With Bloomberg on Stage, Harsher Light on Giuliani

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.

Publicly, the Giuliani campaign has played down concerns about the impact of Bloomberg's arrival on the scene, casting him as a caretaker of the Giuliani record. Bloomberg has mostly maintained a cordial stance toward Giuliani -- after seeming to fault Giuliani recently for the $6 billion deficit he inherited in 2001, he pulled back at a breakfast forum with New York business leaders last week, saying the deficit was mainly the result of Sept. 11 and the stock market's drop.

Behind the scenes, though, the two camps regard each other with deep suspicion. Giuliani loyalists belittle Bloomberg's gains as small-scale tinkering and pandering to the city's elite, and Bloomberg adherents have hinted that they will not exactly bar City Hall against those searching for unflattering tidbits from the Giuliani era.

In the weeks after the terrorist attacks, Bloomberg's campaign had to press for Giuliani's endorsement, even though Bloomberg was running as a Republican (after having been a Democrat for most of his life). When Giuliani finally offered his endorsement, it was decidedly muted.

In office, Bloomberg from the start sought to build on Giuliani's legacies: reducing crime, improving the quality of life and reforming welfare. But he abandoned his predecessor's high-profile, high-octane style of governing, placing his desk amid those of his top deputies to symbolize his inclusive approach and prohibiting city officials from using flashing lights in traffic except in true emergencies.

As time went on, the gap in styles grew. Giuliani had battled with, and finally fired, several of his top appointees, including Schools Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, who Giuliani felt was taking too much credit for the drop in crime. Bloomberg, meanwhile, has delegated broad authority to appointees such as Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

While Giuliani relished rushing to the scene of municipal emergencies, Bloomberg has shown less interest in playing the part of the people's fixer, to the point where he was accused of not being aggressive enough in handling a major blackout last year in Queens. While Giuliani got a rise out of the city's arts establishment by decrying museum pieces he found tasteless, Bloomberg welcomed the plan by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude to festoon Central Park with thousands of saffron sheets.

The starkest contrast has come in dealings with minority neighborhoods. Giuliani feuded with several top African American elected officials, and was criticized for his handling of fatal police shootings of unarmed black men. Bloomberg can seem out of touch with the city's minority areas -- in 2001, he tried to connect with a Harlem congregation by marveling that his daughter's chief rival in equestrian racing was black. But he won nearly half of the black vote in his 2005 reelection. And when police killed an unarmed black man in Queens in November, Bloomberg moved to quell the uproar, going so far as to meet with the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"Giuliani had people suffer the illusion that meanness was tantamount to management," Sharpton said. "When people would say, why was he not reaching out to people who disagreed with him, he would justify that by saying that's not how you manage. Well, Bloomberg has reached out but managed anyway."

Giuliani's defenders reject this, saying he shut out his most vocal critics because they were baiting him from the moment of his 1993 victory over David N. Dinkins, the city's first black mayor. And if there are fewer clashes now between Bloomberg and social advocacy groups, they say it is only because Giuliani long ago won the war of ideas with those groups.

"By the time Bloomberg came along, most of them had been defanged or proven wrong," said Steven Malanga, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.

Bloomberg has hardly run from confrontation. He courted unpopularity early on with a property tax increase and a smoking ban. In seizing control of the city schools, he picked a major battle left untouched by Giuliani. He infuriated civil liberties advocates with his clampdown on protesters at the 2004 GOP convention, relented on a West Side stadium plan only after months of opposition, and is now pushing a controversial congestion fee on driving into and out of Manhattan.

And Bloomberg can also flash a hard-edged candor. At the breakfast with business leaders, he scoffed at a question about whether the schools' emphasis on math and reading testing was taking away from the "richness" of education in subjects such as art and music. "Well, I don't know about the 'richness of education,' " he said, his voice thick with sarcasm. "In my other life, I own a business, and I can tell you, being able to do 2-plus-2 is a lot more important than a lot of other things."

But the contrast surfaced again last month in the two men's reactions to the foiling of an alleged plot to explode fuel tanks at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Giuliani seized on it to bolster his campaign's theme, saying, "Today's arrests remind us that we are at war." Bloomberg offered a noticeably milder response: "You can't sit there and worry about everything. You have a much greater danger of being hit by lightning than being struck by a terrorist. Get a life."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company