De Blasio's Immigrant Grandmother: Sweatshop Boss

Mayor de Blasio tugged at the heartstrings of all New Yorkers during his State of the City address when he spoke of his immigrant grandmother, Anna Briganti, who well over a century ago forsook the beauties of Italy “for an apartment at 205 East 17th Street in Manhattan, just a short walk from here…a place lacking the tranquil comforts of her childhood.”

The mayor explained that, in search of “a better life,” his grandmother and her two sisters started an embroidery company in 1910.

“My grandmother’s story – like most New York success stories – was not a fairy tale,” explained the Mayor.  “She did not stumble upon success through luck or charm; she forged it with hard work and raw grit.”

An inspiration, to be sure.

However, the Mayor omitted the part of the story where his grandmother and her sisters turned their house at 205 East 17th Street into a factory where no fewer than 34 people were working by 1915. 

Moreover, he neglected to mention that his grandmother’s sister Imperior was arrested, according to The New York Times (12/4/1915) on charges of “violating regulations relating to smoking and safety appliances.”  The arrest came “as a result of an extensive campaign against fire hazards in the factories of the city.”

Mayor de Blasio’s great-aunt pled guilty to “having an inadequate fire alarm apparatus,” four years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 garment workers less than a mile ("just a short walk") south of the “Misses Briganti” home/"factory at 205 East Seventeenth Street.”

Bill de Blasio certainly isn't at fault for how his grandmother made money running a dangerous sweatshop.  But he is at fault for prominently foregrounding his insipid version of a story of immigrant striving, when the truth is much more complex and interesting.  Even if it doesn't fit his simplistic "two cities" narrative.