John Marchi, Who Upset Mayor Lindsay In '69 NYC Primary, Dies : It's All Politics A remembrance of John Marchi, the longtime former state legislator from New York who died last week. In June of 1969, Marchi won a stunning upset over Mayor John Lindsay in the GOP mayoral primary.
NPR logo John Marchi, Who Upset Mayor Lindsay In '69 NYC Primary, Dies

John Marchi, Who Upset Mayor Lindsay In '69 NYC Primary, Dies

Marchi made national news when he toppled Lindsay in the 1969 GOP primary. hide caption

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It's a name that may not be immediately familiar to a national audience. But for one brief moment, in 1969, John Marchi was a hero to conservatives everywhere, especially those living in New York City. He accomplished what was thought to be impossible: He defeated John Lindsay, the liberal Republican mayor, in the GOP primary.

Marchi served 50 years as a state senator from Staten Island, the least populous borough of the city of New York, until he retired in 2006. He was immensely popular in his district, especially because of his long-standing efforts to win Staten Island's independence from the city. Last week, the 87-year-old Republican died of pneumonia.

But in 1969, Marchi made national headlines when he decided to take on Lindsay, a nominal Republican and the darling of the Manhattan liberals, who had been elected mayor of NYC four years earlier as the first GOP mayor the city had since Fiorello La Guardia. Conservatives were apoplectic about Lindsay, who they felt sold out the city to unions, liberals and blacks. Welfare rolls had expanded, spending programs were launched, the streets were filthy, and Lindsay got the blame. In John Vliet Lindsay they saw an elite politician who had contempt for the middle class. And Marchi was their champion.

Against all odds, Marchi defeated Lindsay in the June 1969 primary. But that was the easy part. On that same day, Democrats improbably nominated Mario Procaccino, the city comptroller, who also benefited from a split liberal field. With Procaccino openly appealing for the white ethnic/backlash vote, the two split the conservative electorate, enabling Lindsay to win re-election in November on the Liberal and Independent party lines. Marchi finished third, with just 20 percent of the vote.

The chasm on the right that proved beneficial to liberals was reversed the following year. In the 1970 Senate race, Conservative Party candidate James Buckley -- backed by both Marchi and Procaccino -- took advantage of a split in the liberal ranks between the dueling candidacies of Republican Charles Goodell (who was appointed to the Senate seat following the assassination of Bobby Kennedy) and Democrat Richard Ottinger. That split on the left enabled Buckley to win.

Marchi also re-emerged as the Republican candidate for mayor in 1973, when Lindsay decided to retire. But his heart didn't seem in that race, and he was swamped in November once again, this time by Abe Beame, the Democratic candidate.