What a Difference a New Mayor Makes, Even in New York City
NEW YORK - Thanks to an election pitch perceived as idea-free, many here expected Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to be a diet David Dinkins: an unimaginative apparatchik who would manage Gotham's descent into oblivion - perhaps with more verve than his ponderous predecessor. As Mr. Giuliani was sworn in on New Year's Day, New York City braced itself for four more years of George Bush-style governance in lieu of leadership.
What a difference a month makes.
In a series of bold and creative moves, Mayor Giuliani has drop kicked the status quo straight into the Hudson River. He has introduced plans to slash spending, cut taxes, eliminate city agencies and tackle welfare fraud. He even has challenged the sacred nostra that guide the city's politics of race and sex. He has done this with an energetic sense of confidence and resolve. Mr. Giuliani has emerged as New York's Great Right Hope.
"The rules of the game have changed," Mr. Giuliani warned reporters just days before unveiling his budget plan on Feb. 2. "The usual yelling and screaming about this program and that program isn't going to stop me." And how. In the most radical act of what some are calling "The Rudy Revolution," the Mayor's $31.2 billion fiscal 1995 budget (smaller only than those of the federal government, California, and New York State) actually is $516 million lower than this year's - the first time in 15 years that the budget has gone down, not up, from year to year.
To remove New York from "the course of disaster," Mr. Giuliani plans to close a $2.26 billion deficit by, among other things, slicing public payrolls by 15,026 positions through buyouts. Several city hospitals are to be privatized, and paramedic and sanitation services will be open to competition. Giuliani envisions "a permanent down-sizing in city government."
He also plans to cut welfare fraud by $88 million by finger-printing recipients to keep hem from collecting multiple checks. Some minority City Council members complain that this "stigmatizes" welfare recipients. But others say the savings might mean larger checks for legitimate beneficiaries.
William Bratton, Mr. Giuliani's new Police Commissioner, is combining several functions of the NYPD, Transit Police and Housing Police, now three separate forces. This merger will redeploy 800 to 900 cops from desk jobs to street patrol with no need for new hires. Eventually, this will save money, too.
Citing the need to attract and keep business here, Mr. Giuliani has proposed over $1.5 billion in tax cuts through 1998 including reductions in the 22 percent hotel room tax (this levy, Earth's highest on occupancy, has cost 6,000 hotel jobs since 1989), the commercial rent tax, and elimination of sales taxes on clothing purchases under $100. Come 1996, the 12.5 percent income-tax surcharge also will vanish.
Spurning the burgeoning notion of racial and sexual entitlements, the Mayor pulled the plug on a Dinkins-era program that allowed minority-and women-owned firms to win city contracts even while exceeding the lowest bids by up to 10 percent. Mr. Giuliani says, for now, he will keep the goal of steering 20 percent of city business to minority/female companies. However, he says his objective is to create "an ethnic, race, religious, gender and sexual-orientation-neutral program" in procurement. Similarly, Mr. Giuliani shut the Balkan-style offices of African-American/Caribbean Affairs, Asian Affairs, European-American Affairs, Jewish Community Affairs, Latino Affairs, and Lesbian & Gay Community Affairs.
Mr. Giuliani has put racial arsonist Al Sharpton in his place, something few politicians have dared to do. On Jan. 9, a group of black Muslims assaulted seven cops and disarmed another as they answered a phony robbery report at a Harlem mosque. Al Sharpton demanded to see the Mayor - perhaps to accuse the injured officers of police brutality. Mr. Giuliani said that Mr. Sharpton played no role in the melee or its aftermath and thus had no more right to his time than any other citizen. Mr. Sharpton fled with his tail between his legs for the first time in recent memory.
Mr. Giuliani's tenure "is a terrific development," says Lawrence Kudlow, chief economist at Bear Stearns and a prominent free-marketeer. "Almost everything he's done since his inauguration has been correct. Giuliani had his right blinker on and turned right."
Adds conservative New York Post columnist Fred Siegel, "The reasoning behind the budget cut challenges assumptions that have reigned here for more than half a century."
But while the right is grinning, the liberal-Democratic machine acts as if a concussion grenade has gone off. "The mayor still thinks he's a prosecutor," complains Carl Haynes, a local union boss. Having enjoyed a decades-long hammerlock on this town, the empire surely will strike back.
The virtually one-party City Council (44 of whose 51 members are Democrats) must approve Mr. Giuliani's budget. Once the initial shock of his proposals has worn off, the usual horde of unions, radical activists, and hangers-on will encircle City Hall and scream for jobs, "social justice" and billions of dollars in goodies. The biggest test of Rudy Giuliani's leadership will be whether he allows these shrill mobs to drown out the quieter sound of the millions of New Yorkers who simply want to go to work each morning and return home in peace.
This article originally appeared in The Washington Times on February 10th, 1994. It is reprinted here with the author's consent.