Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Two Mayors

With Mayor Bloomberg now making eyes at the presidency, there are three New Yorkers running for the office—and two of them are in the race because of 9/11.

Rudy Giuliani, who remains unpopular in the city he brought back from the brink of economic and social collapse (a recent Daily News poll showed New Yorkers favored Bloomberg over Giuliani as mayor by 56 percent to 29 percent, or nearly two to one), has been running as America’s Mayor, the leader who emerged from the smoke of the fallen towers.

Giuliani had been preparing for that moment since 1993, when he took office months after the tower bombing, which took pride of place in his first State of the City address. Later, he was widely mocked for constructing a bunker for the city’s new Office of Emergency Management, and for expelling Yasir Arafat from Lincoln Center. He’d also been preparing the city. Imagine the same attack in the terribly different New York of 1989—first violence erupting elsewhere while the police are at the towers, and later an out-migration of businesses and citizens.

While his stump speech touches on the return of order to what’s been famously dubbed the ungovernable city, Giuliani’s been loath to connect his role after the attack with the rest of his mayoralty. Before the towers fell, his local approval rating had dropped below 40 percent. So he’s quarantined his shining hour from his time in office by treating 9/11 as Americans largely understood it: The moment when Everything Changed.

It’s a bad idea. Outside of New York, Giuliani’s widely considered a great mayor. What’s more, the strategy exposes him to swift-boating. Already, Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice and Dan Collins (husband of Times editorial board head Gail Collins) have published Grand Illusion, a harsh critique of Giuliani’s reputation as terror fighter. The International Association of Fire Fighters has put out a video that paints him as an ill-prepared coward, and even the Onion has joined the attack.

Though Bloomberg spent a then-record $74 million (nearly $100 per vote!) of his own money in 2001, it wasn’t until Giuliani endorsed him shortly after 9/11 that he emerged as more than just another rich man indulging a Quixotic mid-life crisis. Though he deserves a share of the credit for New York’s recovery from it, Bloomberg rarely mentions the attack that elected him.

There’s a reason for his reticence. Nearly seven years later, nothing has been built at Ground Zero, largely because Bloomberg instead developed parts of the city a safe distance from his predecessor’s oversized shadow, still looming over the site. Bloomberg’s silence is mirrored by a mayoralty and now a presidential run entirely without a foreign policy, an omission which will prove damaging as he faces increased national scrutiny.

As in 2001, Bloomberg is again a longshot candidate sidestepping the primaries to come in late with money to spend (and spend well) in pursuit of an office for which he’s expressed no particular vision. Should Giuliani win the Republican nomination, expect Bloomberg to claim that a few weeks of symbolism aside, it’s Mayor Mike who deserves the credit for the city’s post-attack fortunes.