Rudy Awakening: As President, Giuliani Would Grab Even More Executive Power Than Bush and Cheney. His Mayoralty Tells the Story

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If you drove though the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan in 1993, your first encounter with New Yorkers was likely to be with an army of men with squeegees who waded through the idling cars, wiping each windshield with a grimy cloth. (You knew to pay your attendant, because he might break your wipers otherwise.) On sidewalks, you'd be flanked by piles of garbage bags because the government was $2.3 billion in debt and couldn't afford to pick them up. On street corners of the Lower East Side, drug dealers furtively whispered code words for the sale of the day--"Express," "C-Town," "Bodybag." The local tabloids regularly carried news of race riots and gruesome crimes; more than 2,000 people were murdered each year. Esquire called the city "the worst place on earth," and 45 percent of New Yorkers said they would get out of town the next day if they could. During the mayoral election of 1993, expectations for city officials had fallen so low that New York Times columnist Russell Baker wrote, "My long experience of mayors leaves no doubt there are only two things city dwellers can reasonably expect of a mayor: one, collect the garbage; two, keep the streets paved."

That year New York elected a mayor who was determined to do more. Rudy Giuliani, a dynamic former prosecutor, had been the youngest man to hold the number three position at the Justice Department, impressing his future employers with his talk of "vigor, vigor, vigor." Now, this spirit would be transferred to his hometown. Giuliani worked tirelessly. He immersed himself in policy briefings. He bargained hard with unions, cut spending and welfare, and laid off thousands of city workers in a town where one in five residents was on the city payroll. In concert with his police commissioner, William Bratton, he helped introduce innovative, aggressive methods of policing. He cracked down on the squeegee men and the drug dealers--as well as panhandlers, prostitutes, peep shows, turnstile jumpers, truants, three-card monte dealers, the mafia, the homeless, and people who rode their bicycles on the sidewalks.

The city began to change. It looked cleaner and felt safer, and the crime rate plunged. In his famous article "The Tipping Point," published in the New Yorker in the summer of 1996, Malcolm Gladwell noted that New York's violent crime rate now ranked 136th among major American cities--"on a par with Boise, Idaho." That year, murders in the city fell to 984, the lowest total since 1968. The budget crisis receded, at least for the time being. In the fall of 1996, the Yankees won the World Series after an eighteen-year slump, and Giuliani triumphantly proclaimed the victory "a metaphor for a city that is undergoing a great renaissance." Liberal New Yorkers, who had shunned Giuliani in 1993, started to reconsider his appeal, and in 1997 he won reelection in a landslide.

Giuliani's second term, however, would be rocky, as the personality flaws that people had sensed in his first term came to engulf New York City politics. Somehow, crackdowns on drug dealers bled into irrational vendettas against hot dog vendors and jaywalkers. The mayor ensnared City Hall in a number of ill-advised lawsuits (such as the time he was successfully sued by the Brooklyn Museum after trying to evict it for displaying a painting of the Virgin Mary smeared with elephant dung). And when New York police officers were implicated in horrifying cases of abuse, Giuliani's reflexive, belligerent defense of the NYPD antagonized minority groups and affronted many New Yorkers. By the time Giuliani left office, New Yorkers had wearied of his abrasive, vindictive behavior. At the same time, they were grateful to him for having cleaned up their city.

Today, Giuliani is a front-runner for the presidency of the United States. Since 9/11 the office he seeks has been radically remade. Led by Dick Cheney, the Bush administration has expanded White House powers to levels unseen since the Nixon years. …