John Lindsay, mayor of New York from 1966 to 1973, personified the resolute confusion with which clubby, liberal WASPs faced the social upheaval of the era. Entering politics as a successful young lawyer, Lindsay represented the wealthy Upper East Side of Manhattan, known as the Silk Stocking District, in Congress from 1958 to 1965. While serving, he compiled a liberal voting record on matters that would have little immediate impact on the residents of his wealthy district. This abstract approach to politics, which had little to do with serving the immediate needs of his constituents, brought Lindsay attention and admiration as a Congressman. It would fail him, however, when he moved into the mayor’s office.
Known for his good looks and aristocratic style (the son of an investment banker, Lindsay graduated from the Episcopal boarding school St. Paul’s and went on to study at Yale), Lindsay became a national celebrity who sought to incorporate the mood of the late 1960s into his administration.
Elected in a three-way race that included National Review founder William F. Buckley, Mayor Lindsay inherited a subway strike that began on January 1, 1966 — his first day in office. During his two terms, Lindsay encouraged “happenings” in Central Park, appeared frequently on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, and faced racial tensions in the city with a strong chin and a willingness to mingle with ordinary citizens.
Nevertheless, for all the excitement Lindsay’s patrician demeanor aroused, his time in office was largely unsuccessful, characterized by escalating crime, strikes and budget deficits. “We all failed to come to grips with what a neighborhood is,” an aide later remarked. “We never realized that crime is something that happens to, and in, a community.” — TALIESIN
Contributing writer Taliesin prefers a nom de plume due to his position in the Federal Government. He grew up in the South and holds advanced degrees from Harvard and Cornell.
Photos from the LIFE archives.