Bill de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio's Grandmother Operated a Sweatshop and Violated New York City Smoking Laws

Hizzoner's State of the City address omitted certain details.

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In his annual State of the City address delivered on Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio waxed on about his grandmother, Anna Briganti, who emigrated to the Big Apple from Grassano, Italy, and opened an embroidery factory with her sister in a house on East 17th Street:

Anna's new home offered her something that her old one did not: profound possibilities to create a better life … for herself … and for her children…She did not stumble upon success through luck or charm; she forged it with hard work and raw grit. And she lived in a place that rewarded those things in unique and powerful ways.

The New York Times, 12/4/1915 |||

By searching The New York Times' online archive, Seth Barron, who blogs at City Council Watch, uncovered more details about Briganti's business that don't fit as neatly into the mayor's clichéd retelling:

…the Mayor omitted the part of the story where his grandmother and her sisters turned their house at 205 East 17th Street into a factory where no fewer than 34 people were working by 1915. 

Moreover, he neglected to mention that his grandmother's sister Imperior was arrested, according to The New York Times (12/4/1915) on charges of "violating regulations relating to smoking and safety appliances."  The arrest came "as a result of an extensive campaign against fire hazards in the factories of the city."

Sure, the Briganti sisters probably weren't doing anything wrong, and the mayor can't be held accountable for the sins of his grandmother. (Incidentally, using The New York Times newspaper archive, I discovered several years ago that my very own great-grandfather, who ran a used clothing store on the Bowery, was arrested in 1936 on accusations that he participated in a scheme "to defraud homeless men of part of their clothing vouchers.")

But as Barron notes, the mayor "is at fault for prominently foregrounding his insipid version of a story of immigrant striving, when the truth is much more complex and interesting."

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  1. Wait – her name was Briganti? Doesn’t that mean “brigands”?

  2. And here I thought the big feature of the story was going to be the naked hypocrisy of the mayor’s policies making every single thing his grandmother did, in both the glamorized and real-life versions, illegal and inaccessible to modern Americans and immigrants.

    1. I like your version better.

    2. – 34 employees

  3. Moreover, he neglected to mention that his grandmother’s sister Imperior was arrested…on charges of “violating regulations relating to smoking and safety appliances.”

    They had those back then?

    1. I’m guessing they were narrow regulations about smoking around certain materials.

    2. Whether 1915 or 2015, you can count on regulators regulatin’

      1. I meant safety appliances. What a bunch of pussies. Greatest generation, my ass.

        1. She pleaded guilty to having an inadequate fire alarm apparatus

          “You mean this orphan with a handbell isn’t enough?!”

    3. Almost surely concern about fire , not smoking per se , in the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire by Washington Square in 1911 .

  4. Sweat shops offend my humanitarian impulse, and I’ll be damned if anyone chooses to work in one on my watch.

  5. I’m disappointed by the lack of orhpans.

  6. And she lived in a place that rewarded those things in unique and powerful ways.

    “Don’t worry, though. We are diligently striving to put an end to this.”

    1. It is incredible that he wasn’t laughed out of the room. Except for the fact that he is surrounded only by fawning sycophants.

  7. You mean a politician cherry-picked the facts to fit the narrative? Since we’re talking about people of Italian heritage and about fashion-conscious New York City, let me put on my Prada shocked face.

  8. Delicious. His grandma sounds like a true hero, especially if we find out orphans were involved.

    1. Delicious orphans?

      1. If we’re talking slow-roasted, then yes.

  9. the Mayor omitted the part of the story where his grandmother and her sisters turned their house at 205 East 17th Street into a factory where no fewer than 34 people were working by 1915.

    NEEDZ MOAR UNIONZ

  10. The takeaway is that New York City has always been over-regulated and has only survived on successive waves of stupid immigrants willing to put up with the bullshit because it is slightly less bullshit than what they escaped.

    1. What makes them stupid immigrants? His grandmother’s story is very similar to my great-grandmother’s story; it’s very similar to my grandfather’s story. You deal with the risks until you can afford to comply with the bullshit, because that’s still better than where they came from.

      1. What makes them stupid is moving to New York City when there are thousands of other towns to choose with far fewer roadblocks to prosperity.

        1. Yeah, immigrant moves to NYC in 1910, buys a building in SoHo in 1920, and a few generations later the family is worth millions. Stupid, stupid immigrants. Odd how NYC has a lot these millionaire descendants of stupid immigrants.

          I understand you may not like NYC, but there’s nothing stupid about emigrating there. NYC is still full of immigrants making their family fortunes (although it’s more from Asians than Eurpoeans in this century).

        2. there are thousands of other towns to choose with far fewer roadblocks to prosperity

          Then why aren’t they moving there instead? Perhaps there are other reasons – maybe even multiple reasons – people choose where they go.

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