Skip to main content

Abraham Beame dies, first Jewish mayor of N.Y.

Beame in 1976  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Abraham Beame, New York's first Jewish mayor, died Saturday at age 94.

Beame died at 10:52 a.m., a spokeswoman for New York University Medical Center said Saturday. He died of complications from surgery performed after he entered the hospital in July, she said.

"He was the last of the clubhouse mayors," said former Mayor Ed Koch, who succeeded Beame in 1978. "He will be remembered for being the mayor when the city was in the middle of a fiscal crisis," Koch told WINS radio.

Beame, who was born in London, England, in 1906, came to the United States a year later. He graduated in 1928 from City College, where he received a degree in accounting.

Beame then opened an accounting firm in Manhattan, taught in New York City public schools, and held posts in city government, including those of assistant budget director under Mayor William O'Dwyer, budget director under Mayor Vincent Impellitteri, and city comptroller in 1962.

After an unsuccessful mayoral bid in 1965, Beame ran successfully as the Democratic candidate for comptroller in 1969. He ran again for mayor on the Democratic ticket in 1973, winning by almost 700,000 votes.

On December 31, 1973, Beame took the oath of office in a private ceremony at his home at 131 Beach St. in Belle Harbor, Queens -- the same Queens street where O'Dwyer had taken the oath three decades before.

Sinatra and Beame
Singer Frank Sinatra and Beame in 1976  

The first Jewish mayor of New York City, Beame told the 1,500 people gathered at the steps of City Hall the following day: "I hope to be a matchmaker in the years of my administration, wedding our people to their city, encouraging them to identify with this great metropolis that is their home."

With New York City on the verge of bankruptcy, Beame brought about massive cuts in the city's capital budget and slashed the municipal payroll by 65,000 people.

It was during Beame's term that President Gerald Ford refused to provide federal aid to New York City, prompting the now famous New York Daily News headline: "Ford to New York: Drop Dead." But Beame helped the city get annual federal loans of $2.3 billion, starting in 1976, which helped stave off bankruptcy.

Despite financial difficulties, New York City still hosted the bicentennial celebration and the Democratic National Convention in 1976. Beame was defeated in the Democratic primary in 1977 by Koch.

"His life led him to the greatest gift of all: being mayor of New York City," Koch told CNN.

See related sites about Politics
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top