"Fun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years" airs WEDNESDAY, 10 P.M.,...

"Fun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years" airs WEDNESDAY, 10 P.M., WLIW/21 A look back at the charismatic New York mayor of the 1960s. Pictured: Mayor Lindsay at City Hall press conference after cabinet session. Credit: WLIW Photo

THE DOCUMENTARY "Fun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years"

WHEN | WHERE Thursday night at 8 on WNET/13; also Wednesday at 10 p.m. on WLIW/21

REASON TO WATCH Overview of eight tumultuous years (1965-73), by veteran PBS producer Tom Casciato.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT "Tall . . . patrician . . . blue-eyed" are words that went with two-term New York City Mayor John Lindsay to his grave, and you won't avoid them here. He was the Hollywood mayor in the big, troubled city. He was "fresh [when] everyone else is tired," in columnist Murray Kempton's memorable assessment. A Republican in name only, he tried to heal racial divides and only widened them, according to some critics. A minute after his inauguration on Jan. 1, 1966, transit union chief Mike Quill - who puckishly referred to the new mayor as "Lindsley" - called a strike, forcing New Yorkers to walk increasingly dangerous and (soon) dirty streets. A garbage strike followed and a bitter teachers' one, too - the dispute in Ocean Hill / Brownsville was bungled by Lindsay and nearly shattered the fragile proto-Rainbow coalition he had tried to build.

Cast off by the Republicans because of political differences, he narrowly won re-election in 1969, running on the Liberal Party line. Two years later, he became a Democrat and unsuccessfully sought the party's nomination for president in 1972, giving critics more ammo.

MY SAY There are many fair-minded appraisals of Lindsay here, notably by former Newsday columnists such as Jimmy Breslin and Jim Sleeper, and even onetime Newsday reporter Dick Aurelio, also a Lindsay aide. But an ex-Times reporter offers the most arresting image.

Joyce Purnick says that when she saw Lindsay leave City Hall on his last day in '73, he was crying: "What a way to end this experiment in modern progressive liberal leadership, glassy-eyed in tears." Lindsay was certainly not a wimp - he won five battle stars in the Navy during World War II, then spent eight years battling New Yorkers - but to this day, the word "sad" is appended to him as well.

The documentary tries to erase that troubling word, but the essence of Lindsay - who died in 2000 - still eludes its grasp. More time was needed.

Long after leaving public office, he tried different jobs, even as part-time host of "Good Morning America," and was so financially stressed that Mayor Rudy Giuliani had to give him a ceremonial gig so he could get health insurance.

BOTTOM LINE Not quite a total reappraisal, the show still establishes that Lindsay had an enduring triumph - his embrace of black New Yorkers. Sometimes just a single triumph in any long political career, especially one of this magnitude, is enough.


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