America's Mayor: John V. Lindsay and the Reinvention of New York — The Exhibit

John V. Lindsay

“Whatever your take on the Lindsay years, this show will both challenge and expand it,” writes Edward Rothstein in his largely positive review in the New York Times of the exhibit “America’s Mayor: John V. Lindsay and the Reinvention of New York,” currently being held at the Museum of the City of New York.

The exhibit is part of a recent resurgence of interest in Lindsay reflected in a recent documentary, Fun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years, and our book, edited by Sam Roberts, which includes essays by Richard Reeves, Kenneth Jackson, Pete Hamill, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Nicholas Pileggi, and others.

In the review, Rothstein describes the ways in which the exhibit depicts the ambitious nature of Lindsay’s administration, the ways his record fell short, and the tumultuous period in the city’s history (1965-1973). Lindsay inherited a city that was already in crisis, confronted with urban flight, precarious finances, labor unrest, rising crime, and simmering racial tension. To a certain extent he left a city that was still grappling with these same issues. However, Lindsay helped to keep a sense of racial peace at a time when many other urban areas were wracked by race riots. Rothstein writes:

On the night of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968 Lindsay rushed to 125th Street to make an extended appearance. We read:
“Critics charged that Lindsay held the police back from confronting looters, while allies asserted that the policy of selective restraint kept the riot from exploding into something far worse.” Far worse did indeed take place during that era in Detroit and Newark, which have yet to recover.

We are reminded too that Lindsay’s administration gave the issue of race paramount importance, both in the mayor’s attempts to bring black politicians into the government and in his hesitating to control riots with confrontation.

Despite the failings, Lindsay’s ambition and his legacy for the city are significant and lasting:

It is astonishing, though, just how much Lindsay attempted, some of which failed, some of which stuck, some of which was resurrected in later years, much of it outlined here in documents and images: a proposed civilian review board for the police, the Environmental Protection Administration, the Department of Consumer Affairs, the TKTS theater booth, an expansion of the role of the city’s parks, increased attention to both preservation and urban design.

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