Thomas J. D'Alesandro, III
Mayor of Baltimore 1967-71
D'Alesandro was born in Baltimore on July 24, 1929, the son of Thomas
J. D'Alesandro, Jr. (q.v.) (born in Baltimore in 1903) and Annunciata Lombardi
(born in Naples, Italy, in 1909). The father of Thomas J. D'Alesandro
III was a congressman before becoming a three-term mayor of Baltimore (1947-59).
Young Thomas was the first-born child of seven, in this Roman Catholic
family. Thomas III attended Loyola High School and College and the
University of Maryland School of Law. Following a brief career in
the Army, 1952-55, he entered politics in Baltimore, and under Mayor J.
Harold Grady (q.v.) became the administrative floor leader. In 1963,
Thomas III was elected city council president.
Elected mayor in 1967, Thomas J. D'Alesandro III was inaugurated on
December 5. While feted by friends and family, D'Alesandro knew the
city's grim situation: the school system and urban renewal program
lacked leadership; public housing and the city's housing law enforcement
capacity had deteriorated, and the budding model cities program was chaotic.
The white middle class was retreating to the suburbs, and real estate exploitation
was rampant. Crime was on the increase and financial resources were
badly strained. The only bright spots were a newly completed Charles
Center business, hotel, and cultural complex, along with an awareness that
Baltimore, unlike most large cities, had not suffered from urban riots.
At that time, Baltimore's population was 970,000, and it had a strong mayor/charter
form of government.
Prior to assuming office, D'Alesandro agreed on major goals. Aided
by confidante and city council president William Donald Schaefer, work
toward these goals was well under way at the end of his first year.
Civil rights laws were enacted; close liaison with key agency, bureau,
and finance heads was established; neighborhood multipurpose centers and
mayor's stations were opened to improve delivery of city services; and
a Department of Housing and Community Development was established to coordinate
code enforcement, urban renewal, and related housing matters.
D'Alesandro was especially sensitive to the needs of the poor and to
the aspirations of the city's black population. During his first
four months in office, he appointed more Negroes to posts than any predecessor
over an entire term. He would go out to meet black citizens at their
offices. Yet, with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.,
civil disorder broke out all over Baltimore. D'Alesandro, whose life
had been threatened earlier because of his pro-civil rights activity, was
extremely disheartened. Furthermore, a Republican governor, Spiro
Agnew, seemed less and less interested in the city's plight.
A pall hung over many city leaders when several of them, including housing
commissioner Robert Embry, suggested a city fair at its new Charles Center
to celebrate its neighborhoods, ethnic customs, talents and institutional
strength. On the eve of the first fair, fearing that it would set
up a riot-prone situation and under pressure from conservatives, D'Alesandro
almost canceled it. However, the fair was held and became an annual
event, drawing over a million visitors. The D'Alesandro years were
filled with high energy and the inception of programs that would flower
under the next mayor. Thomas D'Alesandro, a strong family man (married
June 8, 1952) who by then had four children, decided to withdraw from politics
and practice law as a private citizen.
Reprinted from the Biographical Dictionary of American
Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981.