Mayor Lindsay, I knew him well

I have always felt sorry for Mayor Lindsay (1921-2000), because he was maligned, attacked, vilified, and yet he tried his best to be a good mayor, much more than the corrupt and incompetent who proceeded him and who followed him.

In evaluating and remembering Mayor Lindsay, it is important to recall the tumultuous and difficult times which he faced. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and the riots which followed, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the War in Vietnam, the race riots, the political turmoil and unrest, all occurred while Lindsay was mayor.
Mayor John V. Lindsay
Mayor John V. Lindsay

He was given the blame for events which were beyond his control. I remember one taxi driver who told me: "It was Mayor Lindsay who ruined this city. Everything wrong with New York is because of him."

In 1966, Mayor Lindsay was sworn into office at the stroke of midnight, an unusual step, and only one minute later, Mike Quill, who we now know was a member of the Communist Party, took his transit workers out on strike.

The strike lasted twelve days and the city ground to a halt. The workers won, because Lindsay was forced to give in and grant them the biggest pay raises they had ever received. Later, when the city teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, it was Lindsay’s capitulation to the demands of the transit workers which received the blame.

I met Mayor Lindsay only once. In September 1972 I was sitting in my office in the Wall Street Financial District minding my own business when, to my great surprise, I received a call from Mayor Lindsay’s office saying that the mayor wanted me to attend a reception in City Hall at noon that very day.

It turned out that Bobby Fischer had arrived from Iceland and Mayor Lindsay had decided to give him the key to the city. Fischer had agreed and asked that three of his friends be invited: James Gore, Bernard Zuckerman and Sam Sloan.

Fischer had one further condition: That Major Edmond B. Edmundson not be invited. "If that man is there, I’m not coming," Fischer had said.

Also not on the guest list was Fischer's closest personal friend, Jackie Beers. Beers is a schizophrenic who has since been institutionalized and Fischer was afraid that he would make a scene.

I asked to be allowed to bring along my own guest. Just the previous day, I had hired a cute Icelandic girl named Hafdis Einarsdottir, whom I had met as a result of traveling to Reykjavik for the World Chess Championship, and I asked to be allowed to bring her along to meet Bobby Fischer and Mayor Lindsay. The mayor’s office readily agreed.

The reception was shown on television and Hafdis was excited to see her picture on TV that evening. Bobby received the keys to the city on the steps of City Hall and gave a brief speech in which he said that he had studied chess twelve hours a day to prepare for the match with Boris Spassky. Fischer denied the rumor that Henry Kissinger had called him on the phone and asked him to play the match.

Mayor Lindsay's speech emphasized that a Brooklyn boy had won the World Chess Championship.

After the public outdoor reception, the invited guests went into City Hall for a private reception. Hans Kmoch, one of the great old men of chess, was there in a walker and, while the other guests ran up the stairs in pursuit of Mayor Lindsay and Bobby Fischer, I went to the bottom of the stairs and held Kmoch as he slowly, slowly made his way to the top. Kmoch died a few months later.

Once inside, I quickly introduced Hafdis Einarsdottir to Bobby Fischer and Mayor Lindsay. I always like to be remembered for having brought the most beautiful girl to the party. I remember Lindsay towering over me. I am 5 foot 11 inches tall, and he was much taller than I.

Also present was Simonar Palsson, Bobby Fischer's Icelandic bodyguard, Andy Soltis, not yet your New York Post Reporter, William Lombardy, Bernard Zuckerman and a number of other chess and New York City personalities, most of whom I do not recall.

And, of course, Major Edmondson, who had made this all possible, the man who had done everything to bring the world chess championship to America, except for play the moves on the chessboard, was not there.

Being Mayor of New York City has always been a political graveyard. No mayor of New York City has ever been elected to anything else, other than mayor. Lindsay ran for President of the United States in 1972, but failed to win a primary. He ran for public office again in 1980 but lost. There were always talks of political comebacks, but it was not to be. His private law practice went bankrupt.

I was surprised to learn that when Mayor Lindsay died yesterday, he was living close to poverty. In spite of his six years as a United States Congressman, eight years as New York City’s mayor, a Yale law school education and every advantage a man could have, he had spent his last years broke in a tiny, one bedroom apartment in South Carolina. This made me feel less sorry for him. A man should take care of his own future first.

Sam Sloan

UPDATE: Not everyone agrees with this view of Mayor Lindsay. Here is: Mayor Lindsay, a contrary view

Here are links:

Sam Sloan's Chess Page

My Home Page

Contact address - please send e-mail to the following address: