City Desk at the Polls

by Richard Brookhiser

I went to my polling place, an NYU dorm on 14th Street, this morning. It was symbolism and cussedness merely. The only suspense is whether Democrat Bill De Blasio will win with a 50-point margin or not. There is no suspense about him — he is a fuzzy-headed Castro-ite who grew up to be a party hack, rather as if Christopher Hitchens grew up to be, not Christopher Hitchens, but a ward heeler.

The dorm itself is a symbol of an era that is closing. When I moved to New York 14th Street was ailing. Luchow’s, the old German-American venison and goose palace, still hung on. But Klein’s Department store sat on one corner of Union Square, empty, like a beached whale’s corpse. The square itself was a dusty ragged patch, inhabited by hollow-eyed derelicts offering “smokes, smokes.” A few years later, on another corner, a club called the Underground opened. That was the hang-out of Jamaican pot dealers called the Rude Boys.

Now the park is green; it is filled with people (including derelicts, but they know not to intimidate the burghers). People eat lunch on park benches, chess hustlers will play a game with you, kids practice their skateboarding. New buildings — some of them ugly or plain crazy-looking — sprout here and there, but that’s modern architecture.

What made this possible was 20-plus years of good policing. Give David Dinkins this much — in his endgame he hired Ray Kelly, and the first up-tick began. But the big push came under Giuliani and Bloomberg — so big and so successful that an entire generation does not know and cannot imagine what happened.

Democrats do not want to destroy all this. They want fiefdoms in City Hall, they want contracts for their public-sector unions, they want to race-hustle. And they want the police to be more respectful. Saving lives should be respect enough.

Men want three things — to live, to be free, and to be acknowledged. These desires are not always in synch. Men will sell themselves into slavery to escape destruction, they will die to liberate themselves, they will join cultic mass movements in order to be noticed. Not so far out as these aphelions, but still far enough to be noticed, New York is going to invest heavily in the currency of respect.

One vote that I cast which might have had some effect: There was a ballot proposition to allow casino gambling in the state. I voted against. Rich Saudis will not be flocking to Ulster County to gamble; the customers will be locals, many frittering away their Social Security checks. Casino gambling is a tax on the stupid. The stern moralist might allow it to Indian reservations, as payback for smallpox and alcohol. But otherwise, it is death.

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