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Thursday, November 10, 2005


THERE'S NO MAYOR BLOOMBERG WITHOUT RUDY GIULIANI 

The policies and ideas implemented by Rudy Giuliani paved the way for Michael Bloomberg's successful mayoralty.


New York City is guaranteed 16 years of steady leadership

Democrat turned Republican Michael Bloomberg was given a landslide victory, over Fernando Ferrer, by New York City voters on Tuesday. His predictable huge margin of victory was known for some time but nonetheless it was still impressive that Mayor Bloomberg won with 59% of the vote compared to Ferrer's 39%. It's hard to say what was more stunning, that a Republican won in New York City or that a traditional liberal Democrat garnered less than 40%. In its endorsement of Bloomberg, the New York Times said that the Republican could go down in history as one of the city's great mayors. Forgotten in all the hubbub and the "what have you done for me lately" style of politics is New York's greatest mayor - Rudy Giuliani. Mayor Bloomberg has done a very good job as mayor, deftly maneuvering through the myriad pratfalls that face most mayors, but he inherited a city that was left in very good shape (despite the devastating toll of 9/11) by a real Republican, Giuliani.

Bloomberg is a lifelong Democrat who ran as a Republican in 2001 because the Democratic party bosses were tied to lackluster hacks like Ferrer and Mark Green. Bloomberg was a different political animal because not only had he never run for office before but he wanted to utilize his skills as a succesful billionaire businessman. He knew the city could be run in a certain way and was sure that a personal war chest of $70 million could blunt any Democratic onslaught. How did Bloomberg get the idea that running City Hall in an effective way was possible? Giuliani showed it could be done.

When Giuliani ran against David Dinkins in 1993, New York City was a mess. The city was in the grips of a recession, and crime was at an all time high. Throughout David Dinkins mayoralty New York saw more than 2,000 murders per year. By the time Giuliani left office, the annual murder rate was down to around 600 per year. How did Giuliani help the city turn around? First of all, he dismissed the conventional wisdom that New York City was "ungovernable." After years of failed urban renewal and social engineering the powers and experts that be concluded that New York was too big to manage and too much of an anachronism to care about. The subways were rife with crime, the streets were full of garbage and there were no hopes of an economic revival.

Giuliani agreed with the influential think tank, The Manhattan Institute, that broken windows were the gateway to a lawless city. While many seasoned city oberserves laughed at Giuliani urging for broken windows to be fixed and for subway fare beaters to be arrested, he was on to something. According to the "Broken Windows Theory" advanced by Joseph Wilson and George Kelling, society tends to break down when the seemingly innocuous problems are not taken care of. People are less likely to keep their homes in shape and be vigilant about neighborhood safety if authorities, officials and even neighbors don't take care of the mundane developments like broken windows. By eliminating squeegee men who pestered drivers, by fixing broken windows and by arresting fare beaters (because they were most likely to commit crimes once on the subways) Giuliani showed that New York is governable.

Giuliani's history as a federal prosecutor was just what New York City needed in 1993. Times Square went from a no man's land to a Disney-fied tourist destination. Economic development spread from Manhattan to the other 4 boroughs. Property rates went up in most neighborhoods as people were willing to come back to neighborhoods like Harlem and downtown Brooklyn that had been decimated by crime. Giuliani was controversial because his "tough love" was a shock to a city that was used to passive indifference to antisocial behavior like graffiti, car thefts and street muggings.

Bloomberg is able to be seen as a kinder and gentler mayor than Giuliani because he has had the advantage of being able to rule with a velvet glove since Day One. Many of Giuliani's initiatives (like the police crime-tracking computer program, CompStat) are now taken for granted. The genius of Bloomberg is that he adopted Giuliani's successful ideas and softened the rough edges. However, Bloomberg would have had a tougher time had he been elected mayor in 1993. It's doubtful that he had the political temerity or philosophy to whip the city into shape in the manner that Giuliani did. That contrast is no knock on Bloomberg but a study of both men. Giuliani was necesary for New York's renaissance while Bloomberg has been a worthy successor (some of his espoused liberal leanings were effective foils against Democratic trickery). However, for all those who rush to name airports and buildings after Bloomberg, Giuliani's amazing record of accomplishment most not be diminished nor forgotten.


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