In 1910, New York City elected its first “roving mayor”

Earlier this month, Eric Adams announced that if elected he would ride a bike to and from City Hall on a regular basis, making him New York’s first “bicycle mayor” (while two mayors have been spotted riding bikes, “nobody was a regular cyclist,” according to Evan Fries, author of On Bikes: A 200-Year History of Cycling in New York City.) We’ve been down this road before—more than a century ago, Gotham was led by a CEO who was the first “walking mayor”: William J. Gaynor.

Gaynor, an honest, reform-oriented Brooklyn judge before he was elected mayor, lived near the entrance to the Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Park. This was years before New York mayors granted use of Gracie Palace as their executive residence.

Read more: Amazing Gracie mansion. Why did mayors reject it from the start?

Every morning, Gaynor—who was in his early sixties—went out of his house, walked down Flatbush Street, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, and finished his ride at City Hall. The trip was about 3.5 miles one way, and in the evening it was going the other way. Edwin Wildeman, the New York Times reporter who accompanied Jenor on one of his Tuesday morning trips in June of 1910, practiced this routine “not occasionally, not frequently–but every working day of the year.”

Wildman’s detailed account of his walk and conversation with Gaynor, published in the paper with a selection of photos, offers some insights into one of our best, but little-remembered, mayors of the 20th century. We learned Gaynor was a serious walker, not just a traveler.

“I start at my house and walk ten, fifteen, twenty miles in the Brooklyn suburbs, quite often,” he told Wildman. He advised: “One should not walk too fast”, “Walk evenly and moderately – and the best results are obtained.”
Regarding city council trips, Gaynor said, “I usually walk alone—I prefer it, because I think better when I walk…There are a lot of interruptions during the day. During these morning walks, I plan to work for the day.”
“I’m never tired,” he said – several times – during his time with Wildman.

Gaynor said he’s confused by the commuting habits of most New Yorkers. “There is no excuse for any man who has an office located three miles from his home and does not walk back and forth. Despite the fact that offices and factories are crowded, often lit and well ventilated, there is a crazy rush of overcrowding. [street cars and subways] …if men go about their business, their health will improve.” Jenor shared some of his other habits for good physique, such as cold showers and only social smoking.

Gaynor was born in Oriscany, New York in 1849, and settled in Brooklyn, which was then an independent city, in 1873. He became a lawyer and, in 1893, was elected a judge to the New York State Supreme Court. In 1909, with the help of Charles Murphy, Tammany Hall’s president, Gaynor was elected the 94th mayor of the then-unified New York City.

On the morning of January 1, 1910, he walked into City Hall to begin his term – it was the first time in his life he had ever entered the building! As his tenure in office progressed, his independent scheming and reform-leaning policies would make him an outcast from the Tammany machine.

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