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Is Lindsay Too Tall to Be Mayor?

"Lindsay?" we'd yell out in answer to a question. "Lindsay is too tall to be the mayor of New York."

That line was much more than a cute throwaway. It illustrated the great sense of the history of the city of New York which Norman and I brought to the campaign. For in the last 40 years of this city, John Lindsay is anywhere from five inches to almost an entire foot taller than anyone else who has held the office of mayor. Beginning with the year 1926, we have had Jimmy Walker (5-8); William O'Brien (5-8 1/2); Joseph V. McKee (5-91/2); Fiorello LaGuardia (an announced 5-5 but actually closer to 5-2); Bill O'Dwyer (an actual 5-9, but given a little vanity and a great gift of language, an official 5-10); Vincent Impellitteri (5-83/4); Robert Wagner (5-81/4). For the record, I am a stunning 5-9 1/8 and I continually attempt to make myself appear taller by the use of a loud mouth. And whenever you try to get into the business of comparing height with Norman, well, that's what starts some of these fights.

Our line about Lindsay being too tall was meant to say something important about his vulnerability in the election this fall. John Lindsay was a striking, handsome, cool, towering figure as he walked the streets of Harlem and was acclaimed across the country as future Presidential material. But now, take Lindsay off the front pages of the Washington Post or Los Angeles Times or Chicago Sun-Times and put him on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Put him there with the schools closed and the garbage not picked up and the robberies and assaults way up. Put him there in a crowd of stumpy, bulging, balding Bronxites. Do this, and you do not have a towering figure anymore. You have a bony Protestant from Yale and Wall Street whose height makes him a conspicuous target for the stumpy little people who yell up at him, “Lindsay, make the robbers go away or you go away!” And while Lindsay stands there, his neck and head sticking out of the crowd like a light pole, here comes Mario Procaccino. Short, waddling, crying, sweating Mario, his mustache from Arthur Avenue, his suit from the garment center, his language from all the years of all the neighborhoods of New York. Mario says, “A safe city and a clean city,” and he says this not with Protestant coolness, but with the Ellis Island heartbeat which had so much to do with the making of New York. Suddenly it is not good to be so tall and handsome. “Send Lindsay to a dance,” the cabdrivers yell.

It happens like this. And when it does, the differences between trying and being ambitious, between somebody who sees the inequality and unfairness of life and somebody who sees only the glory of a big job, become virtually meaningless. You need five inches off your legs. An attitude has developed and it is very hard to overcome it in the short time between July and a Tuesday in November.

"New York is not these homogenized scarecrows running into Bonwit's; it's a housewife in a sundress shopping on Fulton St."

This description, "too tall," also goes beyond physical aspects and reactions to them. It goes into the entire idea of John Lindsay's administration, the people in it and the people who like it, and it goes into the pattern of emotions that produced the voting in last month's primaries and could, very easily, produce similar voting in November. John Lindsay is of the 17th Congressional District in Manhattan. The 17th has about as much to do with the city of New York as Kings Road in Chelsea has to do with London. New York is not Hair. It is John Wayne in The Green Berets at the Valencia in Jamaica. New York is not these reedy, bland, leavened, pasteurized, homogenized scarecrows running into Bonwit's. It is a real person wearing a sundress, the body a litle dumpy from having children, the face a little too lined, the hands a little rough and the fingernails shortened from housework and from biting, the reflex against bills in the mail. A real person like this, shopping on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, a street on which there is more human feel to the crowds than almost any other place in the city. New York is not a cocktail party upstairs at Sardi's. It is a shot of Fleischmann's with a Rheingold on tap for a chaser in Neal's on Fordham Road in the Bronx. And it is not Plaza Suite. It is a motel on Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens.

Out in the real New York, out in the sprawling collection of small neighborhoods that run into each other, a natural resentment against the 17th Congressional District and all that it means took shape in the primaries last June. In these neighborhoods, the places where people say "I'm going to the city" or "I'm going to New York" when they speak of taking the subway to Manhattan, they feel they are living at the bottom of a mountain. Midtown Manhattan is the peak, Queens the outwash plain. They feel, these working people of the neighborhoods, that John Lindsay and all of his kind have been standing up on the peak and delivering the great dictums of the knee-jerk liberals. The working people feel words like "busing" came from the 17th, where they know the people have no worries about blacks, because only the best, the real good, nice, orderly blacks, get into Dalton or Horace Mann. In the real New York, the people are worrying about teachers being set afire in Franklin K. Lane on Elderts Lane in Brooklyn. So "too tall" means too Manhattanish, too removed from the problems of the street corners. Squat Mario Procaccino from the Bronx, where they have candy stores, is an answer that has clout in the neighborhoods.


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