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With Bloomberg on Stage, Harsher Light on Giuliani

Michael R. Bloomberg and Rudolph W. Giuliani in 2001. Bloomberg has taken a more conciliatory approach than Giuliani in running New York.
Michael R. Bloomberg and Rudolph W. Giuliani in 2001. Bloomberg has taken a more conciliatory approach than Giuliani in running New York. (By Robert Spencer -- Associated Press)

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By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 6, 2007

NEW YORK -- Madison Square Garden was taken over by New York police and their families, all there for the graduation ceremony of 1,097 new officers. A rousing video flashed images of police responding to the Sept. 11 attacks. It was a scene tailor-made for Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor who has made the reduction of crime in New York and the city's response to Sept. 11 the underpinnings of his presidential campaign.

But sitting in the prime spot on the dais last week was Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Giuliani's successor and the man who, many New Yorkers say, threatens to undermine Giuliani's bid for the White House with his own flirtation with a presidential run. The 5-foot-7 billionaire businessman with a Boston accent does not exude the law enforcement authority that the ex-prosecutor Giuliani did, yet the crowd cheered as Bloomberg trumpeted New York's continued drop in crime.

"I didn't really notice crime was going down in my neighborhood until Mayor Bloomberg," said JoJo Shaffer, an actress from Canarsie, Brooklyn, whose partner was graduating. "Before, you didn't see many patrolmen. Now there are more cops, and they tend to be more personable. They talk to people instead of just busting them."

As the political world waits to see whether Bloomberg's switch last month from Republican to independent means that he and his vast fortune will enter the 2008 presidential race, one result of his dalliance with running is already becoming clear: Simply having him in the picture calls into question some of the assumptions underlying Giuliani's appeal.

Giuliani is selling himself as a strong leader who achieved the impossible in bringing an ungovernable New York under control, even if it required some bruising confrontations along the way. But Bloomberg, his admirers say, has shown that the city of 8 million can be run successfully in a far more understated fashion -- that a mayor can reduce crime without cultivating a sheriff's swagger and antagonizing minorities, protect against terrorism without overly fixating on security, and tackle deeply rooted urban problems without getting into public spats with top appointees.

"Bloomberg shows it's possible to manage New York without offending people," said Peter Kostmayer, a former Democratic congressman who is president of Citizens for New York City, a nonprofit group. "His entrance would be a complete disaster for Giuliani, because then you're able to compare. You have one mayor who was successful and turned off lots of people and one who was successful and has turned on lots of people. "

The former mayor's defenders counter that Giuliani took office at a time when runaway crime and an unaccountable bureaucracy demanded a reformer's lash, and that it is only because he pacified the city that Bloomberg has been able to govern as a more conciliatory technocrat.

"When Bloomberg came in, Dodge City was Clean City," said Michael Long, head of New York's Conservative Party. "It's much easier to continue that. It's more of a maintenance operation."

It is a debate that will not be resolved soon. But the mere fact that it is occurring, New Yorkers say, means there will be increased scrutiny of Giuliani's claims of transforming the city from a crime-ridden metropolis in decline to a shimmering urban paragon.

This extends even to the response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the heart of Giuliani's national appeal. Giuliani won acclaim for the resolve he showed on Sept. 11 and the days and weeks following, but having Bloomberg on stage serves to remind voters that Giuliani was out of office within four months of the attacks, that most of the city's resurgence has been presided over by someone else -- and that many New Yorkers were ready to be rid of Giuliani before Sept. 11.

"Giuliani has positioned himself as America's mayor, but Bloomberg has positioned himself as the guy who rebuilt the city . . . and kept it working," said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic Party consultant.

If there is an upside for Giuliani, New Yorkers say, it is that the contrast with Bloomberg makes Giuliani appear relatively conservative in the eyes of wary Republican voters. By the same token, though, Bloomberg's outspoken support for gun control and immigration could remind conservative voters that Giuliani shared those positions.


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