John Lindsay at the Crossroads

JOHN LINDSAY'S probable re-election as Mayor of New York City comes courtesy of the emerging technical elite, that body to whom John Kenneth Galbraith has sometimes looked for the country's general salvation. They aren't yet numerous enough to carry a two-way election-even in so managerial a town as New York-but against split opposition they could well turn the trick.

And Lindsay's opposition is now terribly, calamitously split, with Mario Procaccino retaining hard-core Democrats and the holders of pencil-thin moustaches, and John Marchi capturing the more sensitive, the more educated and the more Republican among the Lindsay-haters. For a while it seemed Procaccino had the election wrapped up, if mostly because so many New Yorkers look so much like him and tend, therefore, to think him attractive. But even some Procaccino look-alikes (not all of whom are Italian, not by a long shot) have been turned off by Mario's latest foibles-like his badly overplayed academic history, capped by his presidency of an enterprise called Verazzano College.

Apparently the Procaccino family journeyed across continental Europe to Israel two summers ago, there to negotiate a student exchange program with the University of Jerusalem. That institution graciously picked up the tab for the Procaccino jaunt, despite the fact (unearthed by Lindsay researchers and passed on to the New York Post ) that Verazzano College turns out not to exist, to be, as Mario explains it, in a state of development.

Then there was the Democratic candidate's most recent bid for the Negro vote. Many New Yorkers had not known what to make of his earlier declaration before a Harlem audience that he was "as black as you are"; but the ambiguity wore sharp with his claim that he knew Harlem's problems from having worked there twenty years in his father's shoe business. Harlem residents, for some reason, look not fondly on the white entrepreneurs who have for so long enjoyed such a strong presence in the ghetto. Left to simmer by itself, this attitude tends to be directed at the City's Jewish population, but Procaccino managed to remind Harlem that its oppressors include a few Italians too.

It is easy to exaggerate Procaccino's mistakes. One the whole, his failure to parlay an early lead into an election-eve cinch was built into the works of the campaign. Procaccino's record is undistinguished and on several counts deeply vulnerable, thus muting the impact of his attacks on the Lindsay Administration.


"Lawyer, Educator, Judge, Comptroller," say Mario's campaign posters, conjuring up the image of an elderly, white-haired gent with published writings. But the real Procaccino is an everyday guy, at his best kidding with the fellows and at his worst slinging mud. His have been by far the funniest lines of the campaign-and not, as his detractors charge, malapropisms. When Mrs. Fiorello LaGuardia endorsed Lindsay, Mario came up with the observation that "There is no real conflict here: Mayor LaGuardia chose me as a public servant, he chose Marie as his wife." Procaccino also coined the only durable catch-phrase of the campaign, describing the Lindsay set as "limousine liberals."

IT IS EASY, also, to exaggerate the smoothness of the Lindsay operation. The Mayor himself has been level-headed and intelligent, ever since primary night when he made some impolitic remarks about that part of the electorate which had just nominated Marchi and Procaccino. Over the intervening months, Lindsay has been his own strongest asset. His campaign staff has been similarly sensitive to major blunders-and has made none.

But there is reason to believe the critical plays have been made in the newspapers and on TV news shows largely beyond the realm of Lindsay's several thousand active volunteers. The door-to-door canvassing effort, for example, will probably reach a maxi-much of about 90,000 voters, well short of half its original objective. Community service projects, launched with considerable hooplah, have barely been heard of since. The voter registration drive was not very effective, and the black vote, heavily for Lindsay, will probably not be very heavy as a whole. Perhaps no conventional political campaign-with slogans and posters and literature-can really have great impact where the candidate's public identity is so well-set to begin with. Only the candidate himself can have impact, coupled with the unfolding of various sentiments, avowed and latent in the electorate.

If Lindsay has made an error late in the campaign, it was his order that city flags fly at half mast to mark Vietnam Moratorium Day. It was a beautiful thing to witness, but it only added to his alienation from civil servants and blue collar workers. Police cars and buses burned their headlights to show support for President Nixon. It is true such individuals as drove them were not likely to cast their lot with Lindsay in any case, but even for opponents of the war his action raised the specter of another mayor at another time marshalling a different set of personal opinions behind the decision to lower flags-to commemorate Captive Nations Day, for instance, or the death of John Birch.

LINDSAY's verbal opposition to the war has, however, been far more helpful than harmful. This was another calculated step that might not have worked to his advantage in a two-way race but with the hawks or quasihawks rather safely in one of the opposition camps, Lindsay could afford to make his point.

Many New Yorkers with sons in Vietnam, or merely conscious of where their tax money was going, have apparently been impressed by the Mayor's willingness to take a stand on this national issue. In contrast to New Jersey Gubernatorial candidate Robert Meyner's similar preachings, Lindsay's anti-Vietnam statements were not produced solely for the occasion of the campaign; he alone of the nation's big-city mayors has taken a steady and unhedging stand against the war.

His argument is well-rounded, furthermore: Vietnam not only deprives New York of needed funds, but it makes most partisan scrapping meaningless since all new programs, those proposed by Lindsay and his critics, must have the same money.

Above all else, the Vietnam argument aided Lindsay because it aroused the hawk in Marchi-Marchi who had been making what are called in the trade "quiet gains." Generally a cool customer, intelligent-sounding and sensible-looking, Marchi got a fair amount of mileage from being the realistic candidate.

It is an old and a venerable tactic. When the crowd is making for the Long Island Expressway, give the side roads a try. If everybody else in your class seems bent on applying to Yale, apply to Princeton. In political terms, the strategy called for Marchi to belittle his opponents' wild promises by citing the fiscal realities-he, too, would like to preserve the 20-cent subway fare, but he wanted New Yorkers to know that might not be possible. He, too, desired open enrollment at City University, but he alone of the candidates would acknowledge the possibility that money might not be forthcoming.

Such responsibility becomes a candidate. Marchi, however, was unable to stay true to the pattern he had set for himself. First he made the mistake of calling Jacob Javits a "pompous, posturing ass"-which many Lindsay workers found doubly satisfying, since they were pleased to see Marchi pull such an obviously foolish blunder, and since secretly they may have agreed with Marchi's estimate. Marchi himself had to admit he had tarnished his image as "the Perry Como of politics." And then came M-Day with the Staten Islander revealing himself in no uncertain terms, accusing Lindsay of having stuck a dagger into the back of American servicemen. All in all, a line worthy of Strom Thurmond.