When it comes to re-electing their Mayor, New Yorkers seem to have embraced the old adage that, prick though Rudy Giuliani may be, he is their prick and they want him to keep stickin’ it into the bad guys. Given his ineffectual predecessor and the rudderless hulk he is running against this time, it’s difficult to quarrel with their decision.
A casual visitor to the city can’t help but see how things have perked up since the somewhat less-than-charming former Federal prosecutor took work at City Hall. Not that there aren’t some chores left for him in these next four years. The city still lacks the public toilets that it could have had at next to no expense long since. The process has become so draped in moss, creepers, tangles and vines that it gives rise to the suspicion there are some bodies quite high up in City Hall with their hands out for bribes.
The Mayor permits traffic circulation in Manhattan to be impeded weekend after weekend by what are called street fairs, yet another euphemism of press agentry. These are not handicraft fairs; they are not farmers’ markets. They are agglomerations of sausage peddlers, T-shirt mongers and shady vendors of imitation Rolex watches. When these same denizens of the underground economy are not blocking vehicular traffic on weekends, they are blocking pedestrians on weekdays. Thanks to the unslakable avarice of the real estate interests dating back to the last years of the 18th century, Manhattan has no alleys, an appalling ratio of built to unbuilt land, and narrow sidewalks. What with the ubiquitous piles of green garbage bags, and the millions of hurrying pedestrians, the already inadequate sidewalks are rendered all but impassable by thousands of junk peddlers impeding movement with their card tables and such. I will skip over complaining about the tiresome ethnic parades, save only to say that they should be progressively relocated outside the center city, starting with the most obnoxious-the sons and daughters of St. Patrick and San Juan.
That said, Mr. Giuliani has disproved the old saying that New York City is ungovernable. How well he has governed is hard to say this close to the event, but as far as the customers are concerned, he has been delivering a far better quality of service than has been theirs for a generation or so. The Mayor is on a roll, but whether he keeps rolling is an open question.
Second terms of successful officeholders are often fraught with unpleasant surprises. Things start coming out that administrations can no longer keep hidden. Key people leave or get tired and sloppy. Or they succumb to temptations they were able to resist the first four years. Thus, first terms are often not good predictors of second-term outcomes.
The office of Mayor of New York, however, has been an infallible predictor of the future political careers of the men who have held it: oblivion. After a couple of terms in that job, whoever has it is damaged goods. But at this juncture, at least, Rudy Giuliani still remains a plausible candidate for some other, higher office.
There has been speculation that he might go after the seat currently held by New York’s senior Senator in 2000. The rule here is, never run against an incumbent who is known by both given names. The only people in our society thus referred to are convicted assassins, i.e. James Earl Ray and Lee Harvey Oswald, and men we revere as statesmen, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Right now, Senator Moynihan is not only a class act, he is New York’s only class act. Even the voting booboisie, though unable to read a newspaper article to its conclusion, has been smitten with the respect for this man that the ignorant will sometimes have for the wise.
But the Senator may retire, leaving an open seat and a real chance for the Mayor. Right now, Mr. Giuliani’s reputation is that of a one-dimensional law-and-order man, and though that got Calvin Coolidge into the White House, ordinarily just looking tough will carry a politician only so far.
Circumstances give Rudy Giuliani an opportunity to give himself another dimension and do his party an important service. He is but the third Republican Mayor of New York in the 20th century. The two Republicans before him, Fiorello La Guardia and John Lindsay, both governed as big-spending, bureaucratic Democrats. When they left office, they left no Republican political legacy. The G.O.P. in the city was as weak as ever.
Mr. Giuliani has governed in a manner that is recognizably Republican. With the polling showing that he may get as much as 25 percent of the African-American vote and with endorsements by several prominent African-American politicians, Mr. Giuliani is positioned to make New York City competitive for the Republicans who come after him and make himself a national figure of trailblazing political imagination.
One way he can do these things is to induce Representative Floyd Flake, he of the unfortunate name, to switch parties and run for Mayor as a Republican. Mr. Flake, of course, already is in the Giuliani camp for this election, but more than that, the Queens minister, who is retiring from Congress after six terms, has made a record for himself in Washington that makes him a plausible Republican. He is for school vouchers, he is for the Republican-sponsored Community Renewal Act and generally favors the Republican approach to getting things done. It is not a reach for a man like Mr. Flake to switch parties.
Nor would such a move be something that Mr. Flake would, as a black man, apologize for. As he has said, “If African-Americans are ever going to be full partners in political power, then 20 percent to 30 percent will have to vote for the other party.” From a Republican prospect, that is all the G.O.P. needs and more. In most elections, a Republican who gets that large a fraction of the African-American vote gets elected, so it goes without saying that a Rudy Giuliani who shows his party how to do that, who establishes the Republican Party as an abiding power in the nation’s largest city, is a Rudy Giuliani who can trade in his street brawler reputation for one that will serve him better when he moves out of what has always been a political dead end.
Some Republicans believe that, since they took over the Solid South from the Democrats, the black vote is not as important as it used to be. The 1996 Congressional election should have taught them otherwise. The results showed that the South is not as solidly Republican as it once was Democratic. No fewer than five black Democrats were elected in white majority seats in Dixie last time around. Southern whites will vote for black Democrats, so Republicans had better find a way to get Northern blacks to vote for them.
Mr. Giuliani may have it in his power to do that. If he does, he may become the first Mayor to escape Gracie Mansion with a political future, as well as rendering a signal service to his party and his nation.
Self-snookered. A few weeks ago in this space, I took several examples of stock jobbers behaving outrageously from a Joe Queenan column in The Wall Street Journal . Alas, he was writing parody, and this meathead lacked the wit to know it. Tsk, tsk, and here I’ve always prided myself on my titanium-tipped, incredulous mind.