Jewish World Review Jan. 11, 2002/ 27 Teves 5762

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Out with old...


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- WHILE the war continues and the economy remains a gloomy mystery, local journalists are killing time with farewells to Giuliani and first sketches of Mr. Bloomberg. The contrasts are striking: On Jan. 1, the Daily News' Pete Hamill proclaimed Sir Rudy "the greatest mayor in the history of this city." Hamill listed the usual complaints against the now-$100,000 speaker-for-hire-the Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond cases, contempt for Al Sharpton (uh, Pete, that was a virtue), the Brooklyn Museum flap and his instinctual meanspiritedness. Still: "But at the midnight hour of this last day of a dreadful year, when Giuliani left the big hall, he departed in the company of his better angels. Lift a glass and toast that Giuliani, and forgive him all his sins. Rush him with flowers. Strike up the band in a tune of farewell. For yes: We shall not see his like again."

I agree with Hamill, but will never forget Giuliani's scurvy tenure as a prosecutor in the 80s, when he ruined the lives of innocent men on Wall Street in hopes of collecting pre-election headlines from gullible "business" reporters who couldn't tell an arbitrageur from a ballpark vendor. Mike Milken was Giuliani's bin Laden, and the former Drexel kingpin was dismembered in public. (And even though he didn't flee to Switzerland and turned to philanthropy after a prison term, it was the unrepentant Marc Rich who was the beneficiary of Clinton's pardon-for-favors policy a year ago, but that's another story.)

Jimmy Breslin, Hamill's contemporary and a local icon more than 30 years ago, but now a shriveled, bitter old man writing an invisible column for Newsday, differed with his friend from the glory days of the 1960s. Breslin offered his farewell to Giuliani, also on New Year's Day, and Rudy came off as a caricature of a Frank Capra villain. He gives the former mayor zero credit for his actions on Sept. 11, instead transferring, with customary exaggeration, all the heroism to New York's citizens.

He writes: "On that hot, frightful day in September there were tens of thousands--no, hundreds and hundreds of thousands--walking along all the avenues leading from the World Trade Center and the downtown financial district. On Church, West Broadway and Broadway they came, heading uptown to safety. They crowded east onto the Brooklyn Bridge. They all walked in the hot sun, walked quietly, without an angry word or glance, walked in great civility, with each stepping into someone else, causing an 'excuse me,' and now and then heads would turn and look back at the black smoke in so much of the sky and realize again that there was nothing in the black smoke except dead. The towers were gone. After that, they would turn and walk on in the heat...

"That night, the whole populace got home and sat down in front of the television, and as they watched over the days, they decided that heroism was a face on television. People who showed toughness and stamina that can be found nowhere suddenly heard that they were being saved by a mayor named Giuliani, that they were stricken and he gave them strength. They were depressed and he raised them. Is that right? Am I really depressed? Am I changed forever? Did all of America change on Sept. 11? They tell me so. I am so grateful to Giuliani for letting me know. I would talk some more about this with you, but I must be up and out to work early tomorrow."

On Sept. 10, Breslin says, Giuliani was "a mean little failure" who the next day "got lucky with a war." On his watch, after all, were Diallo and Abner Louima and a fractured marriage. The Great Breslin doesn't mention that during Giuliani's tenure crime was reduced dramatically and entire neighborhoods were transformed from junkie dens to thriving areas of commerce and culture. No, Giuliani "emerged from the smoke to stand in front of television cameras and, simply by being there, he became the hero of newscasters and newspaper editors who never were near the crowd walking through danger to their homes, never experienced the power of people who were following the souls."

Man, that's revisionism at a faster clip than Bill Clinton trying to persuade historians that he was a top-tier president.

Who knows where Breslin was when the towers were struck and then crumbled--probably still uptown following the news by telegraph--but I was in the thick of the horrendous pandemonium and it was not the orderly procession that the befuddled columnist describes. On Hudson St., just above Chambers, there was mass confusion, with hysterical people running north for their lives, covered with soot, sobbing and trying in vain to make connections on their cellphones. It was chaos. Why does Breslin now deny that? And yes, the acts of heroism could be counted in thousands, but Giuliani was in the midst of it all, a powerful politician fearing for his own safety while doing his job. Breslin's distortion of the truth is reprehensible, but not unexpected from a once-vital journalist who apparently doesn't realize that he's as much a relic as a "Mailer for Mayor" bumper sticker.

BE THE (BUSINESS)MAN, MIKE

As for Mike Bloomberg, he's in a (brief) honeymoon stage with the press. I like his promise to cut City Hall's staff by 20 percent and his call for other municipal agencies to do the same; I like his quiet repudiation of Giuliani's absurd plan for taxpayer-subsidized new stadiums for the Yanks and Mets; I like that he wants to hire his loyal daughter for a low-level job in his administration.

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, writing on Jan. 3, gave Bloomberg an easy first postinauguration assessment as well, although the opening of his piece was very strange. He said: "We're dealing with a little culture shock here. The new mayor of New York has $4 billion, a Boston accent and a bizarre sense of whom to root for--he's a Red Sox fan. I have no choice but to worry about him. He can't possibly know what he's in for."

Maybe Herbert was taking a stab at humor--something liberal journalists just have no aptitude for--but I don't think so. He writes as if Bloomberg is just as clueless about New York as Hillary Clinton was during her Senate campaign, not alluding once to the Mayor's long residence here, not to mention his enormously successful financial services business. Bloomberg might not be up to an almost-impossible task, but it won't be for a lack of knowledge of the city's fiscal problems. If he can rein in greedy union bosses, preach (and practice) austerity and entice corporations to remain in New York, the new Mayor will be off to a terrific start.


JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2002, Russ Smith