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Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Prince of New York: Rudolph Giuliani's Legacy

August 21, 2000/Vol. 5, Number 46
Weekly Standard
By Fred Siegel

[By yours truly, on the same subject:

“Liberal Community Activists Attack Aggressive, “Racist” Police as the Enemy in Crime-Ridden Cities”;

“New York Mayor Giuliani preempts riot threat by policy of strength”;

“Central Park II: It's About Race, Stupid!”;

“Central Park and Racial Profiling”;

“Rudy and the Rev. Bozo”;

“De-Policing in America’s Cities: Erasing the ‘Thin Blue Line’”;

“‘Disappearing’ Urban Crime”; and

Is Rudy Giuliani the New Nixon? Neoconservatism and the Politics of “Courage.”]


Seven years ago, New York City under Mayor David Dinkins stood on the edge of social and economic breakdown. Elected in 1989 as a symbol of racial healing, Dinkins conducted a largely symbolic mayoralty. Put in power by liberals whose exhausted policy program had been replaced by identity politics, he had no agenda [N.S.: Oh, he had an agenda, alright!] and no idea how to govern.

Dinkins carried himself with such dignity that it was hard for his supporters to believe things could go bad under such a decent man. He was like the ruler, described by Machiavelli, who "never preaches anything except peace and good faith; and he is an enemy of both." While Dinkins dedicated his days to projecting his nobility at ceremonial events, the city was losing 330,000 jobs, and 60 percent of the population was looking to leave.

No one then could have anticipated that the late 1990s would be the best of times for Gotham.

A good way to understand New York's recent rebirth is to think of Rudy Giuliani as a Renaissance prince who revives his republic with more than a touch of Machiavelli's "corrupt wisdom." This is not merely a matter of Giuliani's famously Florentine looks (though his rectangular head and features look as though they had been copied from a tapestry). The problem Machiavelli sets out to solve in The Prince is how to resuscitate his beloved Florence, which has been laid low by feckless leadership, a cowed populace, and a military made up of mercenaries who like the NYPD under Dinkins) were unwilling to act in the defense of the city's interests.

For his solution, Machiavelli turned to the forgotten virtues of the classical world: discipline, courage, and fortitude in adversity. Giuliani, derided by the New York Times as "A Wonder Bread Son of the 1950s," has been New York's
prince: He has recalled the city to an older set of virtues--enterprise, individual obligation, and self-discipline--that had been lost since the 1960s mayoralty of John Lindsay. Even his favorite aphorism, "I'd rather be respected than loved," is a play on Machiavelli's "It is better to be feared than loved."

Giuliani was never much of a politician. In three tries, he has yet to run a passably good campaign. He came to power in 1993 only because of emergency conditions like those that faced Machiavelli's Florence. Crime didn't rise much in the Dinkins years, it just stayed unbearably high; what was on the rise was a pervasive sense of menace. Lars-Erik Nelson, a liberal columnist for the Daily News, explained that "when you take your children to a public playground and find that a mental patient has been using the sandbox as a toilet, it is normal to say, 'Enough! I'm leaving.'" When Marcia Kramer, a TV reporter, confronted Dinkins with the fact that aggressive panhandlers had driven her to the suburbs, Dinkins's response was, "Sorry you left us. Sorrier still that we can't raise your personal income tax."

Dinkins wasn't joking about taxes. Like an earlier one-term mayoral hack, Abe Beame, he responded to the national recession by raising taxes on slow-moving targets in order to shield his public-sector constituency. While the sanitation department issued a blizzard of fines against small businessmen, the consumer affairs, buildings, and sheriff's offices initiated a ticket blitzkrieg against small businesses and delivery trucks. But Dinkins's finest shakedown came when gun-toting sheriffs made raids on supermarkets and grabbed money from the cash registers to pay dubious littering fines.

The bureaucracy was literally feeding off the city.

By 1992, 80 percent of all the business income taxes collected by local governments in America, and 25 percent of all the personal income taxes, were being collected by the city of New York alone.

Of course, as a result, New York, all by itself, accounted for 25 percent of the jobs lost nationally in the early 1990s recession--a recession that had been deepened for the entire United States by Dinkins's insistence on higher taxes in the teeth of the downturn.

These huge tax increases produced declining revenues, and the city teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. Governor Mario Cuomo talked of reactivating the Financial Control Board which had been created during New York City's near bankruptcy of the 1970s. (Dinkins in turn threatened to "bring in Jesse Jackson and make this a real black-white thing.")

When a drug-runners riot broke out in heavily Dominican Washington Heights after a dealer was killed in a scrape with an undercover cop, Dinkins didn't just express sympathy, he arranged for the city to pay for the funeral and fly the family back to the Dominican Republic. Dinkins, note James Lardner and Thomas Reppetto in their very readable NYPD: The Inside Story of New York's Legendary Police Department, became "the mayor who paid for a drug dealer's funeral." With the rule of law collapsing as in the Crown Heights riot—where Dinkins refused to intervene for three days as angry mobs targeted the neighborhood's Jews--the city's traditional liberal politics, based on the question of how New Yorkers could save the world, was replaced by a new question: How could New York be saved?

The city, as Andrew Kirtzman describes it in his new book Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City, very nearly didn't make it. In a campaign that Dinkins and the New York Times set up as a referendum on race, "the Giuliani camp," says Kirtzman "was trying to change the subject from race." They couldn't and Giuliani, a stiff and unconvincing candidate, won by a mere forty-five thousand votes.

Race is at the center of another new book, Wayne Barrett's Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani. An extraordinary sleuth, Barrett has uncovered material that eluded even the FBI. His revelations about Giuliani's father's criminal record have made headlines across the country. But what stands at the heart of Barrett's book is his accusation that "Rudy's government, by and large, has been a government of, for, and by white people." Where New York liberalism once had a broad agenda on crime, welfare, and equality, it has now reached a phase where race is its only energizing issue. Jim Andrews, Ruth Messinger's manager in her failed 1997 race against the incumbent Giuliani, anticipated Barrett when he insisted that "Race isn't just part of politics; it is politics."

Harlem is currently enjoying a second renaissance, but pay no mind. What Barrett is getting at, and what elected Dinkins in the first place, is not the well being of the minority population but rather the level of minority representation in public employment. And here Barrett has a point of sorts: The number of blacks in government jobs has gone down under Giuliani, even if black private sector employment has soared.

The most interesting part of Barrett's Rudy! is not what he has dug up about Giuliani's past, but what he has buried. He has in a feat of revisionism simply excised Dinkins's mayoralty, so that he has no need to deal with the breakdown that left many New Yorkers in despair. He mentions the Dinkins years only in regard to the 1993 election. This is like writing a history of the New Deal that only mentions Hoover in discussing Roosevelt's 1932 campaign. But Barrett hasn't really written a book; he's assembled a nearly five-hundred page dossier of petty intrigue--in which, for example, dozens of detailed pages are devoted to the squabbles between Giuliani and former senator Al D'Amato, while omitting the larger life of the city.

Barrett accuses Giuliani of hypocrisy, exaggeration, self-serving rhetoric, inconsistency, having it both ways, and claiming more credit than was due. He is right, of course, on all these counts. But how does that distinguish Giuliani from most other politicians? Obviously written as an attempt to influence the Senate campaign when it seemed certain that Giuliani would be the Republican nominee, the book parachutes the reader into an occasionally fascinating but essentially trackless jungle of facts, assertions, counter-assertions, personal revelations, and innuendo--with the author's hostility the only compass.

Kirtzman's Rudy Giuliani is a balanced and informative book that's likely to become the standard account. Kirtzman sees that you have to take the man as a whole. The very qualities that allowed him to bull his way through the city's tangle of dysfunctional interest groups, also made him quick to dismiss criticism. Kirtzman describes Giuliani as "a great man and a mean-spirited one, a visionary and an opportunist." This tension is exactly what Machiavelli had in mind when he explained that in public life vice can be a virtue and virtue a vice.

The best sections in Kirtzman's book deal with Giuliani's estranged relations with the black leadership, although he generally misses the underlying source of the tension. Giuliani's victory over an African-American incumbent and his efforts to restore fiscal stability were bound to produce a fracture. Even as the city slid, Dinkins still stood tall among voters who saw him not only as a symbol of ethnic achievement but as a defender of the public-sector programs that were the central source of both the city's minority employment and the city's enormous deficits.

During the ugly campaign marred by Giuliani shouting "bullsh--t" before a crowd of crazed cops, Dinkins's supporters repeatedly attacked Giuliani for his "fascism" and his running mate Herman Badillo for marrying a white woman. One Dinkins aide asked me, "Don't you know that if Rudy wins there will be a reign of terror in New York?" The mood produced by the campaign led one third of those polled to predict a riot if Giuliani were elected.

When defeated--though he had won 95 percent of the black vote--Dinkins delivered an unprecedented farewell address. He told the city council, which was taking time out from an interminable debate over whether regulating horse-drawn carriages was actually ethnic discrimination against the Irish drivers, that Giuliani was such a menace to the city that "now more than ever, New Yorkers will look to their council to protect the most proudly progressive government on God's
earth.
"

Once in office, Giuliani's restorationist regime took down both the deficit and the "riot ideology" that had driven New York politics since the Lindsay years. He refused to meet with Al Sharpton (who in turn worked to cut Giuliani off from black
churches). African Americans, as Kirtzman describes it, supported Giuliani at their own peril. At Harlem's Convent Baptist church he was barred from attending Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremonies, and the pastor welcomed David Dinkins by announcing: "He's still our mayor." The notoriously thin-skinned Giuliani "felt spurned by the black community." Kirtzman goes on to acknowledge that "Giuliani was on the attack against a lot of Democratic politicians, black and white alike, using the same amount of vitriol." But he then argues that nonetheless, "Giuliani was his own worst enemy when it came to race relations."

For all of Kirtzman's virtues, he is less than forthright in describing the press's promotion of Sharpton or his own television station's role (he's an anchor at NY1, an all-news cable station sometimes known as the "Sharpton News
Network"). [To my knowledge, it was Siegel himself who dubbed the station thusly.] For many liberal journalists dressed down by Giuliani--and there's no doubt that the mayor and his press secretary Christyne "I'd take a bullet for Rudy" Lategano went out of the way to make life difficult for the press--Sharpton became the agent of their anger.

In an episode Kirtzman doesn't mention, Sharpton came before reporters to announce his 1997 mayoral campaign so sure of a free ride that he himself brought up the damning episode of the Freddie Fire. This was a 1995 incident in which Sharpton's organization, and sometimes Sharpton himself, picketed a Jewish-owned store on 125th Street in Harlem. The protesters (led by a Sharpton lieutenant who was an escaped mental patient with a long history of violence) shouted about "bloodsuckers" and about how "we're going to burn and loot the Jews." [Siegel is referring here to Morris Powell who, to my knolwedge, was not a Sharpton underling.] In the end they got their wish as one of their number, goosed by the rhetoric, went in with guns blazing and set fire to the store, killing himself and seven others. In a touch
of bravado, Sharpton blamed the deaths on Giuliani: "Only the city administration," he claimed, "knew of the hatred that was brewing outside" Freddie's Fashion Mart. The press said nothing.

Giuliani sailed to reelection against a weak opponent, Manhattan borough president Ruth Messinger, who had barely averted a primary runoff against Sharpton. It was hard for voters to argue with the success of the police department. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton thrilled much of the city with his Churchillian rhetoric: "I'll end the fear....We will fight for every house in the city." Bratton--"an avid reader of books on corporate motivation," say Lardner and Reppetto in
NYPD--understood that most police departments "were punishment-centered bureaucracies," prone to issue rules and regulations heavy on the don'ts. When under intense pressure Dinkins expanded the police force, a Harlem cop asked: "What's the difference if you've got 25,000 people sitting around doing nothing or 30,000?"

Bratton reversed the natural bureaucratic process and created incentives for active policing. In Machiavelli's terms, he motivated the mercenaries. Across America, crime dropped 5 percent between 1993 and 1996; in New York City, it fell 35
percent--which is to say that New York alone accounted for one third of the national drop. These achievements began even before the economy recovered from recession and in the midst of a massive immigration which brought, as it often has in the past, a burst of criminality.

In 1992, a Harlem resident explained, "Nobody ever got in trouble in that department for doing nothing. Sometimes I've seen something happen, and cops just turn their head and go by." By 1995 in Harlem, noted the Boston Globe's Fred Kaplan, where there had once been a funeral a week, people were now sitting out on the stoops. And eighteen-year-old Presley Navarrete noticed, "I hardly hear gunshots anymore.... It's all because of the cops, the cops are everywhere." The director of the neighborhood youth center, reported Kaplan, saw a new day in Harlem in which "the sun even seemed brighter; the air seemed lighter."

But in March 1996, Bratton, caught up in a battle with Giuliani over who deserved the credit, was pushed out of office. Bratton had given Giuliani a degree of insulation, and his dismissal--along with an earlier decision to bring in the heartily disliked Lategano to replace Ken Frydman, a press secretary with good ties to journalists--would cost Giuliani much of his second-term popularity.

Giuliani went into his final four years with more than adequate confidence and his eyes elsewhere. There was even talk of a run for the presidency. In the absence of a full-scale agenda, he began to press too hard on quality-of-life issues. His
campaigns against jaywalkers, peddlers, and taxi drivers brought derision, as did the opening of a new high-tech police bunker. Giuliani was at his best in emergencies but in his second term, he seemed to like them too much.

His enemies saw an opening and mocked his bunker mentality at a time when his success in containing crime seemed to suggest that the emergency was over. It wasn't. The underside of the active, stop-and-frisk policing, which took thousands of guns off the streets, is that as the crime rate dropped, an increasing number of innocents in minority neighborhoods were being accosted by cops. This is a genuine issue--because if the cops back off too much, crime comes back up--and the mayor handled it badly.

When a series of high-profile incidents came along, the old guard of New York politics began a campaign to drive Giuliani from office. Racially charged events beginning with the police torture of Abner Louima and the killings of Amadou
Diallo and Patrick Dorismond gave Sharpton and his allies the chance to seize the political agenda.

What followed was nothing short of political hysteria. The fact that panicked cops tragically shot forty-one times at Diallo--firing at their own ricochets and flashes--was repeated thousands of times a week, as though malevolent intent could be deduced from the number of shots fired. When the Diallo cops were acquitted of criminal charges, the Reverend Calvin Butts, an ally of the Republican governor, spoke of the "evil that permeates City Hall." Even the usually cautious Reverend Floyd Flake, a one-time Giuliani ally, denounced the mayor as a "megalomaniac and a paranoid schizophrenic." Others weren't so kind.

The television stations covered these incidents through the mind of the mob. After Malcolm Ferguson, a longtime drug dealer, was killed in a struggle with a cop, the television coverage depicted him as a martyr slain by the out-of-control police. After listening to Sharpton rant for nights on end, viewers were treated to "testimony" from middle-class white liberals describing their terror of the police. The climax may have been an April l front-page story in the New York Times, in which David Barstow depicted a low-level Brooklyn heroin
dealer and a group of young thugs as victims of police harassment.

Barstow accused Giuliani and the police of imposing "the mores of Mayberry" on a rough-and-tumble neighborhood (which is also my own). The gullible Barstow referred to one alleged victim of police harassment as a "gregarious youth," though he was, in fact, a notorious thug wanted for slashing a man's throat on the subway.

In a paradox Machiavelli would have appreciated, Giuliani suffered from the failure of success. In Philadelphia and Chicago, where the murder rate has barely dropped at all in black neighborhoods, the white mayors retained their popularity among African-American voters. Chicago with one third the population has had roughly the same number of murders as New York. If Giuliani had been a racist, or even merely a cynic, he could have backed off in black Bedford-Stuyvesant while continuing vigilant patrols in white Brooklyn Heights.

But Giuliani's real sin wasn't police brutality; it was that he had proved that the black and liberal establishment were wrong about almost all the major issues that faced New York. They had insisted that crime couldn't be cut without a reign of terror, and when crime was cut even as police violence declined, they invented just such a reign. They had insisted that welfare couldn't be reformed without massive suffering. When Giuliani cut the rolls in half, with only minimal signs of increased suffering, they were shown up again. First and foremost Giuliani was hated for being right, for embarrassing the city's old-line leaders who either stood by or actively abetted Sharpton's equating the NYPD with the KKK.

While there was both a stop-and-frisk problem and an over-reliance on specialized units at the expense of neighborhood patrols, the reign of terror depicted by Sharpton and the press never happened. In fact, not only has crime dropped to record lows, so has police violence. In the last year of the Dinkins administration, the cops fired 212 times; in 1999, they fired seventy-one times--and that includes the forty-one directed at Diallo. Police killings dropped from a high of forty-one under
Dinkins to eleven in 1999, a historic low. Under Giuliani the police were half as likely to use their guns as they were under Dinkins.

These readily available numbers were rarely mentioned. The press frenzy slowed only after the city's African and Haitian livery-cab drivers were subject to a wave of murders, followed by the vicious mass murder of minority workers at a Wendy's.

This reminded the city that there is no such thing as a tipping point that produces a self-sustaining collapse in crime. The right metaphor for a city with 650,000 single-parent households--fatherless families with at least one child under
eighteen, for the most part--is a pressure cooker, with the police crucial for keeping the lid on. But it was only with the recent Puerto Rican Day Parade that many grasped what they stood to loose if the lid were removed.

On the Sunday of the Puerto Rican parade this past June, what began as friendly boy-girl rough housing in Central Park near the parade route turned into a wave of fifty or more sexual assaults. "This is better than Disneyland," shouted a young
man caught on one of the amateur videotapes that brought the situation home. There were the "gregarious youths" the police had earlier been accused of harassing. The same youths Barstow was so sympathetic to were now bad because they hadn't just preyed on locals in Brooklyn but had harassed upper-middle-class women in Central Park, right across from the Plaza.

The wilding was part of a weekend of murder and mayhem in which three were killed, fifty-nine were assaulted with knives or guns, and there was a bias attack against Orthodox Jewish kids on the Coney Island boardwalk. The police, it seems, had
gotten the message: They were backing off for a while.

Newsday, which had been flaying the police for months, captured the change of mood: "Has Giuliani given up on keeping order? It's over. Suddenly Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sounds like a tired and defensive guy forced to wrestle with a city of ingrates. Let us note that the city's age of reform appears to have ended, and Giuliani's early retirement to have begun."

Newsday may be right. Giuliani, who preached strength and self-discipline, has been humbled by cancer and his own personal disorder. He's a lame duck who has flaunted his affair with his paramour and publicly humiliated his wife. The man who needs only four hours of sleep and whose enormous energy and intelligence have kept the city's enemies at bay for nearly seven years is now understandably preoccupied with personal issues.

Machiavelli's hope in The Prince is that a ruthless man can, by reviving the republic, restore the public virtue of the citizenry. That is a task beyond even Giuliani's capacities. If Dinkins was all gesture and form, Giuliani was all outcomes at a time when ceremonial gestures of inclusion might have softened the hostility of a black population ill-served by a dysfunctional leadership.

Giuliani has no political heirs. What he leaves behind is a city in which, because crime has been curbed, the citizens can enjoy the best of times. In the 1980s, during a Wall Street boom, much of the middle class was nonetheless looking to
leave.

Today New York's problem is that so many talented people are beating down its doors that rents are rising out of control. Employment is at the highest level for thirty years, and poverty is declining. For the first time in a non-recessionary period, the economic growth in New York is better than the national rate. The summer streets are filled well into the evening, and with the city enjoying surpluses, there's even talk for the first time in forty years of much-needed infrastructure investments.

Neither of the recent books on Giuliani notices the way in which the dot.coms are remaking the economic landscape of the city. For the first time since the 1950s, New York has a new industry. The new media, Web, software, and graphic design companies, explains Steve Malanga in the City Journal, account for most of the city's job growth. And the techies having run out of affordable space in Manhattan are starting to move out of lower Manhattan and into Harlem, Brooklyn, and Queens. These companies have revived the city's pre-New Deal entrepreneurial spirit. Given time, they may build on Giuliani's legacy to renew its politics as well.

Some of the patronage pols looking to succeed Giuliani tried a few weeks ago to install as the new head of the Independent Budget Office Dinkins's old budget director--a woman famed for going after slow-moving tax targets. But at a time when
the city's economy depends on retaining and encouraging fast-moving dot-coms, there may be a limit to how much damage the Prince's successors can do.

[Thanks to James Fulford and “FormanS” at SUNY Suffolk.]

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