Intellect and Influence in NYC

by Matthew Shaffer

Today, City Journal celebrated its 20th anniversary at a University Club luncheon. It was a gathering of New York right-world elites — reconstructed ex-leftists like Sol Stern, apostate academics like Professor Robert P. George, Judy Miller still scribbling notes on yellow paper, John Stossel shaking hands and prying brains, gadflies Henry Stern and Michael Meyers sharply questioning, a potpourri of businessmen who prefer markets to corporate welfare, and a small section of the New York literati sharing tips about survival as a conservative on the Upper West Side.

Memory was a theme at the luncheon. But the reminiscences were (atypically for conservatives) not nostalgic; they were celebrations of urban life and change. Both Brian Anderson, editor of City Journal, and Michael Barone, the keynote speaker, recalled when, pre-Giuliani, Bryant Park was accurately described as “Needle Park,” and no tourist would think to visit Times Square. Barone and Heather Mac Donald conversed on the respective virtues of Hamiltonian (urban) and Jeffersonian (agrarian) ideals in the American political tradition; both wished for a restoration of decent, middle-class city life.

That restoration, the speakers suggested, was only half-finished. Crime in New York is a small fraction of its rate at City Journal’s 1990 founding, before Rudy Giuliani assumed the mayoralty, equipped with the broken-windows crime theory and welfare-reform ideas developed by Manhattan Institute scholars. Los Angeles and other cities aped New York’s reforms and also enjoyed its boon. Heather Mac Donald took that as proof that the “conservative urban agenda” was “proven right.”

That has made cities survivable. But confiscatory taxes and too-damn-high costs of living threaten commerce, making New York and other American cities unlivable for too many.  Steven Malanga, author of Shakedown, depicted the conspiracy against the American taxpayer,” waged by public sector unions. Nicole Gelinas described how consequently overburdened budgets threatened cities’ ability to fund vital infrastructure.

The room buzzed with speculation about Andrew Cuomo’s coming governorship. Were his repeated promises to be tough with public-sector unions believable? Even the encyclopedic Michael Barone wasn’t sure. “It could be a Nixon-goes-to-China thing. I’m not sure. We’ll have to see.”

One attendee asked if there was hope of electing Republicans to high office in New York. Steve Malanga said that important conservative truths had permeated left-leaning and Democratic circles, and that was crucial. The long war of ideas, he said, was more important than annual electoral battles. And the room toasted twenty influential years in that war.

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