In a great Politico piece, Kevin Baker sees Rudy Giuliani’s second honeymoon-ish “American Mayor” phase as a brief, mostly unearned aberration in a nearly three decades campaign of race baiting and a distortion of facts that began in earnest with his defeat by David Dinkins in the race for Gracie Mansion in 1989. Those who see Giuliani’s deranged delegate speeches for Donald Trump as odd may think again, as the former created something of a template for the latter during his 1993 rise to the mayoralty, an ugly spectacle of lies and hate speech that served to divide the city. Baker is masterful at defying a collective (and often faulty) memory of NYC politics, recalling the past with great clarity and some glorious phrasing–he describes Daniel Moynihan as “New York’s great stuffed owl of a senator.” Perhaps most damning is the writer’s excoriation of Giuliani’s two terms in office, which were largely lackluster and incessantly petty. An excerpt:
Nobody remembers it this way now, but the Dinkins administration compiled New York’s best record on crime since World War II, adding 6,000 more cops and enjoying a record, 36 straight months of drops in the crime rate. But for New Yorkers this was eclipsed by big headline events like the Crown Heights riot of 1991—a clash between African-Americans and Orthodox Jews that Giuliani would insist on calling a “pogrom,” implying that it was countenanced by Mayor Dinkins. The crime statistics had turned around, and quality of life was slowly but visibly improving in much of New York, but that’s not how people saw it at the time—in part thanks to Giuliani’s relentless, Trumpian campaign to tell them it was a still a cesspool.
Even once-liberal elements of the press internalized Giuliani’s apocalyptic view of his own city. Richard Cohen, in an October 1993 column in the Washington Post the month before the election, scoffed that, “Aside from the deranged, there’s not a single Gothamite who thinks it has gotten better under Dinkins—no matter what his statistics say,” while the Times’ James McKinley concluded, “Mr. Dinkins will never be able to prove his policies have curbed crime.” John Taylor, in Time, conceded that New Yorkers might actually be safer, but that they felt less safe, because the crimes still going on—though he did not give a specific example—were Trumpishly hellish: “Entire families are executed in drug wars. Teenagers kill each other over sneakers. Robbers casually shoot victims even if they have surrendered wallets. The proliferation of carjackings means people are no longer safe even in their automobiles.”
With actual facts about the crime rate effectively banished from the debate, pundits could feel free to embrace the throwback notion pushed by Giuliani that America’s real urban problem was not so much poverty or racism, but black people demanding special treatment, much like their tribune in city hall. Black-scolding reached a sort of frenzy that April, when New York’s great stuffed owl of a senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, gave his famous, “Defining deviancy down” speech, in which he asked “what in the last 50 years in New York is now better than it was” back in 1943, and concluded that nothing was better, especially crime. Moynihan received almost universal adoration for these supposedly bold words, the media having failed to notice that crime was at record lows in 1943 because most of the city’s young men were off fighting something called World War II. Or that there was a deadly race riot in New York that year anyway, set off by a cop shooting a black soldier. Or that Harlem had been officially “off-limits” to visiting white servicemen, or that black people were effectively banned from all of the city’s best restaurants, hotels, colleges, hospitals, or jobs in 1943.
Whatever. The Giuliani campaign, and its attendant press corps, was as far past facts as the Trump campaign is now. The perception became the reality.•