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40th Anniversary

The Day Everything Changed

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Maple, that night, wondered what things would be like if he could get all the crime data for a particular precinct—he conjured East New York, one of the city’s roughest neighborhoods—and send the cops of that precinct out to … make arrests! The crime and arrest data brought together.

This was the germ of what would become known as CompStat, the computerized crime-tracking system the NYPD instituted under Maple and Bratton. CompStat was used throughout the city. If you lived here then, you may remember reading the stories about Giuliani and Bratton’s weekly meetings with precinct commanders, raking them over the coals if they didn’t get results. (The famous Giuliani-Bratton fallout, when the thin-skinned mayor fired America’s best police commissioner for the sin of appearing on a Time cover without him, didn’t happen until 1996.)

The other idea, of course, was the “broken windows” theory, for which chief credit goes to criminologist George Kelling. A few broken windows will lead to a few more broken windows, which will lead to larger blights; so fix the problems when they’re small. When the transit cops started arresting people for fare-jumping, previously considered too penny-ante to worry about, they found that fare-jumpers often had rap sheets including more serious crimes. When street cops started busting people for selling dime bags, they found the same thing.

Crime had dropped by 7 percent in 1993, under Dinkins. In 1994, it dropped by 12 percent. Then 16 percent in 1995 and another 16 percent in 1996. Homicides—2,262 in 1992—went below 1,000 for the first time in decades in 1996, then down to 746 the year Giuliani sought reelection. Now we’re back to pre-Beatles numbers, and New Yorkers take it as a given. But I remember very clearly: The drops in ’94 and ’95 were so astoundingly steep that it was downright confusing. It just didn’t seem possible. Something had to be wrong with the numbers.

But people had started to believe. “We were always thinking about, ‘We’ve got to show that the city is governable,’ ” Powers says. “That was always the most important thing.”

There was more on the way. The slashing of the welfare rolls, under top adviser Richard Schwartz, was planned in the latter half of 1994, but it wasn’t really implemented until 1995, when Giuliani highlighted it in his second State of the City address. But by the end of 1996, the city’s welfare rolls had declined from nearly 1.2 million to 950,000, and they kept declining thereafter. Some aspects of the workfare program were more punitive than perhaps they needed to be—over time, the city loosened regulations to include more education and job training as acceptable substitutes for work, which was not the case at first. But this, too, was clearly something that needed to be done, and the critics’ most cataclysmic predictions did not, somehow, materialize.

Cleaning up the Fulton Fish Market was another project that had its origins in late 1994 but didn’t really come to a head until the following year. By early 1995, the administration had crafted legislation giving the city the power to take “good character, integrity, and honesty” into account when granting licenses to do business there. There was an arson fire. The city got the market reopened within 24 hours. The mob helped initiate a wildcat strike. Giuliani said to the strikers if you don’t come back to work, we’ll reopen it with all new people. “I mean, that’s what you call guts,” says Randy Mastro, who was in charge of the fish-market operation.

What else? Remember Giuliani’s endorsement, in his first year, of Mario Cuomo? Now, that was guts, too. Giuliani did it partly because he hated D’Amato and knew that if Pataki became governor, he’d have a competitor for biggest dog in the GOP (a competition that Pataki ending up winning, I’d say, in some ways, except for the fact that Rudy is much the more memorable figure), and partly because he needed Cuomo’s help with the city’s finances and on Medicaid formulas. Then he barnstormed the state on Cuomo’s behalf, warning about the plague of corruption that would descend on us if Pataki were elected. That turned out to be sort of true, though not quite to the extent that average people really noticed.

There’s one way of measuring a politician’s success. The things he did in his day that were controversial—are they accepted wisdom now? One can’t say “yes” to that question about everything Rudy did, by a long shot. But as far as that first year is concerned, this is true: No person could run for mayor and be taken seriously by saying or suggesting that he or she would depart radically from the basic path Giuliani set in 1994–95. Bring in more accountability, apply a new and needed standard of civic behavior, be forceful but fair with the unions, get the cops out on the street, prove that things that were broken could be fixed. It couldn’t be done. The local Democratic Party, which I scolded eleven years ago in the pages of this magazine (“Four Candidates and a Funeral,” May 12, 1997) for its tectonic adaptation to the new rules, has learned this lesson too slowly.


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