John V. Lindsay, 79, the charismatic and well-heeled mayor of New York City from the mid-1960s to early 1970s who championed better race relations, had a dynamic impact on the depressed city and was known for his later switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party, died Dec. 19 at Hilton Head Medical Center on Hilton Head Island, S.C.

He had Parkinson's disease and had two strokes in the last decade. He moved to Hilton Head last year from Lyme, Conn., and New York.

A still-debated question about Mr. Lindsay's mayoralty was whether the great notions of hope he engendered among the city's dispossessed--the minorities and poor--overshadowed the tidal waves of money he spent on reenergizing a demoralized city long in financial doldrums.

New York columnist Murray Kempton said at the time of Mr. Lindsay's election in 1965 what became an oft-quoted line: "He is fresh and everyone else is tired."

By the end of his terms, there were wildly divergent viewpoints.

A former congressman from the so-called Silk Stocking District that included swank sections of Fifth and Park avenues, Mr. Lindsay was never a hard-liner in the Republican Party. During his House tenure, he would tell crowds: "I happen to be a Republican. I hope you won't hold it against me."

Indeed, in his four terms in Washington, Mr. Lindsay became a forceful proponent on matters affecting constitutional rights and civil liberties. He was also outspoken on immigration, particularly on promoting the rights and dignity of refugees. At the time, one observer dubbed him the "Republican Kennedy," referring to the president.

Upon resigning his House seat after three terms to become New York's mayor in January 1966, Mr. Lindsay was hailed for his seemingly awesome political achievement--a tall, handsome, boarding-school-educated WASP and Republican who ascended to the most powerful position in a multiethnic and Democratic stronghold. He was the first non-Democrat elected mayor since Fiorello H. La Guardia won his final race in 1941.

His mayoral tenure lasted through a time of national civic strife--race riots in cities such as Los Angeles and Newark, protests against the Vietnam War--and Mr. Lindsay was held in high esteem in many minority communities. His high-profile journeys into the ghettos of Harlem and other long-neglected neighborhoods lent symbolic weight to his efforts to resuscitate those areas. They also helped act as a salve to prevent rioting in New York after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

"People would grab him and hold him and kiss him," said former D.C. mayor Walter E. Washington, who served Mr. Lindsay as housing authority chairman. "He would visit areas hardly any others would tend to visit--the Lower East Side, Harlem and Brooklyn. And I saw people just trying to touch his garment. . . . He gave people a feeling of belonging and hope."

Mr. Lindsay was a magnet for attracting young talent, and among those who worked for him were Leon Panetta, later White House chief of staff, and Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, who became national security adviser.

The mayor also opened what were called satellite city halls, including one in Harlem, to work with minority youth. A longtime arts advocate known to feature the work of contemporary artists on his office walls, he established the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting.

While successful at getting New York City vast increases in federal and state spending, he also announced the city's first income tax, among other unpopular financial measures.

Many other decisions caused distress among Mr. Lindsay's constituents. He was reviled among many low- and middle-income whites for his school decentralization plan, which incited a two-month teachers strike.

Other labor unions were no less vociferous. Mr. Lindsay's first day in office was marred by the start of a 13-day strike by the city's subway workers, and he presided over a series of expensive settlements with their union and others. Not until much later did his relationship with union leaders improve, and by the end of his second term, the city was one of the first with a binding arbitration law.

The era was also pockmarked by an increase in transit fares from 15 cents to 50 cents, a massive increase in welfare rolls, police corruption hearings that involved the celebrated informant Frank Serpico and a water commissioner who was found guilty of taking kickbacks.

Mr. Lindsay lost the Republican nomination in 1969 but won his second and final four-year term on the Liberal Party ticket. He won partly for his undeniable charm.

"This is a guy for whom charisma is not a cliche. It just reverberated for him," said Steven L. Isenberg, a former chief of staff for Mr. Lindsay and publisher of what was New York Newsday. He added that the mayor once went skiing with Robert Redford, and "was arguably better looking than Redford."

The mayor maintained a palpable presence on the city streets, appearing in shirt sleeves, mingling with hippies and black and Hispanic residents with equal charm and naturalness.

Then there were unfavorable reviews for just such appearances.

"He's probably the most outstanding electronic performer in the country's history," Edward Costikyan, a longtime Democratic fixture in the city, said of Mr. Lindsay in 1971. "He's superb--he just doesn't have any talent for governing. . . . Lindsay looks for the immediate solution which gives a good public appearance, but the secondary consequences are not given the slightest thought."

Others viewed his long-term legacy as laudable. In 1974, the New York Times editorial page praised Mr. Lindsay for his "unprecedented eight-year effort to reinvigorate and reshape this great metropolis. Despite all the setbacks and difficulties, this leader of verve and imagination achieved far more than he was generally given credit for."

Mr. Lindsay, who was long considered ambitious on a national scope, maintained a national reputation by publicly challenging major leaders--even in his own party.

An early critic of the Vietnam War, he told a crowd of black ministers in 1969: "It's time to ask whether we should really spend $6 billion on an anti-ballistic missile system when the security of the cities really depends on the chance for safety and decency and dignity in their neighborhoods."

The mayor changed political affiliations in 1972 and lost the Democratic Party's presidential nomination that year to Sen. George S. McGovern (S.D.). Eight years later, he lost the Democratic primary for the Senate seat won by Republican Alfonse M. D'Amato.

John Vliet Lindsay, a New York City native, was the son of an investment banker. He was a history graduate of Yale University, where he received a law degree in 1948. He served in the Navy during World War II and participated in the invasions of Sicily and the Philippines.

At Yale law school, he became a follower of Herbert Brownell Jr., a New York lawyer and Republican Party activist who became attorney general under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. Through a Brownell connection, Mr. Lindsay began practicing law in a Wall Street law firm. He also became a board member of the New York Young Republican Club and a founding member of the Youth for Eisenhower crusade.

Brownell made Mr. Lindsay his executive assistant in 1955, and the future mayor's move to Washington gave him a prominent role in shaping legislation affecting civil rights and immigration, particularly after the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

He was instrumental in using the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act, which often excluded immigrants, to get 33,000 Hungarian refugees to the United States under the act's parole section.

Mr. Lindsay resigned in December 1956 to run for Congress and was elected to the Republican-held district despite a strong Democratic challenge.

From the start, he established himself as a freshman force, typically an oxymoron and one generally frowned on. He publicly criticized elder statesmen and was the sole dissenter on a bill imbuing the postmaster general with the authority to confiscate allegedly obscene mail.

During his second term, Mr. Lindsay sponsored a bill to create a federal, Cabinet-level Department of Urban Affairs.

He declined an invitation to run as the Republican candidate for New York mayor in 1961 and instead became campaign chairman for that election. He also was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions in 1960, 1964 and 1968.

He played down his party affiliation and ran for mayor against an entrenched Democratic Party in 1965, defeating Abraham D. Beame by more than 130,000 votes. It was a race that William F. Buckley Jr., the conservative publisher and a fellow Yalie, also entered in protest of Mr. Lindsay's dismissal of Barry Goldwater's presidential candidacy a year earlier.

After his second term as mayor and flirting with seeking the presidency, Mr. Lindsay practiced law until the early 1990s and was a substitute host of ABC's "Good Morning America" in the 1970s. He wrote two volumes of memoirs and a novel, "The Edge," published by W.W. Norton in 1976.

Survivors include his wife since 1949, Mary Anne Harrison Lindsay of Hilton Head Island; a son, John Jr., of Old Lyme, Conn.; three daughters, Katharine Lake of Darien, Conn., Margaret "Margi" Picotte of Palm Beach, Fla., and Dr. Anne Lindsay of Springfield, Mass.; a brother; and five grandchildren.