Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Dont Call Me Boss

Dont Call Me Boss: David L. Lawrence, Pittsburgh’s Renaissance Mayor

Michael P. Weber
Copyright Date: 1988
https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt9qh786
Pages: 472
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qh786
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Dont Call Me Boss
    Book Description:

    The death of David Leo Lawrence in 1966 ended a fifty-year career of major influence in American politics. In a front-page obituary, theNew York Timesnoted that Lawrence, the longtime mayor of Pittsburgh, governor of Pennsylvania, and power in Democratic national politics, disliked being called Boss. But, theTimesnoted, "he was one anyway."

    Certainly Lawrence was a consumate politician. Born in a poor, working-class neighborhood, in the present-day Golden Triange of Pittsburgh, he was from boyhood an astute student of politics and a devoted Democrat. Paying minute attention to every detail at the ward and precinct level, he revived the moribund Democratic party of Pittsburgh and fashioned a machine that upset the long-entrenched Republican organization in 1932.

    When "Davy" Lawrence, as he was affectionately known, won the gubernatorial election in 1958, he became the first Roman Catholic governor of Pennsylvania and the oldest. But he achieved his greatest public recognition as mayor of Pittsburgh. Taking office in 1945, at the close of World War II, this stalwart Democrat formed an alliance with the predominantly Republican business community to bring about the much acclaimed Pittsburgh Renaissance, transforming the downtown business district and persuading many large corporations to retain their national headquarters in Pittsburgh. In 1958 the editors ofFortunemagazine name Pittsburgh as one of the eight best administered cities in America.

    Don't Call Me Bossexamines the lengthy career of this remarkable politician. Using over one hundred interviews, as well as extensive archival material, Michael Weber demonstrates how Lawrence was able to balance his intense political drive and devotion to the Democratic party with the larger needs of his city and state. Although his administration was not free of controversy, as indicated by the city's police and free work scandals. Lawrence showed that it was possible to make the transition from nineteenth-century political boss to modern municipal manager. He was one of the few politicians of the century to do so. When the undisputed bosses of other American cities - the Curleys, Pendergasts, and Hagues - were out of power and disgraced, Lawrence was elected governor of Pennsylvania.

    More than twenty years after his death, David L. Lawrence and his success in rebuilding the city of Pittsburgh continue to serve as an example of effective urban leadership.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7025-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Biographical Sketches of Key People in Lawrence’s Life
    (pp. xvii-2)
  2. 1889–1919 Growing Up: An Education in Politics
    (pp. 3-21)

    Powerful economic and social divisions gripped Pittsburgh during the last decade of the nineteenth century. Industrialization and the development of modern capitalism, technological change and the depersonalization of the worker contributed to growing labor-management conflicts. Social class separation and ethnic rivalries further divided the population, while Catholic-Protestant hostilities were never far from the surface. Anti-Catholic, antilabor, and nativist sentiments dominated the nation that preached freedom for all. Caught in the midst of these struggles, David Leo Lawrence, an Irish-Catholic son of an unskilled laborer, received lasting lessons in American social organization. Religion, ethnicity, the labor movement, and a sharp awareness...

  3. 1919–1929 Friends, Family, and Work
    (pp. 22-36)

    There was much to distinguish Second Lieutenant David Lawrence from the thousands of veterans who returned to Pittsburgh in the spring of 1919. He was approximately five feet, nine inches in height, with athletic chest and shoulders, a thick neck, and a large head. His dark brown hair was combed straight back, and his eyes were framed by thick, rimless glasses. A square-set jaw, which could become fierce when he was angered, was made less severe by the roundness of his head and by the second chin that he acquired later in life. A broad smile accented by deep lines...

  4. 1929–1934 Crumbs No More
    (pp. 37-64)

    On 31 December 1929, Alyce and David Lawrence, his business partner Jimmy Kirk, and State Senator James Coyne joined other merry-makers at Pittsburgh’s Roosevelt Hotel to bid farewell to an old year and to toast the coming of a new decade. They remained at the celebration until after midnight, dancing and greeting old friends and acquaintances. But none of the men had much reason to celebrate. The insurance company in which all three were involved was deeply in debt and on the brink of bankruptcy. Republican political boss Coyne, constantly under attack from the city’s newspapers and the liberal wing...

  5. Building an Organization
    (pp. 65-85)

    The Roosevelt victory in 1932 and the triumph in the municipal election of 1933 ushered in one of modem America’s most durable and efficient urban political machines. David L. Lawrence, as its head, remained in power until his death in 1966, and remnants of his machine continue to influence political life in the City of Steel. The Republicans, in contrast, have failed to win an important election since 1938 and in several major races have not even bothered to provide a candidate. When they do offer a candidate, the opposition is only a token.

    Political scientists have offered divergent opinions...

  6. 1934–1935 Expanding the Network
    (pp. 86-105)

    In late 1933, Dave Lawrence and Joseph Guffey had reason to suspect that the mayor-elect, William McNair, would not be a cooperative member of the new Democratic team, but in the heat of the election they chose to ignore the warnings issued by McNair himself. Shortly after winning the Democratic primary, McNair told a reporter, “You know, I made an agreement with Davey that I’d let the Democratic party handle all the patronage if I was elected. But if I’m elected, who’ll be the Democratic party? As mayor of Pittsburgh I’ll be the most important Democratic office holder in Pennsylvania...

  7. 1935–1938 Exercising Power: A Little New Deal and a Ripper
    (pp. 106-127)

    It has frequently been suggested that Lawrence underwent the metamorphosis from political boss to urban statesman upon assuming the position of mayor of Pittsburgh in 1945. His political opponents and the press viewed him in the role of the typical boss concerned with winning elections, dispensing patronage and other favors, and building an unassailable power base. He was often accused of showing little regard for the issues of government or the affairs of state. Even close associates confess to an early view of Lawrence as a one-dimensional person concerned only with political affairs. When he was elected mayor in 1945,...

  8. 1938–1940 The Empire Crumbles
    (pp. 128-144)

    State chairman Lawrence could look back with much satisfaction as the 1937 legislative session closed. Under his direction the Democratic administration passed a sweeping program of economic and social reform. Abuses of industrial and corporate wealth had been curbed. Organized labor received its long-sought recognition and governmental protection, and an effective attack on the poverty of the Depression had begun. The state, furthermore, assumed greater responsibility in health care, education, citizen protection, and highway safety. The citizens of Pennsylvania would surely reward the party’s diligence and foresight in the upcoming elections.

    The party organization appeared united and ready to wage...

  9. 1940–1942 Years of Trauma
    (pp. 145-164)

    Governor Earle’s House investigating panel accomplished little more than keep the alleged illegal activities on the front pages of the state’s newspapers for the entire fall campaign. It no doubt contributed heavily to the stinging Democratic defeat. The results satisfied no one and failed to prevent the full-scale investigation by the Dauphin County grand jury that District Attorney Carl Shelley began shortly after the 1938 election. He and Margiotti continued to confer during December, and when the newly appointed grand jury convened on 18 December, the prosecution was ready to present its case. The star witness for the district attorney...

  10. Policies, Principles, and Procedures
    (pp. 165-178)

    Numerous models have been proposed to describe mayoral behavior and predict its impact on the city. These include power-brokering mayors, those who build coalitions, public entrepreneurs, policy experts, and those who somehow “muddle through” most decisionmaking situations. Another model relies on personality as an explanation of the behavior and success or failure of specific urban leaders: Fiorello La Guardia of New York and Anton Cermak of Chicago are two examples of mayors who dominated their city through the force of personality. Each model by itself, however, presents an overly narrow picture of the activities, forces, and behaviors of big-city mayors....

  11. 1942–1945 The Interlude
    (pp. 179-196)

    In mid 1942 David Lawrence was struggling to rise from his political and personal disasters. Fortunately for him the method of his ascent existed within his own, now unstable, political career. His running battle with U.S. Senator Joseph Guffey, a new role in national politics, and his efforts to regain control of the state and of western Pennsylvania politics all contributed to his reemergence.

    Guffey had momentarily held the upper hand in 1940 when, on the strength of his renomination, he insisted that Lawrence make good on his pledge to resign as Democratic state chairman. By installing his own man,...

  12. 1940–1945 A City in Trouble
    (pp. 197-207)

    The Pittsburgh of David Lawrence’s youth led the nation in the production of iron, steel, and glass and in the mining of bituminous coal. The advantages of location, abundant natural resources, and cheap transportation attracted capital, entrepreneurs, and workers to the city. Men such as Andrew Carnegie, George Westinghouse, and Henry Clay Frick combined creative financing, technological innovation, and organizational talents to build multimillion-dollar national corporations. Their heavy industrial firms dominated the city and spurred the development of the nation. The Pittsburgh central business district became a monument to their genius, sprouting multilevel buildings bearing their names. Their companies, in...

  13. 1945–1946 From Political Boss to Civic Statesman
    (pp. 208-227)

    David L. Lawrence entered his first mayoralty campaign backed by a united party (even Joseph Guffey and William McNair made appearances on his behalf), an efficient organization, a full campaign treasury, and the outlines of a program designed to provide an image of a candidate deeply concerned with civic problems. His party also held a two-to-one registration advantage. With backing by the rank and file Democrats a virtual certainty, Lawrence’s main concern was to broaden the party’s traditional New Deal coalition. The business and professional community would be welcomed in a concerted effort to attack the problems plaguing the city....

  14. 1946–1950 Creating a Renaissance: The Environment
    (pp. 228-254)

    As the Pittsburgh Renaissance unfolded, delegations from nearly 100 cities and reporters from more than a dozen national magazines traveled to Pittsburgh to learn the secret of the city’s remarkable redevelopment.¹ What they found, rather than a magic fonnula for renewal, was a unique blend of people and institutions that managed to overcome fundamental differences to achieve a single goal: the renewal of a dying city. Attempts to emulate the model in other cities frequently failed because of their inability to create the relationships that existed in Pittsburgh during the Lawrence era. When the mayor assumed office in 1946, the...

  15. 1946–1959 Creating a Renaissance: Bricks and Mortar
    (pp. 255-276)

    On the evening of 22 March 1946, Mayor Lawrence received a call from Fire Chief William Davis informing him of a spectacular fire raging out of control in the railroad warehouse district at the Point. Lawrence, his executive secretary, Jack Robin, and State Senator Joe Barr, who was in the mayor’s office, went immediately to the area and watched the inferno from the roof of thePittsburgh Pressbuilding. For the next five hours they watched the Wabash Terminal complex, with its rambling sheds and network of overpasses separating the historic Point area from the rest of the city, turn...

  16. 1946–1959 Social Concerns and Other Matters
    (pp. 277-292)

    The business and government collaboration prevailing during the Lawrence administration produced an impressive set of physical and environmental changes in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania. Smoke and flood control, the nation’s largest urban renewal program, industrial expansion, creation of several state and local parks, slum clearance, initial action on the development of a site for the arts and cultural activities, and an organized litter cleanup campaign all resulted from the existence of “pro-growth coalitions” present in American cities in the postwar period.¹ The movement began in Pittsburgh and clearly had its earliest and most spectacular success in the formerly “smoky city.”...

  17. 1946–1959 A Bit of Tarnish: Graft and Corruption
    (pp. 293-314)

    David Lawrence’s impatience with details served him well in the redevelopment process. He relied upon technical experts and expected them to accomplish the objectives that had been established by the administration in cooperation with the private sector leadership. The technical corps, in turn, appreciated the freedom to operate in an environment free of politics or bureaucratic meddling. When political decisions were required to smooth the path toward an objective, they knew the mayor would act decisively and quickly. They also knew that he would not permit the redevelopment projects to become glutted with patronage employees. Each project director and the...

  18. 1946–1959 Politics as Usual
    (pp. 315-338)

    David Lawrence’s life was filled from morning until night, seven days a week. Urban redevelopment, strike mediation, lobbying for state and national legislation, courting business and professional groups, supporting minority group interests and fighting the brush-fires created by the police and other groups—all these commanded his attention. He also attended carefully to the time-consuming obligations of his office: attending fund-raising affairs and ceremonial dinners, cutting ribbons, conducting press conferences, escorting dignitaries, and appearing at social and charitable functions. He almost never said no to such requests. He participated actively in the U.S. Conference of Mayors and twice served as...

  19. 1959–1963 Return to Harrisburg
    (pp. 339-367)

    Lawrence’s smashing sixty-thousand-vote mayoralty victory in 1957 seemed to signal the highlight of an illustrious career. John Drew, the most capable of his Republican opponents, presented only token opposition; the remainder of the Democratic ticket won with equal ease. Democrats controlled virtually every elected position in the city and Allegheny County and held the local judiciary, the governorship, and a U.S. Senate seat. The redevelopment of the city was well under way, with a number of projects nearing completion. Awards and praise from the national media and local and national organizations were bestowed on the “Renaissance mayor” almost weekly. He...

  20. 1963–1966 In Service to the Nation
    (pp. 368-387)

    Speculation regarding the next phase of David Lawrence’s career naturally occurred anywhere Democrats gathered. Many felt he would return to the city of his birth, adopt a semiretired position, and watch over the finishing touches of the Pittsburgh Renaissance. He was still chairman of the URA and had maintained close relations with Mayor Joseph Barr during his absence.¹ Retirement would give him an opportunity to watch the seeds he had sown bear fruit. He could continue to have a dominant hand in local politics, where he was regarded as without peer in either prestige or power. Close supervision might shape...

  21. Epilogue
    (pp. 388-392)

    The attention of most Pittsburghers was fixed on David Lawrence between 21 and 25 November 1966. All three of the city’s newspapers ran editorials eulogizing him and carried numerous features highlighting his lengthy career. Photographic essays accompanied each article. Television station WIIC ran a one-hour special, and several radio stations did the same. The Reverend Charles Owen Rice, an old supporter who had lately become critical, provided the best summary of Lawrence’s political life in a lengthy article in thePittsburgh Catholic.

    The man was a pragmatic idealist. He believed in causes and he served them. He also believed in...

  22. APPENDIX A. Pittsburgh Renewal Projects
    (pp. 395-397)
  23. APPENDIX B. David L. Lawrence: Significant Dates
    (pp. 398-398)