Is Lindsay Too Tall to Be Mayor?

From the July 28, 1969 issue of New York Magazine.

My friend George, who handles tables at the Copacabana night club, probably had it right all along. One night in May, when I was trying to cut down on the wrangling at home, I told my wife I’d take her to see Tom Jones, the Welsh singer who was playing the Copa. I had a table for the midnight show. But at 11 I was still in this rattrap Reform Democratic-clubhouse one flight up from Amsterdam Avenue someplace, and I was telling everybody about my personal brilliance and great ability to save the city from doom. I was talking about myself so much that there was going to be no Copa that night. My wife, mad as hell, left the room and went downstairs to a phone booth and called George at the Copa to cancel the table.

“Mrs. Breslin,” George said, “tell your husband to stop being a politician and come back and be a playboy. It’s more fun.”

Which it is. After Norman Mailer and I finished seven weeks of a mayoralty campaign adjudged unlikely, I still came away nervous and depressed by what I had seen of my city. I saw a sprawling, disjointed place which did not understand itself and was decaying physically and spiritually, decaying with these terrible little fires of rage flickering in the decay. Rage which, with heat and humidity and crowding and misery and misunderstanding and misused or misunderstood authority, could turn the city into a horror on any night soon. On top of the city was an almost unworkable form of government and a set of casually unknowing, unfeeling, uncaring men and institutions. The absence of communications in a city which is the communications center of the world is so bad that you are almost forced to believe the condition of the city is terminal. There is an awesome, incredible pool of talent and caring and humor in the people on the streets in the city. It is true: the New Yorker talks a little faster and walks a little faster and thinks a little faster than people in any other city in the world. The chances for survival and greatness should be very good. But I saw nothing in the city of New York which told me this pool of ability either has been recognized or is being directed. I saw nothing which really told me that the city will not be a charred, stagnant place with a night-time population of 4 million or so some very few short years from now. So when the business of the Democratic primary was over, I migrated naturally to a bar and found it fine sport, and then to another bar, which was even better, and I then plunged entirely into the toy world. Important things became Mutchie’s face falling into a plate of spaghetti at 3 a.m., and Joe Bushkin playing the piano, and the horse Johnny Rotz was supposed to be on the next day. News bulletins were the score of the Mets game and Joe Namath’s troubles.

Then there was a Saturday in the Hamptons, with the first long shadows of the late afternoon falling on the lawn and hedges, and I got up and stretched.

“I have to get dressed,” I said.

“Where are you going?” my friend Robert J. Allen asked.

“To the party at Jerry Finkelstein’s,” I said.

It was a big cocktail party for the grape workers, being held at Finkelstein’s house in Southampton.

“I’ll drive you there,” Robert J. Allen said.

The insides of my elbows became stiff from the attack on my nerves that Robert J. Allen had just made.

“Oh, you don’t have to drive me,” I said.

“Oh, I wouldn’t go to the party,” Robert J. Allen said. “You know I can’t take those places. They’re too big for me. I get overwhelmed by all the luxury. I’ll drop you off and go to a movie.”

“Great!” I said to Robert J. Allen. I felt real good again. A few minutes later, I was standing at the mirror in the bedroom, knotting my tie. I tried to twist the tie around my throat and choke myself when I saw Robert J. Allen come into the room. He had on his only good summer shirt; all week long he goes to work in long-sleeved, heavy winter shirts and wonders why he gets dizzy in the subway. Along with his only good summer shirt, Robert J. Allen also was wearing a beautiful pink tie. Carefully folded over his arm was his best and only summer sports jacket, navy blue with brass buttons.

“You’re not thinking of coming with—” I began.

“I thought I’d just drop in and look,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.

“Well, it is a big society party and I never really have been to one of them before,” Robert J. Allen said.

Now I heard the first sound of the clock attached to the time bomb which sits forever inside Robert J. Allen.


“Well, I mean,” I said, “are you going to stay for the whole party?”

“I was thinking of it,” Robert J. Allen said.


The party was being thrown by Jerry Finkelstein’s son, Andrew Stein, a state assemblyman in Manhattan. The house is an immense oceanfront place, with sweeping front lawns and gravel driveways and a pool and lawns and hedges in the back, and on the other side of the hedges is the beach and the ocean. You can hear the waves breaking while you drink in the glass-enclosed bar or on the slate patio. When we drove up to the house, I said to Robert J. Allen,

“Now you’re not going to drink, of course.”

And he said, “Oh, no, gee, I’d never dare take a drink at a place like this.”

And then we got out and lost each other in the party, which was crowded with girls with long hair and familiar names and daring clothes. After a half-hour, I was standing in a big crowd at the bar and through the wall of people I heard this voice saying, “Ah, I’ll have another vodka and tonic, please.”

“Allen!” I yelled out.

“It’s all right, Jim, don’t worry,” the voice called back.

I pushed through people and just caught a glimpse of Robert J. Allen heading out towards the crowd of celebrities on the back lawn. Heading out towards them with the vodka in his hand.

Tick tock tick tock tick tock.

The next thing I knew, the sound was bursting in my eardrums, and there was Robert J. Allen. He was lobster-red. From whiskey, not from the sun. His eyelids were down. In the world of Robert J. Allen, when the muscles which control his eyelids get hit by whiskey, the muscles kind of give up and leave the eyelids suspended like hammocks from a tree. Simultaneously, his mouth muscles roll over and go to sleep. This leaves his tongue flopping around, licking whiskey or forming some of the silliest words ever heard in American conversation. The words spring from Robert J. Allen’s brain, which, when soaked with whiskey, alternately slumbers or awakens into enraged storms. Anyway, here he was, with the ticking so loud the bomb was ready to go off right in front of me. And it is from these moments, when the bomb inside him goes off, that all of Robert J. Allen’s fame derives.

This time, while I was standing there, eyelids half-shut, insides ticking away like Big Ben, Mr. Robert J. Allen happened to be off to one side with only one other person. He was talking to this person, a woman in a pink dress whose name is Ethel Kennedy.

With the finest prolonged lunge of my lifetime, I got a hand on Robert J. Allen’s shoulder.

“Don’t be afraid, he’s with me!” I half-shouted at Ethel Kennedy.

“Oh, no one had to tell me who brought him here,” she said coolly.

“I’m going to tell all of you people one thing,” Robert J. Allen said proudly. He said it with his chin up, which was good because I could get my arm under the chin against his throat so I could choke him while I got him out of the party before he created an incident people would speak of in horror for years. On the way home Robert J. Allen stopped at the Barge, one of the big places for the young crowd on Dune Road, in the Hamptons. Robert J. Allen vaguely remembers all the young guys at the Barge throwing him over the rail and into the bay.

I intended to concentrate throughout the summer on matters of extreme urgency: ocean waves breaking in the sunlight and swirls inside oyster shells and the mystery of the sound of ice hitting the sides of a glass. In the afternoon, the ice makes only this gentle, clicking, almost tinkling sound. Yet at night it sounds like gravel being poured into a barrel. Why is ice louder at night than it is in the daytime? Let me put on my shoes and we’ll go out and investigate. Of course, there was no chance that things would go on like this. I gave it the best try I could, but it was impossible. For an extraordinarily harmful thing always happens when you corrupt your mind with serious matters for any period of time. You retain an involuntary but continuing interest in these serious matters. And the pieces of where you have been and what you have done always are around you someplace. At the bar one night a couple of weeks after the primary, I looked up from a drink and saw my face and Norman’s face floating across the screen on the NBC First Tuesday show. It is a network thing, and they did a 20-minute look at our campaign. The show reinforced my opinion that Norman and I had some of the most terrific lows in the history of anything that ever took place in this city. And, perhaps, a couple of highs that could be recognized as time passes a bit. Like maybe colleges for years will be using the things Norman Mailer was saying out in the streets.

And then one morning, going through a suit before it went out to the cleaner’s, I came across a crumpled piece of paper. There was a name scrawled on it—Marie Visconti—and then the phone number. I was glad to find it. Marie Visconti was a teacher we had seen one day in the office of the Dean of Girls at Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx. A group of black girls outside the school had insisted that Mailer and I meet her. They led us inside and proudly introduced us to Miss Visconti, a young, pleasant, aware dark-haired girl. Norman and I stayed in the office for a couple of minutes. We were fascinated to see a New York City schoolteacher who had any feel for students who were not white. As a general statement of fact, there is no such thing. At this point, a little bald man, semi-belligerent from the fear that flickered in his eyes, bustled in.

“What’s this? What’s this?” he kept saying. He identified himself as the assistant principal. He did this the same way the stationmaster at Auschwitz’ greeted arrivees. Norman Mailer kind of rocked back, stuffed his hands into the front of his belt, and began sneering. I knew the assistant principal was in for the full bit, the Southern Mailer, and it would have been a terrific show. But we had no time, and, keeping his silence, Norman allowed himself to be prodded out of the building.

“Wow,” Norman said outside, “did you ever see such a jealous little man? I’ll bet you the girl gets in trouble because of us.” I thought so too, and we had somebody go back inside and get her home phone number. So now, weeks later, I came across the number and I called her at home. Miss Visconti told me she had been fired by the school principal just before the term ended and that she also had lost her summer teaching job in the school. This gave me one project of importance to worry about.

“The hell with everybody coming over to Lindsay. Let’s make him declare himself a Democrat. Make him do the line-crossing.”

And then, late on a hot, dull Sunday afternoon, I drove in from the Hamptons to Brooklyn for the wake of Hugh Carey’s two sons. To get to the Carey house on Prospect Park West, we came along Bushwick Avenue and then Eastern Parkway. Block after block of hot, filthy houses and sidewalks lined with garbage cans that never seem to be collected and have been kicked over by dogs and kids. And, on so many streets, a stripped, smashed car, sitting there as a reminder of everything that is brutal and barren about city life. We stayed at Carey’s for only a couple of minutes because the lines were long. When we left, nobody in the car felt like talking for a long time. Fat Thomas, who was driving, went down the hill from Prospect Park West and made a right turn on Fifth Avenue and started for the Manhattan Bridge. Fifth Avenue was hot and ramshackle and dirty and crowded with Puerto Ricans who carried a can of beer and drank it while they walked. They are the first people since the Irish to drink beer this way, and I have to love them for it. But when they stand on their street corners, their beer held up like brown trumpets, and you look at them, the amusement turns to sadness because their visible surroundings seem so hopeless and the invisible walls they face each day are so much thicker and higher and permanent than anything the Irish, who were on these streets before them, were asked to overcome. We drove out of Brooklyn and went over the Manhattan Bridge and came down onto the East Side, with dogs sniffing at garbage and more stripped cars and more crowds of Puerto Ricans standing outside buildings with chalk-marked hallways.

“Hell, when are we going to drive past something clean?” I said.

“We’ve been driving for exactly 12 miles,” Fat Thomas said. “Except for the bridge, all of it has been in busted-down neighborhoods. That’s 12 miles of slums and we’ve been in only two parts of the city. We’re in a hell of a shape.”

It is a city with more trouble than even its miles of decaying streets indicates. The case of Miss Visconti happened to be simply one fact representative of the frightened, constipated system of Civil Service. Under Civil Service, progress, even when practiced by a lone individual, is a felony.

Later, on this Sunday night, the newspaper picked up on 59th Street referred to more of the trouble of the city. One headline said, “Albany Leaders Cool to City U. Bid for Open-Door Aid … Brydges and Duryea See Obstacles.” Here we are again. Earl Brydges is the majority leader, Republican, for the State Senate. He is from Niagara Falls and he is a great rooter for upstate power companies. Perry Duryea is a Republican who is the speaker of the State Assembly. He is a lobster peddler from Montauk Point. They, and the people they control, have as much to do with the governing of New York City as does the mayor. This situation does present certain problems for the upstate legislator. In the school dispute over the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district, many people who discussed it in Albany felt Ocean Hill-Brownsville was a new breed of cow. So it may be said aloud once more: there is no sane argument in favor of New York surviving the next 10 years under this system.

Also in the newspaper were the inevitable stories, “Procaccino Calls for …” and “Marchi to Bid for …” At a time like this in the city’s history, the two major political parties give us Mario Procaccino and John Marchi as candidates for mayor. Now the quick disdain here for Mario and Marchi is not of the same type as registered on the editorial pages of the Times and passed around with sneers by Lindsay people and liberal Democrats. To begin with, the political arithmetic right now makes it highly improbable that Procaccino can lose the election. This may come as a surprise to people in Sardi’s. It also may come as a surprise to them if Marchi suddenly becomes a lot more attractive candidate with Lindsay third. The disdain here is not because of their political abilities. Procaccino is not liked for the type of campaign he ran in the primary. His commercial about City College burning down was so flagrant that when I saw him one afternoon I told Mario that he was getting an award from Marvin the Torch. Basically, Mario did not campaign. He pandered. “A Vote for Mario is a Vote for Your Family,” was the word of mouth his people sent around. This means, of course, that a nigger won’t rape your wife as long as Mario is around with his electric chair. Marchi played the same aisle, although couching terrible notions in soft, acceptable language. This quietness is a great cloak for Marchi. For the man is far more backward than anybody realizes. “Marchi votes against the Louisiana Purchase” is a common quote about him. For the city to reach a point where two candidates such as these are attractive to the people simply reveals the depth of our troubles.

Also in the paper was the headline saying, “Lindsay to Meet with Dems …” The story was about Reform Democrats, who cannot swallow Procaccino, meeting with Lindsay to see if they could support him. The meeting was listed for Tuesday night. Many people feel evidence of the ultimate ruin of New York is that we are left only with an unsatisfactory John Lindsay as an alternative to Mario and Marchi. I decided to stay in town and go to the meeting.

The meeting was at 8 p.m. in a long narrow room off the lobby of the Victoria Hotel on `51st Street. It was closed to the press. A cluster of reporters stood in the lobby by the French doors leading into the room. They immediately began complaining when I went into the place. They wanted me back outside with them. I didn’t want to do this. For one thing, I had a right to represent whatever interests Norman Mailer and I had in the evening. For another, even when I worked on newspapers I did not like hanging around with reporters. I shrugged off the muttering and went through the doors into the room.

The room was lit by three chandeliers. Paul O’Dwyer was at the front, giving instructions to the crowd of about 250 on how they were to act when the mayor arrived. “Now let’s not make this personal and let’s not get the questions down to a lot of meaningless things,” he said. Paul had some chance getting them to do that. The crowd murmured while he talked. The people in the seats were essentially the same groups I had been seeing through weeks of campaigning in these little West Side Reform clubs one flight over a Chinese restaurant. These clubs are the home bases of more deranged women than I ever knew existed. In the crowd, I also saw a woman from the Lexington Club, which is on the East Side. The club features a person named Chubb, who sits with his legs crossed and the long handle of a black gavel stuck into his mouth and he focuses on you with what is known around city politics as “the Lexington Club stare.” When he talks, he begins each sentence with a “Waaaaaa.”

At 9 p.m., an hour late, Lindsay arrived and made his way to the front of the room while Paul O’Dwyer, with these courtly manners of his, called out, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the mayor of the city of New York.”

Lindsay, wearing a subdued striped shirt, came up to the microphone amidst a decent amount of applause. He nodded to Paul O’Dwyer first, then to the audience and then he began talking.

“I can’t hear you,” somebody called from the back.

Lindsay didn’t notice this and he kept talking. After about the first five rows, nobody could hear what he was saying and soon there was a chorus of people saying they couldn’t hear him. I looked at Lindsay and saw the trouble. Standing erectly, with his fine, good-looking chin thrust straight out, Lindsay had his mouth about a half-foot above the microphone. The microphone had been fine for Paul O’Dwyer, but it wasn’t even close for John Lindsay. Casually, Lindsay began to raise the microphone. And right away, a little line Norman Mailer and I had used about him ran through my mind.

“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.

For there always has been natural dislike by the mountain people for the ones living down at the foot. “Do you live in town?” is a question I’m always asked in Manhattan. “Yes,” I answer. “What part?” I am asked. “Forest Hills,” I answer. It is greeted with a frown. “Oh, that’s not the city, that’s Long Island.”

Now, after years of this, it is very common around this city to hear people like Jimbo, from the Lindy’s Car Service on Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood, Queens, saying, “I go to the city once in a while. When I feel like Chink food, I go downtown in the city. Otherwise, what do I got to go for? I stay around the neighborhood.”

So while John Lindsay went through the simple task of raising the microphone at this meeting in the Hotel Victoria, all his troubles seemed represented by the inches he had to bring up the round, vented aluminum instrument. The trouble was all there in his voice and words too. “… we’re talking about program levels and procedures … Jerry, I would hope that the advisory council be one of the instruments of policy level, on a decision-making basis … new policies have to take shape … the idea input … we shall have to develop …”

His head high, his arms folded, the word “shall” coming out of him, Lindsay was completely too tall with his speech, too. Here he was, talking to a group of liberal Democrats who are considering leaving their party line to vote for him, an essential Republican, and he was talking as if he were conducting vespers in the chapel at St. Paul’s School. Here was everything wrong, and everything that has gotten John Lindsay into trouble in this city. His words made you think of Herb Brownell, Thomas Dewey, Walter Thayer, Bethel Webster. The same style that got this city into so much trouble at midnight on December 31, 1965. Lindsay was in a hotel a block away from this room in the Victoria, in the Americana, and he was talking down to old Mike Quill, and when Mike Quill looked up at John Lindsay he saw the Church of England. Within an hour, we had one hell of a transit strike. I remembered this while Lindsay droned on. I thought about Pete Hamill’s idea for this election. The hell with everybody coming over to Lindsay. Let’s make him declare himself a Democrat. Make him do the line-crossing. He needs us a lot more than he ever thought he would when he was in Miami last summer and he let Brownell talk him into going up to second the nomination of Spiro Agnew. You can understand Brownell, an opportunist, pushing Lindsay into it. But so many people still can’t understand how Lindsay could do it. How he would walk onto the platform in Miami and spit at all of us in New York and begin to glorify the Spiro Agnews of the country. So maybe it makes adult sense. If Lindsay wants us bad, let him come over and put in with us. The walk might do him some good. He might wind up a few inches shorter.

It was with this kind of a feeling that I walked out of the meeting and grabbed Barbara Fife, one of the West Side Democrats, whose husband was Herman Badillo’s main financial backer. We went over to Gallagher’s for a drink. “Lindsay called the house the other night,” Barbara was saying. “He wanted to speak to Marty. You know, he’s afraid Herman will run as an independent. So during the conversation, Marty said, ‘Well, if I were you, I’d talk to Sarah Kovner too.’ And Lindsay said, ‘Sarah Kovner? Spell the name, will you, please?’”

Barbara Fife made a face. I picked up the beer and stared at it. Sarah Kovner and her husband Victor have been into New York politics—heavy politics, so that maybe Bobby Kennedy and Gene McCarthy knew the Kovners’ home number without having to look it up—for a few years now. If John Lindsay did not know who they were, then he must have been a lot taller during the last four years than even the rough side of the record shows.

Barbara Fife finished her drink and left. I hung around at the bar, watching the theatre people come in for a drink, and after a few beers I switched to Scotch and water. I figured Lindsay for a shipwreck.

Then, as it always does when you have a drink alone, a few things came back to me very clearly. A night last fall in a television studio when Lindsay very solemnly handed me a gift. It was a huge mounted color photo of Spiro Agnew. On it, Lindsay had written, “Proudly given by the man who seconded Spiro T. Agnew—John V. Lindsay.” After he handed it to me, Lindsay began to laugh and everybody in the room with him, some of the good young people in City Hall, Dave Garth, Jeff Greenfield, Jay Kriegel, began applauding. We all had a drink and I took my Agnew picture home and hung it up as the biggest piece of camp in New York. A few days later, every Republican around Lindsay was calling gently to see if I would give up the picture. I mean, they suggested, it is a terrible thing to make a joke out of the Vice President of the United States. I kept my picture. Lindsay would sign it twice for you today.

Well, I thought of that at the bar. And then, automatically, I thought of another night when I was alone in Gallagher’s. It was on a Saturday night last April and the place was empty because it was the week of Martin Luther King’s assassination and all over the country there were fires and unrest and people were afraid to come out. Early Saturday evening, on a plane from Washington, Burke Marshall and I were looking out the windows at the empty roads below us. Marshall, who was the Justice Department civil-rights man for a time, shook his head. “Everybody is afraid to go out,” he said. “They’re all sitting home afraid. My God, what an awful precedent.” That was the week when the Richard J. Daleys of the country said “shoot to maim and shoot to kill” and so many people, from their hiding places, applauded. That was also the week when two politicians I knew did the only thing they knew how to do. When he heard about King’s assassination, Bobby Kennedy got up in front of a black crowd on a street in Indianapolis. In New York, when it was starting, when there were fires and looting in a 70-block area and it looked like the whole thing was going to come apart, John V. Lindsay came out of a car on 116th Street and Lenox Avenue and he began walking. He told the people he was sorry and he was sick for what had happened, and I can’t measure the actual good he accomplished that night, and I don’t know if his presence saved any lives or not, but I know this Lindsay was ready to go any way the situation took him that night and that is enough for me forever. Which in politics means until November.

When I finished drinking in Gallagher’s, I considered calling Robert J. Allen or Fat Thomas and resuming the summer as it was supposed to be resumed. It was only 1 a.m. and we could make the Hamptons in less than two hours. Then I considered the tallness of John Lindsay. I thought about it all the way home to Forest Hills, in Queens. You see, it looks like I just blew my summer for a project. Perhaps part of the answer to the “too tall” business might be to use short words aligned in the rhythm of the neighborhoods in his speeches. Yes, that’s exactly what I’ll write for them. Plenty of good, short New York neighborhood words in the speeches for John Lindsay.

Is Lindsay Too Tall to Be Mayor?