(Redirected from John V. Lindsay
John Vliet Lindsay (November 24, 1921–December 19, 2000) was an American politician who served as a Congressman (1959-1966) and mayor of New York City (1966-1973).
A liberal Republican, John Lindsay was a upper class Anglo-Protestant lawyer trying to govern a working class and ethnic city. Controversial as mayor, Lindsay is credited with helping the city survive the 1960s without a major riot, but his policies were directly responsible for the its fiscal crisis of the late 1970s.
Lindsay was a liberal at a time when the cracks in the liberal coalition were becoming chasms. Nationally, working class white ethnics felt that they were disproportionately paying the "costs" of integration. The mainstream civil rights movement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the NAACP was losing its footing, being overshadowed by the radicalism of H. Rap Brown, Sonny Carson , and the Black Panthers. Public sector unions refused to continue as "involuntary philanthropists" and began to make demands on the City that would severely hurt its ability to provide services. Overall, it was during Lindsay's tenure that New York became "the ungovernable city" and the job as mayor of New York became known as "the second toughest job in America".
John Lindsay was born in New York City on West End Avenue to George and Florence Vliet Lindsay. Contrary to popular assumptions, John Lindsay was neither a blue-blood nor very wealthy. Lindsay's paternal grandfather immigrated to the United States in the 1880s from the Isle of Wight, and his mother's family was only upper middle class. John's father, however, was a successful lawyer, and was able to send his son to Buckley, St. Paul's School, and Yale, where he was inducted into the famous secret society, Scroll and Key. Lindsay also received a law degree from Yale.
After service in World War II, Lindsay practiced law for a few years before gravitating towards politics.
Elected to Congress as a Republican from the "Silk Stocking" district in 1958, Lindsay established a liberal voting record, known for his strong support of civil rights legislation. In 1965 Lindsay successfully ran for mayor as a Republican in a three-way race (although he became a Democrat in 1971), defeating the Democratic candidate Abe Beame, then City Controller, as well as National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr., who ran on the Conservative line.
Lindsay inherited a city with serious fiscal and economic problems. 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.
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 to subway and bus service. The transit workers truly were underpaid, but the strike was also an effort by an old guard Irish leadership to reinforce its power over a black and Puerto Rican union. The leader of TWU had predicted a nine-day strike, at the most, but Lindsay's refusal to negotiate delayed a settlement, and wound up making the strike a twelve day torment and a grievous wound to the City.
The settlement of the strike, combined with increased welfare costs and general economic decline, forced Lindsay to push through the State Legislature in 1966 an income tax and higher water taxes for New York City residents, plus a new commuter tax for people who only worked in the City. By 1970, New Yorkers would be paying $384 per person in taxes, the highest in the nation. For reference, the average Chicagoan paid $244 per person. (source, Can Cities Survive? The Fiscal Plight of American Cities, Pettengill and Uppal, p. 76.)
The transit strike was to be the first of many struggles with organized labor for the City to endure. In 1968 the largely Jewish teachers' union (the United Federation of Teachers – UFT) went on strike over the firings of several Jewish 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 inability to deliver what suburbanites could take for granted.
That same year, 1968, also saw a week long sanitation strike. Here, Lindsay was widely blamed for letting the disaster happen by his neglect to make a counteroffer to a pre-strike proposal made by the union. During the strike, quality of life in New York reached its nadir, as ten foot tall mountains of garbage grew on New York City sidewalks.
The summer of 1970 saw another, particularly damaging strike, as over 8,000 workers belonging to AFSCME District Council 37 walked off their jobs for two days. Those 8,000 included the workers on the City's drawbridges and sewer plants. Drawbridges over the Harlem river were locked in the up position, barring transit by cars and hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage flowed into area waterways.
This was also the year of the Hard Hat Riot on Wall Street and Broadway on May 8th, in which Hippy youth protestors and construction workers from the World Trade Center construction site among other places clashed. The anti-war protesters had set up along the statue of George Washington on Wall Street and were reportedly waving Viet Cong flags and defiling American flags in a peaceful protest against the Kent State shootings. The "Hard Hats" proceeded to storm the statue's base in anger and set up American flags, then pursued the fleeing protestors. The resulting chaos then spilled out to the Pace University campus and New York City Hall. This was understandably one of the slowest days on New York Stock Exchange in months, as the construction workers were unexpectedly joined by white collar office workers from the exchange. Lindsay had ordered that all flags on City buildings be lowered to half mast in recognition of the Kent State shootings, which the construction workers were overwhelmingly opposed to. They threatened to overwhelm City Hall unless the flag was raised to full height, which it was. Lindsay also took the blame for the lack of action by the New York City Police Department, who made little attempt to stop the construction workers from rioting. Reportedly as the American flag was raised to full over City Hall, the construction workers demanded that the fifteen officers remove their riot helmets in respect. Seven did.
Aside from labor problems, New York City also became a major home to the counterculture. Thousands of hippies set up in Greenwich Village. In hope of finding someone to control the hippies, the Lindsay administration put Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin on the City's payroll at $100 a week.
1968 also saw the student occupations of administration buildings at Columbia University over the university's displacement of local residents to construct a gym in Morningside Park. Columbia was closed down for several weeks; no one was killed, and Lindsay was not to blame, but one policeman, Frank Gucciardi, was paralyzed when a student jumped on him from a second story window.
Despite NYC's avoidance of a major race riot, unlike Newark, New York was no interracial utopia during Lindsay's term. Protestors would march on city hall with signs saying "no money, no peace". Sonny Carson in 1967 sent a letter to Lindsay saying it "would be a 'cool summer' if Lindsay kept funneling money to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)."
Lindsay's position in the Republican Party grew increasingly tenuous over time. He had nominated Spiro Agnew (then seen as something of a moderate) for Vice-President in 1968 at the GOP Convention, but was out of sympathy with Nixon's policies and the post-Goldwater GOP generally. In 1969, a backlash against Lindsay's policies caused him to lose the Republican primary to State Senator John Marchi , who was enthusiastically supported by Buckley. In the Democratic primary, the most conservative candidate, City Controller Mario Proccacino, defeated several more liberal candidates 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 Liberal Party. Running as the only liberal candidate in a heavily liberal city, Lindsay formed a coalition of minorities, Jews and public sector unions to eke out a win by a plurality. He admitted that "mistakes were made" and called being mayor of New York "the second toughest job in America". 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. In 1971 Lindsay became a Democrat and shortly thereafter began a brief and quite unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
The bargains Lindsay made with the unions later contributed to the fiscal crisis of Abe 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 20 years; the teachers received increases of 22 to 37 percent.
Crime soared in NYC during Lindsay's term, as it did in other cities. From 1961 to 1965 NYC had 7.6 homicides per 100,000 people; from 1971 to 1975 it had 21.7 homicides per 100,000. (source Encyclopedia of New York City, 297). Unfortunately, even though whites committed the majority of crimes, many white New Yorkers associated crime exclusively with minorities. Jonathan Reider, in his well known study of the white backlash in Canarsie, Brooklyn, had this to say: "Canarsians spoke about crime with more unanimity than they achieved on any other subject, and they spoke often and forcefully ... One police officer explained that he earned his living by getting mugged. On his roving beat he had been mugged hundreds of time in five years. 'I only been mugged by a white guy one time'" (Canarsie, 67).
Lindsay was seen as being far from sympathetic to the needs of working class white ethnics. Republican State Senator Joseph Calandra said in 1968:
- "The North Bronx area has suddenly and without any prior notice had its garbage collection reduced from 3 weekly pickups to 2 ... Why the decline in service by City Hall, which had a record $6 billion approved for it by our "rubber stamp," so called City Council? Rumor has it that men and equipment have been diverted to the South Bronx. The North Bronx pays most of the taxes yet the South Bronx, which pays hardly any at all, gets all the services and facilities from our Mayor and City Departments. If more money is needed for our Sanitation Dept., then I suggest that our fun-loving Mayor 'find it' in the same way he found $7 million for the Youth Corps after that disgraceful, illegal, and wanton riot at City Hall." (Cannato, 391)
Lindsay left office in 1973 an unpopular mayor, choosing not to seek re-election. 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, almost as high a percentage to be on welfare, had been overgenerous with the unions, and had borrowed for operating expenses. In his The Ungovernable City, Vincent J. Cannato bluntly says Lindsay was the wrong man for the job of mayor. Lindsay was more concerned with solving the enormous social problems of NYC's poor, instead of delivering basic services. By the early 1970s over 70 percent of NYC's budget went to non-common functions. Lindsay would have been a fine senator, but he was too aloof and stubborn to make it as an executive.
Years after Lindsay was out of office, Lindsay 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." (Cannato, 391).
Lindsay retired to practice law. His 1980 comeback bid for the Senate was not successful, as he lost the Democratic primary to Elizabeth Holtzman.
He died of complications from pneumonia and Parkinson's disease, in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Like many Americans, Lindsay was without health insurance. The decision of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to hire him as a part-time legal counsel, at a rate of $10,000 per year plus health insurance, aroused little controversy.
His daughter Anne Lindsay found inspiration in his political career and actively participated in the campaign of Howard Dean for President. After the Dean campaign ended, she led the Rapid Response Network, a volunteer organization which encouraged its members to actively advocate in the news media for the Presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry and against the administration of President George W. Bush.
A conservatively biased, but well-written, biography is Vincent J. Cannato's The Ungovernable City (hardcover ISBN 0465008437, paperback ISBN 0465008445). An in-depth discussion of Lindsay's fiscal policies is contained in Mayors and Money by Ester Ruth Fuchs. Two pro-labor treatments of New York City public sector unions are In Transit and Working-Class New York by Joshua Freeman.