As New York suffers through yet another challenging era of ineffective political leadership, it is worthwhile to recall what one leader can accomplish under the most difficult circumstances.
Context here is New York, New York, circa the bad old days of the 1980s. Many of that era’s pundits had decided to write off The Big Apple. The David Dinkins era was the nadir—rampant crime, dangerous schools, a declining real estate market, and a depressed (and fleeing) small business community—a scene reminiscent of the bleeding, burning New York of the 1960s.
Then there came along a tough-talking crime fighting former federal prosecutor with a can-do attitude and willingness to mix it up with the most strident progressives of the time. His name was Rudy Giuliani—and he was a Republican in a town where Democrats enjoyed an overwhelming registration advantage.
But he knew how to lead. Specifically, he understood the need to identify what was broken and then fix it in a quantifiable way. And so the Giuliani Administration instituted a “broken windows” crime fighting strategy whereby law enforcement was empowered to draw a line in the sand at the commission of minor offenses. In the process, a newfound sense of security was delivered to a worn down populous more than fed up with the great city’s obvious decline.
New York’s monumental turnaround has been well documented by observers right and left. As they say, statistics don’t lie, and in the case of Giuliani’s New York, the statistics were dramatic. How dramatic? A $2 billion deficit turned into a multi-billion dollar surplus, a 58% decline in welfare rolls, a 56% decrease in violent crime between 1993 and 2001 (the number of street cops increased from 28,000 to 40,000), a public-private partnership cleaned up Times Square, high performing charter schools exploded, small businesses returned, and tourism made dramatic gains. The Big Apple was back.
Of course, many people contributed along the way, not the least of which was a police force newly re-engaged in restoring a great city’s pride. But it was the unrelenting drive of one indispensable man that turned it around.
History records that a “Giuliani-Light” Administration followed under the leadership of Michael Bloomberg. “Giuliani” because many of Rudy’s crime and economic policies were kept in place; “Light” because the billionaire-turned-politician also displayed an un-Giuliani-like proclivity for government interference into individual liberty—the popularity of Big Gulps and sugary desserts notwithstanding.
Fast forward to Gotham 2015 and the delusory Administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio. You have to give it to the new anti-Giuliani—he never sought to hide the uber-progressivism of his program. Indeed, year one of the de Blasio Administration has borne witness to the worst inclinations of the progressive agenda.
The only problem is that progressivism does not work outside of certain college campuses and Washington, D.C. In the real world of markets and wealth mobility, calls for massive tax increases (a proposed “mansion tax”) have started another exodus of the wealthy. (If you recall the great State of Maryland losing 1/3 of its millionaires in the year after passage of Martin O’Malley’s millionaire’s tax in 2009, please go to the head of the class.)
But the damage is not confined to the economic realm. The attempted redirection of funds intended for the city’s spectacularly successful charter schools was fully in line with the teachers’ union agenda. Sanctuary city status prohibits the police from inquiring into legal status and guarantees access to taxpayer financed welfare benefits. And de Blasio’s deeply grounded disregard for law enforcement was again on prominent display in the days and weeks following Ferguson and its progeny (yet not without remarkable displays of anti-de Blasio sentiment from the rank and file in the aftermath of the cold blooded murders of two of New York’s finest).
If you thought that de Blasio would take a break after the unrelenting negative coverage of his police problems…think again. Only within the past few weeks did a federal judge save NYC’s banks from catastrophe by finding the city’s attempt to impose “socially responsible” lending practices on them unconstitutional. For those of you who lived through our recent mortgage crisis and recession, this attempted shakedown of local banks to benefit progressive causes brings back bad memories of ACORN and its activist progeny. The former community organizer in the White House was no doubt disappointed.