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Four more years

By Lawrence Henry
web posted October 1, 2001

On September 11, my wife was in Manhattan. If I had known she was on Wall Street that morning - had, indeed, just gone through the PATH train station under the World Trade Center at 8:45 - I would have been far more worried than I was. Her usual travel route took her much farther uptown. Cut off from cell phone access or the ability to dial any neighboring area code via land line, I sent her an e-mail message titled, "Are you there?"

She responded, as did so many workers and commuters that day, within a couple of hours. E-mail worked where telephones wouldn't. As soon as I had found out she was all right, I wrote to her, "There are two things we can be grateful for: That Rudy Giuliani is Mayor of New York, and not any of those doofuses who are running against him; and that George W. is President, not Al Gore."

Rudolph Giuliani
Giuliani

Now Rudolph Giuliani is, according to the mainstream press, sending "mixed signals" about wanting to stay on as Mayor - maybe for three more months, maybe for another term. This morning (October 1) in the New York Times, columnist Bob Herbert condemned the Mayor in what is becoming typical language, accusing him of having "a rapidly swelling head." Other commentators have scored Giuliani for confusing the admiration he earned for his superb administration of the terrorist crisis with some kind of political mandate, accusing him of trying to turn a catastrophe to his own selfish gain.

As usual among the chattering classes, simplicity eludes them. New York City's very survival is on the line. The next Mayor will control an unprecedented hoard of cash, both from charitable contributions and from federal and state subsidies. The next Mayor will broker redevelopment deals and decide issues, large and small, relating to the economic life of America's capital city.

Within adult memory, New York City has been bankrupt. Remember the headline, "Ford to New York: 'Drop Dead'"? That was only 25 years ago. New York, in truth, has, in the modern age, been poised on the knife edge of economic oblivion. It's an intimidatingly expensive and difficult place to do business, to live, to move around, and to survive. Imagine the slate wiped clean, New York empty of all business, with no more grand New York momentum, no more glittering New York mystique: Would you, as the owner of a corporation, decide to locate there?

Probably not.

Now, in the aftermath of this disaster, a great many companies will find it very, very hard to justify staying in Manhattan. Just this past weekend, a visitor to our house, the boss of the security division of a major financial corporation, which had been located right next door to the World Trade Center, was lamenting what might be the dissolution of his key corporate shop. His employees won't come back. Several have left to take jobs for other divisions of his corporation. His operation is scattered among emergency locations ranging across 150 miles of New Jersey.

That story has been told over and over, hundreds of times in hundreds of saddened living rooms, in this area.

Whoever runs New York City in the next four years is going to have to cut sweetheart deals with big businesses: tax breaks, public-private partnerships for real estate development, revenue bonds, and the like. He is going to have to bust the opportunistic corrupters all along the way. He's going to have to rebuild and restart the greatest urban economic engine in America's history.

Fernando Ferrer, Mark Green, and Michael Bloomberg can't do it. They can only pour money down various special interest ratholes, like public education. Their constituencies will enslave them to balkanized racial and ethnic pleadings, to unions, to self-styled "consumerists" and "public interests." They will kill off "tax breaks for the wealthy." They will kill New York.

Look: I'm an old-time urban rat, a writer, a musician, and an artist. If I were single today, I'd be living in someplace like Battery Park City. I've lived downtown in New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. But I know that, without big business, there is no jazz, there is no dance, there is no theater, there is no art, there is no literature in a big city. The overflow of capitalist dynamism makes big cities what they are. And there's never been a city where that was so true as New York.

Rudy Giuliani knows it. He was born to do this job, and he sees the looming peril of New York's future clearly. His offer to talk to the mayoral candidates about a three-month extension? That was always a ploy, a bluff.

He knew that at least one of the candidates wouldn't go for it. That clears the stage for Giuliani to engineer an outright run, somehow to get around the term-limits law. He's got only a few weeks to do it, and yes, it is a breathtaking piece of political audacity.

Thank heavens he's doing it. Because there's a simple choice: You can vote for the Big Apple, or you can vote for Calcutta on the Hudson.

Lawrence Henry is a regular contributor to Enter Stage Right.

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