Charles Poletti

Charles Poletti
Charles Poletti
Poletti in 1942
46th Governor of New York
In office
December 3, 1942 – December 31, 1942
Lieutenant Joe R. Hanley (acting)
Preceded by Herbert H. Lehman
Succeeded by Thomas E. Dewey
Lieutenant Governor of New York
In office
January 1, 1939 – December 3, 1942
Preceded by M. William Bray
Succeeded by Joe R. Hanley (acting)
Personal details
Born July 2, 1903(1903-07-02)
Barre, Vermont
Died August 8, 2002(2002-08-08) (aged 99)
Marco Island, Florida
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Jean Knox Ellis Poletti
Born May 11, 1904,
Buffalo, New York
Died March 1, 1974,
Marco Island, Florida[1]
Profession Attorney
Religion Baptist[2][3][4][5]

Charles Poletti (July 2, 1903-August 8, 2002) was an American lawyer and politician. He was the 46th Governor of New York in 1942, and was the first Italian-American governor in the United States.


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.[6][7][8]

Poletti intended to manage a bakery after graduating from high school, but was encouraged by his principal to attend college.[9] He attended Harvard University on a scholarship, and worked at a variety of part time jobs to finance his studies, including waiting tables, washing dishes, and tutoring.[10] He received his bachelor's degree in 1924, was admitted to Phi Beta Kappa, and then studied at the University of Rome, the University of Bologna and the University of Madrid.[11][12] Poletti later served on Harvard's Board of Overseers.[13]

Start of career

Poletti graduated from Harvard Law School in 1928. After passing the bar exam Poletti joined the New York City firm of 1924 Democratic nominee for president John W. Davis.[14]

In 1928 he was active in the presidential campaign of Governor Alfred E. Smith, and in 1932 he became counsel to the Democratic National Committee.

In 1933 Poletti was appointed on the recommendation of Felix Frankfurter to be counsel to Governor Herbert H. Lehman. Lehman relied heavily on Poletti, asking him to move into the executive mansion, and assigning him tasks from drafting legislation and speeches to lobbying for passage of New Deal measures advocated by the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt.[15][16][17]

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.[18][19][20]

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

In 1938, Poletti was elected Lieutenant Governor of New York on the Democratic ticket with Governor Lehman.[21][22][23]

In 1939 Poletti was elected to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's board of directors.[24] In 1940 Poletti 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.[25]

Poletti was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in November 1942. When state Attorney General John J. Bennett was selected, Poletti accepted the nomination for reelection as lieutenant governor.[26] Bennett and Poletti were defeated by Thomas E. Dewey and Thomas W. Wallace.[27]

When Governor Lehman resigned 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.[28] He served 29 days, the shortest term of any New York governor.[29]

After leaving office Poletti was appointed special assistant to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson.[30][31] In this position Poletti worked on efforts to racially integrate the military.[32][33]

World War II

On Dec. 27, 1942 Poletti broadcast for the Office of War Information a radio address to the Italian people, urging them to "throw out both Hitler and Mussolini."[34]

In July, 1943 Poletti was assigned to serve as a U.S. Army civil affairs officer in Italy, selected largely because as a first-generation Italian-American who was fluent in Italian and had served as a state governor, he had an understanding of the local culture and had sufficient stature to earn the respect of the Sicilian people. Initially assigned to assist in restoring civil government in Palermo, he became responsible for rebuilding efforts throughout Sicily.[35][36][37]

As the Allies continued to liberate mainland Italy Poletti's command would follow to restore water and electricity, distribute food and water, and begin the process of returning the formerly fascist country to democracy.[38]

Some sources state that while he served in Sicily Poletti's driver and interpreter was Mafia boss Vito Genovese, who had fled New York in the 1930s to escape prosecution for murder.[39] Genovese was allegedly heavily involved in black market activities with other Sicilian Mafiosi, including Calogero Vizzini.[40] Another Mafia boss, Lucky Luciano, is also alleged to have once described Poletti as "one of our good friends."[41] Poletti always stated that he had no connection to Genovese, Luciano, the Mafia, or black market activities.[42][43] In a 1993 interview for BBC TV, Poletti stated: "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."[44]

Post World War II

After leaving the Army as a colonel Poletti became the senior partner in a Manhattan law firm. 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.[45][46][47]

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.[48][49]

From 1960 to 1965 he was the executive responsible for foreign exhibits at the 1964 New York World's Fair.[50][51][52]

Retirement and death

Poletti died at the age of 99. He was survived by his second wife, Elizabeth, and his children, Dr. Charles Poletti, Carla Tidmarsh, and Joanna Todisco. At the time of his death, he was the eldest living former U.S. governor. He was interred at Calkins Cemetery in Elizabethtown, New York.[53][54][55]

Awards and honors

Poletti received the Legion of Merit for his service in Italy.[56] In 1945 Poletti received the Order of Saint Gregory the Great from Pope Pius XII.[57] In addition, Italy's government named him a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Crown of Italy.[58] Poletti was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1948.[59] For his work at the World's Fair Poletti received the Order of the Star of Jordan.[60] He also received the Grand Officer of the Order of Saint Agatha of San Marino.[61] 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.[62][63][64]


  1. ^ Newspaper article, Mrs. Jean Poletti is Dead in Florida, New York Times, March 1, 1974
  2. ^ The Churchman, 1946, Volume 160, page 11
  3. ^ Newspaper article, Priest Won Over to Poletti Cause, New York Times, October 19, 1938
  4. ^ Newspaper article, Charges Poletti Hid Church Background, New York Times, November 5, 1938
  5. ^ Newspaper column, Washington Merry Go Round, by Drew Pearson, published in the Milwaukee Sentinel, September 27, 1943
  6. ^ State of Vermont Death certificate, Dino Poletti
  7. ^ 1920 US Census entry, Dino Poletti family
  8. ^ Newsletter article, Eleonora Duse Fellowship, Italy America Society News Bulletin, Number 34 (May, 1924), page 6
  9. ^ New York Red Book: An Illustrated State Manual, published by Williams Press, 1940, page 19
  10. ^ Italian Americana: Volume 25, Issue 2, page 138
  11. ^ New York Red Book: An Illustrated State Manual, published by Williams Press, 1942, page 61
  12. ^ Vermont History, Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society, Volumes 31-32, 1963, page 283
  13. ^ Newspaper article, Harvard Board Chosen; Poletti is Among the Seven Named as Overseers, New York Times, June 21, 1940
  14. ^ The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia, by Salvatore John LaGumina, 2000, page 271
  15. ^ Newspaper article, State Ready to Speed Hauptmann Extradition, New York Times, September 23, 1934
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ 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
  19. ^ Newspaper article, Judge Poletti, New York Times, September 25, 1937
  20. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Takes Oath; Sworn In for 14-Year Term on Bench in Simple Ceremony, New York Times, January 1, 1938
  21. ^ Newspaper article, Democratic Ticket Nominated for State, New York Times, October 1, 1938
  22. ^ Newspaper article, Lehman Ekes Out Win Over Dewey, Montreal Gazette, November 9, 1938
  23. ^ Newspaper article, Asks All to Unite; Governor, at Inaugural, Calls for Public Welfare to Fortify Freedom, New York Times, January 3, 1939
  24. ^ Magazine article, Poletti and Roosevelt elected to N.A.A.C.P. Board, The Crisis, February, 1939
  25. ^ Black baseball's national showcase: the East-West All-Star Game, 1933-1953, by Larry Lester, 2002, page 140
  26. ^ Newspaper article, Bennett's Nomination a Victory for Farley, New York Times, August 23, 1942
  27. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Defeated, New York Times, November 5, 1942
  28. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Becomes Governor As Lehman Quits Albany, New York Times, December 3, 1942
  29. ^ Newspaper article, Obituary, Charles Poletti: Served as N.Y. governor for 29 days; 99, San Diego Union Tribune, August 11, 2002
  30. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Takes Post As Stimson Aide, New York Times, January 3, 1943
  31. ^ Newspaper article, Stimson to Assign Tasks to Poletti, New York Times, January 8, 1943
  32. ^ The Employment of Negro Troops, by Ulysses Lee, 1963, page 175
  33. ^ Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965, by Morris J. MacGregor, 1981, pages 59 to 60
  34. ^ Newspaper article, Throw Out Hitler and Mussolini, Poletti Urges Italians by Radio, New York Times, December 28, 1942
  35. ^ Newspaper article, Report Poletti Being Groomed for Sicily Post, Chicago Tribune, July 18, 1943
  36. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Serving as Civil Affairs Officer in Sicily, Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1943
  37. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Has Post In Sicilian Regime, New York Times, July 19, 1943
  38. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Says Allies Must Help Italy Get Organized, St. Petersburg Times, July 3, 1944
  39. ^ Antony Shugaar, "Forward" in Salvatore Lupo, History of the Mafia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. xiii.
  40. ^ How Capitalism Created The Mafia, Socialist Worker Online, January 22, 2008
  41. ^ The Great Heroin Coup: Drugs, Intellligence, & International Fascism, by Henrik Krüger, 1981, page 24
  42. ^ Newspaper article, Genovese Link Denied; Poletti Says He Did Not Have Gangster as Interpreter, New York Times, December 2, 1952
  43. ^ The Godfathers: Lives and Crimes of the Mafia Mobsters, Roberto Olla, 2007
  44. ^ Fighting the Mafia in World War Two, by Tim Newark, 2007, page 218
  45. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Discharged From Army, New York Times, November 15, 1945
  46. ^ Newspaper article, Coat, Suit Trade Chooses Poletti; Named as Arbiter, New York Times, March 20, 1946
  47. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Quits Post here, New York Times, June 3, 1947
  48. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti is Named to Power Board, New York Times, March 2, 1955
  49. ^ Newspaper article, Governor to Fill Job; May Name Westchester Man to Power Authority, New York Times, March 19, 1960
  50. ^ Newspaper article, First 'Envoys' Leave for Europe To Promote '64 World's Fair, New York Times, August 15, 1960
  51. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Recipient of Many Gifts As Fair's International Officer, New York Times, June 13, 1964
  52. ^ Newspaper article, City Adding an Extra Dash of Culture, New York Times, April 21, 1965
  53. ^ Social Security Death Index
  54. ^ Newspaper article, Charles Poletti Dies at 99; Aided War-Ravaged Italy, New York Times, August 10, 2002
  55. ^ Gravestone photograph, Find A Grave page for Charles Poletti, accessed January 2, 2011
  56. ^ Newspaper article, Col. Poletti Decorated, AMG Chief Gets Legion of Merit for Service in Italian Areas, New York Times, September 13, 1945
  57. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Decorated by Pope, New York Times, September 24, 1945
  58. ^ Newspaper article, Italy Decorates Poletti, New York Times, September 28, 1945
  59. ^ Newspaper photo headline and caption, Poletti Honored for Wartime Service, New York Post, July 6, 1948
  60. ^ Newspaper article, Harness the Jordan, New York Times, June 5, 1971
  61. ^ Who's Who in the World, published by Marquis, 1978
  62. ^ Newspaper article, Poletti Power Plant to Close, New York Daily News, September 6, 2002
  63. ^ Newspaper article, Skepticism About Plan to Shutter Power Plant, by Ken Belson, New York Times, January 28, 2009
  64. ^ Newspaper article, Astoria Power Plant Closes Under Pressure, New York Post, February 6, 2010

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
M. William Bray
Lieutenant Governor of New York
1939 - 1942
Succeeded by
Joe R. Hanley
Preceded by
Herbert H. Lehman
Governor of New York
Succeeded by
Thomas E. Dewey
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Harold E. Stassen
Earliest Serving United States Governor
2001 - 2002
Succeeded by
J. Strom Thurmond

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