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.
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.