john v lindsay

John Lindsay

[lind-zee, lin-]
John Vliet Lindsay (November 24, 1921December 19, 2000) was an American politician who served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1959 to 1965 and as mayor of New York City from 1966 to 1973.

Early life

Lindsay was born in New York City on West End Avenue to George Nelson Lindsay and the former Florence Eleanor Vliet. Contrary to popular assumptions, John Lindsay was neither a blue-blood nor very wealthy by birth, although he did grow up in an upper middle class family of English and Dutch extraction. Lindsay's paternal grandfather migrated to the United States in the 1880s from the Isle of Wight, and his mother was from an upper-middle class family that had been in New York since the 1660s. John's father was a successful lawyer and investment banker, and was able to send his son to the prestigious Buckley School, St. Paul's School and Yale, where he was admitted to the class of 1944 and inducted into the secret society, Scroll and Key.

With the outbreak of World War II, Lindsay completed his studies early and joined the United States Navy in 1943 as a gunnery officer. He obtained the rank of lieutenant, earning five battle stars through action in the invasion of Sicily and a series of landings in the Pacific theaters. After the war, he returned to Yale and received his law degree in 1948. He was admitted to the bar in 1949 and rose to became a partner in his law firm four years later. He also gravitated toward politics, serving as one of the founders of the Youth for Eisenhower club in 1951 and as president of the New York Young Republican club in 1952.

Elected to Congress as a Republican from the "Silk Stocking" district in 1958, Lindsay established a liberal voting record, in light of his advocacy of civil rights legislation and various federally-funded social programs. Also known for his wit, when asked by his party leaders why he opposed legislation to combat communism and pornography, he replied they were the major industries of his district and if they were suppressed then "the 17th district would be a depressed area".


In 1965, Lindsay was elected Mayor of New York City as a Republican with the support of the Liberal Party of New York in a three-way race. He defeated Democratic mayoral candidate Abraham D. Beame, then City Comptroller, as well as National Review magazine founder William F. Buckley, Jr., who ran on the Conservative line.

Contentious Times

Lindsay inherited a city with serious fiscal and economic problems left by outgoing Democratic Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. The old manufacturing jobs that supported generations of uneducated immigrants were disappearing, millions of middle class residents were fleeing to the suburbs, and public sector workers had won the right to unionize.

Labor issues

Public sector union activism would turn out to be the bane of Lindsay's administration. On his first day as mayor, the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) led by Mike Quill shut down the city with a complete halt of subway and bus service. The leader of the TWU had predicted a nine-day strike at most, but Lindsay's refusal to negotiate delayed a settlement and the strike lasted twelve days. Quill's mocking press conferences gave the city the impression that Lindsay was not tough enough to deal with the city's sources of power.

As New Yorkers endured the transit strike, Lindsay remarked, "I still think it's a fun city," and walked four miles (6 km) from his hotel room to City Hall in a gesture to show it. Dick Schaap, then a columnist for The New York Herald Tribune, coined and popularized the sarcastic term in an article titled Fun City. In the article, Schaap sardonicly pointed out that it wasn't. The term continued to carry with it a derisive tone as the city became more dangerous and corporate headquarters began moving to suburban locations in Westchester County and Fairfield County.

The settlement of the strike, combined with increased welfare costs and general economic decline, forced Lindsay to push through the New York state legislature in 1966 a municipal income tax hike and higher water rates for city residents, plus a new commuter tax for people who worked in the city but resided elsewhere. By 1970, New Yorkers were paying $384 per person in taxes, the highest in the nation. In contrast, the average Chicago resident paid $244 per person.

The transit strike was the first of many labor struggles. In 1968 the teachers' union (the United Federation of Teachers (UFT)) went on strike over the firings of several teachers in a school in the neighborhood of Ocean Hill-Brownsville. . Demanding the reinstatement of the dismissed teachers, the four-month battle became a symbol of the chaos of New York City and the city's difficulty to deliver a functioning school system. The strike was tinged with racial and anti-Semitic overtones, pitting Black and Puerto Rican parents against Jewish teachers and supervisors. Many thought the mayor had made a bad situation worse by taking sides against the teachers

That same year, 1968, also saw a week-long sanitation strike. Quality of life in New York reached a nadir during this strike, as ten-foot tall mountains of garbage grew on the city's sidewalks. There was also a "sickout" by patrol officers in the same year and a full scale "wildcat" walkout in 1971.

The summer of 1970 ushered in another devastating strike, as over 8,000 workers belonging to AFSCME District Council 37 walked off their jobs for two days. The strikers included workers on the city's drawbridges and sewer plants. Drawbridges over the Harlem River were locked in the "up" position, barring transit by automobile, and hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage flowed into area waterways.


On February 10, 1969, New York City was hit with 15 inches of snow, the worst in 8 years. On the first day, 14 people died and 68 were injured. . Within a day, the mayor was criticized for giving favored treatment to Manhattan at the expense of some areas of The Bronx, Staten Island and Queens. . Charges were made that a city worker elicited a bribe to clean streets in Queens Over a week later, streets in eastern Queens remained unplowed, enraging residents.

Hard Hat Riots

On May 8, 1970, near the intersection of Wall Street and Broad Street and at New York City Hall a riot started when about 200 construction workers mobilized by the New York State AFL-CIO attacked about 1,000 high school and college students and others protesting the Kent State shootings, the American invasion of Cambodia and the Vietnam War. Attorneys, bankers and investment analysts from nearby Wall Street investment firms tried to protect many of the students but were themselves attacked, and onlookers reported that the police stood by and did nothing. Although more than seventy people were injured, including four policemen; only six people were arrested. The following day, Lindsay severely criticized the police for their lack of action.. Police Department organization leaders later accused Lindsay of "undermining the confidence of the public in its Police Department" by his statements and blamed the inaction on inadequate preparations and "inconsistent directives" in the past from the Mayor's office. Several thousand construction workers, longshoremen and white-collar, protested against the mayor on May 11 and again on the 16th. Protestors called Lindsay "the red mayor", "a traitor", "a commy rat" and a "bum". The Mayor described the mood of the city as "taut".


Lindsay's position in the Republican Party grew increasingly tenuous over time. He had nominated Spiro Agnew (then seen as something of a Maryland "moderate") for Vice President in 1968 at the GOP Convention, which met in Miami Beach. Lindsay soon opposed Nixon's policies. In 1969, a backlash against Lindsay caused him to lose the Republican mayoral primary to state Senator John J. Marchi, who was enthusiastically supported by Buckley and the party conservatives. In the Democratic primary, the most conservative candidate, City Controller Mario Procaccino, defeated several more liberal contenders and won the nomination with only a plurality of the votes. "The more the Mario," he quipped.

Despite not having the Republican nomination, Lindsay was still on the ballot as the candidate of the New York Liberal Party. In his campaign he said "mistakes were made" and called being mayor of New York "the second toughest job in America". While losing white ethnic, working-class voters, Lindsay was able to win with support from three distinct groups. First were the city's minorities, mostly African American and Puerto Rican, who were concentrated in Harlem, the South Bronx and various Brooklyn neighborhoods including Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville. Second were the white, educated and economically secure residents of certain areas of Manhattan. Third were those whites in the outer boroughs with a similar educational background and "cosmopolitan" attitude, namely residents of solidly middle-class neighborhoods such as Forest Hills and Kew Gardens in Queens and Brooklyn Heights. This third category included many traditionally Democratic Jewish Americans, who had been put off by Procaccino's conservatism. Lindsay re-entered City Hall, however, in a politically weakened position, neither aligned with Democrats or Republicans, nor having support from the majority of the electorate.

1972 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination

Lindsay launched a brief and unsuccessful bid for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. He attracted positive media attention and was a successful fundraiser. Lindsay did well in the early Arizona caucus, coming in second place behind Edmund Muskie and ahead of eventual nominee George McGovern. Then in the March 14th Florida primary he placed a weak 5th place, behind George Wallace, Muskie, Hubert Humphrey and Scoop Jackson (though he did edge out George McGovern). Among his difficulties was New York City's worsening problems, which Lindsay was accused of neglecting; a band of protesters from Forest Hills, Queens who were opposed to his support for a low income housing project in their neighborhood, followed Lindsay around his aborted campaign itinerary to jeer and heckle him. . His poor showing in Florida effectively doomed his candidacy. Meade Esposito called for Lindsay to end his campaign with the much-publicized comment "I think the handwriting is on the wall; Little Sheba better come home". After a poor showing in the April 5th Wisconsin primary, Lindsay formally dropped out of the race.


Lindsay left office in 1973, having declined to seek a third term as mayor, which was then permitted. His critics have argued that mistakes he made played a large part in causing the city's fiscal problems in the 1970s; Lindsay had allowed one in seven New Yorkers to work for the city, with almost as high a proportion receiving welfare; he was perceived as too sympathetic to organized labor, and he had borrowed for operating expenses. The bargains Lindsay made with the unions later contributed to the fiscal crisis of Beame's administration. To secure their political support, Lindsay offered unions large raises — the transit workers managed an 18 percent salary increase, an extra week of vacation and fully paid pensions; District Council 37 got a raise and retirement after twenty years; the teachers received increases of 22 to 37 percent.

In a Gallup poll conducted in 1972, six of ten citizens felt Lindsay's government was working poorly, nine of one hundred thought it was good, and not one person thought it was excellent

In his critical biography The Ungovernable City, Vincent J. Cannato argued that Lindsay was the wrong man for the job of mayor, as he was more concerned with solving the enormous social problems of NYC's poor instead of delivering basic services. Nevertheless, Lindsay's concern for racial minorities and the poor in New York helped guide the nation's largest city through the years of the "long hot summers" between 1965 and 1969 and averted massive, violent unrest, a significant accomplishment.

Years after Lindsay was out of office, his budget aide Peter Goldmark would admit that his administration's basic problem was this: "We all failed to come to grips with what a neighborhood is. We never realized that crime is something that happens to, and in, a community." Assistant Nancy Seifer said "There was a whole world out there that nobody in City Hall knew anything about. . . If you didn't live on Central Park West, you were some kind of lesser being."

According to a Pat Buchanan column on April 15, 2008, Frank Mankiewicz, a former press secretary to the late U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, described Lindsay as "the only populist who played squash every day at the Yale Club.

Later life

Lindsay retired to practice law but never lost his faith in the "liberal dream". His 1980 campaign for the Senate was unsuccessful, as he lost the Democratic primary to Elizabeth Holtzman, the U.S. representative from Brooklyn and later the New York City comptroller. Lindsay polled 146,815 votes (15.8 percent). His previous liberal Republican ally, Senator Jacob K. Javits, lost renomination to the more conservative Alfonse D'Amato of Long Island. D'Amato defeated Holtzman in the general election.

After the folding of several law firms for which he had worked, including Webster & Sheffield, Lindsay in the 1990s was left in failing health and without health insurance. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani appointed Lindsay to several largely ceremonial posts as a way to qualify him for municipal health insurance.

In 2000, he died at the age of seventy-nine of complications from pneumonia and Parkinson's disease, in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where he and his wife, the former Mary Harrison (October 30, 1926March 9, 2004), had moved the previous year. The couple had married on June 18, 1949. In addition to Mary, Lindsay was survived by their son, John V. Lindsay, Jr.; three daughters, Katharine Lake, Margaret Picotte and Anne Lindsay; two sons-in-law, Stephen Lake and Michael Picotte; a brother, Robert V. Lindsay; and grandchildren Jessica and Stephanie Lake and Nicole, Joseph and Michelle Picotte. Memorial services were held on January 26, 2001, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Lindsay was Episcopalian. Memorial contributions were requested to the John V. Lindsay Fund, Lincoln Center Theater. For many years, Lindsay was a Lincoln Center trustee.

Anne Lindsay found inspiration in her father's career and actively participated in the presidential campaigns of Democrats Howard Dean and then John Kerry in 2004.

In 2001, the East River Park was renamed John V. Lindsay/East River Park in his memory. He is featured on a poster picture with Governor Rockefeller at the groundbreaking of the former World Trade Center in the city history section of the Museum of the City of New York at Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street.



The only substantive biography of Lindsay is Vincent J. Cannato's The Ungovernable City. Nevertheless, an in-depth discussion of Lindsay's fiscal policies is contained in Mayors and Money by Ester R. Fuchs. Two pro-labor treatments of New York City public sector unions are In Transit and Working-Class New York by Joshua Freeman. Lindsay's 1967 autobiography is titled Journey Into Politics.

External links

  • John Vliet Lindsay, Who's Who in America, 1966–1967

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