Tuesday, May 4, 2010

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



America’s Mayor: John V. Lindsay and the Reinvention of New York examines the controversial tenure (1966-1973) and dramatic times of New York’s 103rd mayor. The exhibition presents John V. Lindsay’s efforts to lead a city that was undergoing radical changes and that was at the center of the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s; it highlights Mayor Lindsay’s ambitious initiatives to redefine New York City’s government, economy, culture, and urban design. Through his outspoken championship of city life, commitment to civil rights, and opposition to the Vietnam War, Lindsay emerged as a national figure in a troubled and exhilarating era. The exhibition also explores the costs of his approach, including growing criticism from disaffected voters and an increasingly out of control city budget.

Lindsay was born in New York City on West End Avenue to George Nelson Lindsay and the former Florence Eleanor Vliet. Contrary to popular assumptions, John Lindsay was neither a blue-blood nor very wealthy by birth, although he did grow up in an upper middle class family of English and Dutch extraction. Lindsay's paternal grandfather migrated to the United States in the 1880s from the Isle of Wight,and his mother was from an upper-middle class family that had been in New York since the 1660s. John's father was a successful lawyer and investment banker, and was able to send his son to the prestigious Buckley School, St. Paul's School and Yale, where he was admitted to the class of 1944 and joined Scroll and Key.

With the outbreak of World War II, Lindsay completed his studies early and in 1943 joined the United States Navy as a gunnery officer. He obtained the rank of lieutenant, earning five battle stars through action in the invasion of Sicily and a series of landings in the Pacific theater.After the war, he spent a few months as a ski bum and a couple of months training as a bank clerk before returning to Yale, where he received his law degree in 1948, ahead of schedule.


Back in New York, Lindsay met his future wife, Mary Anne Harrison, at the wedding of Nancy Bush (daughter of Connecticut's Senator Prescott Bush and sister of future President George H.W. Bush), where he was an usher and Harrison a bridesmaid. A resident of Greenwich, Connecticut and a graduate of Vassar College, Harrison was a distant relative of William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison. They married in 1949. That same year Lindsay was admitted to the bar, and rose to became a partner in his law firm four years later.

When he came into office, Mayor John V. Lindsay had a dream to reinvent the city—to bridge the income and affordability gap, bring racial minorities into government, integrate neighborhoods, empower communities through decentralization, impose strategic urban planning to spare the environment, and make cities more livable. Which of these dreams became a reality and how do those changes affect us today?

The exhibition, which opens to the public on May 5, is presented in cooperation with the Municipal Archives, is accompanied by a book of the same title edited by Sam Roberts of The New York Times and co-published by Columbia University Press and the Museum of the City of New York (May 2010), as well as a public television documentary presented by WNET.ORG.

Tonight at the Museum of the City of New York, DITHOB will be attending a symposium (sorry, sold out) moderated by Sam Roberts, and a panel of NY authors, journalists and political figures (Pete Hamill, Major Owen, Vincent Cannato, Jeff Greenfield, Jay Kriegel, and Gabe Pressman.)


More on the exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York

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