Saturday, November 24, 2007

Start spreading the news

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I should let our two New Yawkahs, Creature and Carl, comment on this -- and they may yet -- but, hey, I'm a former resident of, well, New Jersey, Morris County to be precise, Mendham to be more precise, west of New York, along 80 to Parsippany, down 287 to Morristown, then west, and so, credibility established (or not), I thought I'd take this opportunity to pass along some good news:

New York City is on track to have fewer than 500 homicides this year, by far the lowest number in a 12-month period since reliable Police Department statistics became available in 1963.

But within the city’s official crime statistics is a figure that may be even more striking: so far, with roughly half the killings analyzed, only 35 were found to be committed by strangers, a microscopic statistic in a city of more than 8.2 million.

So. New York is getting safer, or, rather, less lethally violent. Which is great, of course. But what do these statistics say about one Rudy Giuliani, you know, the Mayor of America, 9/11-9/11-9/11, who is running not just on his supposed leadership in the wake of those terrorist attacks on the WTC, 9/11-9/11-9/11, but on his supposed success in reducing New York's violent crime rate (and indeed in turning the city around, from a deadly sewer to a shining light)? Here's Matt Yglesias:

The New York Times has an article that takes a look at the continuing declines in New York City's murder rate over the past few years. I think understanding this is, among other things, an important part of how we understand Rudy Giuliani's legacy. Before 9/11, of course, his signature accomplishment was his association with the massive crime drop the city experienced during the 1990s, a tumbling in the murder rate that was paralleled in most other major American cities, but that happened to a much greater extent in New York than elsewhere.

Giuliani and his supporters would tend to argue that certain apparent black marks on his administration's record -- Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Rudy's generally horrible relationship with the African-American community -- were all just part of the price you had to pay for his super-effective anti-crime measures. But then Bloomberg came into office, kept much of the same policy framework in place, but went out of his way to try to be a bridge-builder who got along with all sorts of people. And the poof is in the pudding -- this works just fine. Nothing about sound crime control policy required Giuliani to be acting like a jerk or a madman, he just did that stuff because that's who he is.

A sound analysis. But let me add this:

As the Gothamist notes, "[o]ne can see a pattern of decline that is a continuation of an even more serious drop in murders that began in the early 1990s. Those reductions began with the institution of policies under Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who then served in the Dinkins administration." That's right: Dinkins, not Giuliani. The murder rate declined dramatically under Giuliani (1994-2001), but the decline actually began under Dinkins (1990-1993). The rate flattened out during Giuliani's last few years in office but has declined again under Bloomberg (2002-present).

Giuliani may want to take all the credit for New York's turnaround -- on this and on pretty much everything else, arguing that his "success" as mayor qualifies him to be president -- but both his predecessor and his successor deserve much of the credit, too. Indeed, Dinkins could argue that he started the decline and Bloomberg could argue that he has been able to reduce the murder rate without being "a jerk or a madman," that he has been able to do so without alienating (and turning against him) much of the city, including those communities that justifiably feel violated and vulnerable.

Simply put, Bloomberg seems to have brought the city together (and made it safer) in a way that Giuliani never did -- and, given his personality and politics -- never could.

New York's recovery has been remarkable, but it wasn't all Giuliani's doing, whatever his self-congratulatory spin, and, behind the statistics, much of his supposed leadership was fraudulent and, worse, brutal.

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