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Giuliani's Legacy: Taking Credit For Things He Didn't Do

By Wayne Barrett

Rudy Giuliani's legacy is that he was the luckiest mayor we have had in a long time. He was blessed by being mayor when we had a great national upsurge in the economy. He was blessed by being mayor when we had a national downturn in crime. He was blessed because he had very little to do with either phenomenon in New York, but most New Yorkers and most tourists will think he did.

Most celebrants of Rudy Giuliani seem mesmerized by the disappearance of the squeegee men. As I wrote in my book "Rudy," the issue of the squeegees is where the hocus pocus started:

Candidate Rudy promised to wash them out of our hair. While they seemed everywhere, an NYPD report found that there were only 75 of them in 1993, planted like Calvin Klein billboards in unavoidable locations. So Ray Kelly, the police commissioner who worked for Dinkins, heard Giuliani's campaign cry and drove the squeegees off the streets before Rudy raised his own Windex-free right hand on inaugural day. The whole world, years later, thinks Rudy did it -- the predictable result of endless repetition.

But Bill Bratton himself conceded in his 1998 book that by the time he arrived at police headquarters, the squeegees were gone, noting that, "ironically, Giuliani and I got credit for the initiative." Only politics, Bratton concluded, prevented David Dinkins and Ray Kelly from receiving their due.

Similarly, there is almost no Giuliani policy that has anything to do with the economic boom. Wall Street drove the boom. The only policy that he has ever even specifically argued had anything to do with the economic upsurge was his lowering of the hotel tax, which he says opened the way for the surge in tourism. Actually, Governor Mario Cuomo lowered the state tax on hotels by several times the amount that Mayor Giuliani lowered the city tax. I think in any case, people could reasonably doubt whether the lowering of the hotel tax was responsible for the expansion of tourism.

We are in a recession now, and nobody blames the initial downturn on Rudy Giuliani. In the same way, nobody should credit him for the rising economy.

Of course, some people attribute some of the rising economy in the city to the drop in the crime rate. But what did Rudy Giuliani do to produce the drop in the crime rate? The crime rate has declined in cities throughout the country. In Seattle, for example, where the murder rate was declining far faster than it was in New York, Lenny Levitt of Newsday called the police c ommissioner and asked him what was causing the lowering crime rate in his town. And the police commissioner said, "we have no idea" He did not say, "we did it."

In the final days of the administration of David Dinkins, we had 36 consecutive months of decline in the crime statistics across the board, in the seven index crimes. Murder went down 14 percent. Those last 36 months under Dinkins reversed trends that were a decade old. Who should get the credit, the mayor who reversed the trend or the mayor who deepened the trend?

Obviously, we know who's gotten the credit. The New York Times has done, by my latest count, twelve front-page articles about the decline in the crime rate under Rudy Giuliani. It did one article about the decline in the crime rate under David Dinkins -- and in that 55-paragraph story, it never mentioned the name of David Dinkins. What Rudy Giuliani has managed to do is mug the media into accepting as fact that he is the man who caused it to happen.

John Tierney points out the irony of communities of color being the communities that have benefited most from the decline in crime. Maybe they caused that decline. If the crime rate was soaring, we know they are the ones who would be blamed. In the Giuliani years, there has also been a decline in AIDS deaths, in drug deaths, in infant mortality, in all the major problems that have plagued poor communities. Did Giuliani cause all that too? Or was it that the communities of color, ravaged by the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, looked at themselves and did something about it.

There is not a single police tactic other than Comstat, that any of the experts has ever looked at and said was responsible for the decline in crime. Rudy has tried to say, for example, "we cracked down on guns," and by cracking down on guns, the guys in the subways who had the guns could not go out and commit the murders." But did you know that in the final three years of the Dinkins administration, gun arrests averaged 7,300? They have averaged 4,000 under Giuliani. The strategy of cracking down on guns was a Ray Kelly/David Dinkins initiative. By the time Rudy Giuliani took office, gun arrests, if they had any impact on the murder rate, were already having it.

The only real claim that Rudy Giuliani can make to a legacy at all is in the crime statistics, and they have been miserably manipulated

Thirteen percent of the total decline in crime statistics in New York was in larcenies of under fifty dollars. In 95 percent of larcenies, there is no contact between the individuals involved. It is the least threatening crime. Forty-two percent of the total decline in crime under Rudy Giuliani was auto thefts and the theft of auto parts. There are three different kinds of burglary: forcible, non-forcible, and attempted forced burglary. Attempted forced burglary is where you are sitting in your living room, somebody tries to break in, sees you there, and turns around. Or you come home from work, and you can see somebody has tried to get into your apartment, because somebody jimmied with the lock.

The statistic in burglary that has gone down dramatically, by 90 percent under Giuliani, is this victimless attempted forced burglary. In one year, 1996, it went from thirty thousand to four thousand. This is unparalleled anywhere else in the United States. It went from 41 percent of all burglaries to three percent of all burglaries.

And how did it happen? When you call a precinct and tell them, "Somebody tried to break into my house. Come over and take a look," they will tell you, "We don't do that anymore. If you want to report an attempted forced burglary come to the precinct." There is no insurance claim to file, so people don't go to the precinct. That is why that statistic dropped off the books of the City of New York.

This is how the crime stats have been manipulated. Rudy Giuliani is not a management expert, he is a statistical expert. He has jimmied every number we live by. This is not to say that crime has not declined, and has not declined dramatically, in the Giuliani era. But is he responsible for the margin of difference between that decline in New York and the decline in other major urban areas? He is not. And he has tricked us into thinking that he is.

Some people seem to believe that the perception of a reduction in crime is more important than the reality. But I think there is another perception, that Rudy Giuliani's administration, while it may have been effective in dealing with crime, has caused great pain in minority communities through abusive police tactics. I believe that that is an accurate perception. Rudy constantly throws numbers around that suggest it is inaccurate. I think he completely distorts those numbers. But the point is that that is a profound perception in the city now

It is not just issues of police abuse. Under Giuliani, black employment in city government reversed a decades long trend of slow and gradual growth. We actually saw a significant decline in black employment in all city agencies. During the greatest increase in the police department in the course of any administration, and a police exam that had produced the largest number of blacks and Latinos who passed, the Giuliani administration threw out the results of the exam as they began to hire. The fire department, where 95 percent of the supervisors were white when Rudy Giuliani took office, got even whiter. In the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which is supposed to examine instances of police abuse, black staff declined by 49 percent between 1995 and 1999. Above all, no one knows what happened to the 600,000 people, mostly minority, who have been knocked off the welfare rolls in course of the Giuliani era. Nobody knows how many of them got jobs. The workfare program was used to knock people off of welfare. People were kicked off welfare if they missed a day, if they came in late. That was the primary purpose of the workfare program, because there was certainly no training. There was certainly no job placement. The New York Times reported that only 3.5 percent of a thousand welfare recipients that it sampled got permanent jobs.

The faultline between the mayor and the black community is really quite deep. It is just common courtesy to meet with elected officials, such as Carl McCall or Virginia Fields, but Giuliani did not do so for years.

That he made war on one of the communities of the city is one of the reasons why Rudy Giuliani will never be regarded historically as one of the great mayors of New York.

Wayne Barrett, a senior editor at the Village Voice, is the author of "Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani"


Read Giuliani's Legacy: A Change In The Way New Yorkers Think About Crime, Welfare, Quality Of Life, Squeegee Men by John Tierney

Read The Second Most Effective Mayor Of The 20th Century by Kenneth T. Jackson

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