Wilson, (Charles) Malcolm (b New York City, 24 Feb 1914; d New Rochelle, Westchester Co, 13 Mar 2000). Governor and Lieutenant Governor.
The son of Charles H. Wilson, a patent lawyer, and Agnes Wilson, both active in the Republican Party, Wilson was raised in Yonkers, to which his family had moved in 1920. Graduating from Fordham Preparatory School in 1929, he received an AB degree from Fordham College in 1933 and an LLB from Fordham Law School in 1936. In 1933 he joined the White Plains (Westchester Co) law firm that would become Kent, Hazzard, Jaeger, Greer, Wilson, and Faye as a clerk, becoming a partner in 1946.
Wilson, a Republican, began 36 consecutive years of service in state elected office in 1938, when he won a race for a state assembly seat from Yonkers by 238 votes. Under a little-known state constitutional provision, he continued in elective office (and was reelected in absentia) while serving as a naval ensign in the European theater of operations during World War II (1943–45). Wilson later often joked that his victory margins grew in reverse relationship to his proximity to his district. This self-deprecating humor was typical. Colleagues of all political persuasions admired Wilson for his understated wit, great intelligence, political acumen, command of the details of state government, and extraordinary personal probity. Wilson described himself as “an economic conservative and a human rights liberal.” He was a party organization and legislative man, at his best in smaller groups of peers but less effective with large audiences on the campaign trail, where his occasional ventures into Latin, a legacy of his Fordham education and a sign of his scholarly temperament, did not serve him well. He served much of his tenure in the assembly (1939–58) as chair of the Codes Committee, where he developed a reputation as a legislative craftsman and gained credit for the passage of 432 laws.
Frustrated by his failure to rise to leadership in the assembly or to gain his party’s nomination for attorney general, and interested in the governorship, Wilson gave way to Westchester Co’s favorite son, Nelson A.Rockefeller, for the nomination in 1958. Wilson then drove the candidate across the state in his Buick, introducing Rockefeller to his vast array of contacts among Republican leaders and activists to secure their support for his nomination.
In gratitude, Rockefeller invited Wilson to accept the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, and their partnership was sealed.He served as Rockefeller’s lieutenant governor from 1959 to 1973 and was involved in virtually every major political and governmental decision, playing an especially important role in the administration’s relationship with the legislature.
Loyal to a fault, he rarely publicly differed from the governor. An exception was his opposition to legalizing abortion, a matter of conscience for this devout Roman Catholic.
Wilson became the 50th governor of New York on 18 Dec 1973 when Rockefeller resigned. Defeated by Democratic representative Hugh Carey the following year in his attempt to win the governorship in his own right, Wilson returned to his law firm in White Plains. Between 1977 and 1988 he was chairman and chief executive officer of the Manhattan Savings Bank. He later served New York on the Commission on Judicial Nominations in 1991, where he assisted in vetting nominees for the New York State Court of Appeals and the Constitution Revision Commission (1993–95). In 1994 the Tappan Zee Bridge was renamed the Gov Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge in his honor.
Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 1704].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.