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I Run to Win

“What did you want me to do?” Hugh Carey said.

“Well, I just wanted you to know,” I said.

“I wish to God I’d been right on the war when I should have been,” he said. He had, from 1965 until only a short time ago, been a Brooklyn Irish Catholic Hawk, of which there are no talons sharper. But now he could look at you over a drink and tell you openly that he had been wrong. “It’s the one thing in my life I’m ashamed of,” he said. “And I’m going to go in and tell every mother in this city that I was wrong and that we’re wasting their sons.”

Pretty good, I thought. Let’s have another drink.

“How’s it look for you?” I asked.

“Well, it’s up to The Wag,” he said.

“The Wag?” I said.

“The Wag. Bob Wagner.”

“What the hell has he got to do with it?”

“Look, if he comes back and runs and I can get on the ticket with him, then in a year he’ll run for the Senate against Goodell and I can take over the city and we’ll start putting the type of people in....”

Well, I told him then what I’m putting down here now. If Robert Wagner, who spent 12 years in City Hall as the representative of everybody in New York except the people who had to live in the city while he let it creak and sag, if this dumpy, narrow man named Robert Wagner, by merely considering stepping back into politics, could have a Hugh Carey thinking about running on the ticket below him, then there was something I didn’t like about Hugh Carey. Not as a guy, but as a politician who would run a city which is as wounded and tormented as New York.

You see, the condition of the City of New York at this time reminds me of the middleweight champion fight between the late Marcel Cerdan and Tony Zale. Zale was old and doing it from memory and Cerdan was a bustling, sort of classy alley fighter and Cerdan went to the body in the first round and never brought his punches up. At the start of each round, when you looked at Zale’s face, you saw only this proud, fierce man. There were no marks to show what was happening. But Tony Zale was coming apart from the punches that did not leave any marks and at the end of the eleventh round Tony was along the ropes and Cerdan stepped back and Tony crumbled and he was on the floor, looking out into the night air, his face unmarked, his body dead, his career gone. In New York today, the face of the city, Manhattan, is proud and glittering. But Manhattan is not the city. New York really is a sprawl of neighborhoods, which pile into one another. And it is down in the neighborhoods, down in the schools that are in the neighborhoods, where this city is cut and slashed and bleeding from someplace deep inside. The South Bronx is gone. East New York and Brownsville are gone. Jamaica is up for grabs. The largest public education system in the world may be gone already. The air we breathe is so bad that on a warm day the city is a big Donora. In Manhattan, the lights seem brighter and the theatre crowds swirl through the streets and the girls swing in and out of office buildings in packs and it is all splendor and nobody sees the body punches that are going to make the city sag to its knees one day so very soon. The last thing, then, that New York can afford at this time is a politician thinking in normal politicians’ terms. The city is beyond that. The City of New York either gets an imagination, or the city dies.

A day or so after seeing Carey, I came into Toots Shor’s on the late side of the afternoon, when the place is between-¬shifts empty. Paul Screvane was finishing lunch. He was sitting with Shor. I tried a cautious drink. The vibrations among the three of us were all right. I settled down to talk with them. For weeks, Screvane had wanted to announce his candidacy for mayor. But he had been waiting until he heard what Wagner was going to do.

“Why wait?” I said.

“Well, because all the financial support I normally would get would go to Wagner,” Screvane said.

“Well, what’s he going to do?” I asked.

“I’ve called him for a week. I’m waiting to hear from him right now,” Screvane said. “He’s next door in the 21 Club. He knows I’m here. I’ll just wait.”


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