One-Man Play About New York's Political Past Could Help Washington's Future

The ghost of a New York City mayor may inspire Washington to move past their budget impasse.

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Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia of New York City made a notable concession to a legislative committee hearing on defense legislation in 1942.The mayor said the city is willing to be included under the states jurisdiction in defense matters "as long as I don't have to take orders from a state defense director."
Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia of New York City made a notable concession to a legislative committee hearing on defense legislation in 1942.The mayor said the city is willing to be included under the states jurisdiction in defense matters "as long as I don't have to take orders from a state defense director."

It seems nearly impossible for both parties in Congress to agree on something. Yet there was a flicker of hope Monday, at a performance of a one-man show on the life of former New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia at the U.S. Navy Memorial theater.

The play, titled The Little Flower, looks at LaGuardia's career as a dynamic statesman, serving his last day as a three-term mayor. The show was conducted in front of an audience that consisted of a number of elected officials serving in Congress.

"It was wonderful, it was fascinating," glowed Florida Republican Rep. John Mica. "What a powerful play," echoed New York Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko.

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LaGuardia, who served three terms as mayor after 12 years in the House of Representatives, successfully reached across party lines many times during his mayoralty, often presenting himself as a "fusion politician." (Though he was a Republican, nearly half his votes in one mayoral race came from the left.)

The star of the show, Tony LoBianco, tells Whispers that during his performances "candidates on both sides of the aisle think I'm speaking to them."

Since LoBianco began performing The Little Flower in New York last year, the show has had remarkable impact in the city's halls of power. New York mayoral candidate and billionaire John Catsimatidis announced he would be modeling his campaign after LaGuardia after seeing the show and personally meeting with LoBianco.

In Washington, where LoBianco was performing the show for the first time, the actor believes the impact could be even more far-reaching.

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"The audience responded to everything I was talking about... it was remarkable," LoBianco tells Whispers. "I think it's because of the shape we're in."

Mica, who served as chairman of the transportation and infrastructure committee from 2011 to 2012, said he felt a strong connection to the play because of LaGuardia's successes in re-engineering New York transit's system. During LaGuardia's tenure, a number of highways, bridges, tunnels and airports were built in the city, including the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, Triborough Bridge, and his namesake achievement, LaGuardia Airport.

"I felt akin to him," Mica tells Whispers. "When I was Chairman of [the] Transportation [Committee], there was an FAA bill stuck for years, the Dems couldn't do it, a transportation bill that got nowhere. It was only working as a fusion Republican that I could get all of those passed."

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Mica says the message he took away from the play is that politicians have to persist in trying to bring people together, even when it appears impossible. "It's tough today, but it was tough then," he says.

Tonko, who is the grandson of Polish immigrants, got a different message from the performance.

"[LaGuardia] said with the sacrifice of our immigrant ancestors, we should offer sacrifice," Tonko says, referencing LaGuardia's Italian immigrant parents. "He'd give to communities a message of selflessness. He died with modest means. He had given everything. The play talks about how he never took a vacation for 12 years. It's an inspiration."

The Little Flower concluded Monday with LoBianco as LaGuardia, a Republican, clutching a framed photo of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat. LaGuardia supported FDR's New Deal throughout his tenure.

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LoBianco says he hopes his audience members heard the message of bipartisanship loud and clear. "We have to break the party line," he says. "We need a maverick like LaGuardia."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.