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Sunday, 28 January, 2001, 10:36 GMT
New York mourns John Lindsay

By the BBC's Paul Reynolds in New York

There are some people and some events which define a place.

John Lindsay, who was Mayor of New York in the troubled late sixties and early seventies was such a man and the memorial service to him at the Cathedral of St John the Divine on Friday afternoon was such an event.

He didn't act like he was white and he sure didn't act like was a Republican

Congressman Charlie Rangel

New York only just survived the last part of the 20th century. Drugs, crime, neglect - all these were part of its life and nearly caused its death.

I was there for a few of those years. You could feel the energy but could sense the depression.

But New York has come through to reassert itself and at the service it celebrated someone who pointed the way and also its own revival.


The harmonies of the Boys Choir of Harlem mixed with the Broadway punch of Patti LuPone and the wailing Irish pipes of the Police Department's Emerald Society.

As the bagpipes faded after the final procession, from the great pipes of the organ came the jaunty Frank Sinatra song which is played at the end of baseball games at Yankee Stadium "It's up to you, New York".

Gay pride parade in New York
A city of many lifestyles and cultures
It was a New York moment, the best of which allow the competing and not always complementary groups which make up the city to coexist. It is not always so.

Charlie Rangel, a member of Congress from Harlem, noted that it could not be said of any other Mayor that Harlem thought he belonged to them and Broadway called him its own.

Lindsay was white, Protestant, a dashing figure who was at home on the ski slopes, the tennis courts and decks of yachts.

Harlem visit

But, as Rangel said, "He didn't act like he was white and he sure didn't act like he was a Republican", which he was until he switched parties after his first term.

One of those walking down the aisle to take his place in the vast cathedral was Gykee Allah, who had been an 18-year-old in April 1968 when he and his father walked with the shirt-sleeved Mayor into Harlem right after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

(He) was a man of the establishment standing against established interests

Lindsay aide Steve Isenberg

Other American cities were in flames. New York remained calm. And now Gykee Allah had come, as he put it ''to give back that which he gave to us".

Even the present Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, whose tough, prosecutorial approach to city problems is distinct from those of liberal Lindsay's, was up there in the pulpit paying his own tribute.

"John Lindsay refused to give up on cities when others were abandoning them," he said.

Huge problems

And yet even today, John Lindsay is sometimes a prophet without honour in his own country.

He had to confront problems which he could not solve. In the 1960s, America faced problems which no one person, or city, could solve.

It has taken a generation to make things better - to clean up city governments, the police included, to reduce drug demand, to reduce the consequent crime.

Lindsay did not always succeed in his own time but it could be said that in many ways he succeeded after his time.

A real New Yorker

The lieutenants who worked for him, as others had done for John Kennedy, are now older, though they consider themselves no wiser. They knew what they were doing then.

In one of many eulogies at the service, Steve Isenberg, his chief of staff, called Lindsay the "signature New Yorker" and recalled his commitment to give "a seat at the table for all our multitudes".

Lindsay, he said, "was a man of the establishment standing against established interests".

Another of his aides, Peter Goldmark remarked simply " He was a man of this city."

This service, if held even 10 or 15 years ago, would have been a much more sombre affair.

Set an example

Those present might have concluded that urban problems in modern America were too vast and had simply to be contained.

The simple fact that there was a feeling of optimism about the city is good for cities everywhere.

New York has so many cultures and countries in it that it has to set an example of how they can live side by side.

It isn't just a matter of tough policing or balanced budgets.

It's a matter of how a city is run for all its people. And that matters, all round the world.

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