Smith: Giuliani’s Race-baiting All Too Familiar

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"You know exactly what I'm talking about." —Rudy Giuliani at a Bloomberg campaign event for the Jewish Community Council in Borough Park, Brooklyn

Yes, Rudy, we do. When you appear before an Orthodox Jewish group and say that electing Bill Thompson, who just happens to be black, could cast the city back into a cauldron of crime, you don’t need to spell out the real message. Because we remember you stoking racial divisions over the Crown Heights riots to beat an incumbent black mayor. And that you spent eight years as mayor playing on fears, real and imagined. And that your dismal presidential campaign tried to sell you as the last hope for protecting America from the mongrel hordes, domestic as well as furrin’.

What’s mysterious, however, is that the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, could sit through Giuliani’s barely subtextual swill yesterday without a peep of demurral. Instead, Bloomberg claimed that if he isn’t reelected next month, New York could disintegrate just like Detroit. Now, maybe Bloomberg was referring to Detroit’s overdependence on a single source of jobs — though the parallels between the collapse of the U.S. auto industry and the decline of Wall Street are rough at best, and doesn’t the mayor boast of having reduced New York’s dependence on high finance? Or maybe Bloomberg was alluding to the freshly painful demise of the Detroit Tigers. Because surely he wasn’t raising the specter of an impoverished, violence-riven metropolis whose recent mayors happen to have been a series of corrupt, incompetent black guys. Right?

Race-baiting, either out of his own mouth or that of a surrogate, is beneath Bloomberg. He has an extensive record of racial enlightenment, from the charitable causes he supports to his attempts to reform the city’s public schools, whose failures hurt nonwhite students in disproportionate measure. But the mayor has also shown a dispiriting tendency to resort to scare tactics when he’s in a tight spot. Last fall, when Bloomberg was pushing for a controversial term-limits extension, he and his allies promised the economic sky would fall if he didn’t get the chance to run the city for four more years. Now, when the reelection campaign is in its final weeks and the polls are somewhat closer than expected, Bloomberg is accentuating the negative, like trotting out Giuliani to inflame conservative voters. It makes the mayor appear scared of losing. His greater fear, though, should be winning the wrong way.