Recently it dawned on me that I have no idea how the mayor of New York City actually exercises power. I know how it works in the executive branch of the federal government: the Congress passes laws and the president executes them through his appointees, who carry out his orders or lose their jobs. The appointments are overseen by Congress.
But how does it work in New York City?
Rather than just looking up the answer, I decided that what I really wanted to know was the entire history of New York City: how it came to be what it is today. With that in mind, I headed to the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (where my wife was engaged in a project involving some William Carlos Williams poems that appear to be free translations of the troubadour poet Arnaut Daniel, but that’s another story) and checked out Edward Robb Ellis’s marvelous The Epic of New York City, which begins the story with the first European sighting of the future New York City and ends with the Wagner Administration (the book was published in 1966).
It took exactly two sentences for me to learn something interesting.
Considering how dense New York City is with culture and human endeavor, it should come as no surprise that it’s ridiculously dense with history as well. I keep finding fascinating little facts, like the roots of the names that map the city today: Gowanus comes from a Chief Gouwane, a dandy called the Young Prince — jong kheer in Dutch — gave Yonkers its name, and New Haarlem was exactly as far from New Amsterdam as Haarlem was from Amsterdam in the old country. And it thrilled me no end to learn that Broadway was an old Native American trail that predated the arrival of Europeans.
And so, I begin today a new feature on The Palaverist: the NYC Fact of the Day.
NYC Fact of the Day: The first European expedition to catch sight of what would become New York City was captained by Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian working for the French. The second was led by Estéban Gómez, a black Portuguese captain. And Henry Hudson’s mission was the third to spot New York, but the first to land.