Foley Square is named for Thomas F. “Big Tom” Foley (1852-1925), a prominent Democratic Party leader from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Foley left school at the age of thirteen to support his widowed mother, working for a period as a blacksmith’s helper. In 1877 he began his active connection with politics as a Tammany election district captain and rose to be First Assembly District leader.
Although Foley served as a member of the old City Council, as Alderman, and as Sheriff, he generally avoided elected office, preferring to sponsor others. His lasting gift to his party and indeed his Nation was to choose young Alfred E. Smith as candidate for the New York State Assembly in 1903. Smith rose to be Speaker, then Governor. In 1928 Smith would be the first Catholic to run for President.
At Foley’s death in 1925 Smith stated, “My personal and political welfare were as much a matter of concern to him as though I was his own son.” The New York Times ran the following headline about the funeral: “East Side Crowds Mourn the Passing of Almost the Last of Old-Time Leaders.” In 1926 the Board of Aldermen offered “Big Tom” an enduring tribute, when they named this city park, in the heart of New York’s government district, in his memory.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan, United States Senator