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  Reviving John Lindsay
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Last EditedCraverguy  May 30, 2010 05:01am
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AuthorBen Smith
News DateWednesday, May 5, 2010 05:20:00 PM UTC0:0
DescriptionThe Obama presidency is settling in to its strong second year, but with the shock of change fading, the ripples across the way people think about politics and history are really just beginning to be felt. One reached my desk last week in the form of a book -- accompanying an exhibition opening today and a documentary airing tomorrow -- that seeks to revive the legacy of New York Mayor John Lindsay.

Lindsay, mayor from 1966 to 1973, was at the time a symbol of high liberal hopes. When the city's overextended welfare state crashed near bankruptcy in the mid 1970s, he became a symbol of the failed promise of the 1960s. An early, influential book about his tenure was The Cost of Good Intentions, and Michael Barone once called him "the most destructive American local public official of the last half-century." When the historian Vincent Cannato published a devastating, though personally sympathetic, biography of Lindsay called The Ungovernable City not long after Lindsay's death in 2000, it seemed to be the last word on the subject.

The new collection, America's Mayor: John V. Lindsay and the Reinvention of New York is edited by the New York Times's Sam Roberts, and features 15 essays from former Lindsay aides, journalists, and historians. They all acknowledge the critique, and while a few embrace it, most seek to move past it.

Any defense of Lindsay begins with race and April 4, 1968. Even critical biographers like Cannato believe that his history of good relations with black New York, his decision to walk the streets personally at some personal risk that night, and his policy encouraging "police restraint" paid off, largely saving New York from the riots that devastated a range of American cities.

"For me, he will always be that man who went to the churning streets of Harlem one terrible night in the spring of 1968," the legendary New York newspaperman Pete Hamill writes in the collection. "Sometimes, dragons really are dragons, a
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