Mayor’s Problems Aren’t Exactly New

Rudolph Giuliani will bluster until he runs out of breath, but the city’s abrupt settlement of his foolish vendetta against the Brooklyn Museum of Art suggests he has noticed that he’s in trouble. What the Mayor not so long ago insisted was an issue of moral urgency, worth litigating at any expense, has turned abruptly into another nuisance lawsuit to be settled just like a slip-and-fall on a cracked sidewalk. So much for principle.

Burdened with the belief that he is never wrong and thus need never admit error, Mr. Giuliani stands by his attempt to censor the museum. But having reaped whatever political benefit he expected from this costly diversion, he has abjectly surrendered in order to avoid an embarrassing defeat in court.

Unfortunately, the issues of police misconduct and racial division will not yield to any such quick, easy solution. Having allowed them to fester for years, the Mayor has no idea how to address them, even if only to preserve his own political hide.

When the New York Post begins to worry about those longstanding problems, it is safe to assume that they have reached a stage somewhat worse than critical. Until very recently the delusional cycles of City Hall and its favorite tabloid seemed to be perfectly synchronized. But the replacement of two top editors overseeing news coverage and editorial opinion has created at least an impression of sanity in the Post ‘s pages; to hope that this change will be permanent is perhaps to hope for too much.

A more cynical interpretation of the paper’s newfound humanity would invoke the most recent data published on March 26 by its polling firm, Zogby International-which showed Hillary Rodham Clinton pulling ahead of Mr. Giuliani in the Senate race. The police killing of Patrick Dorismond in mid-March and the Mayor’s subsequent release of the security guard’s juvenile arrest record seems to have reversed the polarity of that contest within a matter of days. Accompanying the Post’s story on the poll was a quote from its worried pollster, John Zogby: “He’s handing her this race.”

In fact, Mr. Zogby’s figures showed Mrs. Clinton with enormous leads among both Jewish and Hispanic voters, largely Democratic voting blocs that have previously bestowed considerable support upon the Republican Mayor. For some reason, the Post’s editors neglected to break out the Zogby poll responses from female and African-American voters. (They must have been pretty bad.)

Meanwhile, the well-meaning editorialists at The New York Times are offering their usual counsel, urging the Mayor once more to “confer with black elected officials [who] feel shut out at City Hall.” According to The Times , everyone would be reassured by a “well-publicized meeting with those [black] officials.”

What a great idea! Except that such advice now sounds almost preposterously naïve, as if the Times editorial board has paid no attention whatsoever to the events of the Giuliani era. Why, at this late date, should any black elected official show up for a meeting with a Mayor whose only possible aim would be to mollify The Times and improve his declining image among liberal white voters who supported him in 1997?

With all due respect to The Times and the Post , the first step out of the city’s current danger is to admit that neither the conflict between the Mayor and the African-American community nor the problem of police misconduct are particularly new. These intertwined troubles are rooted in attitudes displayed by Mr. Giuliani long ago and never rectified.

After the bitter, racially polarized campaign that won him a narrow victory over David Dinkins in 1993, Mr. Giuliani had a moral and political obligation to reach out to black leaders, especially because his stance on affirmative action and other policy questions was so plainly inimical to their interests. He shunned them instead, surrounding himself with a narrow, lily-white coterie of advisers whose stupidity has consistently made racial matters worse. To those who warned against this de facto racism, Mr. Giuliani replied by praising his own supposed colorblindness.

He has repeatedly ignored warnings about the condition of the Police Department, beginning with the Mollen Commission hearings that riveted the city’s attention back in the fall of 1993. The commission’s findings clearly demonstrated the need for permanent independent oversight of the police-a need reiterated later by a second panel that was appointed by the Mayor himself, and then rudely dismissed when he disagreed with their recommendations.

So far, Mr. Giuliani has answered New York’s increasingly worried and perplexed citizens with name-calling attacks on his Democratic rival, Mrs. Clinton. But he cannot absolve himself of responsibility by calling attention to Mrs. Clinton’s opportunistic alliance with the Rev. Al Sharpton. His whining about “politics” is pointless. Even the Post isn’t buying that excuse anymore.