Tough, Efficient Mayors Win Nod from Worried Big-City Voters

Article excerpt

BLACK mayors were elected in overwhelmingly white cities from Seattle to Minneapolis this week, while white mayors were elected in cities where whites are in the minority.

In city after city facing social and economic decline, many voters clearly want mayors who are tough, effective, and dollar-efficient. Urban voters are opting for more police on the streets and harder bargains with public employee unions instead of redistributing wealth.

In some cities, blacks and whites still hew to racial divisions, but many voters around the country are clearly willing to cross lines of race and party to get conservative administrators.

In New York, where whites are 43 percent of the population and 4 of 5 voters are registered Democrats, white Republican Rudolph Giuliani became mayor Tuesday. At the same time, Hartford, Conn., voters elected a white independent, Michael Peters, to replace the first black woman elected mayor of a major US city.

Those are only the latest indications of a growing trend. Just a few months ago, Richard Riordan, a white Republican, won the mayor's office in overwhelmingly Democratic and nonwhite Los Angeles. A year ago, mostly nonwhite and Democratic Jersey City, N.J., elected white Republican Bret Schundler mayor. And the year before, Philadelphians chose conservative white Democrat Ed Rendell.

The upshot of these elections: The nation's five largest cities, rich ethnic stews where no one race dominates the electorate, are now run once again by white mayors - the two largest by Republicans.

Yet black mayors are gaining ground in cities where whites are predominant. This week, Seattle's first black mayor, Norm Rice, was re-elected in a landslide, as was Cleveland's black mayor, Michael White. Minneapolis elected its first black mayor in Sharon Sayles Belton. So did Rochester, N.Y., in William Johnson Jr.

Running a city is an increasingly difficult job. The backdrop for many urban elections this year is an eroding tax base as middle class residents - black and white - leave for the suburbs and beyond. Many businesses follow them out of town. But the problem is not just the money; it is also the social order that middle class families bring to neighborhoods.

In New York City, residents of all classes and incomes are seeing violent crime rise, city services decline, and incivility increase. Although the law requires a balanced city budget, New York is currently heading toward an $800 million deficit this fiscal year and $2 billion in each of the next two fiscal years, says Joseph Viteritti, a management professor at New York University.

The new mayor will have to make some very tough decisions in the next few months to pull the city out of its financial nosedive, Dr. Viteritti says. The fundamental question that New York and many other older Northern cities have to ask themselves, he says, is whether they can afford to pursue an agenda of redistributing wealth to the poor anymore. "I just don't think the resources are in the city to do this kind of thing anymore," he says.

Another close analyst of city affairs, Cooper Union history Prof. Fred Siegel, says the question is not New York's redistributive agenda but whether the city's bureaucracy can make that or any other agenda work. "As it stands, we have a 19th century bureaucracy in New York," including pneumatic tubes for sending messages. "It's the last stronghold of centralized bureaucracy in the world." Tough guy for New York City Hall

Voters may have sensed in Mr. …