The Future of New York Politics

Brass Tacks

John Lindsay's election as Mayor of New York will subject us to more of the endless column-inches of chatter and adulation that greet the emergence of any possible Republican Presidential candidate. In Mr. Lindsay's case, the speculation will be more idle than usual, for New York's 103rd Mayor seems all too likely to do just what he has promised--spend the next four years in the Gracie Mansion.

Congressman Lindsay has his ambitions, of course, but he has no avenue through which to pursue them. As a Fusion Mayor who has felt forced to take the Democratic side on every national and state political issue, he is not likely to be the favorite of 1968 Republican Convention delegates from states like Ohio, Illinois, or California.

More to the point, there is nowhere for Mr. Lindsay to go in New York. The state's two Senate seats are held by an old friend and ally, Jacob Javits, and an unbeatable enemy, Robert F. Kennedy. The Governorship is held by Nelson Rockefeller, and he has already promised to seek reelection next year.

Rockefeller is the weakest link in the well-oiled New York Republican chain. He has tried to attach himself to the rising Lindsay star, much to the disgust of many of Lindsay's backers. (His chief effort--a Newsweek article signed by Rockefeller sycophant Emmett Hughes--tried to give the Governor credit for Lindsay's decision to run.) All of Rockefeller's labors are only casting a very dark shadow over whatever distant light may be shed by the Lindsay star: for the one fact that can explain the byzantine machinations of New York politics in the past year is that everyone assumes that Nelson Rockefeller will be very soundly defeated in 1966.

The Governor, of course, does not share the assumption; a man who has had the whiff of the Presidency of the United States in his nostrils will stumble over all manner of things in pursuit of the vanishing scent. But a cold, hard look at recent polls and the 1964 and 1965 election results should convince the most dispassionate observer that Rockefeller has won his last election.

The Governor probably is not far enough behind his 1962 and 1958 popularity in the City to cost him the election. Certainly Lindsay's popularity--if it lasts much beyond the big tax rise he is going to have to engineer--will not hurt another Republican candidate. But Upstate is another story.

Upstate New York was, along with Maine and Vermont, once the most rock-ribbed Republican part of the nation. A map of even the 1936 Presidential election shows one big Republican swath from Buffalo to Bangor. But Upstate has changed since the '30's. Its proportion of Irish, Italian, and Polish Catholics has been rising, and these are just the ethnic groups that have been the backbone of Democratic surges since 1950 in states like Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Michigan--states that were predominantly Republican in the '30's and '40's.

Traditional Upstate hatred of the City and the strong Rockefeller campaign of 1958 have delayed the Democratization of Upstate. But the results of the elections last year and last week strongly suggest that it has finally arrived. In 1964, Robert Kennedy piled up significant majorities in traditionally Republican counties like Onondaga (Syracuse), Oneida (Utica and Rome), Rensselaer (Troy), and Chautauqua and Cattaraugus (Southern Tier). Democratic Assembly and Senate candidates also were swept in, producing the first Democratic legislature in thirty years.

Tuesday's results show that these gains were not entirely a result of the Johnson landslide. Democrats lost the Senate, but they polled solid minorities in a low-turnout election in districts lovingly carved out by a lame-duck Republican legislature.

What does all this mean to Nelson Rockefeller? Well, many Upstaters who normally vote Republican have never really trusted him. They have always seen the Governor as selling out their interests to get the City votes he is so quick to say he needs. Rockefeller's divorce and remarriage convinced a huge portion of the increasingly Catholic Upstate electorate that they were right not to trust him--for more reasons than they had suspected.

What does all this mean for Mayor John Lindsay? First, that his surprising Republican victory this year is bound to be eclipsed by a Republican loss next year, unless a coalition of conservative Upstaters and Javits backers dumps Rockefeller in the Republican convention. After one year in office, Lindsay will be faced by a Democratic Board of Estimate, City Council, President, Congress, Governor, and (in all probability) Legislature.

Furthermore, there is nothing to suggest that Lindsay will have an easy time being reelected Mayor. He has been fond of citing Fiorello La Guardia as his spiritual predecessor; it is only prudent to note that La Guardia tended to receive smaller majorities each time he ran, and he had larger majorities than Lindsay to begin with. (John Purrey Mitchell, an earlier reform mayor, failed to win reelection entirely.) Whatever the success of his programs, the new Mayor will certainly receive plenty of adulation from the Herald Tribune, Times, Time, etc., but New York in 1969 will still be a Democratic city, and Lindsay may not face as vulnerable an opponent as Abraham Beame.

Lindsay, of course, may do such a fabulously great job of being Mayor that the happy populace will carry him back into office on its shoulders. But one suspects that his much-talked-about political future will be more likely to materialize if--and probably only if--his mentor Jacob Javits steps down in 1968 and gallantly offers him his Senate seat. Whether that transcends the bounds of what one politician will do for another no one can say.