John Vliet Lindsay

views updated May 29 2018

John Vliet Lindsay

A lawyer and politician, John Vliet Lindsay (born 1921) was a member of the U.S. Congress from 1959 to 1965 and mayor of New York from 1966 to 1973. He was one of the most publicly visible and controversial urban leaders of his time.

John Vliet Lindsay was born November 24, 1921, into a family of five children of George Nelson Lindsay, an investment banker of English descent, and Florence Eleanor Vliet Lindsay. This upper class Episcopalian family sent young John Lindsay to St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, and then on to Yale for a B.A. degree in 1943. Entering the U.S. Naval Reserve as an ensign officer in May of that year, Lindsay served as a gunnery officer during World War II, earning five battle stars and the rank of senior lieutenant at his discharge in 1946. He received a law degree from Yale in 1948. The following year he was admitted to the New York state bar and joined the law firm of Webster, Sheffield, Fleischmann, Hitchcock, and Christie. In 1949 he married Mary Anne Hutchinson, a Vassar graduate and former school teacher who bore him three daughters—Katherine, Margaret, and Anne—and a son, John, Jr.

Active as Young Republican leader during Dwight D. Eisenhower's first presidential campaign, Lindsay attracted the attention of U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr., who invited him to serve as executive assistant in Washington, D.C., in 1955-1956. Acting as liaison between the Justice Department and the White House, Lindsay helped draft legislation including the Civil Rights Bill of 1957.

Returning to New York City, Lindsay ran for Congress from a wealthy central Manhattan district which included Fifth and Park avenues. He won election in 1958 as well as reelection in 1960, 1962, and 1964. Although representing a "silk stocking" district, he became known as one of the most liberal Republicans in the House and advanced and supported measures for civil rights, civil liberties, medical insurance for aged citizens, a larger federal role for cities, and liberal immigration policies. Often a maverick, he annoyed his own party leadership when he supported a Democratic president's proposal to enlarge the House Rules Committee, and in 1964 he declined to support the Republican candidate for the presidency, Barry Goldwater. Nonetheless, he was reelected by a sizable margin that year.

Mayor of the "Big Apple"

Tall, handsome, photogenic, and untainted by New York's "clubhouse politics, " Lindsay was an appealing figure when he ran for mayor in 1965 and won the overwhelming support of African-Americans, Puerto Rican, and liberal and reformist voters. Winning a three-candidate election, Lindsay was the first Republican to sit in the mayor's chair since 1945. Although heralded as an "urban messiah" during his first election—which a writer in Newsweek magazine called the first step in "The Making of the President, 1972"—Lindsay had much more difficulty in 1969 when he lost the Republican mayoral primary and was re-elected as a Liberal-Independent, garnering only 41 percent of the vote in a three-candidate race. By then the burdens of mayoring in America's largest city had taken their toll and considerably diminished his popularity.

Lindsay's record as mayor is a mixture of notable successes and some spectacular failures. He reorganized and consolidated 50 city departments and agencies into ten and brought efficiency and professional administration into several city departments. He cultivated good relations with New York's minorities and sought to decentralize city government with neighborhood city halls. His "ghetto walks" in 1967 and 1968 were credited with maintaining racial peace in New York when other big cities exploded with racial violence and burning.

Lindsay's first administration saw a doubling of welfare spending and a generous increase in pensions and in the number of city workers, and the city budget grew massively from $3.8 to $6.1 billion. On the negative side Lindsay was plagued by chronically bad relations with municipal unions and a series of crippling strikes. On his first day in office, strikers closed down the city's transit system and later exacted a large 15 percent pay increase and generous pension bonuses. Later, when New York City nearly went bankrupt in 1975, critics recalled that generous transit settlement as the first of a series of millstones that almost sank the city into insolvency.

Lindsay's support of a decentralized school system, which included a proposal to turn over hiring teachers to local neighborhoods, brought him three strikes and a bitter controversy which polarized the city and in which the African-American community and the Jewish community accused each other of "racism" and "anti-Semitism." Lindsay lost the "Ocean Hill-Brownsville" school fight, which the mayor later described as "the low point of my career." The mayor also was defeated by a thumping 2 to 1 majority by voters in his effort to establish a civilian review board to consider citizen complaints against the police. Meanwhile, to meet soaring expenditures the city had to enact an income tax in 1966, to double subway fares, and to obtain increased state and federal aid.

No Success as a Democrat

In 1971 Lindsay had switched to the Democratic Party and entered the presidential primaries the following year, only to be beaten soundly in two states and to withdraw with no noticable impact upon the nomination process. In 1973 Lindsay, his popularity at a low point, announced his decision not to run for a third term, saying it was based upon "personal considerations." He added in a New York Times article by Sam Roberts: "My love for this city and the work still to be done have tempted me to carry on. Eight years is too short a time, but long enough for one man." He failed to endorse any candidate in either the primary or the general election, both of which were won by the city's Comptroller Abe Beame. Lindsay's political career was probably damaged irreparably by New York's fiscal crisis in the mid-1970's for which he was held accountable. Although willing to "take the blame where it is due, " Linday insisted with good reason that he was not wholly at fault for New York almost going bankrupt. In 1980 Lindsay entered the Democratic primary race for U.S. senator from New York but ran third with only 17 percent of the vote, losing to Elizabeth Holtzman.

A Return to Public Life

After leaving the Mayor's office, Linday returned to the legal profession, served as television commentator for ABC's "Good Morning America, " and was the author of three books: Journey into Politics (1966), The City (1970), and The Edge (1976). By the early 1980s, Lindsay's reputation had begun to rise again. In 1981 he was appointed by Mayor Ed Koch as a trade representative for the city, going overseas to urge businesses to invest in New York. The next year he chaired a committee which examined ways to relieve overcrowding in the courts, and became Chairman of the Port Authority Board. In 1984 Lindsay was appointed Chairman of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, a position he held until his retirement in 1988 following a heart operation. In the mid-1990s, he was in the process of writing a book of reflections on his life and prescriptions for problems facing New York and other large cities, Still On My Mind.

Further Reading

For information on Lindsay's political career and the perils of mayoring in New York City see Harry Stein, "An Exile in His Own City, " New York Times Magazine (January 8, 1978); Nat Henthoff, "The Mayor, " New Yorker (May 3 and 10, 1969); Woody Klein, Lindsay's Promise: The Dream That Failed (1970); and Roger Starr, "John V. Lindsay: A Political Portrait, " Commentary (February 1970). For insights into the school fight see Richard Reeves, "Here Comes the Next Mayor, " New York Times Magazine (November 2, 1969). Linday's speech announcing his decision not to run for reelection was printed in the the March 8th edition of the New York Times. Lindsay's chairing the commission on judicial reform was mentioned in "Plan Calls for Ex-Judges to Aid Courts, " New York Times (November 5, 1982) and his appointment as Chairman of Lincoln Center was discussed in "Lindsay to Announce Goals for Beaumont, " by Harold Schoenberg, New York Times (November 22, 1984). For Lindsay's political commitment and beliefs see John Corry, "The All-Star Race, " New York Times Biographical Service (June 1980) and also Lindsay's books mentioned in the text. □

Lindsay, John Vliet

views updated May 29 2018

LINDSAY, John Vliet

(b. 24 November 1921 in New York City; d. 19 December 2000 in Hilton Head, South Carolina), lawyer, politician, and controversial Republican mayor of New York City from 1966 to 1973 who was hailed as an "urban messiah" during his first term.

Lindsay had a twin brother and was one of five children born to George Nelson Lindsay, an investment banker of English descent, and Florence Eleanor Vliet, a woman of Dutch descent who instilled in her children a love for cultural pursuits. Lindsay's grandfather was a brick manufacturer from the Isle of Wight who immigrated to the United States in 1881. Lindsay grew up as an Episcopalian and attended Saint Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. In 1943 he studied history and earned a B.A. from Yale University, graduating in only three years in an accelerated program. Later that year, Lindsay became an ensign officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve. During World War II, he earned five battle stars as a gunnery officer aboard a destroyer. In 1948 Lindsay earned a law degree from Yale and was admitted to the New York bar. He began working for the law firm of Webster, Sheffield, Fleischmann, Hitchcock, and Christie. On 18 June 1949 he married a former school-teacher, Mary Anne Hutchison; the couple had three daughters and a son.

Lindsay was a natural for politics. Six feet, four inches tall and charismatic, handsome, and photogenic, he flashed his winning smile whenever the media were present. It was not long before he was running for Congress. He won the election in 1958 and was reelected for three succeeding terms, in 1960, 1962, and 1964. Although he came from Manhattan's affluent Seventeenth Congressional District, Lindsay was considered a liberal Republican in the 1960s because he supported civil rights and fought for more lenient immigration policies. He also sought medical insurance for the elderly. Because of his support for African-American communities, many in his party judged his policies as too pro black.

At times Lindsay chose not to go along with the Republican Party dictates. Pressuring him had no effect; he made up his own mind on issues. He criticized Governor Nelson Rockefeller, even though Rockefeller was a fellow Republican, and he supported enlarging the House Rules Committee, even though the idea was the brainchild of a Democratic president. He also helped to set up the federal Department of Urban Affairs in 1960, which his party did not want. Further irritating his colleagues, Lindsay in 1964 refused to endorse the Republican presidential candidate, Senator Barry Goldwater. Lindsay's frequent opposition to party politics had its drawbacks. He soon found his upward political climb blocked in Congress, so he decided to run for the mayor of New York City. He won the election and took office in 1966. Lindsay was the first Republican mayor since 1941 and one of the youngest ever to assume the title.

At first, Lindsay's arrival was welcomed. His renown was enhanced by his easy media presence. Soon, however, the exigencies of office began to erode his popularity. The first major challenge was the transit workers' strike. For thirteen days, New York City buses and subways were at a standstill. Before he could get them moving again, Lindsay had to agree to give workers sizable raises and benefits, which caused a strain on the city budget. Budget woes continued to grow. During Lindsay's administration, welfare spending and city workers' pension expenses nearly doubled. When the city went bankrupt in 1975, many pointed to Lindsay as the culprit who had begun the downward spiral.

Not all of Lindsay's actions were criticized as failures, however. His reorganization and consolidation of fifty city departments and agencies increased efficiency. He promoted arts and culture, revived Central Park, and created the Brooklyn Bridge bicycle path. He also helped to still racial clashes in an era when this kind of strife was almost ubiquitous in cities. In 1967 and 1968 Lindsay began to walk through the ghettos of Harlem. These walks helped to preserve racial peace during a time when riots and violence were commonplace; they were a key factor in keeping New York City from experiencing the worst of the urban crises that swept the country during the 1960s. Lindsay became famous for his trips through the black neighborhoods of Brooklyn, with children following after him. Although critics have called them mere political maneuvers, Lindsay's trips into troubled areas did seem to convey that he was genuinely concerned with the welfare of New York City's poor.

Nonetheless, Lindsay was responsible for increasing racial tensions, albeit unintentionally, when he supported a decentralized school system. Soon African-American and Jewish communities were at odds, because the decision to hire teachers was made locally and therefore each community strove to hire its own. The resulting conflict led to a teacher's strike and continued ill feelings in both the Jewish and African-American communities in the years to come. Budget problems continued to be a thorn in Lindsay's side. The Vietnam War was a further drain on New York City's budget, a situation that Lindsay deplored. Because of budget shortfalls, he had to start an income tax in 1966, double subway fares, and seek more state and federal financial assistance.

Lindsay's political triumphs seemed to be over once the 1960s ended. In 1971 Lindsay ran in the presidential primaries as a Democratic candidate. He withdrew when he lost the support of two states, however. Soon after, he gave up his career aspirations. In 1973 Lindsay retired from political office. He and his family vacationed in Europe for a year before Lindsay returned to New York City and began working for his old law firm. For a time, he also was a television commentator for American Broadcasting Company's Good Morning America. During his time as mayor, Lindsay wrote two books: Journey into Politics (1966), which dealt with his career in Congress, and The City (1970), which covered his struggles in New York City. In 1976 he published his first novel, The Edge. The story line revolves around a congressman fighting against national martial law.

Although he had retired from political office, Lindsay was not completely out of the picture. In 1981 New York City Mayor Ed Koch appointed Lindsay to the post of city trade representative. That same year Lindsay was the chair of a committee in charge of reducing court overcrowding. He also became the chair of the Port Authority board. In 1984 Lindsay became the chair of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, a position he held until a heart operation in 1988 forced him to retire. After fighting Parkinson's disease for many years, Lindsay died of complications from the disease coupled with pneumonia on 19 December 2000 in Hilton Head. During the pivotal 1960s he had been a controversial mayor; in death he was remembered as a compassionate man, hated by conservatives and loved by liberals.

A biographical essay on Lindsay can be found in the Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. (1998). Vincent J. Cannato, The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York (2001), covers the irony of Lindsay's successes and failures. See also the following reviews of Cannato's book: John Podhoretz, National Review (17 Sept. 2001); Andrew White, The American Prospect (22 Oct. 2001); and Michael Barone, The Public Interest (spring 2002). Articles about Lindsay include "Lindsay's Compassion Did Not Help," Newsday (17 Jan. 2001), and Fred Siegel, "Succeeding Guiliani," Commentary (Jan. 2002). Obituaries are in the New York Times and Washington Post (both 21 Dec. 2000), and the Nation (22 Jan. 2001).

A. E. Schulthies

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