Fred Siegel, a walking treasure trove of information and analysis about New York and beyond–and a prince of a guy–is the author of the new book The Prince Of The City: Giuliani, New York And The Genius Of American Life. In The Prince he takes an in-depth look at the former New York City mayor’s successful record.
Is there a President Giuliani in our future? Siegel addresses that and many other questions in an interview with NRO Editor Kathryn Lopez.
National Review Online: Your title is “The Prince of the City.” Is that “Prince” in the Machiavelli sense?
Fred Siegel: Yes, like Machiavelli Giuliani had no use for the “pious cruelty” in which New York’s liberal politicians like John Lindsay and David Dinkins spoke endlessly of compassion toward the poor but delivered rising rates of crime of crime and welfare.
NRO: You refer to Gotham as a once-great city. It’s not anymore? Who do we blame?
Siegel: When I refer to once-great, I’m talking about the early 1990s when under Mayor David Dinkins there were six murders a day, Gotham with 3 percent of the country’s population had lost 25 percent of the jobs eliminated in the recession, 60 percent of the city population wanted to leave, it seemed the underclass had won, and just asking for a cup of coffee at a luncheonette could get you a fat lip. And if that weren’t bad enough when a cop tangled with a drug dealer setting off a riot by drug dealers in Washington Heights, Mayor Dinkins sided with the drug dealer. You can’t make this up
NRO: If you had to explain the Rudy crime cleanup to the uninitiated, what would be the basic sum-up?
Siegel: Giuliani’s extraordinary success in reducing crime was based on one key insight and one key innovation. The first embodied in “Broken Windows” policing is that if you police the small crime you’ll also capture the big criminals. When the city cracked down on people who jumped the subway turnstiles they found that one in seven had an outstanding felony warrant or a weapon. Then what kept the success going was COMPSTAT, the computer mapping of the daily crime reports. In the bad old days, statistics were egghead stuff the police looked at six months after the fact. But now the police used up-to-the minute statistics to map their tactics on a day-to-day basis. That meant that if there were a lot of drug arrests on Avenue B in the East Village on Monday, the police were ready on Tuesday to move on Avenues A and C where the dealers were likely to have moved.
NRO: How damaging were scandals like the Abner Louima case to Rudy, the NYPD, the city?
Siegel: In the long run, the scandals didn’t have a marked effect. But they did produce an hysteria that led upstanding liberals to insist that they were more afraid of the NYPD than they were of criminals
NRO: Did David Dinkins REALLY dismiss crime reduction by saying, “[T]here was no crime in Nazi Germany?”
Siegel: Yes, Dinkins believed in the “root causes theory of crime.” He didn’t think that the police could have much effect, so when embarrassed by Giuliani’s successes in not only reducing crime but reducing police violence as well, he responded with hyperbole
NRO: What’s a “hard-edged moderate”?
Siegel: A “hard-edged moderate” (or immoderate centrist, and angry optimist as I sometimes describe him) is a man of sharply contradictory characteristics. Giuliani, for instance is a self-promoting, self-absorbed man who made his own enormous ego serve the city’s well being. He ran his government with a Kennedy-like band-of-brothers assumption that those outside his circle couldn’t be trusted. But he placed this tribal ethos in the service of universal ideals that transcended the traditional parochialism of New York’s ethnic politics. He was the traditionalist who promoted the virtues of service, duty, and hard work so evident on 9/11, but he was sometimes unable to honor those values in his personal life.”
NRO: Could Rudy have made it as a Mets fan?
Siegel: Never, a guy like Giuliani who kept score, pitch by pitch, as if he was managing the Yankees, would have been driven mad by the Mets’ sloppy play.
NRO: Why can’t I help but call him Rudy?
Siegel: Like great mayors before him, Giuliani was a larger-than-life figure. When he entered a room his fans would shout ROOODEE, ROOODEE, as if he were coming to bat.
NRO: I had forgotten that one of the 9/11 commissioners concluded that “99.5 percent of the people who could have been saved, had been saved” on 9/11. How much is that to Rudy Giuliani’s credit?
Siegel: Giuliani was way ahead of the curve on terror. In his first speech as mayor in January of 1994, pride of place went not to crime or the city’s dismal economy but to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. In 1996 he created The Office of Emergency Management to prepare the city for future attacks. The OEM with its frequent drills and simulated counterterror exercises became the model for counterterrorism around the country
NRO: To what extent has NYC recovered from the economic blow of the 9/11 attacks and to what extent is that because of Rudy?
Siegel: New York is still 100,000 jobs shy of its 9/10-employment level. But because his successor continued Giuliani’s policing and welfare reforms, the city while not thriving, is unlikely ever to return to the dismal days of the early 1990s.
NRO: What are Giuliani’s “extraordinary accomplishments”?
Siegel: Giuliani’s greatest accomplishment was in reviving the neighborhoods of New York so long undermined by crime and welfare. More than making the city governable again, he restored hope to the aspiring poor, who once again had a chance to better themselves by taking advantage of what he called “the genius of American life.”
NRO: How did Giuliani’s immigration policy contribute to our 9/11 intelligence failure?
Siegel: Giuliani’s lax policy on immigration helped allow several of the hijackers to operate comfortably in Brooklyn only a few blocks from my house.
NRO: Dude, he was pro MIDNIGHT BASKETBALL? Wassup with that?
Siegel: In 1994, Giuliani turned for a while into “Rudy Dinkins” when the city’s near bankruptcy forced him into a shotgun political marriage with then-Governor Mario Cuomo. Giuliani and Cuomo also worked on the federal level to change the terms of a Clinton proposal on police monies to give the city more flexibility in how they used the dough.
NRO: What was his greatest fault as mayor?
Siegel: His greatest mistake was in firing his extraordinary police commissioner Bill Bratton, the man who introduced “Broken Windows policing” and COMPSTAT. But then the mistake was compounded by appointing the dour Howard Safir as Bratton’s successor, Safir who was cut off from both the rank and file of the NYPD and political life of the city helped create the ugly incidents exploited by the city’s racial racketeers during Giuliani’s second term
NRO: Greatest asset?
Siegel: Giuliani achieved his success in New York by living up to Churchill’s maxim that courage is the most important political virtue because it guarantees all the others
NRO: Was Giuliani essential to the Bush reelection campaign?
Siegel: If Giuliani the hero of 9/11 had been lukewarm about Bush as he had been about Dole in 1996, he would have produced severe problems for Bush in 2004. Instead his enthusiastic support for Bush was a key part of Bush’s enormous edge over Kerry on the issue of security.
NRO: Does RG want to be president? Would he want to be bothered?
Siegel: Giuliani has no interest in being governor. Anyone who has spent time in Albany, N.Y.’s dismal capital turned into a moonscape by former Governor Nelson Rockefeller, would understand why. Nor does he want to be one of a hundred senators. He’s a great manager and his eye is on the presidency or vice presidency.
NRO: Can he beat Hillary? He could beat anyone else, I assume?
Siegel: We’re too far away from 2008 to talk seriously about it. But with his broad appeal to the American voter across a wide swath of the political spectrum, he would be a formidable candidate.
NRO: How is Rudy like the Godfather?
Siegel: He’s like the godfather in that he’s the master of whatever organization he runs. But he’s also very different in that he is a student of government. He studies the legal and social structure of problems he tackles with the eyes of a Napoleon assaying the topography of the battlefield.
NRO: How much did the Kerik-as-homeland-security-director failure hurt Rudy?
Siegel: The Kerik scandal hurt Giuliani because it weakened Giuliani with the Bush family while giving his rivals for 2008 a club with which to beat him. Despite Kerik’s substantial accomplishments, the scandal is an easy way to remind conservative voters of the enormous gap between the political culture of Gotham and the heartland. The Kerik scandal reminded politicians of all stripes of why the New York mayoralty has long been a graveyard for political ambitions.
NRO:. What was the New York Post’s most memorable (at least to you) headline about Rudy?
Siegel: It’s not up there with “Headless Body found in Topless Bar,” but when after the reforms initiated by Giuliani and Herman Badillo rescued the city’s once marginalized college system the Post headline read “THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK IS LOOKING LIKE ‘THE POOR MAN’S HARVARD’ AGAIN” That was something to celebrate.