The Corner

Politics & Policy

New York, New York*

Rudolph Giuliani as mayor of New York City in November 1997 (Peter Morgan / Reuters)

Sometimes, a great musician declines, precipitously. I’m thinking of a soprano and three pianists, right now. When I write about such a musician, I often quote a Gershwin song: “No, no, they can’t take that away from me.” No one can take away what they once were. For one thing, it is preserved on recordings.

Beverly Sills once said to me — she is not the soprano I am thinking of, by the way — “If they ever ask, ‘What was all the fuss about?’ they can find the answer in the recordings. That was what all the fuss was about.”

Rudolph Giuliani has chosen to live his life in a particular way these last few years. Trump has said, “I need a Roy Cohn.” He got one in Rudy. Last January, Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker had a Q&A with Giuliani.

Q.: “Saying things for Trump, not always being truthful about it — do you ever worry that this will be your legacy? Does that ever worry you in any way?”

A.: “Absolutely. I am afraid it will be on my gravestone. ‘Rudy Giuliani: He lied for Trump.’ Somehow, I don’t think that will be it. But, if it is, so what do I care? I’ll be dead.”

Turn, now, to his mayoralty (1994–2001). This was, as I have written many times, a “well-nigh salvific” mayoralty. It stands as a model of governance. It proves what government can do, with the right leadership, and the policies to go with it.

No, no, they can’t take that away from him — and he can’t take it away from himself.

Earlier this month, he was asked about the state of New York — meaning, the condition of New York City. “It breaks my heart,” he said. “I think this is an exceptional city. There is none like it in the world. And to see this man break down not only what I did but what Bloomberg did . . . I mean, Bloomberg and I don’t see eye on eye on politics, but I thought he was a very good mayor.”

By “this man,” Giuliani meant the incumbent mayor, Bill de Blasio.

Giuliani also said, “Homelessness was gone,” in the 20-year Rudy-Bloomy reign, “and homelessness should be gone. . . . When I see a city with homeless people, I see a city with a mayor who doesn’t give a damn about people, because if you give a damn about people, you don’t let them lay on the street. I had a rule that streets were not for living.”

Yes. Good rule.

As the Rudy-Bloomy era was ending, in 2013, I wrote a piece for National Review: “Freedom from Fear, for Now: A personal reflection on living in New York.” I expanded that into a four-part series, online. Here is Part IV (whose introduction gives you the links to the other parts).

I began my magazine piece as follows:

Here is a stunning fact: In 15 years of living in New York, I’ve just about never looked over my shoulder. Never crossed the street out of apprehension, never feared crime at all. I’m not cloistered, either. I’m in the streets for a couple of hours a day, and I’m out late most nights, or many nights.

“Well,” you might say, “you wander in the nicer parts of New York — of Manhattan, specifically.” True. But, not very long ago, some of those parts were not so nice. You wouldn’t have wanted to wander in them, and you definitely wouldn’t have wanted to linger in them.

These days, I sense no uptick in crime, and I sense no danger. Nothing has changed in that department — the vitally important one. I still have no cause to look over my shoulder. Ever. I still enjoy “freedom from fear.”

But there are other things . . .

I can’t give you social science. My gurus on New York, by the way, are Heather Mac Donald and Myron Magnet. You might say that my evidence is “anecdotal.” But it is real. I have the evidence of my eyes, nose, etc. — and my eyes and nose and other parts have lived here for over 20 years.

What can I report?

Rampant vagrancy. Rampant begging. Public urination and defecation. Trash piled high, everywhere. Buildings cloaked in scaffolding — more than ever, owing to a new law concerning façades, apparently — which makes the sidewalks narrower and less pleasant. General ugliness. Increased stench. Lower standards, all around.

In the lobby of a bank near me, there are ATM machines, of course. Never before has anyone hesitated to enter the lobby after hours. But now there are people camped out in it, and other people hesitate.

All of this is a choice, mind you. The condition of New York City is a choice: a governmental, political choice. Rudy-Bloomy proved that.

The conservative lesson is an old one: Government is very, very important. It is not to be pooh-poohed. Government should do what it is properly charged with doing (and no more) — and do it well.

To be continued . . .

* Jimmy Durante used to say, “New York, New York — the name so sweet, you got to say it twice.”

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