In 1997, Rudy ran for reelection against a “progressive” from Central Casting — a woman much like the current nominee, Bill de Blasio. Her name was Ruth Messinger. And Rudy beat her with 55 percent of the vote.
As the election showed, a majority of New Yorkers liked their new city, where you could walk without looking over your shoulder. Where you could even use the parks, just like they did in Peoria. It turned out you didn’t have to live with barbarism, if you didn’t want to. You could live like — like people, you know?
Let me tell a personal story: I had, and have, a friend named Ed. Jewel of a human being. He has family in New York. And he has visited this city for, oh, probably 30 years.
Shortly after I moved to New York, I wanted to ask him a question — I wanted to do it delicately, though, because I didn’t want to offend him, politically. Ed was a staunch Democrat. I didn’t want to appear to be playing some “gotcha” game. I didn’t want him to feel needled.
I said, “Ed, a lot of people say that New York changed a great deal, when Giuliani was elected. That it became a lot safer and cleaner and so on. I never lived here pre-Giuliani. Did you notice a difference, after he was elected?”
Ed didn’t hesitate: “Night and day. There’s no comparison. New York was transformed, with Giuliani. I could walk places and do things I never could before.”
In February 1999, a terrible event occurred: Police mistakenly shot and killed an African immigrant named Amadou Diallo. If the victim had been white, the incident probably would have attracted very little notice. But the victim was not white — and the Diallo shooting became a cause célèbre.
For five years, left-wing activists had stewed while Giuliani fixed the city and people liked it. But here was an opening: a chance to injure Giuliani and his policing; a chance to tar the mayor and the police as racist; a chance to reverse gains made in crime-fighting; a chance to get back on top.
In a June issue of that year, we at National Review published a long essay by Norman Podhoretz called “My New York: An intellectual considers his city, from LaGuardia to Giuliani and beyond.” (By the way, “LaGuardia,” in that subtitle, referred to the mayor, not to the airport named after him.) For my money, this essay is one of the best to appear in a magazine over the last 25 years or so.
Podhoretz began, “Something evil is going on in New York” — and he explained why he was “resorting to this strongest of all epithets” (i.e., “evil”). The evil was the exploitation of the Diallo tragedy by some of the worst actors in the city.
Toward the end of this essay, Podhoretz wrote, “I contend that ‘evil’ is precisely the right word for a campaign whose purpose is to undo so much good in order to resurrect a discredited ideological position and to reap a crassly partisan political advantage.”
He asked, “. . . will this evil drive succeed? Will New Yorkers once again allow themselves to be intimidated into tolerating the intolerable?”
That is a question that, as 2013 shows, does not have a final answer. I’ll continue tomorrow with Part III. See you then.