- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 18, 2000

The jinx that afflicts New York City mayors has struck again: Rudy Giuliani had to retire because of ill health so we'll never know whether he was electable or not. But his political career is over, if only for health reasons. The history of New York City mayors is that when their terms of office are over their political careers are over as well. For example:

Fiorello H. La Guardia, John V. Lindsay, Vincent Impelliteri, Joseph McKee, John P. O'Brien, Edward Koch, Jimmy Walker, William O'Dwyer, Robert F. Wagner Jr., John F. Hylan, Abe Beame these are onetime mayors of New York City, whose political careers ended the day they left City Hall.

New York City's term limits law meant that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani could not run for a third term. After being overwhelmingly re-elected for a second term, what would he do for an for an encore? Run for the Senate. But did he really ever have a chance against he jinx? Had it not been prostate cancer or scandalous personal behavior it probably would have been something else.

When Mr. Giuliani became mayor eight years ago there was gossip that President Clinton would as a consolation prize appoint defeated David Dinkins as U.S. ambassador to South Africa. Nothing happened and Mr. Dinkins is back to playing good tennis. There is something about the job of New York's chief magistrate that is political poison. And it doesn't matter whether the occupant of City Hall is a Tammany hack, a populist reformer or a squeaky-clean Republican.

LaGuardia's career demonstrates that the New York mayor's job is the poison pill of American politics. Here is the man, a maverick Republican, who beat Tammany Hall, ran successfully three times on nine different party tickets, was a showman, a wit, scandal-free, charismatic, a public official who handled personal publicity brilliantly and unconventionally. He had been a popular member of Congress. Had he stayed in Congress, who knows where he might have landed? But instead he became mayor of New York and got an airport named after him. Jimmy Walker was forced out of office by then-Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt and ended up as arbiter of New York dress industry disputes. And Ed Koch is doing commercials for the A&E; TV channel.

In the 1994 New York gubernatorial election, Mr. Giuliani followed the LaGuardia tradition. He supported the incumbent liberal Democrat, Gov. Mario Cuomo, over his fellow Republican George Pataki who, unfortunately for Mr. Giuliani, beat Mr. Cuomo. Mr. Giuliani had ample precedent for violating party loyalty. Mayor LaGuardia supported President Roosevelt against Republican presidential candidates. La Guardia was a dyed-in-the-wool New Dealer. Nevertheless, it did him no good with a Democratic Congress nor with a New Deal President. President Roosevelt ignored his pleas to let him get into World War II as a general, a colonel, a Cabinet member, anything.

Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist, quoted David Garth, Mr. Giuliani's campaign manager eight years ago, as hoping Mr. Giuliani "might be the one to break the cliche that mayors from New York never make it to higher office." That "cliche," it seems, is not going to be broken.

Liberal Party leaders in 1943 approached Wendell Willkie, who as the GOP's 1940 presidential nominee was defeated by FDR, to run for mayor of New York City when and if LaGuardia might have been appointed to some higher office. Willkie treated the suggestion as a big joke and never gave it a moment's thought.

As for Mr. Giuliani, no matter that he has done a remarkable job as mayor in reducing crime, in reducing the number of welfare queens, in establishing a successful workfare program. No matter that the city's quality of life has improved and that he has proven that ungovernable New York City is governable. The jinx struck him down like all his other predecessors. If Mr. Giuliani is lucky and there is a Republican president in 2001, his reward could well be appointment as ambassador to ungovernable Somalia or Bosnia. Nothing new in that: When things got too hot for Bill O'Dwyer, President Truman appointed him ambassador to Mexico.

New York's City Hall is the tomb of the politically ambitious and, paradoxically, there are no end of mayoral candidates. A New York mayor can become a national figure Mr. Koch was, so was LaGuardia but somehow he can't become an elected national figure. At least, he hasn't so far.

That isn't true of mayors of other big cities. Buffalo Mayor Grover Cleveland became President Cleveland in 1885. Hubert Humphrey went from mayor of Minneapolis to senator from Minnesota, vice-president under Lyndon Johnson and was an unsuccessful presidential candidate against Richard M. Nixon in 1968. Sen. Richard Lugar is the former mayor of Indianapolis, a small city with no real urban problems. Pete Wilson went from San Diego mayor to senator and then governor of California. But the New York mayor's job seems to be the dead end of American politics.



Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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