The public drama which has been playing out over Mayoral
succession in New York City-spurred by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s hints that he would like to stay in office for four more years, or at least three extra months-has become a distraction from the urgent business of helping the city regroup and move
forward. There is no compelling reason for Mr. Giuliani to remain in office beyond the expiration of his term. He answered the call of tragedy without blinking and unified a city in crisis. For this, he has earned the heartfelt good will of New Yorkers and the admiration of the world. But seeking an extra 90 days or trying to run for a third term diminishes all that he has accomplished. Rather than continue to run the machinery of government past Dec. 31, it is more important for Mr. Giuliani to set the tone for an orderly transition.
In the days immediately following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, as Mr. Giuliani took to the streets and airwaves and
imparted a sense of safety and courage to a shattered populace, his stature rose to mythic proportions. But the very message being sent by the Mayor as he careened from press conference to ground zero to memorial service-that the city would be O.K., that New Yorkers would reclaim their lives, that there would be no disruption in the process of government-argued against any last-minute fiddling with election laws to grant him another term. New York will prevail not
because of one man’s leadership, but because of the strengths and values inherent in its people, and in the nation’s democratic form of government. The term-limits law was approved twice by city voters, and in a democracy, the power must ultimately rest with the people.
The candidates for Mayor have unfortunately joined the muddle over succession. Democrat Mark Green and Republican Michael Bloomberg, wary of putting any distance between themselves and a wildly popular public official, immediately gave a thumbs-up when Mr. Giuliani’s associates broached the idea of a term extension of three months. Democrat Fernando Ferrer deserves credit for holding his ground and opposing the idea. Still, it remains an unsettling fact that voters know more about where the candidates stand on Rudy Giuliani than they do about where the three men stand on the issues.
Rudolph Giuliani’s achievements go beyond guiding the city through the worst attack ever on American soil, and those who follow him will have to measure up to a more subtle, and more daunting, legacy than that of deft crisis manager. In the past eight years, he proved that New York is governable; that its citizens have an absolute right to safe streets and an environment in which they can raise their families without fear. It will be much more difficult for future Mayors to claim that their hands are tied by this or that bureaucracy, or that crime is a problem beyond the scope of City Hall.
Mr. Giuliani’s accomplishment in the aftermath of Sept. 11 was
to recognize greatness in ordinary New Yorkers and to call upon that greatness when it was most needed. His steady demeanor and round-the-clock empathy will not soon be forgotten. Whoever succeeds him will likewise use the power and visibility of his office to address the
current and emerging challenges of a city still reeling from a grievous assault on its people and infrastructure.
There is no way to prepare for the Mayoralty of New York City, and no job that matches it. No wonder it’s hard to give up.