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John Vliet Lindsay (November 24, 1921 – December 19, 2000) was an Americanmarker 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 substituting often for host David Hartman.

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 Citymarker 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, in Hilton Head Island, Beaufort County, S.C., 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 Wightmarker, 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 Schoolmarker and Yalemarker, where he was admitted to the class of 1944 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 Collegemarker, 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 became 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 Stockingmarker" district.

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; and advocated the establishment of a federal Department of Urban Affairsmarker 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".


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".

Congressman Lindsay speaking at Board of Estimate meeting at City Hall on expressway

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

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 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 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 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, as well as 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. With the schools shut down, the 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 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 Rivermarker were locked in the "up" position, barring transit by automobile, and hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage flowed into area waterways.

The settlement of the transit strike, combined with increased welfare costs and general economic decline, forced Lindsay to push through the New York state legislature in 1966 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.


Lindsay speaking at City Hall
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 limousine could not make its way through Rego Parkmarker, 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 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 Harlemmarker, the South Bronx and various Brooklyn neighborhoods including Bedford-Stuyvesantmarker 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 Heightsmarker. 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.

Hard Hat Riots

Lindsay speaking at a rally

On May 8, 1970, near the intersection of Wall Streetmarker and Broad Street and at New York City Hallmarker 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 protest the Kent State shootingsmarker, 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 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." After he announced that he had switched parties reporters began asking him about a possible presidential run, but Lindsay said that he was not a candidate and that this was not a forum for announcing a presidential run.

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 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, Queensmarker 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, in which Frank Mankiewicz described Lindsay as "the only populist in history who plays squash at the Yale Club, Lindsay formally dropped out of the race.


Lindsay at the first public hearing on proposed executive capital budget

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 Many experts traced the city's mid-70's fiscal crisis to the Lindsay years, though Mr. Lindsay disagreed, insisting that it may have come sooner if he had not imposed new taxes. By 1978, the New York Times called Lindsay "an exile in his own city".

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 bureacratic maneuvaring, for understanding an opponent's self-interest, or for the great patience required in a sprawling government." His budget aide Peter Goldmark would admit that his administration's basic problem was that "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."

Later life

Lindsay retired to practice law, but in 1980 entered the Democratic primary race for U.S. senator from New York where he ran third, losing to Elizabeth Holtzman. 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 Islandmarker. 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, with his finances depleted, 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 and a city pension. He and his wife Mary moved to Hilton Head Island, South Carolinamarker in 1999, where he died the next year at the age of seventy-nine of complications from pneumonia and Parkinson's disease.

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 Centermarker in the city history section of the Museum of the City of New York at Fifth Avenuemarker and 103rd Street.


  1. The Fun City, New York Herald Tribune, 7 January 1966, , pg. 13:
  2. DANIEL B. SCHNEIDER , F.Y.I. , NY Times, January 3, 1999
  3. Exodus from Fun City , Time Magazine,Feb. 24, 1967
  4. Damon Stetson A Most Unusual Strike; Bread-and-Butter Issues Transcended By Educational and Racial Concerns, NY Times, September 14, 1968
  5. Maurice Carroll Lindsay in Retrospect, NY Times, December 31, 1973, Page 7
  7. RICHARD PHALON, Political Foes and Voters Score Lindsay on Cleanup; , NY Times, Feb. 12, 1969. P1
  9. Now Is the Winter of Discontent in Queens; Snow Mess Makes Baysiders Feel City Couldn't Care Less About Them, NY Times, February 20, 1969
  10. PETER KIHSS Poor and Rich,Not Middle-Class, The Key to Lindsay Re-Election November 6, 1969
  11. Foner, U.S. Labor and the Vietnam War, 1989.
  12. McFadden, "Peter Brennan, 78, Union Head and Nixon's Labor Chief," New York Times, October 4, 1996.
  13. Fink, Biographical Dictionary of American Labor, 1984.
  14. MAURICE CARROLL Police Assailed by Mayor On Laxity at Peace Rally NY Times, May 10, 1970, Page 1
  15. DAVID BURNHAM, 5 Police Groups Rebut Critical Mayor, NY Times, May 12, 1970, Page 18
  16. MICHAEL T. KAUFMAN P.B.A BLAMES CITY IN REPLY TO MAYOR ON LAXITY CHARGE; City Hall Directive Called 'Inconsistent' as Guide in Attack by Workers May 11, 1970, Page 1
  17. HOMER BIGART Thousands Assail Lindsay In 2d Protest by Workers NY Times, May 12, 1970, Page 1
  18. HOMER BIGART Thousands in City March To Assail Lindsay on War NY Times, May 16, 1970, Page 11
  19. "1971 Year in Review,"
  20. "1971 Year in Review,"
  21. Muskie Wins Arizona Vote As Lindsay Places Second, New York Times, January 31, 1972
  22. LINDSAY 72' BASE CLOSED TO PRESS; Mayor's Supporters Work Behind Locked Doors, NY Times, December 28, 1971
  23. LINDSAY ATTACKS NIXON OVER CRIME; Asserts He Is 'Soft' on Law Enforcement Mayor Is Heckled in Miami Beach, NY Times, February 16, 1972
  24. Esposito Advises Mayor to Quit Race, New York Times, March 28, 1972
  25. Jeff Greenfield Hail and farewell; Reading John Lindsay's face Lindsay NY Times, July 29, 1973, Sunday, Section: The New York Times Magazine, Page SM8
  26. Cannato, 391
  27. Ailing Lindsay Is Given Posts To Get City Health Insurance, NY Times, May 3, 1996

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