IN Central Park the leaves turned brown and gold in the tangy weather that makes lyricists write of "autumn in New York." On Fifth Avenue an unending parade of shoppers canvassed the world's most elegant bazaar. The Broadway marquees touted yet another hectic season. From the Battery to The Bronx, the thud of dynamite and the roar of drills accompanied probably the greatest construction boom in the history of cities. No other metropolis in the world offered its inhabitants greater hope of material success or a wider variety of cultural rewards. Yet for all its dynamism and glamour, New York City, day by day, little by little, was sliding toward chaos. "The question now," said its handsome young Mayor, John Lindsay, "is whether we can continue to survive as a city."
Many New Yorkers shared that somber view. The city's plight, of course, was not one of physical survivalthough some cynics argued that New York's complex ills could only be cured if the metropolis were razed and rebuilt. Its breakdown this fall was one of spirit and nerve, a malaise that affected the tacit assumptions of trust and interdependence without which no organism so vast and disparate can possibly function. In what most responsible citizens concede to be one of the ugliest situations in memory, strikes and the threat of strikes pitted not only union against employerthe citybut, worse, black against white, Jew against Gentile, middle class against poor.
In front of City Hall, 2,000 picketing policemen yelled "Blue power!" and carried signs exhorting "Dump Lindsay" and "We Want Daley." Hundreds more paraded in front of 20 of the city's 79 precinct stations. Until their union ended the practice at week's end, as many as 3,000 men, one-fifth of the force scheduled for duty, reported "sick" each day with a fictitious strain of Asian flu. Cops on duty watched benignly as motorists left their cars in bus stops and no-parking zones. Minor complaints were simply ignored, and traffic became badly snarled. Possibly worst of all was the damage done to the conception of law and order, as "New York's Finest" sneered at laws they were sworn to enforce.
Firemen refused housekeeping duties, such as checking fire hydrants and inspecting buildings, and the head of the firemen's union warned that the slowdown "could escalate into a full-scale strike" that would leave alarms unanswered and homes in danger.
The least dangerous breakdown in public services was the most serious. For the third time since September, the majority of the city's 58,000 teachers defied state law to go out on strike, and more than a million students were denied the vital right of education. Teachers marched outside their schools, and children watched as picketers traded insults and obscenities with nonstrikers and parents. With picket lines drawn in front of the schools where many people vote, there was fear that even the election might be disrupted.
There were attempts to provide at least a smattering of learning. The Daily News published hints on how parents could teach their children at home ("Have your young Charles Dickens write a short story"). The Metropolitan Museum and the Whitney offered art classes to any student who showed up at the door. With the