John Lindsay, Mayor of New York City

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John Vliet Lindsay

Birthdate: (79)
Birthplace: New York, New York, NY, USA
Death: December 19, 2000 (79)
Hilton Head Island, Beaufort, SC, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of George Nelson Lindsay and Florence Eleanor Lindsay
Husband of Mary Ann Lindsay
Father of <private> Lake (Lindsay); Private User; Private User; <private> Lindsay and <private> Lake (Lindsay)
Brother of Eleanor Schieffelin; George Nelson Lindsay; David Alexander Lindsay and Private User

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About John Lindsay, Mayor of New York City

John Vliet Lindsay (November 24, 1921 – December 19, 2000) was an American politician, lawyer and broadcaster who was a U.S. Congressman, Mayor of New York City, candidate for U.S. President and regular guest host of Good Morning America.

During his political career, he 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. He switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party in 1971, and launched a brief but unsuccessful bid for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination as well as the 1980 Democratic nomination for Senator from New York. He died from Parkinson's disease and pneumonia on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, December 19, 2000.

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 Buckley School, St. Paul's School and Yale, where he was admitted to the class of 1944 and joined Scroll and Key.

With the outbreak of World War II, Lindsay completed his studies early and in 1943 joined the United States Navy 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 theater. After the war, he spent a few months as a ski bum and a couple of months training as a bank clerk before returning to Yale, where he received his law degree in 1948, ahead of schedule.

Back in New York, Lindsay met his future wife, Mary Anne Harrison, at the wedding of Nancy Bush (daughter of Connecticut's Senator Prescott Bush and sister of future President George H.W. Bush), where he was an usher and Harrison a bridesmaid. A resident of Greenwich, Connecticut and a graduate of Vassar College, Harrison was a distant relative of William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison. They married in 1949. That same year Lindsay was admitted to the bar, and rose to become a partner in his law firm four years later.

He started gravitating 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. In 1958, with the backing of Herbert Brownell, Bruce Barton, John Aspinwall Roosevelt, and Mrs Wendell Wilkie, Lindsay won the Republican primary and went on to be elected to Congress as the representative of the "Silk Stocking" district, Manhattan's Upper East Side.

While in Congress, Lindsay established a liberal voting record increasingly at odds with his party. He was an early supporter of federal aid to education and Medicare;[3] and advocated the establishment of a federal Department of Urban Affairs and a National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities. He was called a maverick, casting the lone dissenting vote for a Republican- sponsored bill extending the power of the Postmaster General to impound obscene mail and one of only two dissenting votes for a bill allowing federal interception of mail from Communist countries. 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".[6] While serving in the United State House of Representatives, John Lindsay was a strong supporter of African-American civil rights. He was a leading member of a group of liberal and moderate Republicans in the House who voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


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. The unofficial motto of the campaign, taken from a Murray Kempton column, was "He is fresh and everyone else is tired".

Lindsay inherited a city with serious fiscal and economic problems left by outgoing Democratic Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr., and turned it over to his successor Abraham Beame in ever worse condition. 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

On his first day as mayor, Jan. 1, 1966, 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 sardonically 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.

The transit strike was the first of many labor struggles. In 1968 in an attempt to decentralize the city's school system, Lindsay granted three local school boards in the city complete control over their schools, in an effort to allow communities to have more of a say in their schools. The city's teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), however, saw the breakup as a way of union busting, as a decentralized school system would force the union to negotiate with 33 separate school boards rather than with one centralized body. As a result in May 1968 several teachers working in schools located in the neighborhood of Ocean Hill-Brownsville, one of the neighborhoods were the decentralization was being tested, were fired from their jobs by the community run school board. Furious, the UFT demanded the reinstatement of the dismissed teachers citing that the teachers had been fired without due process. When their demands ignored the UFT called the first of three strikes leading ultimately to a protracted city-wide teachers' strike, which stretched over seven-month period between May and November. The battle became a symbol of the chaos of New York City and the city's inability 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. The episode left a legacy of tensions between blacks and Jews that went on for years, and Lindsay called it his greatest regret.

That same year, 1968, also saw a three day Broadway strike and a nine day sanitation strike. Quality of life in New York reached a nadir during the sanitation strike, as mounds of garbage caught fire and strong winds whirled the filth through the streets. In June 1968, the New York City Police Department deployed snipers to protect Lindsay during a public ceremony, shortly after they detained a knife-wielding man who had demanded to meet the mayor. With the schools shut down, police engaged in a slowdown, firefighters threatening job actions, the city awash in garbage, and racial and religious tensions breaking to the surface, Lindsay later called the last six months of 1968 "the worst of my public life."

The summer of 1971 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.

In 1966 the settlement terms of the transit strike, combined with increased welfare costs and general economic decline, forced Lindsay to lobby the New York State legislature for a new municipal income tax and higher water rates for city residents, plus a new commuter tax for people who worked in the city but resided elsewhere.


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. Lindsay traveled to Queens, but his visit was not well received. His car could not make its way through Rego Park, and even in a four-wheel-drive truck, he had trouble getting around. In Kew Gardens Hills, the mayor was booed; one woman screamed, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” In Fresh Meadows, a woman told the mayor, “Get away, you bum.” During the mayor’s walk through Fresh Meadows, a woman called him “a wonderful man,” prompting the mayor to respond, “And you’re a wonderful woman, not like those fat Jewish broads up there,” pointing to women in a nearby building who had criticized him. The blizzard, dubbed the "Lindsay Snowstorm", prompted a political crisis that became "legendary in the annals of municipal politics" as the scenes, captured on national television, conveyed a message that the mayor of New York was indifferent to the middle class.


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 William F. 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-Americans and Puerto Ricans, 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 the Whites in the boroughs outside Manhattan who had a similar educational background and "cosmopolitan" attitude, namely residents of solidly middle-class neighborhoods, including 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.

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 workers, protested against the mayor on May 11 and again on May 16. Protesters called Lindsay "the red mayor, a "traitor," "Commy rat" and "bum." The Mayor described the mood of the city as "taut."

Party switch and campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination

In 1971, Lindsay and his wife cut ties with the Republican Party by registering with the Democratic Party. Lindsay said, "In a sense, this step recognizes the failure of 20 years in progressive Republican politics. In another sense, it represents the renewed decision to fight for new national leadership." Lindsay then 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 14 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 5 Wisconsin primary, Lindsay formally dropped out of the race.


In a 1972 Gallup poll, 60% of New Yorkers felt Lindsay's administration was working poorly, nine percent rated it "good," and not one person thought its performance excellent. By 1978, the New York Times called Lindsay "an exile in his own city".

Lindsay's record remained controversial after he left politics. Historian Fred Siegel, calling Lindsay the worst New York City mayor of the 20th century, said "Lindsay wasn't incompetent or foolish or corrupt, but he was actively destructive". Journalist Stuart Weisman observed "Lindsay's congressional career had taught him little of the need for subtle bureaucratic maneuvering, for understanding an opponent's self-interest, or for the great patience required in a sprawling government."

Lindsay's budget aide Peter Goldmark told historian Vincent Cannato that the administration "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." While many experts traced the city's mid-70's fiscal crisis to the Lindsay years, Lindsay disagreed, insisting that it may have come sooner if he had not imposed new taxes.

An alternate assessment was made by journalist Robert McFadden who said that "By 1973, his last year in office, Mr. Lindsay had become a more seasoned, pragmatic mayor." McFadden also credited him for reducing racial tensions, leading to the prevention of riots that plagued Detroit, Newark, Los Angeles, and other cities. Succeeded by Abraham Beame as Mayor, John Lindsay left the office of Mayor of New York on December 31, 1973. It was said that when he left, he broke down and cried over the fact he did not do more as Mayor.

Later life

After leaving office, Lindsay returned to the law, but remained in the public eye as a commentator and regular guest host for ABC's "Good Morning America." In 1975, Lindsay made a surprise appearance on The Tony Awards telecast in which he, along with a troupe of celebrity male suitors in tuxedos, sang "Mame" to Angela Lansbury. He presented the award for Best Director Of A Play to John Dexter for the play Equus. Lindsay also tried his hand at acting, appearing in Otto Preminger's Rosebud; the following year his novel, The Edge, was published (Lindsay had earlier authored two non-fiction memoirs). Attempting a political comeback in 1980, Lindsay made a long-shot bid for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator from New York, and finished third. He was also active in New York City charities, serving on the board of the Association for a Better New York, and as chairman of the Lincoln Center Theatre. On his death the New York Times said he was credited with a significant role in the theatre's rejuvenation.

Medical bills from his Parkinson's Disease, heart attacks and stroke, depleted Lindsay's finances and he found himself without health insurance. In 1996 Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani appointed the former Mayor to two largely ceremonial posts to make him eligible for municipal health insurance coverage. He and his wife Mary moved to a retirement community in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina in November 1999, where he died the next year at the age of seventy-nine of complications from pneumonia and Parkinson's disease. His wife Mary died in 2004.

In 2000, Yale Law School created a fellowship program named in Lindsay's honor. In 1998, a park in Brooklyn, Lindsay Triangle was named in his honor and in 2001, the East River Park was renamed 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. In the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, a Mitchell-Lama Development has been erroneously thought to be named after Mayor Lindsay (Lindsay Park). This development was actually named after Congressman George W. Lindsay (1865–1938) (no relation.)

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John Lindsay, Mayor of New York City's Timeline

November 24, 1921
New York, New York, NY, USA
December 19, 2000
Age 79
Hilton Head Island, Beaufort, SC, USA