14 August 2008

John Lindsay

Some recent reading of mine on the history of the city of New York gives the impression that man who was its mayor from 1966 to 1973, John Lindsay was -- how shall one put it? -- a clueless twit.

If any of my readers with a long memory or who have done reading that leads to another conclusion wants to make a pro-Lindsay case, please feel free to use the comment option here.

I'll just give two brief quotations supporting the clueless-twit image.

Roger Lowenstein, in his recent book about America's ongoing pension crises, talks of how in the Lindsay period the public-employee unions "leapfrogged" one another with ever higher pension demands, and Lindsay was all too eager to comply, at the expense of the city's future solvency.

"The response of a Lindsay aide to one such pension demand [by parks workers in 1970] was memorable: 'When would we have to start paying for it?' Told that, due to the peculiarities of the pension calender, an increase would not affect the budget until three years later, by which time Lindsay would be serving out his final year, the aide breezily approved it."

Okay, that's the aide's cluelessness, but presumably it was the result of a climate the boss encouraged.

But let's go back a bit. This spring I read for the first time a classic work on New York City, written in the 1970s, Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses, that "master builder" of highways, bridges, parks, etc. Lindsay came into office aspiring to take Moses down a peg. As it turned out, Lindsay had no idea what that would entail, or how to go about it. Gov. Rockefeller did have some valuable ideas in that area, which in time would yield fruit, but that's another story.

Of Lindsay, Caro writes: "It wasn't polemics that was going to count in any confrontation; it was power. John Lindsay and his glib young aides had the polemics; the grim old ruler of Randall's Island had the power. More, he knew how to use power. There was a phrase he employed in discussing Lindsay's merger proposal that had a certain signifdicance. It was, he said 'ripper legislation.' 'Ripper legislation' -- a phrase denoting legislation passed to remove an official from power indiredctly when it was impossible to do so directly -- was a phrase out of another age; it had not been in general use since the 1920s. The significance lay not in the phrase but in the fact that the man using it was still around....These men with their first taste of power laughed athim; he had not only tasted power but held it longer than many of these men had been alive."

The floor is open.

No comments:

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.