The Full Rudy: The Man, the Mayor, the Myth | The Nation


The Full Rudy: The Man, the Mayor, the Myth

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Rudy Giuliani was a C-plus Mayor who has become an A-plus myth. Since the atrocity of 9/11, Giuliani has managed to merge himself with wounded New York until the man and the metropolis--and this almost religious event--seem to be one heroic blur.

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Jack Newfield
Jack Newfield is a veteran New York political reporter and a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He is the author of...

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Bob Dylan probably had no idea how much the times really were a' changin'.

On the rise of the "New Left" movement represented by organizations like Students for a Democratic Society, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Northern Student Movement, organizations whose ideologies could not be pinned to liberal sects of the past.

But in April 1999, in the sixth year of his term-limited mayoralty, Giuliani had only a 40 percent approval rating from the people he governed, who knew him best. A year later his divorce lawyer was savagely attacking his wife, Donna Hanover, while the Mayor was flaunting his mistress in public. He even brought his girlfriend into the Mayor's residence, Gracie Mansion, while his wife was still residing there. They don't allow this kind of behavior in trailer parks!

As a result, Giuliani's popularity plummeted again in the spring of 2000. He was almost a laughingstock when he withdrew from his Senate campaign against Hillary Clinton. The official reason given was the Mayor's diagnosis of prostate cancer, but even conservative writers like William Safire in the New York Times and Robert Bartley in the Wall Street Journal had urged him not to run in pointed columns focused on his chaotic personal life.

In May 2000 Giuliani looked like a control freak who had lost control of himself.

Then came the events of 9/11, and Giuliani re-emerged as an international celebrity. By all accounts he took charge when the towers fell, and he displayed leadership when others were dumbstruck. Individuals he knew--and loved--died in the attack, and this gave him sensitivity and dedication.

Giuliani was named Time magazine's "Person of the Year," the avatar of the stricken city. He was made an honorary knight by the Queen of England. He did a victory lap around the country, raising money for Republican candidates and giving speeches for $100,000 a pop; he may rake in $10 million over the next year. He received the Ronald Reagan Freedom Medal at a gala dinner in Beverly Hills. He was a guest on Saturday Night Live and treated like royalty. NBC is planning a three-hour Sunday night movie about him for next February, and the USA Network is racing to air its Rudy film before that. He was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, which pays $943,000. (If this sounds preposterous recall that the war criminal Kissinger won the same honor.)

Yet even as he became a part of pop iconography, celebrated as "America's Mayor," Giuliani was still loathed in some black neighborhoods in the city. People in Brownsville, Texas, might have thought of him as their mayor, but blacks in Brownsville, Brooklyn, did not.

Even his critics admit that in many ways New York City did become a better place to live during Giuliani's two terms. His administration cut crime longer and deeper than those of most other large cities. He encouraged new policing strategies of rapid redeployment of officers to hot spots, while holding precinct commanders accountable. Murders were reduced from 1,927 in 1993 to 643 in 2001. Buoyed by the 1990s economic upsurge, whole neighborhoods revived and tourism thrived under Giuliani. He restored the city's confidence in local government, and this put a strut in the city's step. He ended the feeling that the city was out of control, which many felt during the epidemic of crime and crack.

Giuliani was a mayor of excess, with some big accomplishments and some spectacular lapses into cruelty and fanaticism. He sometimes seemed a captive of his demons. Sometimes it felt like he was trying to put the whole unruly, diverse city through obedience training, as he shut off citizen access to City Hall, put up barricades at busy street crossings to modify pedestrian behavior, tried to censor art he didn't approve of and harassed hotdog vendors.

Giuliani was skilled at solving problems that lent themselves to the application of relentless will or military-style strategy. Therefore, he was effective at cutting crime, reducing violence in the city's jails and driving the mob out of the Fulton Fish Market, where it had ruled for fifty years.

The record shows that Giuliani was less effective at solving problems in which such efforts require cooperation with other levels of government, labor unions or communities of color. As a result, public schools got worse during the Giuliani years. Police-community relations got much worse. Much less affordable housing was built, and budgeted for, than under Ed Koch. The poor became a much lower priority than under Mayors Dinkins, Lindsay and Wagner. In Giuliani's second term, the poor became scapegoats and lab rats for experiments in conservative social policy.

Giuliani also governed in a fashion that created problems beneath the surface, for which the bill of reckoning is only now coming due. His borrowing left his successor with a $4.5 billion budget deficit only eighteen months after Rudy sat on a $3 billion surplus. And in a political deal, he closed the city's largest landfill, creating a crisis in garbage disposal and a tremendous budget burden for the sanitation department.

Rudy Giuliani was a mayor of missed opportunities, political opportunism and stunning harshness.

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