Giuliani Time Is Dead-Long Live Giuliani Time!

Summer evening; riding to Brooklyn over the Manhattan Bridge.

When we come to the first traffic light on the other side, our cab-and all the

other cars stopped at the intersection-face a team of squeegee persons.

The bum who approaches us is a woman who can’t be over 35.

She has the bright agate eyes of an addict, and the indurated body of someone

used to sleeping anywhere, or with anyone, in a pinch. Her spiel is harsh and

charmless, laced with “fuck you’s.” Our driver drops a quarter into her cup,

she tells me “fuck you” for good measure, then the light changes and we all

move on.

I ask the cabby, an Indian man of about 55, if he thought it

was good business practice to give money to people who abused him and his

passengers. He explained with the immemorial shrug of the subcontinent that he

had no choice. The bum could walk to the curb and pitch an empty beer bottle at

his rear-view mirror; he had a friend whose windshield had been shattered in

this fashion. Better to pay and be done with it. It

was all very logical, and all very Dinkins Time.

The problems are always out there, waiting to return. So are

all the arguments for letting them return. An East

Village friend called with a gripe:

A methadone clinic was about to open in a pre-existing social-service facility

on his block. He presented a three-part indictment of methadone clinics: An

in-patient clinic, once established, can easily be changed to an out-patient

clinic; given the small infrastructure involved, an out-patient clinic can

easily become many clinics, operating out of the same social-service facility;

once that happens, the facility is in hog heaven, augmenting the salaries of

its staff with their double jobs as administrators of the methadone clinic(s).

Meanwhile, the block is listed in the Zagat

Guide for addicts: Good Cheap Shit Here.

How much of this indictment is NIMBY-ism? What other

drug-treatment alternatives are there? These are real questions. But there is

also a real point in the Villager’s lament, which is that the social-service

industry has a powerful interest in solutions which, whatever good they do,

also do good for social-service providers. Since their self-interest comes

cloaked in a mantle of altruism, only a politician with a soul of brass can

call them on it.

For eight years, we had one. Giuliani Time began with a

crackdown on squeegee men. We must make an effort to recall how out of the box

that crackdown seemed in early 1994. All the arguments of old New

York were arrayed against it, from the accountant’s

language of cost-benefit-“Why divert cops from serious crimes like murder, rape

and robbery?”-to the pleas of charity, exercised on behalf of

bullies-“Whassa matter, you can’t dig into your pocket for a quarter?”-to

the false pride of the flâneur in

being able to deal with all sorts, including bullies-“Whassa matter, you scared

of a few bums?” Mr. Giuliani didn’t listen to any of it. For him, laws were

laws, bums were bums, and fixing little problems would help fix big ones. The

squeegee men got the message.

So did the city. Mr. Giuliani did not apply the principles

of the Cato Institute to social spending. People argue about a billion here and

a billion there, and maybe it’s important, but the fact remains that New

York’s spending on social services is huge, and this

seems to be a concomitant of the modern state. What Mr. Giuliani did do was

express the conviction that New York

was more than a hospital for the broken, and an employment agency for hospital

workers. His enemies accused him of wanting to make it a prison for the lawless,

and he had that punitive streak in him. But his real contribution was to insist

that the city was primarily a place for the honest and decent to live and work.

It takes another effort to recall how radical this seemed at the beginning of

Giuliani Time. For decades, all the totem arguments and symbols of the city had

been totems of state-sponsored compassion. Mr. Giuliani broke the spell.

Well, that’s over. In a

few months, Mayor Giuliani will be as old as yesterday’s breakfast; perhaps

even as old as Madonna. What will the next Mayor do with his legacy, the

improbable halcyon in New York’s rake’s progress?

As I wrote in my first report on the campaign, all the

Democrats are bright guys (Fernando Ferrer presents himself badly, but he is as

bright as the rest of them). They have decades of experience between them; they

know their way around budgets and regulations. Here and there are flashes of

humor, like one lightning bug in a dark field. Moreover, they all-except for

Mr. Ferrer-profess to have learned from Giuliani Time and offer themselves as

kinder, gentler caretakers.

Could they be, in fact? Does any of

them have the will to face down the bum at the cab window and the personnel

line-items at the methadone clinic, and their million siblings? Intelligence is

not terribly relevant to this question, and the

strongest suit of the Democrats-experience-actually argues against them. During

all their years in government, they were part of the problem, cogs in the

ruling party of a one-party city running itself into the ground.

Mr. Ferrer is a moderate borough president who dresses in

radical drag every time he seeks higher office. Peter Vallone is a comfortable

old shoe whose solution to the Dinkins crime wave was to pass a tax-dropping a

quarter into the cup of the policemen’s union. Alan Hevesi can argue with

people who ask him questions at speeches, but he flees all other

confrontations; his latest roll-over-and-play-dead idea was to offer

reparations for slavery. Mark Green, with Bill Bratton in tow, holds out the

possibility that the most left could govern as the most right; as per the old

Vulcan proverb, only Nixon could go to China.

This is a slender hook on which to hang one’s hopes, and New

York’s future.

If the Democrats are as fresh as the dead cars at Willetts

Point, does the Republican Party offer any hope?

(To be continued.)

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