Book Review: Alfred B. Delbello
Reviewed by Tucker Lieberman
A thoughtful and caring portrait of a public servant committed to improving New York
Readers with an interest in 20th-century New York history will glean a lot from this biography of Alfred B. DelBello. Born in Yonkers, he was elected mayor of that city in 1969. He later became Westchester County Executive and served as New York lieutenant governor to Mario Cuomo until 1985.
People from Westchester County probably recognize DelBello’s name. A centrist Democrat, he worked across party lines to get things done, and his list of accomplishments is long. He didn’t work alone, of course and was “never one to micromanage his staff.” Much of the historical information in this biography gets drawn from local newspapers, and the narrative takes on a sympathetic tone.
DelBello established “a Plant Closing Task Force to make industrial closings more predictable” and job training with sensitivity to mental health and addiction. He opposed the demolishing of a historic mansion on a farm. He dealt with the question of what to do with the nearly 1-million tons of trash in Westchester County each year and “refused to dump his problems upstate,” instead retrieving recyclable materials and incinerating trash locally. He addressed teen suicide and advocated for a burn unit in a new hospital.
In 1974, when an international oil embargo caused a gasoline shortage in Westchester County, he asked the state to increase supply, and he implemented a rationing plan. Even gas station owners found they could tolerate the restrictions at the pump once customers were no longer panicking.
A year later, he created the Westchester transportation department, coordinating 16 separate companies to run buses “painted in the same color scheme.” He made a consumer affairs office that took “hundreds of calls per month” and a task force for women’s needs that eventually became the Westchester County Office for Women. He started car-free Bicycle Sundays on the Bronx River Parkway.
In 1982, Mario Cuomo, who was running for governor, tried to warn him away from running for lieutenant governor, telling him he didn’t believe New Yorkers would vote for a ticket with two Italians. (This was an excuse; then-governor Hugh Carey had always favored DelBello, and Cuomo wanted a clean slate.) But DelBello won his primary for lieutenant governor, and the Cuomo/DelBello ticket did go on to win office.
“He was motivated by good ideas, by trying things that had never been tried, thereby making the impossible possible,” Lipman writes. He cared about people and wanted to improve their lives.
As Al’s widow (Dee DelBello) writes in her dedication, this biography gains extra meaning in the 21st century, given the loss of bipartisanship in the United States. Readers will find that this record stands as a good reminder of what politicians can accomplish when they think of themselves as public servants.
This is a clear, soft-hearted, and a well-organized account of Al DelBello’s important political work. By contrast, not much personal detail about him is given; we know he once ran after the family dog for miles to save it from getting lost. Otherwise, the man’s personal life remains “private,” as Lipman puts it—just as DelBello chose to live.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Nonfiction / Biography / Political
Print Length: 268 pages
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