After Rudy, Before Bloomberg: Looking Back on a Mayoral Legacy

An unearthed—and newly relevant—gem from George Gurley

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani alongside outgoing New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. (David Handschuh/New York Daily News/POOL)

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani alongside outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (David Handschuh/New York Daily News/POOL)

Finding an unpublished George Gurley piece is like opening a perfectly written time capsule. In May 2001, New York City was preparing to say farewell to a term-limited Rudy Giuliani and welcome anyone from Mark Green to Freddy Ferrer to Michael Bloomberg as its first new leader in eight years. An intrepid young Observer reporter named George Gurley hit the party scene to ask prominent New Yorkers what they thought would happen to the city. He wrote it up and then … it disappeared.

The Observer never published Mr. Gurley’s observations, captured first at the annual benefit for the African Rainforest Conservancy, held at the Park on 17th Street and Tenth Avenue and the second was for the tenth anniversary of the Paramount Hotel. 

Twelve years later, as we approach another change of guard at City Hall, Mr. Gurley got to thinking about that piece. When he realized it hadn’t seen the light of day, Mr. Gurley, still an intrepid young Observer reporter, brought it to our attention. Last week, he recalled some detail and set the scene:

Basically, in the [spring] of 2001, I went around and asked New Yorkers what the city would be like without Giuliani. The first interviews were done at The Park restaurant/lounge on 17th and 10th Avenue. Some kind of benefit for Africa or the rain forest. The Paramount Hotel tenth anniversary party was May 27, 2001. Here’s a New York Times write-up. Yeah, I remember talking to Rob Schneider and then Stephen Baldwin for a very long time. I was with there with four party girl friends of mine. Dean Winters came over and squeezed my shoulders, then we talked. So that interview and the one with Tom Fontana took place at the Paramount Hotel, not Jet East. I also remember overhearing John Corbett (then in Sex and the City, now a TV commercial voice-over artist) asking Kyle Maclachlan if he should let one of my girlfriends blow him. Yipes. I see the late Casey Johnson and Robert Isabel were there. And Monica Lewinsky.

Without further ado, here’s the column in its original form.

Nadine Johnson, publicist: “Finally, we get to see bums again, because that’s his biggest thing, that ‘I got rid of the bums, I got rid of the bums, I got rid of the crime.’ I love the bums. I’m a bum, I’m a bum. There were tons of people lying on the street on the Upper East Side when I arrived. Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf, they were laying down, and you felt like you had to give a little money. For me it’s part of the …”

She got distracted and turned to Candace Bushnell. “You know what I miss in New York? The bums! Remember the bums in the street, lying in front of Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf and you just spent like $400 for a pair of shoes—see that bum, you have to give him a buck, right? They’re gone!”

Ed Hayes, gray striped suit, lavender tie, drinking a tomato juice: “The world is going to come to an end. Actually, I’m very negative about what will happen to the city after Giuliani leaves, because I think you’re going to have an economic downturn. I think that you’re going to have a mayor that’s more likely than not to owe a large part of his base, his election to the people that Giuliani has represented the other point of view for all these years. So I think you can see a dramatic decrease.”

Back to early ’90s?

“I don’t know how much you go back, but at a bad time we may have exactly what we don’t want. You’re going to have a much less aggressive police department. I think that’s the most important thing. I also think it’s likely that you’ll turn away from a lot of the welfare reforms and so forth that we had.”

Assessment of the mayor?

“Look, I don’t want him to marry my sister, but he’s a very good mayor.”

Nervous?

“I personally have just bought a house in Connecticut—no. Who knows? It might not be that bad, but it’s not a comforting thought. … I don’t know if Bloomberg’s people skills are really what we could look forward to to make a better New York. I would like to have somebody that had better skills relating to a wider portion of the population but still had the same attitude toward law enforcement, taxation, welfare reform as Giuliani.”

How does Mayor Green sound?

“Well, if he makes Bill Bratton the police commissioner and John Timoney, that would be a very good sign.”

Larissa, fashion designer, black dress, black nail polish, white wine, Marlboro Lights:

“It’s going to hell now. These awful, very cockamamie ideas Giuliani has about him being the guardian of morals while he himself is behaving in a way that Clinton was crucified for. Well, he did a great job in cleaning it up, but maybe that was due to the great economy. But now, he’s really being ridiculous and mean. Putting himself on a pedestal while being a bore. … I’m nervous about Bush in general, and I think everybody’s taking their cue from Bush.”

Did she wish Dinkins had won?

“Oh! Absolutely not. I thought he was a terrible mayor, totally ineffective. His past was doing weddings for 10 years at City Hall.”

Would she like Giuliani to have another term were it possible?

“No, I think he should relax. … I like law and order when they are just. Not when … Who was it who wanted to photograph me?”

Carter Coleman, host, Prada blue blazer, wearing a striped kikoy shirt he got in Tanzania, grapefruit juice, from Louisiana, lived here 1983-88, freelance magazine writer, novelist, The Volunteer“I think it will only get better. … I mean, why would somebody be happy when the Nazis were gone?”

Guy at table, Ernst Abbierleaebi, lives on West Broadway 24 years, artist and author a liberal, Switzerland:

“I hope we find some funky bulldog somewhere who might still come out of the woods. … Friends of mine call him Adolf Giuliani. … It might be nice to have a bulldog just for the fun of it. When you had Koch, he was sort of a minor league bulldog too until he became silly. … I like the idea of having this obnoxious righteous don’t-tread-on-me motherfucker. … It used to be an adventure to come to New York, because you could get double-feature triple-X-rated movies where you had to go to Denmark where it was all sanitized. … In New York, it was mixed with the street.”

George Plimpton, the mayor’s commisioner of fireworks, drinking a Scotch outside the Park, fresh from a party at his house where Norman Mailer gave a reading, then this, now he was off to give another talk, didn’t think we’ll be returning to the dark days. “I would doubt it. Is there any worry about that? Well, I think there won’t be any arts council. That’s about the only thing that pleases me. … I hadn’t even thought about that. I think every mayor takes over a city, and it’s more or less the basis has been set. I can’t imagine Mark Green saying, ‘Let’s turn Times Square back into what it was. … I know Mark Green, I can’t imagine he’s going to say, ‘Back to the good ol’ days! Back to the days of profligacy of one sort or another, sin.'”

Richard Johnson over at Amy Sacco’s hot spot Bungalow 8:

“I’m not too worried, because I think what Giuliani has done is he’s demonstrated the fact that people are not willing to live in a place that’s uncivilized where there’s no quality of life, so I think whoever comes in is going to have to continue that. But it could get worse. He’s raised the bar so far now that there’s no way that it can go back. … It might get worse in all sorts of ways that we’re not going to be able to predict. I remember I was afraid to drive on the streets. There were the aggressive squeegee guys; if you didn’t put your window up, it was bad. … Mark Green is already running on the fact that he’s going to hire Bill Bratton as his police commissioner. I mean, these guys are being so law and order now. But of course, you can’t trust what a politician says.

“I do think there was never a demonstration so much as a force of will with what Giuliani was able to do, because it seemed before that these people had a constitutional right to sleep on the street and urinate on the street, and there was this feeling these problems were unsolvable. Like graffiti on the subways! I’m optimistic. We survived eight years of Bill Clinton; I think we can survive the next mayor.”

Amy Sacco, owner of Bungalow 8, ’60s funky fabulous Morocco-like Los Angeles vibe. She’s been here 10 years, drinking a mojito: “My idea is that I don’t think he’s done a terrible job. I think in my business, nightlife business, cabaret, best-case scenario is they loosen up a bit on the nightclub dancing thing.”

Over at Jet East, Dean Winters, 36-year-old actor from HBO’s Oz, Adidas up on the table, kicking back confidently, a couple of shots of tequila: “Well, I think I’m one of those people who’s kind of on the fence. In one respect, he’s kind of cleaned the place up. On the other hand, I feel like I’m kind of living in a fascist state. Is it going to go to hell? I don’t think New Yorkers will let this city go to hell again. I don’t think we’re going to go back in time. It’d be nice to see some fresh blood. I’m a little tired of Giuliani. The only problem is there’s not another hard-ass in sight. I think the city needs a little bit of a hard-ass. I don’t think Koch gets enough credit for what he did, and truthfully I don’t want to see a mayor walking around with a tennis racket ever again. My nightmare is to see a mayor walking around in a jogging suit with a tennis racket again.”

“I grew up in the city. When I was a little kid, 7, 8 years old, my parents wouldn’t let me out of their sight. Even like Tribeca and Soho were off-limits; you didn’t go down there. The vibe on the street in the early ’90s was I think people were sucking on the exhaust fumes of the ’80s, and I think there was a lot of high tension, people were running out of money, there was a lot of crime, and let’s not forget that good ol’ crack. And Giuliani really did come in with the world’s biggest street sweeper and cleaned it up. It’s really hard to knock that, but at the same time it’s almost like a police state.”

“In the early ’90s, I bartended at 80th Street and Third Avenue at Sam’s Cafe for Mariel Hemingway, and I used to get nervous getting into a cab at 5:30 in the morning. But then ’95, ’96, then I was bartending in the East Village and living on 11th and C, and I felt safer than I did working on the Upper East Side. You’re going to have to give the credit to Giuliani. I don’t know. Am I wrong?

You need a Koch-type mayor. You need someone who knows the city and someone who’s got fucking balls, but also someone who knows how to have a good time. I’m not sure Giuliani’s ever had a fucking good time in his life. I mean, c’mon, we live in a city where you can’t eat hot dogs in the street and you can’t get a lap dance? We’re in New York City. I don’t want to live in Salt Lake City.”

Tom Fontana, creator of Oz and Homicide: “No, I think, once we get Giuliani out of office, the city may actually return to a sweet, sweet place. I’m not somebody who advocates crime, but, on the other hand, I think Giuliani’s been like the big Mother Superior of New York, and we don’t want that.”

“It’s a mixed bag. This is a guy who is a dictator, and you followed him or you didn’t, and I follow part of it, and I didn’t follow part of it. … On one hand, we created a 42nd Street Disneyland. On the other hand, we disenfranchised African-Americans, Latinos. Everything is about balance, and I’m not saying he was the worst mayor; I actually think he was a pretty good mayor.”

“I don’t think any mayor will ever be like Rudy Giuliani. I think he is as extraordinary and frustrating as any mayor we’ve ever had. But the great thing about our mayors is we always hire these incredibly complex men, and maybe one day we’ll hire an incredibly complex woman or incredibly complex black man.”

Harold Perrineau, who plays the wheel-chaired philosopher-narrator in Oz, grew up in Brooklyn, drinking a Cosmo, admitted to being worried that we could go back to early ’90s. “A little bit. Giuliani did really good with all the graffiti and small crimes on the street, right, in a lot of the big areas. Listen, I’m liberal, but if you get too liberal … we back to the ’80s, where for a small percentage of people it was really prosperous and for the rest of us it was crappy.”

“Central Park wasn’t so cool; you could get mugged riding a bike. Forty-second Street, when I was a teenager, you’d go down there with all your friends acting wild, and all that stuff. … I got a dog in 1995, and I walk my dog in the Park at like 3 o’clock in the morning. In the ’80s, I wouldn’t have done that, not without being strapped or stuff like that.”

Debbie Harry, looking gorgeous but cranky at the bar, accompanied by a phantom-like black-clad girlfriend: “Is there life after Giuliani? That’s my answer. I don’t know what to say. There’s no place in the city for art anymore.”

Alan Cumming first came to New York in 1994: “It’s a funny thing. It’s kind of like everyone says at least Hitler made good motorways. And I think there’s some positive things Giuliani has done, but the spirit of it—I don’t like his spirit. I think he’s mean-spirited and reactionary in a way that’s quite dangerous. So I’m looking forward to a person with a better spirit.”

Irina, the Siberian model: “We all should be happy. Life is moving on; there is no end.”

Donald Trump also didn’t think the city was going to hell. “No, I think it’s a great city, it’s got a lot of legs.” Not nervous at all? “I’m always nervous about the city, but it’s got legs, it’s gonna do fine. I think he’s a great mayor, he’s been our greatest mayor, I hate to see him leave.” Could we return to the early ’90s? “You can always go back, it doesn’t take much to slip. I don’t think it will. I know the other people that are running, they’re all good men. but it can always go back. Couple mistakes. and you’re right back where you started. But I don’t think that’ll happen; I think the city’s got very good legs.”

Before Mr. Trump returned to his model girlfriend, he said he could be an effective mayor but wasn’t sure he wanted the job.

Michael Musto: “It’s definitely going to hell, but I’m living for the moment; my penis is out and engorged and ready to insert into something the second he leaves. There’s gonna be humping and schtumping in the street like you’ve never seen since Sodom and Gomorrah. … The one good thing about his administration is that you’re not always looking behind you everywhere you go except to make sure he’s not following with the decency panel.”

What if we go back?

“You know, there’s something to be said about the scariness. It was vastly underrated when it happened. Bring back the edge, bring back the raunch, and bring back even some of the crime. What the fuck?”

The next five years?

“Literally nonstop partying, fucking, debauchery—out in the street all ital. And it’s all going to be consensual, it’s going to be like the Puerto Rican Day Parade. It’s just going to be a festive, dangerous, exciting joyride. It’s just been building up for so many years now. And the Disney stores are all going to go back to being porno stores, but they’re going to stay the way they are. Like you’re just going to be able to play with the Mickey Mouse toys and do dirty things with them.”

Drinking a Diet Coke. “As soon as he leaves I’m going back to vodka cranberry.”

Lucy Sykes with fiancéEuan Rellie and fabulous friends; she has been here six years: “It’s funny because before I came here my mother always said to me, ‘Darling, you can’t live in New York! I mean, people get attacked, you can’t walk down the street without getting mugged.’ And I have actually never had any trouble the whole time I’ve lived here. I feel safer here in New York than I do in London. I think he’s fantastic.”