Bill Bratton came to New York from Boston in 1990, hired by the MTA to overhaul the city’s transit police. Four years later, the new mayor appointed Bratton police chief. The efficiency and aggressiveness of the NYPD increased markedly under the new leadership. And the department’s combination of street-savvy personalities and nuevo-thinking made for an irresistible, media-ready narrative. The murder rate dropped 74 percent. But murders also dropped 73 percent in San Diego; killings were down 70 percent in Austin, 59 percent in Honolulu, and 56 percent in Boston. None of those miracles, however, was accompanied by a cult of personality forming around the relevant mayor.
There’s now a large body of research indicating that crime would have shriveled even if New York hadn’t been lead by two self-proclaimed geniuses. The crack plague burned out just as Giuliani and Bratton deployed an additional 8,000 men and women in blue—thanks to President Bill Clinton and David Dinkins, Giuliani’s much-derided predecessor at City Hall. The murder rate had actually begun declining in 1991, under Police Commissioner Lee Brown, and continued to fall under his successor, Ray Kelly; Dinkins, however, wasn’t quick enough or deft enough to claim credit. Giuliani and Bratton took full advantage of the increase in manpower and were even better at exploiting the media attention.
Bratton was too good at it, at least in his boss’s view. Giuliani couldn’t stand Bratton sharing the spotlight and forced him out of the job months after the chief’s appearance on the cover of Time. Under Bloomberg and the reinstalled Kelly, crime has continued to shrink—even as crime rates have rebounded in other major cities and even though the current department is working with less money and fewer cops.
For his campaign to work, Giuliani has to demonize New York and claim all the credit for the improvements he left behind.
But the constant confrontations and Giuliani’s growing ego did more than drive away top talent from his administration. As the end of his time at City Hall grew near, he’d also lost nearly all his intellectual curiosity as well as his sense of humor. Or maybe he’d simply run out of worthy villains.
The senior citizens boo on cue when Giuliani uses the words Hillary Clinton and higher taxes in the same sentence. “The best thing to do, and I did this in New York, is to reduce the size of government and to reduce the amount of taxes that we charge you,” Giuliani says, to sustained applause. “People said it could not be done in New York. When I proposed doing it, they laughed at me! When I proposed doing it, the New York Times wrote editorials explaining how irresponsible it was.”
From the back, there’s a shout, loud and clear: “The New York Times sucks!”
After he stops laughing, Giuliani playfully pretends to take offense. “Now, now—we don’t talk that way! We don’t say bad words! We’re the party of family values! The way we say it is, ‘The New York Times is incorrect.’ And they are! I lowered taxes in New York 23 times! Nobody had ever done it more than once. I did it 23 times! Nine billion dollars!”
Now it’s Giuliani’s turn to be incorrect. The city payroll ballooned by 25,000 during his tenure. Eight of those 23 tax reductions came from Albany. A ninth, by far the largest, originated in the City Council—and Giuliani fought it, tooth and nail, for nearly two years. The truly rich irony in that episode, the expiration of a 12.5 percent surcharge on personal income, is that it’s the same tax Dinkins, with the help of Council Speaker Peter Vallone, added to hire more cops. Some of Giuliani’s tax reductions seem purely symbolic, like slashing the levy on “coin-operated amusement devices.”
Even conservative economists were disappointed by the gap between Giuliani’s rhetoric and results. “By big-city standards, he has a reasonably conservative fiscal record—that he has inflated,” says E. J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute. “The tax cuts enacted during Rudy’s tenure did, indeed, contribute to the city’s economic growth. But he funded the biggest increase in school spending that had ever been seen up to that point. He talks now about collecting more revenue with lower taxes—of course he did! The economy was booming!” When a recession started, Giuliani wasn’t able to adjust. His borrowing and spending helped transform the city’s $3 billion budget surplus into a $4.5 billion deficit—most of which piled up prior to September 11.
Giuliani’s other signature accomplishment is his slashing of New York’s welfare rolls. By making the city’s welfare-application procedures more rigorous, by requiring work in exchange for a check, and by combing for fraud, he trimmed the welfare rolls by 500,000 people. “Giuliani’s achievement was considerable, in some ways more impressive than what happened in other big cities, because the culture here is very averse to the assumptions of welfare reform—individual responsibility, a rejection of claims of disadvantage by people who are poor,” says Lawrence Mead, an NYU professor who is one of the intellectual fathers of “workfare.” “The ethos of the community groups was totally rejected by Giuliani. He did it without apology and without compromise. He didn’t even maintain appearances.”