AS A BITTER and wearisome 10-week strike of teachers came to an end one day last November and a million youngsters trooped back into their classrooms, Harold Foner, humanrights chairman of the Brooklyn Bar Association, gazed out the window of his law office near City Hall and said succinctly: “Lindsay is dead.”
To anyone outside New York City, that might sound like an incredible verdict. It doesn’t seem long since Mayor John V. Lindsay was getting the big buildup as a sort of Republican John F. Kennedy, and he seemed like one of his party’s strongest contenders for the 1968 presidential nomination — stronger than, say, that hasbeen named Richard M. Nixon. But after three years in office Lindsay now faces the largest bloc of hostile voters he has ever encountered.
If you make full use of the 20-20 hindsight with which political reporters, barflies and other sages are inevitably blessed, you can make the case that the story of the Lindsay administration has just been one bad tactical blunder after another.
On the very day he took office, Lindsay set the tone for all the relations he’s had since with unionized labor — by clashing with the late Mike Quill, boss of the Transport Workers’ Union. Result: instant subway strike. Ever since, says political
analyst Stanley Aronowitz, “the bargaining style of the mayor has been incoherent and ineffective.”
Aronowitz might also have said “politically disastrous.” In a controversy over school - board decentralization, Lindsay tried to curry Negro favor by siding with a Negro school board. But all he managed to do was alienate the predominantly Jewish Federation of Teachers (who were in dispute with the board) and the labor movement at large. In the settlement that followed, the Negro side was humiliated — and Lindsay got the blame.
Besides teachers and subway workers, Lindsay has had to face strikes or strike threats from cab drivers, policemen, firemen and garbage men. (It’s a year since the garbage strike, but health authorities still shudder over it. They’re convinced that if the heaps of rat-infested refuse had piled up for 'just two more days, the city would have faced an epidemic of the plague.)
After each labor dispute, Lindsay has managed to regain some lost ground; but not all, and so the ranks of his foes and critics have swelled. To some, it was an admission of inadequacy, several weeks ago, when Lindsay called in Arthur Goldberg, the former United Nations representative, to handle his side of the negotiations with garbagemen, firemen and policemen. At this writing, Goldberg had resolved two of the three disputes, and the third, with police, was moving toward solution.
While Lindsay has unquestionably made gains among Negro voters (Jack Newfield, author of A Prophetic Minority, calls him “the only white mayor in America to have the grudging trust of the black underclass”) his unpopularity with other minorities has been conspicuously dramatized. When he appeared at the East Midwood Jewish Center in Brooklyn, Lindsay was booed off the stage. Several rabbis have denounced him from their pulpits.
“We understand the mayor’s problem,” said one rabbi. “He wants to calm the Negroes and get a national reputation of doing well — at the expense of other groups.”
Such resentment takes many forms.
Bumper stickers and lapel pins demanding IMPEACH LINDSAY are becoming numerous. One member of the city’s Board of Estimates has called for Lindsay’s removal. And at a demonstration around City Hall Park, amid chanting of “Lindsay must go!” veteran newsmen estimated the mob at 40,000 — the largest crowd of its kind they had ever seen.
Where is it all leading? Most likely to the polling booth next fall. With a mayoralty election due then, Lindsay still has enough Republican backing to get his party’s nomination — if he wants it. Once in the running, he’ll have to rely heavily on the Negro vote, to compensate for his loss of support among such significant minorities as the Jews.
“I do what is right, and I’ll continue to,” Lindsay said recently. “I think the people will support that.”
Among the doubters, Stanley Aronowitz says: “By adopting the attitude that he is ‘mayor of all the people’, Lindsay has finally reached the point where he is mayor of none.
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