By Tom Allon
Now that the third ring of the circus is complete with the arrival of Anthony Weiner’s high-wire act to the mayoral race, perhaps we can try to take a sober look at why this election really matters for our city’s future.
What is the most important thing a mayor does? You can all put your hands down now. Of course, it is public safety and there is little we have heard from the present field of leading Democratic contenders that offers comfort that New York will continue to be the safest city in America in the post-Bloomberg-Kelly era.
Let us rewind the tape two decades, to 1993, when a crusading prosecutor named Rudy Giuliani stepped into Gracie Mansion and installed an innovative police commissioner, Bill Bratton, to execute the “broken windows” theory of policing — namely, that by cracking down on low-level crimes we could restore law and order to a city many called “ungovernable.”
With a boost in the number of police on the beat from Mayor David Dinkins’ and then-Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr.’s Safe Streets initiative, Giuliani and Bratton flooded high-crime areas through an innovative program called Compstat. A city that had once seen more than six murders a day was on an improving trajectory for two decades.
Now, after 20 years of assertive policing, a city of more than 8 million people averages about one murder a day — that is more than 1,600 lives saved each year from the Wild West of the early 1990s.
So, what does the current crop of leading Democratic mayoral candidates suggest we do? Let us neuter the police commissioner with an inspector general and much tighter regulations. Let us send a message to criminals that it is safe once again to walk the streets carrying a gun.
The Republican candidates, John Catsimatidis and Joe Lhota, offer some hope on public safety, but they have to much more forcefully make this a defining issue in the upcoming campaign.
As a parent and someone who grew up in New York in the 1970s and ’80s — and was mugged twice in broad daylight on the Upper West Side as a teen — I am fearful our city is on the verge of giving up the public safety gains of the past two decades.
You can criticize Giuliani and Mayor Michael Bloomberg all you want — and for different reasons both deserve some measure of opprobrium on issues like public education and growing inequality — but they both kept our city safe.
This led to record numbers of families staying in the five boroughs to raise their children. Record numbers of visitors came to New York, which helped fuel part of our economy. Numerous large companies expanded or relocated to New York not just because it is a world-class city, but the safest world-class city.
As you evaluate the numerous mayoral candidates in the coming three months, ask yourself this: Who will keep in place the successful policing policies that has made New York safe from crime and terrorism? Who will pick a great police commissioner and give him or her needed support? Who will figure out how to pay for more cops because our thin blue line is now stretched with only 36,000 uniformed police, compared to 41,000 a decade ago?
In future columns, we will size up the major candidates’ ideas on public safety and other important issues like public education, job creation, transportation and innovative budget ideas.
But for now, I will leave you with one image that has haunted me in recent months. When I was a kid in the ’70s, the Channel 5 news at 10 p.m. led with the question: “It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?”
In recent years, this ominous lead-in seemed anachronistic, a vestige of a bygone era of crime and lawlessness in New York.
Under the next mayor, in 2014, will parents once again dread that same question?
That is why it is less important that Weiner’s wife has forgiven him for his stupid actions, that Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) has overcome bulimia and alcoholism, that city Comptroller John Liu has not been able to keep his fund-raising staff from committing misdeeds or that city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s wife was once a lesbian.
What really matters is who has the same strong spine Giuliani and Bloomberg had to keep New York safe.
Tom Allon, currently president of City & State media, was a Republican and Liberal party-backed candidate for mayor in 2013 before he left the race to return to the private sector. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.