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Charles Poletti

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Charles Poletti
Charles Poletti.jpg
United States War Department photo of Poletti as governor 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 (acting)
Justice of the New York Supreme Court
In office
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
  • Jean Knox Ellis Poletti
  • Elizabeth Munn Vanderloo
EducationHarvard University (AB, LLB)
Civilian awardsOrder of the Star of Jordan
Order of Saint Agatha (Grand Officer) (San Marino)
Military service
AllegianceUnited States of America
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Years of service1943–1945
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)

Charles Poletti (July 2, 1903 – August 8, 2002) was an American lawyer and politician. He became the 46th governor of New York in December 1942, and was the first person entirely of Italian-American ancestry to become the governor of a U.S. state.[1]

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 Jr. 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, initially as a special assistant to the Secretary of War, and then 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 retiring, 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.

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Early life and education

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.[2][3][4]

Poletti intended to manage a bakery after graduating from Spaulding High School in 1920,[5] but was encouraged by his principal to attend college.[6] He attended Harvard University on a scholarship, and worked a variety of part-time jobs to finance his studies, including waiting tables, washing dishes, and tutoring.[7] In 1924, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics summa cum laude, was admitted to Phi Beta Kappa, and then studied at the University of Rome, the University of Bologna and the University of Madrid.[8][9] Poletti later served on Harvard's Board of Overseers.[10]

Start of career

In 1928, Poletti graduated from Harvard Law School with a LL.B. degree, cum laude. After passing the bar exam he joined the New York City firm of 1924 Democratic presidential nominee John W. Davis.[11]

In 1928 Poletti was active in the presidential campaign of Governor Alfred E. Smith, and in 1932 he became counsel to the Democratic National Committee.[12] In addition, he was appointed to a seat on the state Board of Social Welfare.[13]

In 1933 Poletti was appointed on Felix Frankfurter's recommendation to be counsel to Governor Herbert H. Lehman.[13] Lehman relied heavily on Poletti, asked him to move into the executive mansion, and assigned him tasks from drafting legislation and speeches to lobbying for passage of New Deal measures advocated by the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt.[14][15][16]

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.[17][18][19]

Election as lieutenant governor and succession to governorship

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
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 Lehman.[20][21][22]

In 1939 Poletti was elected to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's board of directors.[23] In 1940 he 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.[24]

Poletti, state Attorney General John J. Bennett Jr. and U.S. Senator James M. Mead were candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1942.[25] When party leaders coalesced around Bennett, Poletti withdrew and accepted renomination for lieutenant governor.[26] Bennett defeated Mead for the gubernatorial nomination.[27] The ticket of Bennett and Poletti were defeated in the general election by Thomas E. Dewey and Thomas W. Wallace.[28]

When Lehman resigned as governor 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.[29] He served 29 days, the shortest term of any New York governor.[30]

After leaving office Poletti was appointed special assistant to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson.[31][32] In this position he worked to racially integrate the military.[33][34]

World War II

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."[35]

In July 1943 Poletti was assigned to serve as a U.S. Army civil affairs officer in Italy, largely because as a first-generation Italian-American who had studied in Italy, was fluent in Italian and had served as a governor, he had an understanding of the local culture and sufficient stature to earn the Sicilian people's respect. Initially assigned to assist in restoring civil government in Palermo, he became responsible for rebuilding efforts throughout Sicily.[36][37][38]

As the Allies continued to liberate mainland Italy Poletti's command followed to restore water and electricity, distribute food and water, and begin returning the formerly fascist country to democracy.[39]

Notice by order of Lt. Col. Charles Poletti (Regional Commissioner - Allied Control Commission - Headquarters Region 3)
Notice by order of Lt. Col. Charles Poletti (Regional Commissioner - Allied Control Commission - Headquarters Region 3)

Some sources say that while Poletti served in Sicily his driver and interpreter was Mafia boss Vito Genovese, who had fled New York in the 1930s to escape prosecution for murder.[40] Genovese was allegedly heavily involved in black-market activities with other Sicilian Mafiosi, including Calogero Vizzini.[41] Another Mafia boss, Lucky Luciano, is also alleged to have once described Poletti as "one of our good friends."[42] Poletti always said he had no connection to Genovese, Luciano, the Mafia, or black market activities.[43][44] In a 1993 interview for BBC TV, Poletti said, "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."[45] 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.[46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53]

After World War II

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[54] 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.[55][56][57]

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.[58][59]

Poletti at the time of the World's Fair in 1964
Poletti at the time of the World's Fair in 1964

From 1960 to 1965 he was the executive responsible for foreign exhibits at the 1964 New York World's Fair.[60][61][62]

Retirement and death

Poletti died at age 99 in his San Marco Island, Florida home.[63] He was survived by his second wife, Elizabeth, and his children, 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.[64][65]

Awards and honors

Poletti received the Legion of Merit for his service in Italy.[66] In 1945 Poletti received the Order of Saint Gregory the Great from Pope Pius XII.[67] In addition, Italy's government named him a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Crown of Italy.[68] Poletti was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1948.[69] For his work at the World's Fair Poletti received the Order of the Star of Jordan.[70] He also received the Grand Officer of the Order of Saint Agatha of San Marino.[71] 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.[72][73][74]


  1. ^ Amster, Linda; McClain, Dylan Loeb, eds. (2002). Kill Duck Before Serving: Red Faces at The New York Times. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-3122-8427-5 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ State of Vermont Death certificate, Dino Poletti
  3. ^ 1920 US Census entry, Dino Poletti family
  4. ^ Newsletter article, Eleonora Duse Fellowship, Italy America Society News Bulletin, Number 34 (May, 1924), page 6
  5. ^ Annual Report of the City of Barre, Vermont. Barre, VT: Granite City Press. 1921. p. 102.
  6. ^ New York Red Book: An Illustrated State Manual, published by Williams Press, 1940, page 19
  7. ^ Italian Americana: Volume 25, Issue 2, page 138
  8. ^ New York Red Book: An Illustrated State Manual, published by Williams Press, 1942, page 61
  9. ^ Vermont History, Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society, Volumes 31-32, 1963, page 283
  10. ^ Newspaper article, Harvard Board Chosen; Poletti is Among the Seven Named as Overseers, New York Times, June 21, 1940
  11. ^ The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia, by Salvatore John LaGumina, 2000, page 271
  12. ^ "Poletti Is Sure of Bench But Faces Fall Test". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Brooklyn, NY. Eagle Bureau, Capitol Building. April 16, 1937. p. 3 – via
  13. ^ a b "Poletti Is Sure of Bench", p. 3.
  14. ^ Newspaper article, State Ready to Speed Hauptmann Extradition, New York Times, September 23, 1934
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ Newspaper article, Judge Poletti, New York Times, September 25, 1937
  19. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Takes Oath; Sworn In for 14-Year Term on Bench in Simple Ceremony, New York Times, January 1, 1938
  20. ^ Newspaper article, Democratic Ticket Nominated for State, New York Times, October 1, 1938
  21. ^ Newspaper article, Lehman Ekes Out Win Over Dewey, Montreal Gazette, November 9, 1938
  22. ^ Newspaper article, Asks All to Unite; Governor, at Inaugural, Calls for Public Welfare to Fortify Freedom, New York Times, January 3, 1939
  23. ^ Magazine article, Poletti and Roosevelt elected to N.A.A.C.P. Board, The Crisis, February, 1939
  24. ^ Black baseball's national showcase: the East-West All-Star Game, 1933-1953, by Larry Lester, 2002, page 140
  25. ^ "Bennett gets Support Bid by Lehman". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, NY. Associated Press. August 28, 1942. p. 7 – via
  26. ^ Newspaper article, Bennett's Nomination a Victory for Farley, New York Times, August 23, 1942
  27. ^ "Bennett Nominated". Poughkeepsie Journal. Poughkeepsie, NY. Associated Press. August 20, 1942. p. 1 – via
  28. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Defeated, New York Times, November 5, 1942
  29. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Becomes Governor As Lehman Quits Albany, New York Times, December 3, 1942
  30. ^ Newspaper article, Obituary, Charles Poletti: Served as N.Y. governor for 29 days; 99, San Diego Union Tribune, August 11, 2002
  31. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Takes Post As Stimson Aide, New York Times, January 3, 1943
  32. ^ Newspaper article, Stimson to Assign Tasks to Poletti, New York Times, January 8, 1943
  33. ^ The Employment of Negro Troops, by Ulysses Lee, 1963, page 175
  34. ^ Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965, by Morris J. MacGregor, 1981, pages 59 to 60
  35. ^ Newspaper article, Throw Out Hitler and Mussolini, Poletti Urges Italians by Radio, New York Times, December 28, 1942
  36. ^ Newspaper article, Report Poletti Being Groomed for Sicily Post, Chicago Tribune, July 18, 1943
  37. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Serving as Civil Affairs Officer in Sicily, Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1943
  38. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Has Post In Sicilian Regime, New York Times, July 19, 1943
  39. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Says Allies Must Help Italy Get Organized, St. Petersburg Times, July 3, 1944
  40. ^ Antony Shugaar, "Forward" in Salvatore Lupo, History of the Mafia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. xiii.
  41. ^ How Capitalism Created The Mafia, Socialist Worker Online, January 22, 2008
  42. ^ The Great Heroin Coup: Drugs, Intelligence, & International Fascism, by Henrik Krüger, 1981, page 24
  43. ^ Newspaper article, Genovese Link Denied; Poletti Says He Did Not Have Gangster as Interpreter, New York Times, December 2, 1952
  44. ^ The Godfathers: Lives and Crimes of the Mafia Mobsters, Roberto Olla, 2007
  45. ^ Fighting the Mafia in World War Two, by Tim Newark, 2007, page 218
  46. ^ Best of Sicily (1999). ""Battle" of Palermo". Liberation: The Sicilian Campaign - 1943. Palermo, Italy: Best of Retrieved September 24, 2017.
  47. ^ Tinney, Cal (August 8, 1943). "Man of the Week: Charlie "Amgot" Poletti". Nevada State Journal. Reno, NV. p. 12 – via
  48. ^ Salvatore John LaGumina, The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia, 1999, page 271
  49. ^ Salvatore John LaGumina, The Humble And the Heroic: Wartime Italian Americans, 2006, page 223
  50. ^ Martin, Kyre; Joan, Kyre (1968). Military Occupation and National Security. Washington, DC: Public Affairs Press. p. 108.
  51. ^ 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.
  52. ^ 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
  53. ^ 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.
  54. ^ J. T. White, The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 55, 1974, page 559
  55. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Discharged From Army, New York Times, November 15, 1945
  56. ^ Newspaper article, Coat, Suit Trade Chooses Poletti; Named as Arbiter, New York Times, March 20, 1946
  57. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Quits Post here, New York Times, June 3, 1947
  58. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti is Named to Power Board, New York Times, March 2, 1955
  59. ^ Newspaper article, Governor to Fill Job; May Name Westchester Man to Power Authority, New York Times, March 19, 1960
  60. ^ Newspaper article, First 'Envoys' Leave for Europe To Promote '64 World's Fair, New York Times, August 15, 1960
  61. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Recipient of Many Gifts As Fair's International Officer, New York Times, June 13, 1964
  62. ^ Newspaper article, City Adding an Extra Dash of Culture, New York Times, April 21, 1965
  63. ^ Goldstein, Richard (August 10, 2002). "C. Poletti, Helped War-Torn Italy". Sun Sentinel. Retrieved October 5, 2022.
  64. ^ Social Security Death Index
  65. ^ Newspaper article, Charles Poletti Dies at 99; Aided War-Ravaged Italy, New York Times, August 10, 2002
  66. ^ Newspaper article, Col. Poletti Decorated, AMG Chief Gets Legion of Merit for Service in Italian Areas, New York Times, September 13, 1945
  67. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Decorated by Pope, New York Times, September 24, 1945
  68. ^ Newspaper article, Italy Decorates Poletti, New York Times, September 28, 1945
  69. ^ Newspaper photo headline and caption, Poletti Honored for Wartime Service, New York Post, July 6, 1948
  70. ^ Newspaper article, Harness the Jordan, New York Times, June 5, 1971
  71. ^ Who's Who in the World, published by Marquis, 1978
  72. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Power Plant to Close[permanent dead link], New York Daily News, September 6, 2002
  73. ^ Newspaper article, Skepticism About Plan to Shutter Power Plant, by Ken Belson, New York Times, January 28, 2009
  74. ^ Newspaper article, Astoria Power Plant Closes Under Pressure, New York Post, February 6, 2010

External links

Political offices
Preceded by Lieutenant Governor of New York
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of New York
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by Earliest serving United States Governor
Succeeded by
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