Michael Tomasky, the liberal editor of Guardian America and a regular contributor to the New York Review, had a fascinating piece in the fortieth anniversary issue of New York magazine last week. It's called "The Day Everything Changed," meaning, the day everything changed for the better in New York. And, perhaps surprisingly (though pleasantly so), Tomasky says that day was January 1, 1994. The day Rudolph W. Giuliani was inaugurated as the mayor of New York City:
By the end of Giuliani's first year, the city was a visibly different place - made safe, Toronto-ized, starting down the road toward being Olive Garden-ized (yes, there were downsides!); a place that suddenly was no longer the city where Travis Bickle prayed to God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk and where - in real life, not the movies - display ads for porn films actually ran in the Post right alongside the display ads for Smokey and the Bandit (it's true; a few years ago I went to the Post's morgue and looked through old issues and saw the ads, and their blurbs screaming 'Full Erection!,' with my own disbelieving eyes). That is inconceivable to us now. But it, and a score of cankers like it, used to be the reality in New York. Lots of forces combined to change that, but the biggest force of all was Rudy.
It's worth noting, of course, that the economic boom of the late 1990s also played a major role in New York's transformation. Which means that the economic downturn will probably have worrisome consequences for America's greatest city (though not worrisome enough to change the laws to satisfy power-hungry billionaires!).