At Giuliani’s Finale, the Spirit of Lindsay

As the great men and women of municipal government shook

their umbrellas and hats and chatted to each other about the rain and the

solemn state ritual at hand, they passed-some without noticing-a vision from a

dimly remembered past. Some 10 feet from the main doors of City Hall was a picture,

mounted on a small wooden frame and wreathed in a bunting of grieving purple,

of John Vliet Lindsay, 103rd Mayor of New York, dead at age 79 just before the

new year. If you were to describe the picture, you would be tempted to say it

was classic Lindsay: his face young enough to be energetic and vital, yet with

a little gray at the temples, enough to remind you that he was fresh in 1965

and out of date by 1972. It was classic Lindsay, all right-but then again, what

picture of John Vliet Lindsay was not?

City Council members and

Mayoral advisers and lobbyists and influence-seekers chatted their way past

Lindsay’s picture, up the grand staircase, up to the Council chamber, to hear

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani deliver his final State of the City speech. Council Speaker

Peter Vallone, who would like to cap a long career in government service by

succeeding Mr. Giuliani in this year’s election, was given the unenviable task

of hushing the masses before the Mayor made his grand entrance. He did so with

the avuncular ease of a television-game-show host performing in front of a

mildly raucous crowd. “O.K., ladies and gentlemen,” he said when, at last, the

signal was given that the Mayor was at the Council chamber’s threshold. “You

are part of history tonight.” With that, Mr. Giuliani-the first Republican

since Lindsay to win the Mayoralty and the first to be made lame by term

limits-entered the chamber for one last summation of the city’s condition.

His audience contained more than a few wise elders who would

have adult memories of the turbulent Lindsay years. Paul Crotty, the

soft-spoken government professional who has handled portfolios in both the Koch

and Giuliani administrations, took his place with other civic worthies. Henry

Stern, once a young Council member from Manhattan filled with the kind of

vitality Lindsay sought to bring to government, sat to the Mayor’s left, almost

obscured behind the huge backdrop-a picture of the downtown Manhattan skyline.

Mr. Stern, an eccentric, white-haired man who has been Mr. Giuliani’s only

Parks Commissioner, took notes as the Mayor spoke.

Though Mr. Giuliani made

no mention of Lindsay as he opened his speech, there were two implicit

citations of the dead Mayor within the first few minutes of the long,

astonishingly extemporaneous monologue. Ruminating about the extra year he will

have as Mayor thanks to his voluntary exit from last year’s Senate race, Mr.

Giuliani said, “Maybe it’s the second-toughest job in the world.” When John

Lindsay ran for his second term in 1969, there were no maybes about it. Lindsay

won with the saddest excuse of a campaign slogan: “It’s the second-toughest job

in America.” In other words, yeah, I screwed up, but do you think any of these

other guys could do any better?

The second implicit

reference to Lindsay no doubt was not meant as a reference at all, save to

those who are paid modest amounts of money to conjure something from nothing.

To illustrate his praise of the city’s civil-service work force, the Mayor

displayed a picture of a snow-stricken Times Square during the New Year’s Eve

Blizzard of 2000. He then showed a picture, taken only hours later, of a plowed

Times Square, with traffic moving freely. The chamber applauded; how

many of these Council members and influence-seekers

remembered the trouble that unplowed snow once caused John Lindsay?

For nearly two hours, in a well-rehearsed but scriptless

performance, the Mayor waxed ecstatic about the crime-solving potential of DNA

evidence, lectured his listeners about the need to abolish the Board of Education,

offered the helping hand of government money for housing, and summoned no small

amount of passion on the subject of school vouchers. “A civil rights issue,” he

said of vouchers.

John Lindsay would never

have made such an argument, nor would he have delved so deeply into the

business of service delivery. He was a man made for big pictures. And, we were

reminded in his obituaries, he was a man who kept racial peace at a time when

other cities were burning. He walked the streets of Harlem.

Rudy Giuliani, it is understood, wouldn’t dare try such a

gesture. But it would not seem overstated to say that Rudy Giuliani inherited a

city that was home to a daily low-level riot, and as he prepared to leave, the

annual body count approached levels not seen since the year John Lindsay seemed

so fresh.

And, oh yes, he made sure the streets were plowed.