Approached from the East River, there is about New York City a feeling of smooth interlinear movement. It is in the swift flow of cars along the water’s edge and up the bridge ramps. Even the people on the recessed balconies of their apartments call to mind, from afar, an army’s well-positioned sentries. The view suggests colossal futuristic order.
But in “welfare city” what is orderly? Only the regularity of disorder: the soot falls without pause onto New York’s 7,500,000 citizens. Traffic is bumper to bumper despite a tough tow-away program. There are strikes of subway workers and newspapermen, of doctors and nurses; even lifeguards. The daily dosage of disaster news may include power failures, rising crime rates, and accelerating tension between Negroes who want to move downtown and whites who want to move away altogether rather than live with Negroes.
Add a school system in disrepute and a poorly managed municipal hospital network. The 300,000-man city government is badly organized and underfinanced, its future mortgaged by a succession of Democratic administrations which met any and every crisis by paying as little money as possible for the most immediate short-term palliative.
Expenses have doubled in the last decade, and the real question in the city is now not whether a new administration can force changes, but whether it can keep up with the changes that urban life forces on it daily. New York City’s operating budget in the fiscal year starting next month is $5.2 billion, second only to the federal government’s, and the expense of running the city is likely to double again in Jive years. (By contrast, the budget for the whole state of New York, not including funds for the city, will be $4.6 billion; California’s is $3.5 billion.)
New York is increasingly the “welfare city.” July a year ago, when Standard & Poor’s lowered the city’s bond rating, it noted: “The city faces a steadily mounting burden of expenses for welfare and other services that promises to outpace the growth revenue services over the foreseeable future. . . . New York City is the leading example of the blight that has centered on American cities. This has produced and will continue to produce staggering fiscal problems.”
The term “welfare city” as applied to New York defies the tough geometry of tangible statistics. It means more than a set of figures detailing home relief, although it is worth noting that the current Welfare Department budget is in the neighborhood of $654 million, or about $129 million more than last year. This would be a definition: the services and the programs of the city are predominantly to help the poor, whether they are actually on welfare or whether they are trying to support a family on the wages earned pushing a dress rack through the crowded garment district.
Inevitably, a city administration caught between the overwhelming needs of the poor and a serious shortage of cash can give a middleclass plea for governmental comfort virtually no satisfactory response. The money that is available (and this year the city will be operating with a deficit of more than $400 million) is for social services. They include the city’s twenty-one municipal hospitals, where the poor receive medical service of a sort; maintenance of the twenty-cent subway fare so that the poor can afford to ride; construction of homes for the poor. This year the mayor tried to set aside $25 million to buy land on which to build homes for the poor and to rehabilitate slum housing. Under the Model Cities program, established by Congress last year, New York is seeking funds to rehabilitate Harlem, the South Bronx, and Central Brooklyn, three of its badly deteriorated communities.
In most of them live Negroes and Puerto Ricans; they make up more than 50 percent of Manhattan’s population, and their children represent nearly 77 percent of all the youngsters in Manhattan’s public schools and more than 50 percent in the entire city’s schools. As road and parkway improvements are put aside in favor of antipoverty programs, middle-class white families are shifting to the suburbs. Floyd B. McKissick, the national director of CORE, has said of the migration, “We’ve got only 10 percent of the population, but soon we’ll have 50 percent of the power, political power, because you whites don’t want to live next to us and you’re turning over the cities to Negroes.”
Big business has lately been in the habit of following the white middle class to the suburbs. High city taxes on industry and the cost of office space are factors: office space rents for $8 or $10 per square foot in Manhattan against about $3.50 a square foot in Westchester, Connecticut, or New Jersey. But another reason is that a large part of the work force which is available to industry is Negro, and through years of official neglect of Negro education in New York, these people are mostly untrained, even secretaries. The young white girl from the suburbs who graduated from high school and then went to Katharine Gibbs instead of to college is staying in the suburbs to work.
Fresh or tired?
John Lindsay picked up one of his 1965 campaign slogans from an encomium tossed by columnist Murray Kemp ton: “He is fresh and everyone else is tired.” After nearly eighteen months in office, Mayor Lindsay is still fresh and everyone else is still tired. The mayor seems firm in the faith, long ago discarded by jaded New Yorkers accustomed to accommodating themselves to one another and to civic disorder, that the city’s problems can be solved and that they can be solved by frontal attacks. He is a lonely believer. But there is little doubt that Lindsay still enjoys his job, despite the lickings he has taken on several important issues, and would seek re-election if his term were up now.
Despite a recent poll showing that 51 percent of the people are disenchanted with him, it is hard to see the mayor being beaten if he ran. This is particularly true since the splintered city Democratic Party gives little indication of being able to agree upon an attractive alternative.
But doubts exist about Lindsay’s long-term prospects. Former Mayor Robert F. Wagner, no unbiased observer, defined one such doubt recently: “One of John Lindsay’s handicaps is that he was the greatest mayor the city ever had before he took office.” After the mayor’s first nine months in office, Fortune magazine put it more harshly: “Lindsay’s real problem is that he is the captive of extravagant expectations, most of which he aroused himself.”
This skeptical view of the man strikes a responsive chord among a number of Democratic and Republican professionals, as well as among many New Yorkers who voted for Lindsay under the impression that they were getting the wit, grace, and polished drive of John Kennedy. What they got instead was Pat Boone, with a touch of Cotton Mather. Although the mayor has had some important successes, in many areas he is still wrestling with means and not substance, and the sense of excited anticipation about the prospect of a Lindsay administration has not been fulfilled.
It is the irony of the Lindsay administration that what has disenchanted the taxi drivers and the bartenders of New York — his real concern for the plight of the underprivileged — has not endeared him to the liberal intellectuals who flocked to his banner in the 1965 campaign. Now many of them appear bored with Lindsay. It’s still “welfare city,” despite the “happenings” in the park and a mayor who clashes off to fires in the old La Guardia manner.
“There for life?”
John Lindsay had no place else to go when he yielded to pressure and decided to run for the mayoralty in 1965. A man with apparent national political ambitions, at fortythree he was seven years a liberal Republican congressman, long enough to learn the trade, but not longenough to be a power.
“There are two types in Congress. The people who are there for life and the people who aren’t. I was one of the latter,” Lindsay said recently. Where to go? Senators Javits and Kennedy and Governor Rockefeller all were secure in their seats. Could Lindsay win the mayoralty of New York City from Robert Wagner, the incumbent, or any other Democratic opponent?
Lindsay’s friends said that he could, and that even a close loss in Democratic New York by a Republican, particularly one from the city’s small, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant minority, would help rather than hurt his national career. “Good government” and business leaders, headed by John Hay Whitney, publisher of the now defunct New York Herald Tribune, promised support; if Lindsay was to make a national bid sometime later, he would need the backing of this moneyed Eastern establishment. So he took the plunge, the only risk being that if he won, a poor term as mayor could tarnish his image enough to foreclose further political advancement.
But Lindsay, like other mayors of New York, underestimated the job. He had to learn that any mayor, no matter how willing and able, succeeds only with the benevolence of the state legislature, which is dominated by conservative upstate Republicans not noted for their charity toward the big city. Trouble with the heavily Democratic city legislative bodies, the city council and the board of estimate, was also inevitable for Lindsay. In April, they clashed with the mayor over his capital budget, overriding all twenty of his vetoes, restoring and cutting funds where they chose. One cut reduced the mayor’s allocation of $25 million for the Model Cities program by $10 million.
Until he brings off some startling successes in the city, the picture of Lindsay as a national spokesman for the urban man, an image he cultivates, will not really take hold. Even Senator Charles H. Percy says the mayor is a good man but still has to prove himself in the city. And what would Lindsay bring to a national ticket that others, like Percy himself, don’t offer? But despite the mayor’s lagging fortunes so far, he cannot be counted out as a vice presidential possibility next year. He is Eastern and liberal, if that is what is needed. He would have the support of the Eastern financial community. And he is young and handsome and new.
The mayor is one of the most sought-after political speakers in the country, but he has been more than circumspect about accepting speaking invitations out of the city, indicating that he does not consider the time right for him to move on the national political scene. If the speaking engagement is political, he declines; if it’s for a conference on urban affairs, he may accept. But in the city, his agents are always active. Lindsay has privately said that lie would not mind being a senator — which, he feels, would give him the delicious freedom Robert Kennedy enjoys—but he has apparently resigned himself to running for mayor again in 1969.
In a recent magazine interview, Lindsay was asked whether success in running New York City would project him toward national office. Perhaps he put the riddle of the effects of power on those who hold it in New York best when he answered, “No. If a Mayor succeeds in New York City in making it run properly — making it a place where people want to live and be productive — he’s got to shoot all his credit cards. To do the job right, you must spend yourself politically.”
“If I am frustrated
National publicity depicts him as unbeatable in the city. This is not true, or so he believes. He feels that to win again in 1969 the city’s sluggish Republican Party will have to be revitalized. Next year many of the Republican district leaders are up for re-election, so this year the old Lindsay campaign force is scurrying about the city setting up groups to parallel the regular party organization. These groups are mostly in the form of civic action associations. Lindsay supporters hope to have these battalions ready to challenge many of the regulars in next year’s city primaries.
In the business of governing New York City the mayor has style problems. Lie is, surprisingly, preachy and self-righteous. He can deliver a comic line with the timing of a professional comedian, but the off-the-cuff quip is not his strong point. There were no jokes in the early days of the Lindsay administration, and there are few now.
It has been said that “Lindsay never seems to doubt he is on the side of truth, right, justice, law, order and motherhood.” Fighting to push through an unpopular $520 million tax program, he proclaimed, “If I am frustrated it is the people who will be the loser.”
“Lindsay may have looked heroic, but what he did was stupid,” said a prominent Democratic politician. “He ignored political realities and he got only a $283 million tax package.”
When the mayor’s plan to consolidate the city’s transportation agencies was criticized, he snapped, “Anyone who’s against this plan is against good transportation in New York.” Lindsay might have been correct. But his petulance under fire caused his transit plan to be scuttled. In the meantime, it was Governor Rockefeller who came to the mayor’s rescue with a program to unify the metropolitan area’s sprawling transportation complex and preserve the city’s twenty-cent transit fare.
After eighteen months in office, one city official said of the mayor: “He’s still as obstinate as he ever was. He still has not learned the meaning of the word ‘compromise,’ nor come to admit that the people who oppose him might possibly hold their opinions as honestly as he thinks he holds his. If you disagree with him he says, ‘You’re against good government.’ ”
The Lindsay appointments have been a mixed bag. Mitchell Sviridoff, who made New Haven’s antipoverty program a national model, is just beginning the staggering job of consolidating New York’s many poorly operated antipoverty programs, and the verdict on him is not in yet. Other appointments were exciting when announced, but so far have failed to make much of an impact on the city. They include Mitchell Ginsberg, a Columbia dean who became the mayor’s welfare commissioner; former Solicitor General J. Lee Rankin; Austin N. Heller, from the U.S. Public Health Service; and Jason Nathan, a federal housing expert.
Painting the town
The only real fun in what Lindsay once called “ fun City” has come not from the mayor, but from his former parks commissioner, Thomas P. F. Hoving, who left city employment in April to head the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He invented the “Hoving Happening.” On one occasion, he had 150 feet of canvas unrolled in Central Park, and provided children with paint to draw what they wished on it. On another, children were given materials for a castle-building contest in the parks. Best of all was the banning of automobiles in Central Park and some other parks on Sundays, and his drive to set up small vest-pocket parks in bleak areas of the city. Hoving, tall, young, ex-Marine, exPrinceton, was perhaps the mayor’s most successful appointment. His successor, August Heckscher, has promised to keep up the fun and push on with the program.
In choosing his deputies, Mayor Lindsay by and large has added polish, youth, and a Brooks Brothers suit to the old Tammany system of staffing an administration — a system of rewarding campaign workers with $15,000and $20,000-a-year jobs. The young and the inexperienced have three things in common: they worked hard for the mayor’s election, they are among the only people he seems comfortable with, and they hope that on some distant, sparkling day they will follow John Lindsay to the White House.
Lindsay has had the courage to undertake a project no mayor in recent memory dared: the reorganization of the forty-nine city agencies that make up New York’s clumsy sprawling bureaucracy into ten super-departments, each headed by a super-administration. But the legislation for the reorganization was introduced in the city council without any advance groundwork. It is still lingering in the council committee rooms.
Any Lindsay-watcher would Find the mayor’s handling of the city’s hospital crisis typical both of the leviathan problems he struggles with and his occasionally amateur method of confronting them. He inherited a mess. Clearly it was an issue any ambitious young reformer could grab and run with. But despite newspaper articles documenting the deplorable conditions of the city’s twenty-one municipal hospitals, and despite the Findings of several investigations, the mayor held firm for months to a “see no evil, hear no evil” posture.
The city had already budgeted S300 million for the hospitals. Lindsay needed the additional $100 million that would be forthcoming as reimbursement from Medicare and the state’s Medicaid program to help balance the books. He decided to put it into the general fund. The only way to do this was to deny that the hospitals needed more money. The few shortcomings he said were in the hospital system he attributed to poor management, which he said he was correcting.
The resulting flap from state legislators, Democratic city officials (whose party, when in power, had allowed the problem to become acute in the first place), and civic and medical groups forced the mayor to do a turnabout. He allocated the extra $100 million to the hospitals. But the hospital crisis became yesterday’s headlines, and several months later the mayor reversed himself again, and said that only part of the money would go to hospitals. The greater amount would go into the general fund. By then everyone was tired of the fight.
Taxes in the city
If die mayor has not delivered as promised, he has had some important victories. Although his tax program was mauled in the legislature last year, the mayor did get a city income tax approved, and suburban commuters who work in New York were included under it.
This year Lindsay is not so courageous on tax reform. His major recommendation to Albany was for a ninety-cents-per-fifth increase on liquor taxes, through which he hoped to raise about 895 million for the city. There is now a thirtycents-per-fifth state liquor tax, but no city liquor tax. He also sought a raise in the commercial rent tax, an extension of the sales tax on consumer services, and suggested that the new state lottery be run eight times instead of four. The New York Times, which seldom has a bad word for the mayor, dismissed his tax program editorially as “a curious grab-bag . . . disappointingly short in imagination or sound judgment.” This achievement extends also to Lindsay’s shakeup of the police department, which has been dominated since the early 1900s lay an “Irish Mafia” of conservative police officers who rose through the ranks to become inspectors and chiefs. Under Commissioner Howard Leary, who happens to be Irish, the department has managed to earn trust from the Negro community, despite the heavy defeat of Lindsay’s referendum to establish a civilian review board in last November’s elections. “We switched community attitudes about the Police Department. Even though the civilian review board was defeated, we still kept its procedures and civilian investigators,” Lindsay says.
What the mayor got was a compromise package which fell $54 million short of what he had said was the minimum requirement; Lindsay said he would be back in Albany asking for more money next year.
Lindsay did get the additional state lottery drawings, giving him, according to the governor, an extra $72 million, all of it for aid to education. He also got a promise from the state to allocate school aid by counting each of the city’s five boroughs as a separate school district.
Lindsay’s chief contribution, however, has been less tangible than taxes and transportation reform. But in “welfare city” it may be more real and more important. It is what might be called the Lindsay theory of accessibility of government. Its chief symbol is the well-tailored mayor himself, striding through Harlem or other Negro ghettos; being seen in the streets, not being just a remote figure at city hall. More tangibly, his fight to have “little city halls” scattered about the five city boroughs is part of the theory. So is his “night mayor” policy — the assignment of a city official to serve as acting mayor from 6:30 P.M. to dawn each night was one of Lindsay’s first innovations last year. Like the Caliph Harun al-Rashid in The Arabian Nights, Lindsay’s night mayors also make after-hours inspection tours of some problem area or city service with which they are concerned during the day. And there is his insistence that vestpocket, low-income housing developments be built in white middleincome neighborhoods.
The accessible mayor
“Last summer was quite an achievement for New York,” the mayor said to an interviewer, referring to the calm that prevailed in the city’s ghettos during the hot months of 1966. “That was no accident. I knew exactly what I was doing.” What he did was to visit personally a number of potential trouble spots. When groups of Italian and Negro young people threatened to fall upon each other, he summoned them to city hall and mediated their differences. John Lindsay was and is accessible. In “welfare city” that might be enough to make him heroic. — Martin Arnold