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William Jay Gaynor (1849 - September 10, 1913) was an American politician from New York City, associated with the Tammany Hall political machine. He served as mayor of the City of New York from 1910 to 1913, as well as stints as a New York Supreme Court Justice from 1893 to 1909.
He was born in 1851 in Oriskany, New York.
A one time member of the Christian Brothers order, William Jay Gaynor would disappoint Tammany Hall when they nominated him for mayor in 1909. Although Gaynor abandoned the Christian order in 1869, later becoming a crusading reporter and Brooklyn attorney, he retained his righteous temperament.
Elected to the New York State Supreme Court in 1893, and appointed to the Appellate Division, Second Department in 1905, Gaynor's rulings were often cited around the country. His reputation as an honest reformer helped win him election as mayor in 1909.
On January 1, 1910, he walked to City Hall from his home in Brooklyn - it was the first time he had ever visited the seat of city government - and addressed the 1,500 people gathered to greet him: "I enter upon this office with the intention of doing the very best I can for the City of New York. That will have to suffice; I can do no more."
Gaynor's marriage with Tammany Hall was short-lived; soon after taking office, he filled high level government posts with experts and city employees were chosen from civil service lists in the order they appeared, effectively curbing patronage and nepotism. As mayor, he railed against efforts to thwart the further development of the New York City subway system. A strong willed but compassionate mayor, Gaynor once remarked, "The world does not grow better by force or by the policeman's club."
Early in his first term, Gaynor was shot in the throat by James J. Gallagher, a discharged city employee. Gaynor remains the only New York City mayor to suffer an assassination attempt. The violent incident happened on board the Europe-bound SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, which was docked at Hoboken, New Jersey. Observing Gaynor in conversation, New York World photographer William Warnecke snapped what he thought would be a typical, if uneventful, photo of the new Mayor. Instead, Warnecke captured the very moment that Gallagher, at point-blank range, shot a bullet through Gaynor's neck. The rarely-seen snapshot remains one of the greatest, though horrific, photographs in the history of photojournalism.
Although Gaynor quickly recovered, the bullet remained lodged in his throat for the next three years. During his term as mayor, Gaynor was widely considered a strong candidate for Governor or President. Tammany Hall refused to nominate him for reelection to a second term, but after accepting the nomination from an independent group of voters, he set sail for Europe. Six days later, on September 10, 1913, Gaynor died suddenly from the lingering effects of the shooting.
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