A Guy With Gumption
Since I am going to say some nice things here about Rudy Giuliani, you may think this column is an early Rudy-for-president effort. It isn't. I don't think he has much of a chance to win the Republican nomination. He is a defender of gay rights and abortion and has remarried twice, once after a messy divorce. He is thin-skinned and self-absorbed, as historian Fred Siegel makes clear in his impressive new book, The Prince of the City (the reference is to Machiavelli, not Prince Charming). Most people think Giuliani fired Bill Bratton, the best police commissioner in the country (now in Los Angeles) because Bratton, and not Rudy, made the cover of Time.
Still, he is a person of enormous talent and courage who saved the city from a Detroit-like decline after the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan glumly said salvation could not come in "less than 30 years." Anyone entering politics to make a positive impact under hopeless conditions should read The Prince of the City and learn how it's done. Giuliani successfully assaulted, though he could not completely defeat, the intractable reactionary liberalism that brought New York City to its knees. Before he was elected in 1993, there were more than 2,000 murders a year there, compared with under 600 today. The city's welfare population, 1.1 million people, was about the size of the entire population of San Diego, the sixth-largest U.S. city. A poll showed that 60 percent of adult New Yorkers would like to leave the city. Along the four Greenwich Village blocks where I walked my daughter to her school each day, there was usually a long trail of freshly broken auto glass, meaning that most of the parked cars had been broken into, and would be broken into again, as soon as the glass could be replaced. The city was ungovernable--or so everyone said, often with a tone of perverse pride.
Giuliani changed all that. He marginalized the city's racial arsonists, like Al Sharpton, by simply ignoring them and refusing to reward them for disturbances and threats. He ended Mafia control of the Fulton Fish Market and the private trash-hauling industry, two achievements long regarded by nearly everyone in New York as impossible. He told New Yorkers it's time to rejoin America, to celebrate middle-class values, and to promote aspiration and work, not to keep sedating the poor with welfare. He refused to play the game of group rights and group payoffs. "We're all the same," he said at a service commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. He meant all New Yorkers are in this together, and instead of the usual truckling to identity groups, there would be only one payoff for all--a better city.
Fighting crime. As Siegel makes clear, virtually the entire political class in New York represents the public sector, which has a perverse stake in social breakdown because it generates more public spending and lots of new job opportunities. Giuliani derided "the compassion industry" that accounted for more than a million publicly funded jobs. The inefficiency was staggering. New York spent 2 1/2 times as much money per person administering welfare as other high-benefit states. The city routinely committed tons of money it didn't have to social programs, constantly raised taxes, then went, hat in hand, to Albany and Washington for handouts. Giuliani refused to play the game, demanding efficiency and forcing the city to live within its budget.
He also took on what Siegel calls the city's philosophy of "dependent individualism" --we will take care of you and ask nothing in return; you can do whatever you want, even if you threaten our future. A pre-Giuliani parks commissioner said: "Vandalism is simply a way in which certain elements of my constituency used the parks. Some people liked to sit on the benches; others like to tear them up." Whatever. Giuliani cracked down on quality-of-life offenses that liberal New York considered trivial, and he followed the "broken window" theory, which says that disorder demoralizes residents and sets the stage for breakdown and crime. In addition, Bratton and Giuliani brilliantly reorganized the city's outstanding police force, and the crime rate plummeted. The current pop bestseller Freakonomics breezily argues that Roe v. Wade brought crime down by keeping likely criminals from being born. Nonsense. Crime fell because New York drove the national reduction and inspired Giuliani-like tactics elsewhere. Nationally, crime fell just 5 percent between 1993 and 1996, while dropping 35 percent in New York. Philadelphia, a city much like New York, had very little decline in crime, presumably because it had no Giuliani, no Bratton, and no police force like New York's. The old order still snipes at Giuliani and refers to him as Mussolini, but he was an inspiring figure even before 9/11, and certainly after.
This story appears in the June 20, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.