Not since Teddy Roosevelt took on Tammany Hall a century ago has a New York politician closely linked to urban reform looked like presidential timber. But today former, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani sits at or near the top of virtually every poll of potential 2008 presidential candidates. Already, Mr. Giuliani's popularity has set off a "stop Rudy" movement among cultural conservatives, who object to his three marriages and his support for abortion rights, gay unions and curbs on gun ownership. But in a GOP presidential field in which cultural and religious conservatives may find something to object to in every candidate who could really get nominated (and, more important, elected), Mr. Giuliani may be the most conservative candidate on a wide range of issues. Far from being a liberal, he ran New York with a conservative's priorities: Government exists above all to keep people safe in their homes and in the streets, he said, not to redistribute income, run a welfare state, or perform social engineering. The private economy, not government, creates opportunity, he argued; government should just deliver basic services well and then get out of the private sector's way.
To those of us who observed Mr. Giuliani from the time he was elected in 1994, it was astonishing how fully he followed through on his conservative principles.
For Mr. Giuliani, the revival of New York started with securing public safety, because all other agendas were useless if residents didn't feel protected. He instituted a zero-tolerance approach that cracked down on quality-of-life offenses like panhandling and public urination, to restore a sense of civic order that he believed would discourage larger crimes.
"Murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes," he explained. "But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other."
Mr. Giuliani changed the primary mission of the Police Department to preventing crime rather than merely responding to it. His police chief, William Bratton, reorganized the NYPD, emphasizing a street-crimes unit that moved around the city, flooding high-crime areas and getting guns off the street. Chief Bratton also changed the department's scheduling. Crime was open for business 24 hours a day, but most detectives, including narcotics cops, had previously gone off duty at 5 p.m., just as criminals were coming on duty. No more.
The department brought modern management techniques to its new mission. It began compiling a computerized database to track crime patterns and the effectiveness of the NYPD's responses to them. That database, known as Compstat, helped police target their manpower where it was needed, and in due course it became a national model.
The policing innovations during the Giuliani years, 1994 through 2001, led to a drop in total crime by 64 percent, and murders decreased by 67 percent. The annual number of cars stolen in New York City plummeted by 78,000.
Mr. Giuliani applied the same management principles to social and economic policy, with equally impressive results. Long before President Bush's "ownership" society, Mr. Giuliani described his intention to restore New York as the "entrepreneurial city," not merely providing the climate for new job creation but also reshaping policy away from encouraging dependency and toward reinforcing independence.
He decided to launch a welfare revolution, first setting out to recertify everyone in the city's own home-relief program to eliminate fraud. In less than a year, the rolls of the program (for able-bodied adults not eligible for federal welfare programs) declined by 20 percent, as the city discovered tens of thousands of recipients who were actually employed, living outside the city, or providing false Social Security numbers.
Mr. Giuliani then instituted a work requirement for the remaining home-relief recipients, mostly men, obliging them to earn their checks by cleaning city parks and streets or doing clerical work in municipal offices for 20 hours a week. By 1999, the number of welfare recipients finding work had risen to more than 100,000 annually, and the welfare rolls had dropped by more than 600,000.
Mr. Giuliani also set out to change the city's conversation about race. He objected to affirmative action, ending Gotham's set-aside program for minority contractors, and he rejected the idea of lowering standards for minorities. Accordingly, he ended open enrollment at the City University of New York, a 1970s policy aimed at increasing the minority population at the nation's third-largest public college system but one that also led to a steep decline in standards and in graduation rates. A blue-chip panel, led by former Yale president Benno Schmidt, recommended other changes, including tightening admissions standards and eliminating remedial courses for students at the system's 11 senior colleges.
Within a few years, CUNY was attracting 20 percent more students from New York's elite high schools, SAT scores of incoming freshmen had risen 168 points, and the student population reached its highest number since the mid-1970s.
Mr. Giuliani's efforts to revive entrepreneurial New York focused on unleashing the city's private sector through tax cuts achieved by slowing the growth of government. "City government should not and cannot create jobs through government planning," he said. "The best it can do, and what it has a responsibility to do, is to deal with its own finances first, to create a solid budgetary foundation that allows businesses to move the economy forward on the strength of their energy and ideas."
When Mr. Giuliani took office, the city's private sector had shrunk to its lowest level since 1978, losing 192,000 jobs in 1991 alone, the largest one-year job decline that any American city had ever suffered. Gotham also had the highest overall rate of taxation of any major city and a budget that spent far more per capita than any other major city. Despite that, New York could barely pay its bills, and Mr. Giuliani, immediately after taking office, faced a nearly $2.5 billion budget deficit.
His first budget stunned the city's political establishment by its fiscal conservatism. After years of tax hikes, Mr. Giuliani proposed making up the city's still-huge deficit entirely through spending cuts and savings. Even more audaciously, he proposed a modest tax cut to signal the business community that New York was open for business.
"Nobody ever cut a tax before in New York City, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to set a new precedent," Mr. Giuliani later explained.
To balance the city's budget early in his tenure, when tax revenues stagnated amid a struggling economy, the mayor played hardball, winning concessions from city workers that other mayors had failed to get. The city's police unions had previously used their power in Albany to resist efforts to merge the city's housing police and transit police into the NYPD. Mr. Giuliani strong-armed Albany leaders into agreeing to the merger, saving the city hundreds of millions in administrative costs, by threatening to fire every housing and transit officer and rehire each as a city cop. During his first year in office, Mr. Giuliani reduced city-funded spending by 1.6 percent, the largest overall reduction since the Depression.
One of his initial budgetary moves was to cut the city's hotel tax. When tourism rebounded, Mr. Giuliani pointed out that the city was collecting more in taxes from a lower rate. "Targeted tax reductions," he later said, "spur growth." In his eight years in office, he reduced or eliminated 23 taxes, including the sales tax on some clothing purchases and the tax on commercial rents outside of Manhattan's major business districts.
The combination of a safer city and a better budget environment ignited an economic boom. Construction permits increased by more than 50 percent, to 70,000 a year. The number of tourists soared from 24 million in the early 1990s to 38 million in 2000. The city gained some 430,000 jobs to reach its all-time employment peak of 3.72 million in 2000, while the unemployment rate dropped from 10.3 to 5.1 percent. Personal income earned by New Yorkers, meanwhile, soared by $100 million, while the percentage of their income that they paid in taxes declined from 8.8 to 7.3 percent. During Mr. Giuliani's second term, the city's economy consistently grew faster than the nation's.
Today, Americans see Mr. Giuliani as presidential material because of his leadership in the wake of the terrorist attacks, but to those of us who watched him first manage America's biggest city when it was crime-ridden, financially shaky and plagued by doubts about its future, Mr. Giuliani's leadership on 9/11 came as no surprise. What Americans saw after the attacks is a combination of attributes that Mr. Giuliani governed with all along: the tough-mindedness that had gotten him through earlier civic crises, a no-nonsense and efficient management style, and a clarity and directness of speech that made plain what he thought needed to be done and how he would do it.
As "America's mayor," a sobriquet he earned after 9/11, Mr. Giuliani has a unique profile as a presidential candidate. And if social and religious conservatives fret about Mr. Giuliani's more liberal social views, nevertheless, in the general election such views might make this experience-tested conservative even more electable.
Steven Malanga is a contributing editor of City Journal, where a version of this essay first appeared. He is also a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. E-mail him at communications @manhattaninstitute.org.
Original Source: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/points/stories/DN-malanga_04edi.ART.State.Edition1.4455963.html