Remembering the “King of the Bowery”: the Mixed Legacy of “Big Tim” Sullivan

In promotion for her forthcoming book, about The Bowery, author Alice Sparberg Alexiou gave an engaging and detailed illustrated talk about one of the notorious thoroughfare’s eponymous anti-heroes: the colorful, charismatic, and corrupt Tammany Hall boss of everything below 14th Street. In her talk — held on 24 May 2017 at Grace Church High School and sponsored by the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors — Alexiou comprehensively examined all sides of his enigmatic legacy. He is remembered as both a corrupt politician who stuffed ballots with fraudulent votes, as well as a forward-thinking social reformer, responsible for New York’s most important gun control law, and helping the push for women’s suffrage.

author Alice Sparberg Alexiou
Author Alice Sparberg Alexiou

In examining such a mixed legacy, one ought not to quickly label the “good guys” and “bad guys” of history. “Big Tim” was, in many ways, a response to the immigrant communities’ call for protection and assistance. That he used unsavory means to achieve his ends is beyond question; nevertheless, his pragmatism won his community many victories, and we still see the effects of the fights he fought today. In the end, he reminds us of a time when local politicians had a more intimate relationship with their constituents. Those days are gone; but Tim Sullivan’s persistence and dedication lives on.

Alice Sparberg Alexiou’s other works include: Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary and The Flatiron: The New York Landmark and the Incomparable City That Arose with It. She is a contributing editor at Lilith magazine and written for The New York Times and Newsday, among others. She is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and has a Ph.D. in classics from Fordham University.

 

Scott Gordon

I am a Philosophy major and a History minor at the College of Wooster in Ohio. Much of my family came from the Lower East Side, after emigrating from Eastern Europe at the turn of the century. Therefore, the history being preserved here is very dear to me.

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