This is another column that I have to get in before it's too late. Rudolph Giuliani, America's Mayor, and presidential candidate. A tough prosecutor, a miracle-working mayor, successful businessman and a lawman's lawman, there is a lot to like about Rudy.
Leaving the Democratic Party after the 1970's Rudy began his journey to the Right -- some might say he was maturing -- as a prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, eventually becoming a US attorney.
New York City, in the '70's and '80's, had become increasingly dysfunctional. Crime and police corruption kept getting worse, taxes were increasing at ever higher rates, race riots were a common summer pastime, "the Bronx was burning", businesses and the middle class were leaving in droves. By the late 1980's, New York was considered, by the smart money, at least, ungovernable. One mayor after another had left New York worse or, at best, the same as when they got there.
In 1989, Rudy Giuliani narrowly lost the mayoralty to David Dinkins in a hotly contested race. David Dinkins then went on to turn a dire situation into an abyss. Dinkins presided over one of the worst periods in New York History. Racial tensions hit a new low, riots were allowed to "run their course", drug dealers slain in police shootouts were given City-funded funerals, police were treated worse than the thugs, businesses were left to the tender mercies of protesting mobs, and the taxes just kept getting higher and higher.
Giuliani finally won the election in 1993, despite being branded as a "fascist" by the Left in New York. Almost overnight, Rudy turned the City around. His approach to crime was known as "the broken window theory". If a building has a broken window, and no one fixes it, it is only a matter of time before more of the windows are broken. Same as with crime. If we let the little pathologies go unpunished, bigger pathologies would soon follow.
Rudy began with the infamous New York "squeegee" men, panhandlers who would "wash" your car's windows with questionable water and demand payment. These he summarily banned from the streets. Next were the turnstile jumpers in the subways. Of complete surprise to Liberals all across the nation, these turnstile jumpers were also carrying guns, knives, drugs, and outstanding arrest warrants. Then there were Gotti fireworks shows, the loud radios and public drinking, clearing the parks of drug dealers and users, cracking down on public nuisances, and a total restructuring of the police department. Suddenly, crime dropped. It kept on dropping. In fact it is still dropping, more than a decade after his election.
Racial tensions soon became more a matter of partisan politics than a boiling over of the streets. His crime reductions meant that fewer blacks and minorities were killed by the criminals, and his riding herd on the police reduced the number of people killed by police in the line of duty. Riots suddenly stopped. Folks started to actually walk around their neighborhoods at all hours of the day and night, getting to know their neighbors.
On economics, Rudy cut the the City taxes for the first time in decades. More importantly, he froze or cut the budgets of every department but the police. Unions screamed, the police (who got no pay raises) cried foul, and welfare clients got jobs. For that was something else that Rudy did that was unthinkable: Rudy demanded and got fingerprint identification for all welfare clients. Suddenly, the enrollment in welfare programs dropped to half of what it was.
The defining moment for Rudy Giuliani was the attack on 9/11. Rudy's performance in the days following the attack cemented his reputation as "America's Mayor". His leadership brought us through the worst disaster in history.
Indeed, there is much to admire about Rudy Giuliani. He is a strong leader who can get Conservative things done, even with a Liberal legislature. He is phenomenal on issues of crime. And he has a clear vision of America and her enemies that, frankly, all the Democrats sorely lack.
And yet... you know you smell a "but"!
Yes, I know that Rudy cleaned up Times Square. The "Crossroads of the World" had seen better days by 1993. The great theaters and movie houses had given way to X-rated movies, peepshows, porn shops, prostitution, and drugs. It was rapidly plunging deeper into squalor as each day passed. Times Square today is bright and cheerful. Gone are all but vestiges of the sociopathology that made Times Square a dangerous, at best, place. In its place are fine family- oriented attractions, huge, brilliantly lit displays, and throngs of happy (not wary) visitors.
The downside is how this was all accomplished. Giuliani, first of all, rezoned much of the area, making it difficult for the adult entertainment industry (that doesn't sound right!) to take root. With existing establishments, he used the practice of eminent domain to seize properties, which were then handed over to entities such as Disney and the Hard Rock Cafe. This practice gained notoriety in 2005 with the Kelo decision of the Supreme Court, which narrowly held that property owned by one individual can be confiscated by local government and handed over to another private entity if it would "further the common good" of the community.
My Libertarian streak just spasms when I hear about such practices. Sure, eminent domain is a useful tool. But it should never be used to aquire property from one private entity and give it to another. There lies far too many opportunities for mischief by our government officials.
Social issues, too, are an Achilles' Heel for Rudy Giuliani. Whatever his virtues, he is simply wrong on far too many matters important to most Conservatives. He is extremely Pro-Choice, even advocating government funding for abortions. For all intents and purposes, he turned New York City into a "sanctuary city", ordering City officials to no cooperate with the INS. And he was far too comfortable with the Gay Rights crowd. His social Liberalism, in my mind, would have made his fiscal conservatism rather suspect, since I find it hard to square the one with the other.
To be fair, let's stipulate that Rudy has campaigned on appointing strict originalist judges in the mold of Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito, John Roberts, and Antonin Scalia. After all, the president is far more removed from social issues than governors or mayors. It is the courts, in fact, where the real battles in the Culture Wars are to be fought and won. Originalist judges are the weapon of choice.
Outside of the Tri-state Area, all these negatives would have made Rudy problematic for the Conservative base, although his successes garnered him much praise. And, all his negatives aside, he would still be a far better president than either Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton. Still, his name recognition and his fame for "governing the ungovernable City" makes him a much more known quantity than any of his Republican opponents.
Unfortunately, the Giuliani campaign never seemed to connect with the voters. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina -- all have failed to see Rudy garner more than single digits in the polls. Now, as the candidates are starting to drop out, he has put all his chips on Florida.
Florida should have been a good state for Giuliani. It's reasonably Conservative, although his social Liberalism wouldn't raise too many eyebrows. It is very rich in delegates, having a large population. And it is populated by many, many New Yorkers who've moved there to retire. But it doesn't seem to be working out that way. Recent polls show that Rudy is dropping into an ever more distant third place in Florida.
As if that weren't enough, should Giuliani get the Republican nomination, it looks like he would lose New Jersey, of all places. All the smart money would have sworn that New Jersey, being New York City's bedroom, so to speak, would be a lock for Rudy. But then, maybe that money isn't so smart after all.
Slipping and fading, Rudy looks to join the ranks of the also-rans. But he might still pull a rabbit out of his hat. He still might get the nomination, although that is looking increasingly unlikely. Still, the Conservative faithful wonder, how glorious would a death match between Hillary and Rudy be? It would be, for political junkies such as myself, a battle royale! The Mother of All Elections.
I doubt it, but it still might happen. Stranger things than that have happened in presidential politics. Perhaps, in an alternate universe...
Copyright Jan. 24th, 2008