(This column was first published in the Canarsie Courier, December 20, 2001)
For the last eight years, while Rudy Giuliani served as its 107th mayor, New York City underwent an astonishing resurrection. Like the sheriff in a classic Hollywood western, Giuliani will ride off into the sunset, on December 31, as a hero for taming this seemingly untamable town.
But the mayor’s elevated status is not the result of what he accomplished in two terms at City Hall, but rather due to the calm and concern he displayed during recent ill-fated circumstances that thrust him into the international spotlight.
Giuliani’s reputation soared after September 11 as the city endured a hardship that no one — except perhaps a novelist, screenwriter or calculating fanatic — ever dreamed of. In the aftermath of the devastating terrorist attacks, the mayor demonstrated effective control, even-tempered leadership and heretofore unseen compassion that was requisite in such an emergency.
Long before he displayed those gentler and kinder characteristics — with the whole world watching — Rudy Giuliani had a proclivity for confrontation, bullying and arrogance that devalues his achievements.
Governing New York City is considered the second toughest job in America. But it doesn’t require the mayor to intimidate, browbeat or alienate opponents with the unpleasant demeanor that was common to Giuliani’s style.
It’s plain to see the great strides and significant progress New York City attained during the Giuliani years. But much of the credit, which he loves to flaunt, for the city’s extreme makeover are not his alone.
When Giuliani took office in 1994, the city’s state of affairs was alarming and its government appeared unmanageable. Some New Yorkers were afraid to leave the comfort and relative safety of their residences after dark since the murder rate had soared to an all-time high of 2,000 annually. An atmosphere of fear was pervasive. Citizens of the city that “never sleeps” became accustomed to taking a nap with one eye open for fear of being killed in their beds, robbed and assaulted at gunpoint or carjacked.
Mind you, if things continued to deteriorate, the exodus of businesses and the middle class — the city’s taxpaying lifeblood — would have continued, gradually leaving the city overrun with criminals and the homeless.
Take, for instance, the 64% drop in crime since 1994. First of all, the entire nation, especially high-crime urban areas, experienced a similar hefty decrease over the same period. Secondly, former Deputy Police Commissioner Jack Maple and Giuliani’s first Police Commissioner Bill Bratton designed and initiated the blueprint for revamped policing.
Still, Giuliani dismissed Bratton after two years, with his ego likely bruised as the police chief, not the mayor, garnered the national spotlight for the dramatic decline in the city’s murder rate.
As the mayor’s popularity and exposure soared in recent months, he doggedly attempted to have the state legislature amend the term limits law, which voters supported twice during his tenure so he could extend his stay beyond December 31. Thankfully, wiser minds prevailed and rejected the self-serving endeavor.
Even as he prepared to exit City Hall, Giuliani tried to finagle a deal for new, publicly financed stadiums for the Yankees and the Mets. This, while calling for budget cuts, including children’s services and public libraries, as the city faces its worst fiscal crisis in 26 years.
The Yankee Stadium proposal came as no surprise since he did everything possible to show he was the team’s First Fan. He made the most of playoff games he attended by sitting in front row seats next to the Yankee dugout where he garnered maximum exposure, instead of the owner’s box, where VIPs are customarily seated.
While it’s true that Rudolph Giuliani officiated over some monumental changes for New York, including padlocking seedy Times Square porn shops and slashing excessive welfare rolls, that restored the Big Apple as the world’s tourist Mecca.
At the outset I was opposed to some of the mayor’s whimsical “quality of life” crackdowns, but they gradually reduced the presence of annoying squeegee men, cleared the streets of the homeless, reduced rampant graffiti, which paved the way for cutting for more serious crimes that plagued New York.
The negative side of Giuliani’s legacy is his petulant vindictiveness that had the city needlessly defending itself against free speech issues, which, in every case, were lost, costing the city millions in legal fees. He leaves the city’s public education system still mired in a bloated bureaucracy and with scant improvements in eight years. And, affordable housing in New York is an oxymoron.
Though aggressive policing under Giuliani led to a safer city, it resulted in divisiveness and outrage in nonwhite communities. In a few deplorable instances, unarmed black citizens — Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond — died or were abused in altercations with New York’s finest.
Merely judging Giuliani performance for his brief shining moments over the last ninety days does not redeem his for his prickly “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude over the last eight years.
Rudy Giuliani was a more-than-adequate mayor. Had he been more conciliatory and sensitive to the city’s diversity, history may have judged him a great mayor.
Nevertheless, even as he departs with a chunk of the Big Apple damaged and its skyline forever altered, New York City’s refurbished image is a shining example of strength and stamina. And for that New Yorkers are proud and grateful.