Sam Roberts on John V. Lindsay as "America's Mayor"

John V. LindsayWhen we were deciding on the title for our book on John Lindsay, co-published with the Museum of the City of New York, we were concerned that the title America’s Mayor, might cause some confusion. After all, many now think of Rudy Giuliani as “America’s Mayor” after his handling of the city after 9/11. However, it was in fact Lindsay to whom the attribution was first applied. Lindsay quickly gained national prominence after coming into office, symbolizing a new type of mayor who was not beholden to machine politics.

In a piece for The Huffington Post, the book’s editor and New York Times urban affairs correspondent, Sam Roberts comments on some of the similarities between Lindsay and Giuliani beyond their shared “title”:

Who was really “America’s Mayor,” Rudy Giuliani or John V. Lindsay?…

Both were Republicans in a Democratic town (or what used to be one, given that if a Democrat gets elected in 2013 he or she will be the first in 24 years). Both succeeded predecessors who were perceived as wimpy. Both vowed to reverse the prevailing wisdom that New York was ungovernable (Lindsay is largely perceived to have failed; Giuliani succeeded). Both saved their city — Lindsay from the race riots that devastated other cities and Giuliani from the paralysis that might have followed 9/11. Both were blinded by adulation that was more about their celebrity than about their political popularity and that was heightened in direct proportion to their distance from home. Both ran for president. Both were delivered to mortifying defeats.

As Roberts explains the office of mayor has not been a successful launching pad to higher office and it has been a particularly bad springboard for New York City mayors. Roberts ends his piece by quoting Wallace S. Sayre and Herbert Kaufman, who wrote that the “the presidency can elevate the most mediocre of men, but the mayoralty is the highly vulnerable symbol of all the defects in the city and its government.”

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