But the rest of the story illustrates the sleight of hand Giuliani uses to embellish his record. “His welfare people matched the city data with the State Department of Labor data, and basically found that people were working already,” says Ester Fuchs, a Columbia University professor of public affairs whom Bloomberg hired to evaluate city government when he was elected. “So they found fraud, sent out letters, people left the rolls—and they were instantly employed!” Weeding out fraud is an inarguable achievement, but Giuliani makes it sound as if he also created a robust jobs program.
Locking up criminals and clamping down on welfare cheats played to Giuliani’s talents as a prosecutor. Issues that required patience and diplomacy, like fixing the public-school system, frustrated him to fury. Other agencies that Giuliani did control simply didn’t function by the time he was done with them.
“One of the most amusing things about Rudy is his crisscrossing the country speaking on ‘management,’ ” Fuchs says. “City Hall didn’t even have functional e-mail when we arrived—in 2002! You cringed when you looked at the capacity of agencies to really do what they were supposed to do.” Giuliani’s supporters trumpet his personal incorruptibility, but as mayor he larded his administrations with unqualified cousins and cousins-in-law.
Though the current building boom has been fueled by the surging national economy, City Planning Director Amanda Burden and Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff have been creative in finding ways to advance the cause—to the point at which many neighborhoods are cringing beneath the glut of high-rise construction. “The cupboard was totally bare [when we took over],” a Bloomberg economic-development official says. “The Giuliani administration’s view was that you improve the quality of life and economic development will occur. Up to a point, that view is correct. But we had to start from scratch on literally hundreds of different projects.” Bloomberg’s impact on city life—from 311 to the smoking ban to public schools and massive infrastructure projects—is likely to be farther-reaching and longer-lasting than Giuliani’s. And Bloomberg still has two years left in office.
Some of the forces responsible for the city’s rebound are largely outside the influence of mayors. “What has really enabled New York to be so resilient in the face of all these challenges—white flight, disinvestment, de-industrialization, global competition, 9/11?” asks John Mollenkopf, a CUNY professor of political science. “New York is trying to sail upwind against some fairly strong storms. Yet the population is going up, per capita income is going up in real terms. How did we do it? It’s kind of crass, but New York has continued to be a place where a lot of people can make a lot of money, which attracts one kind of talent. The corollary to that has been immigration. The city has been renewed by the continuing influx of diverse, energetic newcomers. It’s sad to see Giuliani turn from what he said on immigration as mayor, when he was very welcoming, because he senses the anti-immigrant winds blowing through the Republican Party.”
Sad, maybe, but not out of character. “It’s insulting to every New Yorker that he goes around the country talking as if he thinks he was the animal tamer and we were the animals,” Ed Koch says.
Especially when it was Giuliani who so often riled up the animals in the first place.
Giuliani arrived at City Hall at a pivotal moment in New York’s history, and his contribution to the city’s revival was enormous. Yet his true legacy is more attitudinal than programmatic. At a time when the city’s spirit and public image were taking a beating, he made an invaluably emphatic statement that New York was worth fighting for. The downside to Giuliani’s temperament was that when battles didn’t present themselves, he invented them or lost interest. So with murder rates plunging, Giuliani turned his sights on jaywalkers, hot-dog vendors, and sensation-seeking artists.
“In the second term as mayor, I think he got depressed,” Fran Reiter says. “The minute he won reelection, he realized it was the beginning of the end. With the exception of welfare reform, he stopped focusing on the big stuff.” Instead, Giuliani dwelled on the petty, even when it meant turning his back on loyal friends. One of them was Reiter, a Liberal Party veteran who served as a deputy mayor in Giuliani’s first term and managed his second winning campaign. Reiter then found herself on the outside of Giuliani’s shrinking inner circle, for reasons she says are still mysterious. She’s now backing Clinton. “Whatever issues I have with him, I believe Rudy saved New York,” Reiter says. “But I’m not convinced the things he did as mayor, and the way he did them, will translate well into the presidency. I know a lot of good people he pushed away. There’s a tendency for Rudy to personalize stuff and be unforgiving of differences of opinion.”