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LaGuardia College honors former journalist

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LaGuardia Community College has published a 2003 calendar honoring a Milwaukee-born Russian revolution­ary’s son who LaGuardia’s archivist has called “one of the premier No. 2 guys in history.”

The man whose life is portrayed in the calendar is Julius Caesar Claude Edelstein, a journalist, World War II naval officer, New York City official and adviser to some of the renowned figures in history.

“I’m a bit overwhelmed by all this,” said Edelstein, 90, “maybe even a bit embarrassed.”

LaGuardia is paying tribute to Edelstein as someone who, rather than making the headlines, worked behind the scenes with ideas and administrative ability to bring influence and change.

“You don’t write history books about it, but he was one of the premier No. 2 guys in this country’s history,” said Dr. Richard K. Lieberman, director of the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives, which published the calendar.

“His story gives us personal insight into some of the major moments of American history.”

Edelstein, who is senior adviser to the LaGuardia-Wagner Archives, was born in Milwaukee, Wis., on Feb. 29, 1912. He was the son of a Russian revolutionary who fled the Czarist regime.

Young Edelstein became active in the Young People’s Socialist League and campaigned on behalf of Eugene V. Debs, the labor leader and Socialist candidate for president.

Failing to get into Harvard after his article in his high school newspaper criticized the principal, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at the age of 15.

He abandoned pre-med studies for government and politics, supporting himself with journalism. He joined the news agency United Press and was on duty alone in the UP bureau in Washington, D.C. on the Sunday when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. His background on Pacific issues proved invaluable to his news agency and he was responsible for coverage of the events in Hawaii, the Philippines and Washington in the period immediately after the Japanese attack.

Edelstein enlisted in the Navy, served on the battleship New Jersey in the Pacific and became aide to Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, accompanying him to the Potsdam conference, which divided occupied Germany among the Allies after Germany surrendered. Later, he was adviser to Paul V. McNutt, U.S. high commissioner in the Philippines and an adviser to Philippine President Manuel Roxas.

In 1949, Edelstein was appointed executive assistant to U.S. Sen. Herbert Lehman (D-N.Y.). In the years immediately after World War II, when millions of Europeans were homeless and many stateless, Lehman and Edelstein fought for a change in strict U.S. immigration laws to allow more immigrants into the country.

Lehman and Edelstein also opposed U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.), whose anti-communist campaign of reckless accusations and unsubstantiated claims resulted in the term McCarthyism. Edelstein wrote a speech for Lehman labeling McCarthyism as “a straitjacket of fear.” McCarthy was later censured by his fellow senators.

Edelstein, one of the founding fathers of the City University Open Admission policy, was Mayor Robert Wagner’s liaison to the black community in the 1960s and worked to break the influence of Tammany Hall on New York City Democratic Party politics.

Edelstein’s work on housing and anti-poverty programs during the Wagner administration was wide ranging. He was heavily involved with the West Side Urban Renewal program in Manhattan, one of the first large public housing projects to significantly involve community members in design.

Edelstein’s friends and colleagues celebrated his 90th birthday last year at the City University Graduate Center.

The calendar, titled “Man Behind the Scenes,” is replete with brief items on his career and photos, including one of Edelstein with Lehman, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan and Israeli ambassador Abba Eban at the 10th anniversary of Israel in 1958.

The calendar is available at LaGuardia Community College, 31-10 Thomson Ave., Long Island City 11101. Telephone 482-5065 or www.LaGuardiaWagnerArchive.lagcc.cuny.edu

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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