NEW YORK -- If you've read, as I have, every single word of everything that's been written about the New York City mayoralty race (well, almost), then you will note that on one thing -- and one thing only -- are all the candidates in agreement: Rudolph Giuliani killed crime in New York.
Some of those candidates would now change the way Giuliani did that killing -- more community-based policing, for instance -- but they do not deny what Rudy did, and they promise on all that is sacred to do the same. Never will crime return to the City of New York.
I do not believe them. It's not, mind you, that I think they are liars, although such a thing has happened before in politics. And it's not as if I think they do not understand that if crime increases under their watch, they will be given the boot so fast that the cliche "New York minute" will seem insufficiently descriptive. It's just that none of them is a Rudy Giuliani, and it is he -- his madness as well as his methods -- that killed crime in New York.
What do I mean by that? It's this. When you look at all the factors that supposedly account for why crime has plummeted in New York, they don't all add up. Something is clearly missing.
You can credit William Bratton, who was Giuliani's first police commissioner, and some of the programs he instituted. You can credit the late Jack Maple, whom Bratton promoted from a lieutenant in the transit police to deputy commissioner, for coming up with Compstat, a computer-based policing program.
You can credit the receding of the crack epidemic, which is not exactly something that Giuliani did on his own, and you can credit demographic changes, such as a dip in the number of male teenagers. Again, Giuliani had nothing to do with that.
In fact, even cities that did not have Giuliani as mayor -- and there are such cities -- saw crime decrease. Some, like Washington, managed to pull that off while fielding a police department which, if vastly improved, would rise to mediocre on a really good day. Other cities -- San Diego comes to mind -- did not imitate what was done in New York City and nevertheless saw crime drop.
So, crime was dropping everywhere. But nowhere -- and that's nowhere -- did it drop as much as it did in New York. It didn't just decline here, it fell off a cliff. The number of murders was more than halved. New York's rate declined three times as much as the national average. The decline was so massive, and New York is so big, that the city alone accounted for a disproportionate improvement in the national figures.
Why? Rudy's the answer. I know that lacks scientific proof or maybe reasoning of any kind, but I feel it in my bones. Crime went down and stayed away because Rudy was in city hall. He didn't "understand" criminals or pity them their Dickensian environment. He didn't see them as the product of a social problem, but as the main cause of one. He hated them, and he loved the cops, and if he did not by himself change the culture, he was one with it. Rudy Giuliani banished "No Radio" signs.
Certain political figures manage to occupy their era. Ronald Reagan did that. Some credit him with bringing down the Soviet Union, a slum of a country whose economy was peeling like the hallway of a tenement. Reagan got the credit because he saw the Soviet Union for what it was and hated it accordingly. It was the same with Roosevelt. My mother cried when FDR died, as if somehow the course of World War II was going to change.
Giuliani has that quality. Something about him -- his obsessiveness, his intolerance, his rigidity -- kept crime at bay. None of his potential successors have that fire in their belly, that refreshing hatred of criminals and the sheer and possibly irrational fear that they are still out there, lurking and marking time, waiting for one era to end and another to begin. To these candidates, crime is a problem solved -- and they promise, in an offhand fashion, to keep it that way. They talk of other things when, really, there are no other things. It is that simple.
So, today, when I scan the field of mayoralty candidates my heart sinks. This, let's face it, is a sad, sad field. They all mean well, and they have experience galore, but I tremble for the city. There's not a real nut in the bunch.