ Newsletter article, Eleonora Duse Fellowship, Italy America Society News Bulletin, Number 34 (May, 1924), page 6
  4. ^ Annual Report of the City of Barre, Vermont. Barre, VT: Granite City Press. 1921. p. 102.
  5. ^ New York Red Book: An Illustrated State Manual, published by Williams Press, 1940, page 19
  6. ^ Italian Americana: Volume 25, Issue 2, page 138
  7. ^ New York Red Book: An Illustrated State Manual, published by Williams Press, 1942, page 61
  8. ^ Vermont History, Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society, Volumes 31-32, 1963, page 283
  9. ^ Newspaper article, Harvard Board Chosen; Poletti is Among the Seven Named as Overseers, New York Times, June 21, 1940
  10. ^ The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia, by Salvatore John LaGumina, 2000, page 271
  11. ^ "Poletti Is Sure of Bench But Faces Fall Test". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Brooklyn, NY. Eagle Bureau, Capitol Building. April 16, 1937. p. 3 – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ a b "Poletti Is Sure of Bench", p. 3.
  13. ^ Newspaper article, State Ready to Speed Hauptmann Extradition, New York Times, September 23, 1934
  14. ^ Newspaper article, Crime Conference Called by Lehman; Committee of Law, Prison and Parole Leaders Named to Plan 3-Day Session, New York Times, July 23, 1935
  15. ^ Newspaper article, Lehman Aide Asks Help In Crime War: Poletti Rallies Support of Public for Governor's Parley Starting Today, New York Times, September 30, 1935
  16. ^ Newspaper article, Lehman to Name Poletti This Week; Governor Will Ask Senate to Confirm His Counsel as Supreme Court Justice, New York Times, April 26, 1937
  17. ^ Newspaper article, Judge Poletti, New York Times, September 25, 1937
  18. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Takes Oath; Sworn In for 14-Year Term on Bench in Simple Ceremony, New York Times, January 1, 1938
  19. ^ Newspaper article, Democratic Ticket Nominated for State, New York Times, October 1, 1938
  20. ^ Newspaper article, Lehman Ekes Out Win Over Dewey, Montreal Gazette, November 9, 1938
  21. ^ Newspaper article, Asks All to Unite; Governor, at Inaugural, Calls for Public Welfare to Fortify Freedom, New York Times, January 3, 1939
  22. ^ Magazine article, Poletti and Roosevelt elected to N.A.A.C.P. Board, The Crisis, February, 1939
  23. ^ Black baseball's national showcase: the East-West All-Star Game, 1933-1953, by Larry Lester, 2002, page 140
  24. ^ Newspaper article, Bennett's Nomination a Victory for Farley, New York Times, August 23, 1942
  25. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Defeated, New York Times, November 5, 1942
  26. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Becomes Governor As Lehman Quits Albany, New York Times, December 3, 1942
  27. ^ Newspaper article, Obituary, Charles Poletti: Served as N.Y. governor for 29 days; 99, San Diego Union Tribune, August 11, 2002
  28. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Takes Post As Stimson Aide, New York Times, January 3, 1943
  29. ^ Newspaper article, Stimson to Assign Tasks to Poletti, New York Times, January 8, 1943
  30. ^ The Employment of Negro Troops, by Ulysses Lee, 1963, page 175
  31. ^ Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965, by Morris J. MacGregor, 1981, pages 59 to 60
  32. ^ Newspaper article, Throw Out Hitler and Mussolini, Poletti Urges Italians by Radio, New York Times, December 28, 1942
  33. ^ Newspaper article, Report Poletti Being Groomed for Sicily Post, Chicago Tribune, July 18, 1943
  34. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Serving as Civil Affairs Officer in Sicily, Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1943
  35. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Has Post In Sicilian Regime, New York Times, July 19, 1943
  36. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Says Allies Must Help Italy Get Organized, St. Petersburg Times, July 3, 1944
  37. ^ Antony Shugaar, "Forward" in Salvatore Lupo, History of the Mafia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. xiii.
  38. ^ How Capitalism Created The Mafia, Socialist Worker Online, January 22, 2008
  39. ^ The Great Heroin Coup: Drugs, Intelligence, & International Fascism, by Henrik Krüger, 1981, page 24
  40. ^ Newspaper article, Genovese Link Denied; Poletti Says He Did Not Have Gangster as Interpreter, New York Times, December 2, 1952
  41. ^ The Godfathers: Lives and Crimes of the Mafia Mobsters, Roberto Olla, 2007
  42. ^ Fighting the Mafia in World War Two, by Tim Newark, 2007, page 218
  43. ^ Best of Sicily (1999). ""Battle" of Palermo". Liberation: The Sicilian Campaign - 1943. Palermo, Italy: Best of Sicily.com. Retrieved September 24, 2017.
  44. ^ Tinney, Cal (August 8, 1943). "Man of the Week: Charlie "Amgot" Poletti". Nevada State Journal. Reno, NV. p. 12 – via Newspapers.com.
  45. ^ Salvatore John LaGumina, The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia, 1999, page 271
  46. ^ Salvatore John LaGumina, The Humble And the Heroic: Wartime Italian Americans, 2006, page 223
  47. ^ Martin, Kyre; Joan, Kyre (1968). Military Occupation and National Security. Washington, DC: Public Affairs Press. p. 108.
  48. ^ Bowman, Alfred Connor (1982). Zones of Strain: A Memior of the Early Cold War. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-8179-7731-3.
  49. ^ Boyle, Harold V. (July 25, 1943). "One Man Yank Occupation Force Takes Over City With A Speech". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Louis, MO. p. 10A – via Newspapers.com.
  50. ^ De Leeuw, Hendrik (1955). Underworld Story: The Rise of Organized Crime and Vice-rackets in the U.S.A. London, England: N. Spearman. p. 43. When the World War II shooting was over, and his 'friend' Mussolini had been sent to Kingdom Come, Vito transferred his affection once more, said to have served as an interpreter for the Allied Military Government in Italy, a fact that has been vociferously denied by Poletti, who claimed that he did not know Genovese, that he had never worked for him, and that he had never been in need of an Italian-speaking interpreter, as he spoke the language fluently himself.
  51. ^ J. T. White, The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 55, 1974, page 559
  52. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Discharged From Army, New York Times, November 15, 1945
  53. ^ Newspaper article, Coat, Suit Trade Chooses Poletti; Named as Arbiter, New York Times, March 20, 1946
  54. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Quits Post here, New York Times, June 3, 1947
  55. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti is Named to Power Board, New York Times, March 2, 1955
  56. ^ Newspaper article, Governor to Fill Job; May Name Westchester Man to Power Authority, New York Times, March 19, 1960
  57. ^ Newspaper article, First 'Envoys' Leave for Europe To Promote '64 World's Fair, New York Times, August 15, 1960
  58. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Recipient of Many Gifts As Fair's International Officer, New York Times, June 13, 1964
  59. ^ Newspaper article, City Adding an Extra Dash of Culture, New York Times, April 21, 1965
  60. ^ Social Security Death Index
  61. ^ Newspaper article, Charles Poletti Dies at 99; Aided War-Ravaged Italy, New York Times, August 10, 2002
  62. ^ Newspaper article, Col. Poletti Decorated, AMG Chief Gets Legion of Merit for Service in Italian Areas, New York Times, September 13, 1945
  63. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Decorated by Pope, New York Times, September 24, 1945
  64. ^ Newspaper article, Italy Decorates Poletti, New York Times, September 28, 1945
  65. ^ Newspaper photo headline and caption, Poletti Honored for Wartime Service, New York Post, July 6, 1948
  66. ^ Newspaper article, Harness the Jordan, New York Times, June 5, 1971
  67. ^ Who's Who in the World, published by Marquis, 1978
  68. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Power Plant to Close[permanent dead link], New York Daily News, September 6, 2002
  69. ^ Newspaper article, Skepticism About Plan to Shutter Power Plant, by Ken Belson, New York Times, January 28, 2009
  70. ^ Newspaper article, Astoria Power Plant Closes Under Pressure, New York Post, February 6, 2010

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
M. William Bray
Lieutenant Governor of New York
1939–1942
Succeeded by
Joe R. Hanley
Acting Lieutenant Governor
Preceded by
Herbert H. Lehman
Governor of New York
1942
Succeeded by
Thomas E. Dewey
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Harold E. Stassen
Earliest Serving United States Governor
2001–2002
Succeeded by
J. Strom Thurmond