6. How did Robert Moses Hold Onto Power For So Long?

Robert Moses held onto seemingly unchallenged power for over four decades, through the administrations of 6 mayors, 5 governors, and several presidents. How? The lowly tollbooth gave Moses a never-ending cash flow that was used as collateral for the bond issues he needed to finance his projects. But what made his highway and bridge tollbooths even more powerful was the fact that in the early 1920s when he had been Gov. Al Smith’s chief of staff, Moses himself had stealthily rewritten the New York State legislation governing public authorities.

Prior to this, a public authority was typically a 40-year entity, based on the time it took to pay off the bonds that financed the structure, at which point the toll was eliminated. Moses’ legislation re-invented public authorities as open-ended entities, collecting tolls long after the authority’s financial obligations to its bondholders had been paid. And what made this an even more powerful tool was that the cash flows on Moses’ bridges and highways were always increasing as “car culture” took over 20th century America. All of this, in combination with three phases of federally-subsidized financing – the WPA program in the 1930s, the Title I urban renewal program in the 1940s, and Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway initiative in the 1950s – generated a perfect wave of funding that Moses was able to ride high on for almost 40 years.