Childhood & Early Life
John Vliet Lindsay was born on November 24, 1921, in West End Avenue, New York, in a well to do family of George Nelson Lindsay and Florence Eleanor Vliet. His father was an investment banker and a lawyer.
He studied in ‘Buckley School’ and also in ‘St. Paul’s School’. In 1944, he completed his BA from ‘Yale University’.
After earning his bachelor’s degree, he joined the ‘United States Navy Reserve’ and rendered his service as a gunner during World War II. He became a lieutenant and earned five battle stars. He was discharged from service in 1946.
He earned his LLB from ‘Yale Law School’ in 1948 and after a year he returned to New York and joined the bar. He was appointed in the law firm ‘Webster Sheffield Fleischmann Hitchcock & Christie’. After four years he became a partner of the firm.
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He served the ‘Youth for Eisenhower’ club as one of its founders in 1951.
In 1952, he became the President of ‘New Young Republican’ club.
In 1955, he was appointed as executive assistant of attorney general Herbert Brownell in the justice department where he looked after civil liberty cases including the ‘Civil Rights Act’ of 1957.
In 1958, after winning the Republican primary, he was elected to Congress to represent ‘Silk Stocking’ district in Upper East Side, Manhattan.
He advocated for federal support of Medicare and education and favoured for setting up of ‘National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities’ and ‘Department of Urban Affairs’. As one of the prominent members of moderate and liberal group of Republicans, he gave his vote for the ‘Civil Rights Act’ of 1964.
In 1965, John Vliet Lindsay became the Republican Mayor of New York with the aid of the Liberal Party.
On January 1, 1966, his first day as mayor, the ‘Transport Workers Union of America’ called a transit strike across the city. He wanted to settle the terms of the strike along with other issues including increased welfare costs. In this pursuit, he lobbied for higher water rates for residents, new municipal income tax and a commuter tax for non-resident working public in the ‘New York State Legislature’.
In 1968, he decentralized three local schools giving them full autonomy. The move proved disastrous as many teachers working in Ocean Hill-Brownville were dismissed from schools that attempted decentralization. As a result the ‘Union Federation of Teachers’ called strike which was followed by protracted city-wide teacher’s strike that went on over seven months. Tingled with racial overtones, the incident initiated strain between Jews and blacks that prevailed for years.
A three day Broadway strike and a sanitation strike for nine days in 1968 left New York in a mess. The city was flooded in a sea of garbage. He later called this phase period as "the worst of my public life”.
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He served the ‘Kerner Commission’, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders.
On February 10, 1969, there were fourteen casualties and sixty-eight injuries in New York as the city was covered with fifteen inches of snow. Lindsay was criticised for his partial treatment towards Manhattan at the cost of other boroughs and was publicly booed. As a mayor he became infamous for his indifferent attitude towards the middle class and the poor.
In 1969, he lost the Republican mayoral primary to John J. Marchi, a state Senator. He then became a mayoral nominee of the ‘New York Liberal Party’ and won the election with a higher margin of votes compared to 1965.
On May 8, 1970, another riot erupted in New York when around two hundred construction workers, organised by ‘New York State AFL-CIO’ labour federation, attacked about a thousand students. The students from high school and college were protesting American invasion of Cambodia, Vietnam War and Kent State shootings. Although few investment analysts, bankers and attorneys of the area came out to protect the students, the police remained an onlooker.
The incident was followed by two more protests by thousands of workers on May 11 and May 16, 1970. While John Vliet Lindsay criticised the police, he was tagged as ‘traitor’ and ‘the red mayor’ by the protesters.
Lindsay set up the ‘Knapp Commission’ in April 1970 after Frank Serpico, a NYPD patrolman claimed in ‘The New York Times’ about widespread police corruption. While the preliminary reports of the commission were out by August 1972, its recommendations were issued on December 27 that year.
In 1971, he switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. In 1972 he was unsuccessful in bidding for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In his later life he returned to his legal profession and remained a regular guest host of ‘Good Morning America’ conducted by ‘ABC’.
In an attempt to come back in politics, he made an unsuccessful bid from New York for Democratic senator nomination in 1980.
He was the chairman of ‘Lincoln Center Theatre’ and a member of the board of ‘Association for a Better New York’.
His health started deteriorating and in 1988 he underwent open heart surgery. Without any health insurance his wealth eventually depleted with rising medical bills. In 1995, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani inducted him as special counsel to the New York City Commission for the United Nations for making him eligible to get municipal health insurance coverage.