N.Y.C.'S Giuliani Grapples with the 'Vision Thing' Mayor Cites 17th-Century Philosopher in Defining City Role

By Ron Scherer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

N.Y.C.'S Giuliani Grapples with the 'Vision Thing' Mayor Cites 17th-Century Philosopher in Defining City Role


Ron Scherer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


For a mayor who has always pounded one or two notes on the keyboard of political issues, Rudolph Giuliani is suddenly attempting to play a concerto.

As he nears the end of his first term and gears up for his 1997 reelection campaign, Mr. Giuliani is defining his "New Urban Vision" for the Big Apple. In two speeches last week, the feisty Republican mayor outlined his vision, branching out from his usual oratory about specific issues like crime and welfare.

Why is the mayor suddenly putting things into a broader context? Giuliani, giving himself a pat on the back, says he now has "an opportunity to talk about it with more authority because we have accomplished a good deal of it." Some outside observers say Giuliani's recent musings are a result of his maturing as mayor. "I think he has learned a lot as he has grappled with the problems of the city.... I think he is growing in the job," says Myron Magnet, the editor of City Journal, published by the conservative Manhattan Institute, which recently sponsored one of the Giuliani speeches. Successful political leaders are always defining and redefining their issues, observes Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie. "There is never a bad time to provide more definition to your political persona," he adds. At the base of Giuliani's vision is the "social contract." This concept originated with the 17th-century English social philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who proposed that a sovereign would provide peace as long as the subjects agreed to give up certain rights. Giuliani's updated version of the concept is, "It's not how much I can grab, but how much I can share." Watchword: 'Reciprocity' In Giuliani's vision for New York, sharing means "reciprocity." In particular, the mayor has applied this concept to welfare - a program that many big city mayors are reshaping. He champions the idea that able-bodied recipients must work for their stipends. The city currently has about 35,000 people in the state-run "workfare" program. By next year, the workfare force here will swell to 50,000. But Giuliani is critical of federal welfare reform, which mandates that a portion of those who receive federal welfare also perform workfare. Giuliani calls it an unfunded federal mandate, since Congress did not provide any funds to pay the workers or cover their day-care expenses. …

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