Why write about a bar on Broadway in Astoria that closed a couple of years ago? It turns out there’s probably some Long Island City history in the name. It’s quite possible that Gleason’s wasn’t named for the bar’s founder, or the beloved “Great One” comic/bandleader Jackie Gleason. It’s quite possible it was named for the mayor of Long Island City before Queens became part of Greater New York, a colorful character named Patrick Jerome “Battle Ax” Gleason. He was elected mayor of Long Island City for three separate two-year terms between 1887-1897.
Patrick Jerome Gleason (1844-1901) was a Long Island City politician who held many political jobs throughout his lifetime, sometimes even at the same time.
In the Board of Alderman election of 1885, Gleason was elected alderman-at-large from the First District of Long Island City. In November 1886, he put himself up for election as mayor of Long Island City as an independent without being nominated by the Regular Democrats or Independent Democrats, running against George Petry. In the election, he won 1436 votes to George Petry’s 1258. He owed his election to the vote of the working-class Irish of the First Ward, Hunter’s Point & Blissville.
Patrick Jerome Gleason now occupied two offices at once-alderman and mayor; when asked to resign his council seat, he refused on the ground that there was no statute in the Long Island City Charter forbidding dual office holding. This point was correct. No one in 1871 had foreseen this eventuality. Gleason’s dual status gave him unique power; he could act as a legislator and pass or veto his own legislation. Gleason held on to his alderman’s seat until the term of his office expired.
Gleason could be said to be the Boss Tweed of Queens. He owned the area trolley lines, leased land to the school district, and formed the City Water Supply Co. to sell Long Island City water from his wells. When a ferry erected a fence to block access to the waterfront, Gleason destroyed it with an axe, earning his nickname.
When the New York Times published an article exposing his graft, he purchased and destroyed nearly every copy distributed in Long Island City. His relationship with the press was pricklier than Donald Trump’s. He approached Associated Press reporter George Crowley in a hotel lobby in 1890 and berated him, then physically attacked him, throwing him against a glass cigar stand. He was arrested and convicted of third-degree assault, and served five days in the county prison , paying a fine of $250. Gleason followed some time later by dislocating the shoulder of a fellow meetinggoer at the Board of Health.
Nevertheless Gleason was beloved in Long Island City. The Romanesque PS 1 at Jackson and Van Alst Avenue (21st Street) is his greatest remaining legacy. Hundreds attended his burial in Calvary Cemetery in 1901.