Impromptus

The Fate of New York, Part III

by Jay Nordlinger

Editor’s Note: For the first two parts of this series, go here and here. The series is an expansion of a piece by Jay Nordlinger in a recent National Review, “Freedom from Fear, for Now: A personal reflection on living in New York.”

Giuliani was limited to two terms, so in 2001 we were going to elect a new mayor. And that was going to be it. The party was going to be over. It was fun while it lasted — eight years of something like peace and harmony. (In a city such as New York, you grade peace and harmony on a curve.)

The new mayor was going to be the Democratic nominee, of course — this is an overwhelmingly Democratic city — and that nominee was a man named Mark Green.

Fans of Bill Buckley and Firing Line will know who Green is: Bill used him frequently, as a left-wing counterpart. And Green is a quick, talented debater. He is also a friendly guy, in my experience.

In 2001, Green was a political figure much like the current Democratic nominee for mayor, Bill de Blasio. He held the same position de Blasio does now: “public advocate.” Green had been a lieutenant to two of the most famous leftists of the age. I’m talking about Ramsey Clark and Ralph Nader.

He was a long way from Giuliani . . .

One beautiful day, I was walking through Riverside Park. The sun was shining, families were picnicking peaceably, birds were chirping. And the thought came to me, entirely unbidden, “Once Mark Green is mayor, all of this will be over.”

Now, this was an exaggeration. A calumny! I was sort of laughing at myself. Nevertheless, it was a concern.

(And, by the way, I borrow the phrase “families were picnicking peaceably” from my colleague David Klinghoffer. I heard him use it once, years ago.)

The primary elections, Democratic and Republican, were held on September 11. I went to the polls pretty early in the morning and pulled the lever for my favorite Republican candidate, Herman Badillo. Later in the day, the primaries were postponed. Two weeks later, I went back to the polls and pulled the lever for Badillo again.

But he didn’t win the Republican nomination — Michael Bloomberg did.

The general election was a very unusual and unexpected affair. The World Trade Center still smoldered. Giuliani was very, very popular. He campaigned alongside Bloomberg. Bloomberg spent a lot of the money he had earned, in a glorious business career.

And Bloomberg won, by a little — with 50.3 percent of the vote. We were spared Mayor Green, we were spared an end to the Giuliani renaissance, after eight years. We were granted a reprieve.

I remember something Ed Koch said in an interview with me, a year or two before he died. (Koch was mayor of the city from 1978 to 1989.) He was in a generous mood, toward both Rudy and Bloomy — in fact, he was usually in that kind of mood, in his later years.

He said that crime-fighting had been Rudy’s specialty. He gave him all honor for that. In fact, Koch voted for Giuliani twice. But Bloomy, said Koch, had driven down crime even more. His specialty was supposed to be economics. But he was a helluva crime-fighter.

Boy, was he. In recent years, you could practically sleep in Central Park.

Let me throw some stats at you. Last year, there were 414 murders in New York — the fewest since 1928. In 1990, there were 2,262 murders, which came to more than six a day.

In the last 20 years — i.e., in the Giuliani-Bloomberg era — murder is down 83.2 percent. Rape is down 55.5 percent. Robbery is down 79.1 percent. Burglary is down 83.4 percent. You want more? There’s more. The statistics are staggering all down the line.

And none of this, let me stress, was by accident. None of it was a matter of luck. This progress took tremendous political courage.

(Funny how people on the left bill themselves as “progressives,” even while they oppose those measures that bring true progress.)

I want to make a stylistic point — or rather, let Koch make it. He and I discussed the fact — and it is a fact — that the racial temperature in the city is very, very low. Racial antagonism is at a blessedly low ebb.

Koch gave some of the credit to the “blandness” of Bloomy’s personality. When you meet with him in private, said Koch, Bloomy isn’t bland at all. He is indeed “exciting.” But in public, he is a rather stolid figure.

This has helped keep things calm, said Koch. He and Rudy, by contrast, were colorful, provocative, controversial personalities.

In 2005, Bloomberg ran for reelection, and he shellacked the Democratic nominee, Fernando Ferrer, 58 percent to 39 percent. In 2008, the year before the next election, he did something brazen: He got the City Council to change the law concerning term limits. Instead of serving a maximum of two terms, a mayor could now serve three. Bloomy’s excuse was that the nation and city were in a financial crisis, and he needed a third term to see New York through, with his financial expertise.

At any rate, he ran again in 2009 and beat a Democrat named Bill Thompson. Didn’t beat him by much, though. Bloomberg got 50.7 percent of the vote.

Yes, he did something brazen, in grabbing that third term, but that was all right by me. As far as I was concerned, Bloomberg could be mayor forever, if you could sleep in Central Park. When it comes to New York, I am almost a one-issue voter. And that issue is crime. If you have to look over your shoulder, if you have to fear for your safety or life, who cares about the rest?

I have more to say on this and related issues, and will see you tomorrow, for our finale.