Veteran Times reporter Michael Powell doesn't like Rudy Giuliani much. Powell's July 2007 profile of then-presidential candidate Giuliani (whom he had covered in 1993-1994, when Giuliani was mayor) accused the former mayor of stoking racism. On Monday Powell took on Giuliani indirectly, by hailing the surprisingly crime-fighting acumen of...former NYC mayor David Dinkins?
Powell's Monday "Political Memo," "Another Look at the Dinkins Administration, This Time Not by Giuliani," made a brazen attempt to defend the tenure of Dinkins, the liberal Democrat who ran New York City from 1990-1993.
Do you really want to go back to the bad old days of Mayor David N. Dinkins?
Rudolph W. Giuliani, as he had done before, indelicately broached this rhetorical question while campaigning a week ago for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. If you elect the Democratic mayoral candidate, Mr. Giuliani, the former Republican mayor, warned a mostly Orthodox Jewish audience in Brooklyn, New York could well return to a time when a feckless liberal Democrat let services decay and crime and homelessness run rampant.
This narrative, in which more than a few heard a racial undertone last week, has dominated the city's politics for 16 years. But as a critique, it is ripe for a revisionist second look. Taking office in 1990, just as a Wall Street and real estate collapse pitched the city into deep recession, Mayor Dinkins, the city's first African-American mayor, stumbled more than once. But he also registered more successes than most New Yorkers realize, and so he laid part of the foundation for today's New York.
Times reporter David Chen also heard that racial undertone, accusing Giuliani of "incendiary" comments for claiming that before his administration cut crime many people city were gripped by "the fear of going out at night and walking the streets."
Powell offered more excuses for Dinkins:
"Dinkins faced a very sharp economic downturn, and he was in the very difficult position of coming in with high expectations from many constituencies," said John H. Mollenkopf, a political science professor at the City University Graduate Center. "Yet he expanded the police force and rebuilt neighborhoods; he deserves more credit than he gets for managing that time."
Mr. Dinkins's most lasting achievement might have been in the very area where he now fares worst in popular memory. He obtained the State Legislature's permission to dedicate a tax to hire thousands of police officers, and he fought to preserve a portion of that anti-crime money to keep schools open into the evening, an award-winning initiative that kept tens of thousands of teenagers off the street. Later he hired Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, and in the mayor's final years in office, homicide began its now record-breaking decline.
Sounding like Obama blaming his predecessor Bush, Powell wrote:
Mr. Dinkins took office only to face recession and the three horsemen of social decline: soaring AIDS infection rates, homelessness and a crack-fueled crime wave. Homicide annually claimed the lives of 2,000 New Yorkers, compared with about 500 today.
After admitting Dinkins "raised taxes and cut services" and "hesitated to face down racial and ethnic antagonism, Powell claimed: "But through it all, his administration made advances unmatched by succeeding administrations."
Even among liberal reporters, this is a minority view.