2001: The Year We Lived

The year 2001 in New York City will be forever refracted through the lens of Sept. 11, but next to the horror and grief of that day must be placed the city’s refusal to let the actions of mass murderers break our spirit or tarnish the memories of the thousands of precious lives lost. The months since the attack on the World Trade Center have revealed the phenomenal strength of New York, and have tapped resources of courage and compassion that will carry the city into 2002 and beyond.

This year brought out the best in our leaders. As the summer neared its final sunset, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was the classic lame-duck chief executive, overshadowed by the furious succession skirmish and fighting battles that seemed somehow beneath him. He wasn’t exactly irrelevant, but he surely was thought of in the past tense. Then the terrorists struck, and suddenly Rudy Giuliani became intensely relevant. He will be remembered for many things, but nothing–not even his victory over crime–will surpass the memory of his leadership on and after Sept. 11. In some respects, his performance should not have surprised us. Time and again, he has demonstrated that he’s a classic crisis manager, cool and rational under trying circumstances. When he took charge on Sept. 11, putting himself in physical danger as he supervised the rescue effort downtown, he showed qualities we had seen before, although never under such circumstances.

But it was his sensitivity and grace that came as a revelation, at least to the rest of the world. Gently, he led the victims’ families on the terrible journey from disbelief to acceptance. When the time came for funerals and memorial services, he played the role of first mourner with dignity. We should not forget his remarkable performance. It was an act of leadership for the ages.

Now Mr. Giuliani will transfer power to his successor, Michael Bloomberg. Until late September, Mr. Bloomberg seemed destined for defeat as he tried to make history by becoming the first Republican to succeed a Republican in New York’s City Hall. But once the incumbent endorsed Mr. Bloomberg, this unlikely candidate took off in the polls, eventually beating Democrat Mark Green with room to spare. Mr. Bloomberg, a political novice, will now have to deal with a city that has changed enormously since he announced his candidacy in early 2001. The most pressing challenge, of course, is to stimulate a dragging economy and rebuild New York’s international image as a safe place to visit. Mr. Bloomberg’s initial choices for key posts in his administration should reassure New Yorkers that the Mayor-to-be is up to that challenge.

A profound shift has occurred in the country’s perception of New York; we are now suddenly the most American of cities, a rallying point for patriotism and the focus of a nation’s prayers. While there’s no telling how long this new love affair will last–already there have been some second thoughts on the part of George Bush and his promised $20 billion bouquet–Americans know and understand that New York bore the brunt of an attack on America’s hard-won freedoms, and that New Yorkers’ ability to persevere and go on with their lives in the past months has shown the world what sort of stuff Americans are made of.

The country has also joined New York in paying tribute to the brave firefighters and police officers who lost their lives trying to save others on Sept. 11, and whose actions brought the word “hero” back into the nation’s vocabulary. Deserving equal tribute are the thousands of men and women who were working in the World Trade Center or were aboard the four ill-fated flights that morning–all of them innocent people who never came home from a routine day at work. Families in New York and across the country have been devastated, and their loss has touched the hearts of millions around the world.

There’s an uncommon mood surrounding this holiday season, centered on a renewed and humble appreciation for loved ones and friends. The Observer extends our thanks to our readers and advertisers, and wishes all of them and their families a happy and safe 2002.