Michael Tomasky never would’ve written this article had Rudy Giuliani been the Republican nominee. Of course, he isn’t, and we know why – but this article makes me miss him dearly. He was without question the most experienced executive in this year’s presidential stakes, and for all his personal faults, represents the change a leader can attain who has a steady hand in response to overwhelming challenge.
No less a savant of urbanism than Daniel Patrick Moynihan, that great liberal and occasional neoconservative who never abandoned his nostalgia for Tammany’s no-nonsense efficiency (“We built the entire Bronx-Whitestone Bridge in 31 months!” he once barked to me), saw nothing but discouraging signs. I remember with crystal clarity the speech he gave to Lew Rudin’s Association for a Better New York in the spring of the 1993 election year. New Yorkers, he said, had withdrawn into “a narcoleptic state of acceptance” of a host of quality-of-life ills and annoyances. The following year, shortly after Giuliani had taken office, Moynihan told a city hearing on juvenile violence that the rate of out-of-wedlock births essentially ensured that the city’s youth was lost for years to come: “The next two decades are spoken for … There is nothing you’ll do of any consequence, except start the process of change. Don’t expect it to take less than 30 years.”
No one quite understood the force of the tornado that had just hit town. 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 … 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.