John Lindsay Biography

Mayor, Lawyer (1921–2000)
John Lindsay was a U.S. congressman and was the mayor of New York City during the 1960s. He is known for his "ghetto walks" and clashes with labor groups.


John Lindsay was born in 1921 in New York City. He earned a law degree at Yale, and was elected to Congress in 1958. In 1965 Lindsay was elected mayor of New York City, and served two tumultuous terms in which he clashed with labor groups, soothed racial tensions and increased spending. He left office in 1973, resumed practicing law and was a commentator for Good Morning America. He died in 2000.

Early Life and Career

John Vliet Lindsay was born in New York City on November 24, 1921, to an upper- middle-class family. He earned his bachelor's degree from Yale University before entering the United States Navy Reserve, with which he served as a gunner in World War II. After he was discharged in 1946, Lindsay returned to Yale and earned a law degree. Back in New York City in 1949, he passed the bar and joined the law firm Webster Sheffield Fleischmann Hitchcock & Christie. He also met his wife, Mary Anne Harrison, with whom he had four children.


Lindsay had been active as a Young Republican, and founded Youth for Eisenhower during Dwight Eisenhower's presidential campaign. His dedication impressed U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr., who hired Lindsay to serve as executive assistant in Washington, D.C., in 1955. Lindsay acted as a liaison between the Justice Department and the White House, and he helped draft the Civil Rights Act of 1957. In 1958 Lindsay was elected to Congress as the representative of the Upper East Side, an affluent New York neighborhood then known as the "Silk Stocking District."

Lindsay's congressional voting record was frequently at odds with the Republican Party. He was a strong supporter of civil rights, and led a group of moderate Republicans to vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He supported Medicare and federal aid for education, as well as the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


In 1965, Lindsay was elected mayor of New York City. On his first day in office, the Transport Workers Union staged a strike that shut down New York City's buses and subways for 12 days, and which was a harbinger of other labor-relations problems to come. The strike ended with a 15 percent pay increase for transit workers, along with large pension bonuses, and during the New York City fiscal crisis in the 1970s, critics pointed to the settlement as one of the decisions that nearly bankrupted the city.

Lindsay's second major labor issue came in 1968, when he attempted to decentralize the school system. Believing that communities should have more input regarding the way their schools were run, Lindsay gave three local school boards total authority over their schools. The teachers' union saw this as union busting, and after three teachers were fired in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district, the union called for strikes. It was the first of three citywide teacher strikes that lasted from May to November of that year.

In 1969 Lindsay lost the Republican primary election to John Marchi, a state senator, but he appeared on the ballot anyway as the candidate of the New York Liberal Party and won a second term. In 1971 he changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and ran for the presidential nomination, but dropped out when it became clear he was unable to win.

Although Lindsay had some successes in office—his "ghetto walks" in the late 1960s helped prevent the riots and racial violence that rocked other cities, and he increased efficiency by consolidating 50 city departments into 10—in 1972, 60 percent of New Yorkers said that Lindsay was doing a poor job, according to a Gallup poll. He did not run for a third term in 1973.

Life After Politics

After leaving office, Lindsay resumed practicing law and became a commentator on Good Morning America. In 1980 he ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator from New York, but received just 17 percent of the vote.

Lindsay was active in New York charities, and was appointed chairman of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in 1984. He held that position until 1988, when he underwent open heart surgery. From then on, his health declined. He had a stroke in 1993, and was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. When he found himself without health insurance in 1995, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani appointed him special counsel to the New York City Commission for the United Nations, so that he could receive health insurance and a pension. In 1999, Lindsay and his wife moved to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Lindsay died there on December 19, 2000.

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