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The New New Left: How American Politics Works Today
by Steven Malanga
The New New Left: How American Politics Works Today

City Journal

Steven Malanga
Yes, Rudy Giuliani Is a Conservative
And an electable one, at that.
Winter 2007

Selected Responses:

Sent by Mark Emery on 02-28-2007:

I am a "social conservative" as typically defined by the major media. Your article is genuinely persuasive. Although I never had doubt that Mr. Giuliani was a leader, you showed his commitment to certain principles of "small government" conservatism. In that respect, it's easier to reconcile his more liberal leanings if it is viewed as a pseudo-libertarian.

One of the issues I have with Senator McCain is that he seems to become more liberal when around liberals and more conservative when surrounded by conservatives. Senator McCain as Zelig, I suppose. Not necessarily a "flip-flopper," but a man more interested in being liked. Mr. Giuliani's liberal views are clearly not because he hangs out with a liberal crowd and feels the need to give in to get along. It seems to be, as I noted, a marriage of libertarian and conservative philosophies.

In the end, I can accept such a philosophy, even if I don't get a "true social conservative" (whatever that means). I can accept it because he has shown steadfast resolve in the midst of heavy Left-leaning pressure. I'm not sure the same can be said for Sen. McCain.

This doesn't mean Mr. Giuliani has my vote locked up. It does mean that he gets to the kitchen table to make his case.

Sent by Cliff Thier on 02-03-2007:

My wife and I were there. And every word of this piece is
true. We saw and heard and read about it every day. We voted for Dinkins in their first contest. But then in their second contest we voted for Giuliani.

Even though we voted for Giuliani we were only hoping
that he'd arrest the decline. We were amazed at what he
did during those years. His reforms saved thousands of
lives. Literally, thousands. If the murder rate had
continued at its Dinkins-years pace thousands of
additional people would have been killed. It could have
been either one of us. Or someone we knew. Perhaps he saved our lives. We're grateful as if he did.

We're conservatives on most issues and perhaps disagree
with Giuliani on this or that. But for us the war against
Islamofascism trumps all else. We are confident that
Giuliani can lead America to victory. Nothing else matters
very much.

Sent by Henry Delahunt on 02-03-2007:

Your lengthy piece on Rudy Giuliani was very good except for one thing: I don't remember a word about Rudy's position on
the illegal alien invasion our our country. I was a strong supporter of Rudy's, but not for some time. I could be again if he would come out strongly in favor of securing our border. And I mean strongly and honestly. As of now Romney has
this conservative's vote. But I'm ready to be convinced otherwise.

Sent by Ken Baugh on 01-27-2007:

Yes, Giuliani is a fiscal conservative. However, your dismissive attitude toward social conservatives is unrealistic. If you think we will agree to sit down and shut up for the sake of electing a good and likable manager with questionable moral standards and integrity, but ignore abortion, immigration, gun rights, gay marriage, etc., you are dreaming. When we think of a good conservative, we think of Ronald Reagan. Giuliani is no Ronald Reagan.

Sent by Michael Burke on 01-25-2007:

Even without 9/11, Giuliani deserved to be a serious presidental candidate. Based on achievement and vision, he stands heads taller than every other candidate or potential candidate for that matter.

I might add that he had no greater supporter than my older brother Billy (unless it is my black-Hispanic wife). On 9/11, Capt. William F. Burke, Jr., of Eng. Co. 21, gave his life at the WTC. The Mayor spoke at his service at St. Pat's, which Billy would have considered a great honor. But truthfully, he knew the mayor of NYC owed him. As did Giuliani.

America's Mayor deserves to be America's president.

Sent by Howard on 01-25-2007:

Simple question: Can Rudy beat Hillary in New York State? If so, that would seal the presidential election, as the Democrats probably can't win without New York.

Sent by Tim Baughman on 01-24-2007:

Great article. Conservatives are principally concerned with Giuliani on abortion and gay marriage. If he could just say—and believe—that whatever his personal views on these issues, they are issues to be resolved by the states (i.e. Roe is wrong) and on the latter (gay marriage) one state shouldn't be able to bind all others through the full faith and credit clause, then conservatives such as myself who think on essentially all other conservative principles—and on security—Giuliani is indeed the best candidate, would be much more comfortable. I hope he stakes out such positions, and fairly soon.

Sent by Tom McDonald on 01-24-2007:

". . . his support for abortion rights, gay unions, and curbs on gun ownership."

This may make Rudy a conservative in NY; in Texas, it makes him a flaming liberal.

Not since Teddy Roosevelt took on Tammany Hall a century ago has a New York politician closely linked to urban reform looked like presidential timber. But today ex–New York mayor Rudy Giuliani sits at or near the top of virtually every poll of potential 2008 presidential candidates. Already, Giuliani’s popularity has set off a “stop Rudy” movement among cultural conservatives, who object to his three marriages and his support for abortion rights, gay unions, and curbs on gun ownership. Some social conservatives even dismiss his achievement in reviving New York before 9/11. An August story on the website Right Wing News, for instance, claims that Giuliani governed Gotham from “left of center.” Similarly, conservatives have been feeding the press a misleading collection of quotations by and about Giuliani, on tax policy and school choice issues, assembled to make him look like a liberal.

But in a GOP presidential field in which cultural and religious conservatives may find something to object to in every candidate who could really get nominated (and, more important, elected), Giuliani may be the most conservative candidate on a wide range of issues. Far from being a liberal, he ran New York with a conservative’s priorities: government exists above all to keep people safe in their homes and in the streets, he said, not to redistribute income, run a welfare state, or perform social engineering. The private economy, not government, creates opportunity, he argued; government should just deliver basic services well and then get out of the private sector’s way. He denied that cities and their citizens were victims of vast forces outside their control, and he urged New Yorkers to take personal responsibility for their lives. “Over the last century, millions of people from all over the world have come to New York City,” Giuliani once observed. “They didn’t come here to be taken care of and to be dependent on city government. They came here for the freedom to take care of themselves.” It was that spirit of opportunity and can-do-ism that Giuliani tried to re-instill in New York and that he himself exemplified not only in the hours and weeks after 9/11 but in his heroic and successful effort to bring a dying city back to life.

The entrenched political culture that Giuliani faced when he became mayor was the pure embodiment of American liberalism, stretching back to the New Deal, whose public works projects had turned Gotham into a massive government-jobs program. Even during the post–World War II economic boom, New York politicians kept the New Deal’s big-government philosophy alive, with huge municipal tax increases that financed a growing public sector but drove away private-sector jobs. Later, in the mid-1960s, flamboyant mayor John Lindsay set out to make New York a poster child for the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty, vastly expanding welfare rolls, giving power over the school system to black-power activists, and directing hundreds of millions of government dollars into useless and often fraudulent community-based antipoverty programs. To pay for all this, Lindsay taxed with abandon. The result: sharply increasing crime, a rising underclass inclined to languish on welfare rather than strive to uplift itself, a failing school system that emphasized racial grievance and separateness, and near-bankruptcy.

When Giuliani’s predecessor, David Dinkins, came into office—thanks to voters’ hopes that as the city’s first black mayor, he’d defuse Gotham’s intense racial tensions—he wholly embraced the War on Poverty’s core belief that the problems of the urban poor sprang from vast external forces over which neither they nor the politicians had much control. Under Dinkins, the city’s welfare rolls grew by one-third, or some 273,000 people. By 1992, with some 1.1 million New Yorkers on welfare, the city’s political leadership seemed stuck on dependency, too. Dinkins became the chief proponent of a tin-cup urbanism, constantly hounding Washington and Albany with demands and grim warnings about what would happen if they were not met.

Dinkins’s political philosophy substituted can’t-do fatalism for the can-do optimism that had made New York great. As crime spiked—there were 2,262 murders in Dinkins’s first year, compared with fewer than 600 in 1963, two years before Lindsay became mayor—Dinkins declared: “If we had a police officer on every other corner, we couldn’t stop some of the random violence that goes on,” since it resulted from poverty and racism, not poor policing.

Accordingly, Dinkins wanted to turn the police into social workers. His police commissioner, Lee Brown, believed that cops should stop reacting to crime and become neighborhood “problem solvers.” In an article on that “community policing” approach, the New York Times informed readers that such experiments in Houston and in Newark, New Jersey, were “enormously popular”—but “neither city experienced a statistical drop in crime.” Under that policing regime, New York’s already high crime rate soared, prompting the New York Post to plead, in a famous headline, dave do something.

As crime and welfare rocketed up, Dinkins decided that government should promote diversity and multiculturalism—“a gorgeous mosaic,” in his phrase. Though the performance of the city’s schools was crumbling, so that by 1992 fewer than half the pupils were reading at grade level, the board of education turned its energies to two controversies unrelated to education: it tried to adopt a “Rainbow Curriculum” geared to instilling in first-graders respect for homosexuality, and it proposed to distribute free condoms in high schools to promote safe sex among students. Although many parents objected that the board was promoting values that they did not share, Dinkins supported the board on both fiercely controversial issues.

By the time Giuliani challenged Dinkins for a second time, in 1993 (his first try had failed), the former prosecutor had fashioned a philosophy of local government based on two core conservative principles vastly at odds with New York’s political culture: that government should be accountable for delivering basic services well, and that ordinary citizens should be personally responsible for their actions and their destiny and not expect government to take care of them. Giuliani preached the need to reestablish a “civil society,” where citizens adhered to a “social contract.” “If you have a right,” he observed, “there is a duty that goes along with that right.” Later, when he became mayor, Giuliani would preach about the duties of citizenship, quoting the ancient Athenian Oath of Fealty: “We will revere and obey the city’s laws. . . . We will strive unceasingly to quicken the public sense of civic duty. Thus in all these ways we will transmit this city not only not less, but far greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”

In New York, where generations of liberal policy had produced a city in which one in seven citizens lived off government benefits, in which lawbreakers whose actions diminished everyone else’s quality of life were routinely ignored or excused, in which the rights of those who broke the law were often defended vigorously over the rights of those who adhered to it, Giuliani’s prescriptions for an urban revival based on shared civic values seemed unrealistic to some and dangerous to others. The head of the local American Civil Liberties Union chapter described Giuliani’s ideas on respect for authority and the law as “frightening” and “scary.” But New Yorkers who had watched their city deteriorate were more frightened of life under an outdated and ineffective liberal agenda. Giuliani rode to victory in 1993 with heavy support from the same white ethnic Democratic voters who, nearly a decade earlier, had crossed party lines even in liberal New York to vote for Ronald Reagan.

To those of us who observed Giuliani from the beginning, it was astonishing how fully he followed through on his conservative principles once elected, no matter how much he upset elite opinion, no matter how often radical advocates took to the streets in protest, no matter how many veiled (and not so veiled) threats that incendiary figures like Al Sharpton made against him, and no matter how often the New York Times fulminated against his policies. In particular, offended by the notion that people should be treated differently and demand privileges based on the color of their skin, Giuliani was fearless in confronting racial extortionists like Sharpton. Early in his tenure, he startled the city when he refused to meet with Sharpton and other black activists after a confrontation between police and black Muslims at a Harlem mosque. And though activists claimed that Giuliani inflamed racial tensions with such actions, there were no incidents during his tenure comparable with the disgraceful Crown Heights riot under Dinkins, in which the police let blacks terrorize Orthodox Jews for several days in a Brooklyn neighborhood.

For Giuliani, the revival of New York started with securing public safety, because all other agendas were useless if citizens didn’t feel protected. “The most fundamental of civil rights is the guarantee that government can give you a reasonable degree of safety,” Giuliani said. He aimed to do so by reinstituting respect for the law. As a federal prosecutor in New York in the 1980s, he had vigorously hunted low-level drug dealers—whom other law enforcement agencies ignored—because he thought that the brazen selling of drugs on street corners cultivated disrespect for the law and encouraged criminality. “You have to . . . dispel cynicism about law enforcement by showing we treat everyone alike, whether you are a major criminal or a low-level drug pusher,” Giuliani explained.

As mayor, he instituted a “zero tolerance” approach that cracked down on quality-of-life offenses like panhandling and public urination (in a city where some streets reeked of urine), in order to restore a sense of civic order that he believed would discourage larger crimes. “Murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes,” he explained. “But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other.” He linked the Dinkins era’s permissive climate, which tolerated the squeegee men (street-corner windshield cleaners who coerced drivers into giving them money at the entrances to Manhattan), to the rise of more serious crime. “The police started ignoring all kinds of offenses,” Giuliani later recounted of the Dinkins years. They “became,” he deadpanned, “highly skilled observers of crime.”

Civil rights advocates warned that Giuliani’s promise to deprive the squeegee men of their $40–100 weekly shakedown might drive them to more violent crime; in effect, they endorsed a lesser form of criminality, hoping that it would forestall more serious crime. The city’s newspapers were happy to print threats from squeegee men, like this one: “I feel like if I can’t hustle honestly, I’ve got to go back to doing what I used to do . . . robbing and stealing.” But the squeegee-men campaign provided Giuliani with his first significant victory, showing a beleaguered citizenry that government actually could bring about change for the better. Within months, the squeegee men disappeared. “A city, and especially a city like New York, should be a place of optimism,” Giuliani later explained about his policing strategies. “Quality of life is about focusing on the things that make a difference in the everyday life of all New Yorkers in order to restore this spirit of optimism.”

Giuliani changed the primary mission of the police department to preventing crime from happening rather than merely responding to it once it had occurred. His police chief, William Bratton, reorganized the NYPD, emphasizing a street-crimes unit that moved around the city, flooding high-crime areas and getting guns off the street. Bratton also changed the department’s scheduling. Crime was open for business 24 hours a day, but most detectives, including narcotics cops, had previously gone off duty at 5 pm, just as criminals were coming on duty. No more.

The department brought modern management techniques to its new mission. It began compiling a computerized database to track the city’s crime patterns and the effectiveness of the NYPD’s responses to them. That database, known as Compstat, helped police target their manpower where it was needed, and in due course it became a national model. The department drove authority down to its precinct captains and emphasized that it expected results from these top managers. Bratton replaced a third of the city’s 76 precinct commanders within a few months. “If you were to manage a bank with 76 branches every day, you would get a profit-and-loss statement from the bank,” explained Giuliani. “After a week or so, you would see branches that were going in the wrong direction, and then you would take management action to try to reverse the trend. That is precisely what is happening in the police department.”

The policing innovations led to a historic drop in crime far beyond what anyone could have imagined, with total crime down by some 64 percent during the Giuliani years, and murder (the most reliable crime statistic) down 67 percent, from 1,960 in Dinkins’s last year to 640 in Giuliani’s last year. The number of cars stolen in New York City every year plummeted by an astounding 78,000.

Criminologists tried to dismiss this achievement by arguing that the police have little influence on crime. The crime drop, they contended, was merely the fruit of an improving national economy, though the decline preceded the city’s economic rebound by several years. Others argued that New York was just riding a demographic trend, as the population of teenagers prone to break the law declined. One criminologist even suggested that Giuliani’s New York would soon see another upsurge, as a new cohort of children reached the teen years. “I don’t need a crystal ball,” the criminologist confidently predicted. Instead, crime declined relentlessly over Giuliani’s eight years, even when it rose nationally.

Critics, especially those on the left, have tried to minimize Giuliani’s accomplishment by claiming that he lowered crime by letting cops oppress black and Latino New Yorkers with brute force. As evidence, they point to unfortunate incidents such as the shootings of unarmed black immigrants Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond. But the data tell a far different story: Giuliani’s NYPD managed to drive down crime while showing admirable restraint. From 1995 to 2000, civilian complaints of excessive force by the NYPD declined from one complaint per ten officers to one per 19 officers. Meanwhile, shootings by cops declined by 50 percent and were far lower under Giuliani than under Dinkins—lower in fact than in cities like San Diego and Houston, hailed for practicing community policing.

Moreover, Giuliani’s policing success was a boon to minority neighborhoods. For instance, in the city’s 34th Precinct, covering the largely Hispanic Washington Heights section of Manhattan, murders dropped from 76 in 1993, Dinkins’s last year, to only seven by Giuliani’s last year, a decline of more than 90 percent. Far from being the racist that activists claimed, Giuliani had delivered to the city’s minority neighborhoods a true form of equal protection under the law.

Giuliani’s success against crime wasn’t merely the singular achievement of a former prosecutor. He applied the same principles to social and economic policy, with equally impressive results. Long before President Bush’s “ownership” society, Giuliani described his intention to restore New York as the “entrepreneurial city,” not merely providing the climate for new job creation but also reshaping government social policy away from encouraging dependency and toward reinforcing independence.

New York had gone in the opposite direction starting in the mid-1960s, when Lindsay had drastically increased welfare rolls, believing many of the poor too disadvantaged ever to succeed and thus needing to be permanently on the dole. The Gotham welfare bureaucracy saw signing people up as its goal, while an entire industry of nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups arose to cater to and contract with the city’s vast welfare system. Budget documents from the Dinkins years projected an eventual 1.6 million people on welfare. “The City of New York was actually quite successful in achieving what it wanted to achieve, which was to encourage the maximum number of people to be on welfare,” Giuliani later explained. “If you ran a welfare office, . . . you had a bigger budget, and you had more authority, if you had more people on welfare.”

Giuliani decided to launch a welfare revolution, moving recipients from the dole to a job. Mindful that for years the city’s welfare bureaucracy had focused on signing up new recipients (Lindsay’s welfare chief had been nicknamed “Come And Get It” Ginsberg), the Giuliani administration first set out to recertify everyone in the city’s own home-relief program to eliminate fraud. In less than a year, the rolls of the program (for able-bodied adults not eligible for federal welfare programs) declined by 20 percent, as the city discovered tens of thousands of recipients who were actually employed, living outside the city, or providing false Social Security numbers.

Giuliani then instituted a work requirement for the remaining home-relief recipients, mostly men, obliging them to earn their checks by cleaning city parks and streets or doing clerical work in municipal offices for 20 hours a week. Welfare advocates vigorously objected, and one advocate pronounced the workfare program “slavery.” The New York Times editorialized that most people on home relief were incapable of work.

Giuliani persisted, and when Congress finally passed welfare reform in 1996, giving states and cities broad powers to refocus the giant, federally funded welfare program for mothers and children, Giuliani applied many of the same kinds of reforms. He hired as welfare commissioner Jason Turner, the architect of welfare reform in Wisconsin, which had led the nation in putting welfare recipients back to work. Turner promptly converted the city’s grim welfare intake offices into cheerful and optimistic job centers, where counselors advised welfare recipients on how to write a resumé and provided them with skills assessment and a space they could use to look for work.

By 1999, the number of welfare recipients finding work had risen to more than 100,000 annually, and the welfare rolls had dropped by more than 600,000. It took steadfast courage to win those gains. “The pressure on Rudy during these years was enormous,” says Richard Schwartz, a Giuliani policy advisor. “The advocates and the press trained their sights on us, just waiting for something to go wrong in these workfare programs.”

As part of Giuliani’s quintessentially conservative belief that dysfunctional behavior, not our economic system, lay at the heart of intergenerational poverty, he also spoke out against illegitimacy and the rise of fatherless families. A child born out of wedlock, he observed in one speech, was three times more likely to wind up on welfare than a child from a two-parent family. “Seventy percent of long-term prisoners and 75 percent of adolescents charged with murder grew up without fathers,” Giuliani told the city. He insisted that the city and the nation had to reestablish the “responsibility that accompanies bringing a child into the world,” and to that end he required deadbeat fathers either to find a private-sector job or to work in the city’s workfare program as a way of contributing to their child’s upbringing. But he added that changing society’s attitude toward marriage was more important than anything government could do: “[I]f you wanted a social program that would really save these kids, . . . I guess the social program would be called fatherhood.”

As a consequence of his rejection of the time-honored New York liberal belief in congenital black victimhood, Giuliani set out to change the city’s conversation about race. He objected to affirmative action, ending Gotham’s set-aside program for minority contractors, and he rejected the idea of lowering standards for minorities. Accordingly, he ended open enrollment at the City University of New York, a 1970s policy aimed at increasing the minority population at the nation’s third-largest public college system but one that also led to a steep decline in standards and in graduation rates.

The reform of CUNY began when its chancellor complained that it was unfair to require students on welfare to work because it jeopardized their studies. Giuliani responded that it was unfair to expect middle-class kids to work their way through college by holding down jobs and going to classes while exempting students on welfare from working. While the controversy raged, several critics of CUNY pointed out that only 10 to 15 percent of CUNY students on welfare ever graduated and that the system’s overall graduation rate was abysmally low. Giuliani and Governor Pataki appointed a blue-chip panel led by former Yale president Benno Schmidt and former New York City congressman and longtime CUNY critic Herman Badillo to examine the system. The panel recommended widespread changes, including tightening admissions standards and eliminating remedial courses for students at the system’s 11 senior colleges.

The moves sparked a startling turnaround. Within a few years, CUNY was attracting 20 percent more students from New York’s elite high schools (who had previously shunned it), SAT scores of incoming freshmen had risen 168 points, and the student population reached its highest number since the mid-1970s.

Giuliani wanted to work the same dramatic reform on the city’s K–12 school system, but the entrenched educational bureaucracy and his lack of direct control over the school system stymied him. The best he could do was to use the bully pulpit as well as his influence over the two board of education members (out of a total of seven) whom he appointed. He did this so relentlessly that he ultimately pushed out two schools chancellors who wouldn’t install the reforms that he believed would spur dramatic, systemic change—reforms that included using city money for vouchers to provide low-income students in failing public schools with scholarships to private schools. He never could get his vouchers, however, and when he managed to prod the board into trying to privatize five of the city’s worst public schools, the board’s pointed lack of enthusiasm scared off necessary parental approval, and the idea died.

Although Giuliani didn’t start out as a proponent of school choice, his frustration in trying to turn around a huge school system where the teachers’ union and the bureaucrats worked to stymie reform made him into a powerful proponent of vouchers, which he believed would force the public schools to compete for students with their private counterparts. “[T]he whole notion of choice is really about more freedom for people, rather than being subjugated by a government system that says you have no choice about the education of your child,” he said.

Giuliani’s relentless attacks on the city’s educational system finally convinced most New Yorkers that it could never be salvaged unless it was under the control of a mayor responsible to voters. In 2002, the state legislature placed the city’s school system under Gotham’s mayor—too late for Giuliani.

Giuliani’s efforts to revive entrepreneurial New York naturally focused on unleashing the city’s private sector through tax cuts achieved by slowing the growth of government. Giuliani preached against New York’s lingering New Deal belief that government creates jobs, arguing that government should instead get out of the way and let the private sector work. “City government should not and cannot create jobs through government planning,” he said. “The best it can do, and what it has a responsibility to do, is to deal with its own finances first, to create a solid budgetary foundation that allows businesses to move the economy forward on the strength of their energy and ideas. After all, businesses are and have always been the backbone of New York City.”

When Giuliani took office, the city’s private sector was experiencing the worst of times. After four years under Dinkins, it had shrunk to its lowest level since 1978, losing 275,000 jobs—192,000 in 1991 alone, the largest one-year job decline that any American city had ever suffered. Not coincidentally, Gotham also had the highest overall rate of taxation of any major city and a budget that spent far more per capita than any other major city. Despite that, and despite billions of dollars in tax increases during the Dinkins years, New York could barely pay its bills, and Giuliani, immediately after taking office, faced a nearly $2.5 billion budget deficit.

Giuliani’s first budget, submitted just weeks after he took office, stunned the city’s political establishment by its fiscal conservatism. To demonstrate his disdain for the reigning orthodoxy, when the New York Times editorial board urged him to solve the budget crisis with tax and fee increases that a Dinkins-era special commission had recommended, Giuliani unceremoniously dumped a copy of the commission’s report into the garbage and derided it as “old thinking.” It was a pointed declaration that a very different set of ideas would guide his administration.

After years of tax hikes under Dinkins, Giuliani proposed making up the city’s still-huge budget deficit entirely through spending cuts and savings. Even more audaciously, he proposed a modest tax cut to signal the business community that New York was open for business, promising more tax cuts later. “I felt it was really important the first year I was mayor to cut a tax,” Giuliani later explained. “Nobody ever cut a tax before in New York City, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to set a new precedent.”

To balance the city’s budget early in his tenure, when tax revenues stagnated amid a struggling economy, the mayor played hardball, winning concessions from city workers that other mayors had failed to get. The city’s police unions had used their power in Albany to resist efforts by ex-mayors Koch and Dinkins to merge the city’s housing police and transit police into the NYPD. Giuliani strong-armed Albany leaders into agreeing to the merger, saving the city hundreds of millions in administrative costs and making the department a better crime-fighting unit, by threatening to fire every housing and transit officer and rehire each as a city cop if legislative leaders did not go along. Similarly, though the city’s garbagemen, many of whom worked only half days because their department was so overstaffed, had rebuffed the Dinkins administration’s push for productivity savings, Giuliani won $300 million in savings from them by threatening to contract out trash collection to private companies. Ultimately, with such deals, Giuliani reduced city-funded spending by 1.6 percent his first year in office, the largest overall reduction in city spending since the Depression.

Although Giuliani was no tax or economic expert when he took office, he became a tax-cut true believer when he saw how the city’s economy and targeted industries perked up at his first reductions. One of his initial budgetary moves was to cut the city’s hotel tax, which during the Dinkins administration had been the highest of any major world city. When tourism rebounded, Giuliani pointed out that the city was collecting more in taxes from a lower rate. “No one ever considered tax reductions a reasonable option,” Giuliani explained. But, he added in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Library, “targeted tax reductions spur growth. That’s why we have made obtaining targeted tax reductions a priority of every budget.” In his eight years in office, Giuliani reduced or eliminated 23 taxes, including the sales tax on some clothing purchases, the tax on commercial rents everywhere outside of Manhattan’s major business districts, and various taxes on small businesses and self-employed New Yorkers.

The national, and even world, press marveled at the spectacular success of Giuliani’s policies. The combination of a safer city and a better budget environment ignited an economic boom unlike any other on record. Construction permits increased by more than 50 percent, to 70,000 a year under Giuliani, compared with just 46,000 in Dinkins’s last year. Meanwhile, as crime plunged, New Yorkers took to the newly safe streets to go out at night to shows and restaurants, and the number of tourists soared from 24 million in the early 1990s to 38 million in 2000, the year before the 9/11 attacks. Under Giuliani, the city gained some 430,000 new jobs to reach its all-time employment peak of 3.72 million jobs in 2000, while the unemployment rate plummeted from 10.3 to 5.1 percent. Personal income earned by New Yorkers, meanwhile, soared by $100 million, or 50 percent, while the percentage of their income that they paid in taxes declined from 8.8 to 7.3 percent. During Giuliani’s second term, for virtually the only time since World War II, the city’s economy consistently grew faster than the nation’s.

Today, Americans see Giuliani as presidential material because of his leadership in the wake of the terrorist attacks, but to those of us who watched him first manage America’s biggest city when it was crime-ridden, financially shaky, and plagued by doubts about its future as employers and educated and prosperous residents fled in droves, Giuliani’s leadership on 9/11 came as no surprise. What Americans saw after the attacks is a combination of attributes that Giuliani governed with all along: the tough-mindedness that had gotten him through earlier civic crises, a no-nonsense and efficient management style, and a clarity and directness of speech that made plain what he thought needed to be done and how he would do it.

Like great wartime leaders, Giuliani displayed unflinching courage on 9/11. A minute after the first plane struck, he rushed downtown, arriving at the World Trade Center just after the second plane hit the South Tower, when it became obvious to everyone that New York was under attack. Fearing that more strikes were on the way—and without access to City Hall, the police department, or the city’s command center because of damage from the attacks—Giuliani hurried to reestablish city government, narrowly escaping death himself as the towers came down next to a temporary command post he had set up in lower Manhattan. “There is no playbook for a mayor on how to organize city government when you are standing on a street covered by dust from the city’s worst calamity,” one of his deputy mayors, Anthony Coles, later observed.

Giuliani understood that he needed not only to keep city government operating but to inspire and console as well. Within a few hours, he had reestablished New York’s government in temporary headquarters, where he led the first post-9/11 meeting with his commissioners and with a host of other New York elected officials on hand to observe, prompting even one of his harshest critics, liberal Manhattan congressman Jerrold Nadler, to marvel at the “efficiency of the meeting.” Within hours, the city launched a massive search and recovery operation. Some half a dozen times that day Giuliani went on TV, reassuring the city and then the nation with his calm, frank demeanor and his plainspoken talk. As the nation struggled to understand what had happened and President Bush made his way back to Washington, Giuliani emerged as the one public official in America who seemed to be in command on 9/11. He became, as Newsweek later called him, “our Winston Churchill.”

In the weeks following the attacks, Giuliani became both the cheerleader of New York’s efforts to pick itself up and the voice of moral outrage about the attacks. Giuliani exhorted private institutions within the city—the stock exchanges, the Broadway theaters—to resume operations and urged the rest of America and the world to come visit the city. Not waiting for federal aid, the city rapidly began a cleanup of the World Trade Center site, which proceeded ahead of schedule, and of the devastated neighborhood around the site, which reopened block by block in the weeks after the attacks. Meanwhile, the mayor led visiting heads of state on tours of the devastation, because, he said, “You can’t come here and be neutral.” He addressed the United Nations on the new war against terrorism, warning the delegates: “You’re either with civilization or with terrorists.” When a Saudi prince donated millions to relief efforts but later suggested that United States policy in the Middle East may have been partially responsible for the attacks, Giuliani returned the money, observing that there was “no moral equivalent” for the unprecedented terrorist attack. He attended dozens of funerals of emergency workers killed in the towers’ collapse, leading the city not just in remembrance but in catharsis.

As “America’s mayor,” a sobriquet he earned after 9/11, Giuliani has a unique profile as a presidential candidate. To engineer the city’s turnaround, he had to take on a government whose budget and workforce were larger than all but five or six states. (Indeed, his budget his first year as mayor was about ten times the size of the one that Bill Clinton managed in his last year as governor of Arkansas.) For more than a decade, the city has been among the biggest U.S. tourist destinations, and tens of millions of Americans have seen firsthand the dramatic changes he wrought in Gotham.

Moreover, as an expert on policing and America’s key leader on 9/11, Giuliani is an authority on today’s crucial foreign policy issue, the war on terror. In fact, as a federal prosecutor in New York, he investigated and prosecuted major terrorist cases. As mayor, he took the high moral ground in the terrorism debate in 1995, when he had an uninvited Yasser Arafat expelled from city-sponsored celebrations during the United Nations’ 50th anniversary because, in Giuliani’s eyes, Arafat was a terrorist, not a world leader. “When we’re having a party and a celebration, I would rather not have someone who has been implicated in the murders of Americans there, if I have the discretion not to have him there,” Giuliani said at the time.

These are impressive conservative credentials. And if social and religious conservatives fret about Giuliani’s more liberal social views, nevertheless, in the general election such views might make this experience-tested conservative even more electable.

Research for this article was supported by the Brunie Fund for New York Journalism.

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