Harry Leonnoff is born in 1883 to extreme poverty on the Lower
East Side of Manhattan. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he overcomes
street violence, rampant anti-Semitism, and a crippling bout with polio.
The key to surviving polio is a saintly medical man who tells Harry to
have faith because ''The Lord will provide,'' a phrase that becomes Harry's
At the age of fifteen, Harry is shipped off to an upstate farm where he
comes under the influence of a kindly Norwegian farmer, a seductive married
woman, and a vicious anti-Semite who tries to kill Harry. Harry eventually
returns to New York City where he becomes a law clerk and aide to Tammany
Hall political leaders. He discovers that his passion is providing
assistance to an underclass that is victimized by the city's power structure.
In 1912, Harry is attracted to a Broadway showgirl, whom he rescues from
a frightening assailant and eventually marries. His nagging wife, who
acquires the nickname The Commissioner, forces Harry to be more aggressive
with his career. The mayor appoints him to the position of city marshal,
a lucrative job that finances his wife's upwardly mobile ambitions while
giving Harry the opportunity to help immigrants and the poor.
In 1917, a group of influential Jewish professionals enlists Harry to
end the career of Dorsey Hogan, a rabble-rouser who incites crowds against
Jews. Harry single-handedly confronts a mob of 20,000, overcomes the bigot's
bodyguards, and arrests Hogan, who is given a stiff jail sentence. The
incident brings Harry to public acclaim.
Harry moves his office to Brooklyn, where he becomes the power behind
the throne in the Democratic Party. In the 1920s and 30s, he helps four
New York mayors get elected and is appointed by Mayor Jimmy Walker as
Chief Clerk of the Brooklyn Municipal Court. The leading business and
political VIPs in Brooklyn form the Harry Leonnoff Association, a charitable
organization that is dedicated to religious and racial tolerance. Through
the association, Harry plays a critical role in the infamous Scottsboro
Case. His efforts, especially the recruitment of famed defense attorney
L. Liebowitz, lead to the vindication of nine innocent black men who
are framed for allegedly raping two white women in Alabama.
In 1928, the disintegration of Harry's marriage leads him to fall in love
with Marie DeSante, a beautiful call girl in New Orleans. Her attempt
to go straight is threatened by Rick Duvalier, a vicious hoodlum and former
In 1938, a German Jewish couple is tortured by the Gestapo in Hamburg.
They escape and flee on a ship to New York, where a dishonest State Department
official wants to send them back to Germany. Harry Leonnoff discovers
that the official has been extorting money from Jewish refugees. Harry
confronts the man in an unusual negotiation.
In 1943, Harry testifies against Mayor
Fiorello La Guardia in front of a grand jury that is investigating
the crime situation in Brooklyn. When a vindictive La Guardia is censured
by the grand jury, he blames Harry and sets him up to be dismissed from
his job as chief clerk. Harry confronts the mayor, who refuses to admit
that he has been looking for a way to get even with Harry since 1920,
when Harry scored a victory in a political dispute between the two men.
Harry's psychotic brother-in-law, Willie Malakow, complicates the situation
when he decides to save Harry's job by assassinating Mayor La Guardia.
Malakow's mind has been distorted by his experiences as a U.S. Marine
at the bloody World War I Battle
of Belleau Wood. When Harry discovers Willie's intentions, he sits
on the horns of a dilemma. If he allows Willie to murder La Guardia, Harry's
job and reputation will be saved. If Harry stops Willie, he loses everything.
Harry's decision and its consequences form a riveting conclusion to a