Editor's note: The following is a transcript of remarks delivered by William Bratton and Larry Mone at the 2019 Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner
William Bratton: Good evening everybody, it's a pleasure to be here. In thinking about our honoree this evening, I'm reminded of a favorite quote: There are no great men, there are only ordinary men, who in response to great challenges—to extraordinary challenges—do great things.
Larry Mone, an ordinary man, did great things for this city we all love, in a time of extraordinary challenges.
It is my distinct honor and privilege to introduce to you the retiring President of The Manhattan Institute Larry Mone, who tonight will receive the Institute’s highest honor, The Alexander Hamilton Award, which I was the proud recipient of in 2017.
For more than half its existence Larry has been the leader of MI, which he first joined in 1982, five years after its founding, rising to the presidency in 1995. I first met him in the early nineties when introduced to him by George Kelling, also a recipient of this award. George could not be with us tonight. He is battling cancer but asked that I convey the following “During the early days, 1988-1989, when I ( a Midwesterner not terribly familiar with NYC) was first proposing ideas about how to address problems in the subway, it was a lonely time. Larry and MI adopted me. He grasped what I was saying-that the problem was not what it seemed to be, homelessness, but was in fact disorderly behavior. Larry was always more interested in a person’s ideas than their political ideology.
A 1997 NY Times article about MI “Turning Influence into Intellect” described MI as “a think tank that has pulled off the improbable feat of helping change the course of the country’s most liberal city.” The course correction that Larry helped to initiate and lead was profound--taking a city that was mired in malaise and depression, as vividly illustrated in Fred Siegel’s book ‘The Future Once Happened Here.’ Fred referenced a comment in 1989 by then Governor Mario Cuomo, who was responding to a question about the surging crime and disorder of the 1980’s. The response was something to the effect “maybe this is as good as it gets.’ That was the city that greeted me when Kelling recruited me from Boston to tackle crime and disorder in the city’s subway. Coincidentally that was the year that MI found its’ bully pulpit when it launched the City Journal, with its incredible staff and contributors.
Working with the four pillars of the Institute; its research, the Journal, its publications and its conferences, Larry created the legacy we honor tonight. One that created policies to take advantage of opportunities that focused on the importance of public safety, welfare to work, charter schools to name but a few.
Paul Singer, Chairman of MI does a wonderful job summing up Larry’s career and leadership contributions. He writes ‘Under his quarter century of steady and inspired leadership, MI has grown to take its place among the very highest tier of institutions shaping American thought, discourse and public policy. The Wall Street Journal rightly credits Larry with having helped improve “the lives of millions of New Yorkers” and helped restore our city to “a place where anyone willing to work hard and take risks could climb the ladder of upward mobility”.
Larry’s leadership style can probably be best summed up in his own words, “I feel something like the manager of an opera house. There are all these intellectual stars and divas around me. It’s my job to give them room to be creative. It’s all about the music.’
Let me now introduce the “Music Man’ himself, our maestro, Larry Mone.
Larry Mone: Thank you, Bill. You've been a good ally and a good friend. For 19 straight years I’ve stood on this stage to welcome you to this magnificent event and, after the festivities ended, to say goodnight.
From one angle, very little has changed. Sometimes the stage is here, and sometimes it’s over there—but we’re always in this room.
On the other hand, year-over-year, the crowds have gotten larger and the support you contribute has grown dramatically. And with it, the Manhattan Institute has been able to greatly expand the work that we do.
Never, in the course of those 19 years—or in the course of my 24 years as President of the Institute, or of my 36 years working at the Institute—did I imagine I would stand here not as master of ceremonies but as an honoree.
I can’t tell you how deeply I am moved by this honor.
No one knows better than I how important it is that this evening stay on schedule! So I will make three observations, and I will keep them brief!
The first is this: all of us should be immensely proud. The man who hired me in 1981—my predecessor Bill Hammett—always insisted on quality over quantity. The Manhattan Institute has never been—and is never going to be—the biggest think tank, or one that tries to cover everything.
Fundamentally, we’re economists. That means we understand comparative advantage. We’ve always focused on where we can make the biggest impact. And it’s worked. Pound-for-pound—that is, relative to our size and budget—no institution has a greater impact on American public policy and public life. In fact, I don’t even think we need to use the qualifier any more. I will put this institution up against rivals, competitors, peers and even allies of far greater size and still say, confidently, they we are the best.
Think of all that we’ve accomplished. The Manhattan Institute first injected into the conversation the idea that cracking down on small crimes could lead to big declines in major crimes. That idea, as Bill mentioned, “broken windows policing,” was first put into practice here in New York and has since spread to cities across the country, and around the world. It’s saved thousands of lives, revived countless neighborhoods and communities, and generated billions of dollars in new economic activity. It is, in my humble opinion, the single greatest public policy success of the last half-century.
Now of course, we didn’t do it alone. Nothing would have happened without the courage and leadership of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Both of them are former recipients of this very award, as are the two thinkers who conceived “broken windows”: George Kelling and the late James Q. Wilson. Nothing could possibly make me prouder than to stand in their company.
As for my second observation: the job of a think-tank president is like being manager of a baseball team. It’s an important role—you set the rotation, the lineup, call plays, make pitching changes and the like. But you don’t go up to the plate and hit the ball. You’re not the star.
At the Manhattan Institute, the fellows have always been the stars. And throughout my time here, I’ve been most fortunate in managing nothing but all-stars. Instead of Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and Jeter, I've had Charles Murray, Peter Huber, Myron Magnet and Heather Mac Donald. Scholars who, in their own fields, have higher batting averages than those Cooperstown greats do in theirs!
And the talent I managed didn’t stop with those four. I couldn’t possibly name them all tonight. Suffice it to say, being President of the Manhattan Institute has been like managing the ’27, ’61 and ’96 Yankees—all at the same time. How do you lose with a team like that? You really can’t.
It’s not just the fellows, either. Among those who made me look good are the Institute’s incredible professional staff. The fact that, on a night like this, you hardly notice them is testament to their skill. Week after week, month after month, year after year, they stage the best events in the city, produce the best reports and run everything smoothly.
Finally, in taking over the Institute nearly a quarter century ago, I inherited an extraordinary Board of Trustees. Yes, our board is extraordinarily generous with financial support. But they have also been generous with their ideas. Being right here in the heart of a city with so much talent has allowed us access to considerable experience, intelligence and good sense. I particularly want to thank the five chairmen under whom I served and learned: Dick Gilder, Chuck Brunie, Roger Hertog, Dick Weismann and Paul Singer.
My third observation is that the work never stops. Of course me must win new arguments and break new ground. But that’s not enough. We have to keep re-winning the old arguments, keep plowing the old ground.
The experience of the last few years has made clear that backsliding is an ever-present danger. Both socialism and the measles are back. In this business, no argument is ever permanently won, no success is ever beyond the danger of being repealed.
Just think of this city today. We know what good schools look like and how they work, yet we still throw money at failing ones. We know how to keep the subways safe, but lately we’ve been letting the miscreants back through—or, worse, over—the turnstiles.
We’ve won many policy arguments, it’s true, but we haven’t won the political argument.
When Mayor de Blasio was trying to keep Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools out of city buildings, one mother went to City Hall to protest and said, “If I knew he was against charter schools, I never would have voted for him.”
Well said—but why didn’t she know? Was that her fault? Or was it ours? Why is there no political movement that consistently advocates for the things that really matter: safe streets, good schools, effective government, and conveys that message to the general public in an ongoing way?
I’m not suggesting for a moment that the Institute abandon its non-partisan stance. One of our great strengths has always been that we will work with anyone to help make this city—and other cities—a better place.
I’m saying that for our policy successes to endure, we must be part of creating a successful politics of reform. We at the Institute can and should be indispensable in providing the intellectual architecture.
And that’s the last time I’ll ever, officially, be able to say “we” in that context. This is incredibly bittersweet. I’m proud of what we’ve done together. For someone who believes so strongly in the power of ideas, I am struck how in the end, all I can remember are the people, including the incredible people in this room. And to have played out my career on the stage in New York, the greatest city in the world, is a memory I will cherish. Now I move on, confident in the future, not just of the Institute and its leadership, especially its new President, Reihan. But of the future of this city and this country.
Thank you all, and good night.