- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2005

By the early 1990s, New York had suffered three decades of decline. Its economy was a wreck, its government was on the brink of bankruptcy, its streets were unsafe, and some had pronounced the city “ungovernable.” Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani changed all that, battling the city’s entrenched special interests to bring about an unprecedented economic revival, restore fiscal sanity and sharply reduce crime.

Fred Siegel tells this story and how Mr. Giuliani helped rally the city in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks in his new book, “The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life.” The following are excerpts of a recent interview with Mr. Siegel:

Q. As someone who has worked with Mayor Giuliani, what would you say was the greatest impact Giuliani had on New York City?

A. The most important impact is that … he gave New York its neighborhoods back. What I mean is … in the early ‘90s, when it looked like crime had won and the underclass had won, New Yorkers lost a public space. Neighborhoods lost their public life, people didn’t go out on the streets. The most important thing a city has is its public space. And so what Giuliani [did] — by reducing crime, by reducing welfare — is he revitalized New York’s key asset: its neighborhoods and its public space.

Q. And how do you attribute Giuliani’s crackdown on crime to the 1996 dismissal of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton?

A. The biggest mistake Giuliani made was dismissing Bratton. Bratton was enormously innovative, enormously effectively police commissioner. The problem was that the two men were too alike. When the two of them were in the same room, there wasn’t enough air for anyone else to breathe.

They were both leaders, both men of action, both intellectuals, and this was a clash that Giuliani should have avoided. Because when he lost Bratton, he lost his eyes and ears in many communities. And while Bratton’s replacement, Howard Safir, was technically competent, but cut off from the life of the city, cut off from the police department. And that would come back to hurt Giuliani in the second term during a series of high-profile incidents like the [1999 Amadou] Diallo killing.

Q. And as a New Yorker, do you believe that Mayor Giuliani had been overglorified nationally, or has his popularity diminished in New York?

A. Well, … under [Mayor Michael R.] Bloomberg, it’s mostly back to business as usual. The old interests that ran the city are in a much stronger position than when Giuliani ran it. But has his position been overglorified? No.

His accomplishments are in fact greater than people realize. He not only succeeded in governing the ungovernable city. He succeeded in doing this in the teeth of every major organized interest in the city. Almost all of the city’s elites [and] the courts were arrayed against him, so he governed against the grains and succeeded. That’s an extraordinary task.

Q. And what was your take on Giuliani’s criticism of the Brooklyn Museum, and Chris Ofili’s “painting” of the Virgin Mary?

A. Well, this is a complicated question. This was a matter of game-playing on both sides. The exhibit that set this off was so trashy that no major company wanted to sponsor. … So the show was designed — let it me put it this way, in the old days, once upon a time, art created controversy. Now it’s the aura of controversy that gives it the sense that it might be art. And so Giuliani used this for his own ends. He had angered Catholic voters. Remember, this is before the possible run for the Senate on his abortion position. This was a way to win back Catholic voters without changing his position on abortion.

Q. And since 9/11, how has New York City changed and what was Giuliani’s role in this change?

A. Well, the change is something that grows out of the Giuliani years. Neighborhood revival grows and grows. There is now virtually no neighborhood in New York that’s not thriving. That’s something new. Giuliani made that possible. …

The city has changed, though, in the sense that Giuliani’s aim was to provide upward mobility for low-income New Yorkers. … That’s the reference to the “Genius of American Life,” in the book’s title. His successor has the concept of the luxury city. And [in the] luxury city, the middle class either serves the very wealthy or the very poor. It doesn’t have the same relations to the possibility of upward mobility that Giuliani’s New York did.

Q. What’s the likelihood of Giuliani running for the presidency in ‘08, considering that he would be on the Republican ticket and has taken stances on social issues such as homosexual “marriage” that might anger some Republicans?

A. Giuliani is not running for governor. Anyone who’s been in Albany doesn’t want to go back. He’s not running for the Senate — he doesn’t want to be one of a hundred.

He’s running for either president or vice president. Even a social conservative like Pat Robertson finds Giuliani admirable and acceptable because he has genuine accomplishments, because he’s the first presidential candidate since Dwight Eisenhower to come to the electoral run with extraordinary accomplishments. The social positions don’t hurt him as much as they would otherwise.

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