Unless you are a New Yorker of a certain age, you probably never heard of John V. Lindsay. From 1966 to 1973, Lindsay served as mayor of New York City – or at least he tried to. His administration was rocked by extraordinary challenges that reflected the convulsions of the wider American society and turmoil that was unique to that particular metropolis. Whether Lindsay was a success or a failure as mayor is still open to debate.
“Fun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years” is a documentary that recalls the turbulence of the period and Lindsay’s efforts to keep the city functioning. By contemporary standards, Lindsay seemed like an anomaly: a liberal Republican who was unusually sensitive to the socio-economic needs of disenfranchised non-white citizens. The Lindsay years saw a radical change in how New York’s municipal government began to pay serious attention to issues relating to housing, urban planning, social programs, education and job opportunities – not exactly the kind of program that one would anticipate from today’s Republican Party.
But Lindsay’s mayoralty was under constant stress. On his first day in office, when the city’s transit workers union staged an illegal strike that shut down the city for 12 wintry days. Other municipal unions would follow this example over the years, resulting in astonishing incidents that disrupted the city’s ebb and flow.
Lindsay’s ambitious agenda also mucked up the city’s budget – two years after he left office, New York was nearly bankrupt. His anti-Vietnam sentiments (he ordered flags flown at half-staff following the Kent State massacre) and his focus on the African American community alienated many conservative white voters – for his 1969 re-election campaign, he had to run on the small Liberal Party line when his fellow Republicans refused to renominate him. Lindsay later switched to the Democratic Party and made a brief attempt to secure the 1972 presidential nomination, which further tarnished his image.
The documentary includes interviews with three of Lindsay’s famous successors – Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Rudolph Guiliani – and there is a wealth of very rare news footage that details the various crises of the era. However, the documentary fails to mention several significant events of the Lindsay years, including the 1968 violence on the Columbia University campus and the birth of the gay rights movement with the 1969 Stonewall riot in Greenwich Village. There is also no hint of what became of Lindsay after he left City Hall.
Nonetheless, “Fun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years” (which can be seen online) provides a fascinating glimpse into New York’s roughest years and the man who tried (but didn’t always succeed) in maintaining order amid the chaos.