John Lindsay

John Lindsay, mayors of New York City

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John Vliet Lindsay (November 24, 1921 - December 19, 2000) was an American liberal politician who served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1959 to 1965 and mayor of New York City from 1966 to 1973.


Public sector union activism would turn out to be the bane of Lindsay's administration. 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. Though it was often asserted that the transit workers were underpaid, the strike more than anything was an effort by an old-guard Irish leadership to reinforce its power over a union which by 1966 had more black and Hispanic members than ethnic Irish. 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.

The settlement of the strike, combined with increased welfare costs and general economic decline, forced Lindsay to push through the New York state legislature in 1966 a municipal income tax hike and higher water rates for city residents, plus a new commuter tax for people who worked in the city but resided elsewhere. By 1970, New Yorkers were paying $384 per person in taxes, the highest in the nation. In contrast, the average Chicago resident paid $244 per person. (Source, Can Cities Survive? The Fiscal Plight of American Cities, Pettengill and Uppal, p. 76.)

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.

That same year, 1968, also saw a week-long sanitation strike. Lindsay was widely blamed for the disaster for not making a counteroffer to the union's pre-strike proposal. Quality of life in New York reached a nadir during this strike, as ten-foot tall mountains of garbage grew on New York City sidewalks.

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 River were locked in the "up" position, barring transit by automobile, and hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage flowed into area waterways.

This was also the year of the Hard Hat Riot on Wall Street and Broadway on May 8th, in which antiwar protestors clashed with construction workers from the World Trade Center construction site. The protesters had set up along the statue of George Washington on Wall Street and were reportedly waving Viet Cong flags and defiling American flags in protesting the Kent State shootings. The "Hard Hats" proceeded to storm the statue's base in anger and set up American flags, then pursued the fleeing protestors. The resulting chaos then spilled out to the Pace University campus and City Hall. This was one of the slowest days on the New York Stock Exchange in months, as the construction workers were unexpectedly joined by some white collar office workers from the exchange. Lindsay had ordered that all flags on City buildings be lowered to half mast to show respect for the four students killed at Kent State, a measure to which the construction workers were overwhelmingly opposed, but many city residents applauded. They threatened to overwhelm City Hall unless the flag was raised to full height, which it eventually was. Lindsay also took the blame for the lack of action by the NYPD, which made little attempt to stop the construction workers from rioting. Reportedly, as the American flag was raised to full over City Hall, the construction workers demanded that the fifteen officers remove their riot helmets in respect. Seven did.[citation

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