N.Y.C.'s Giuliani Grapples With the 'Vision Thing'
Mayor cites 17th-century philosopher in defining city role
For a mayor who has always pounded one or two notes on the keyboard of political issues, Rudolph Giuliani is suddenly attempting to play a concerto.Skip to next paragraph
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As he nears the end of his first term and gears up for his 1997 reelection campaign, Mr. Giuliani is defining his "New Urban Vision" for the Big Apple. In two speeches last week, the feisty Republican mayor outlined his vision, branching out from his usual oratory about specific issues like crime and welfare.
Why is the mayor suddenly putting things into a broader context? Giuliani, giving himself a pat on the back, says he now has "an opportunity to talk about it with more authority because we have accomplished a good deal of it."
Some outside observers say Giuliani's recent musings are a result of his maturing as mayor. "I think he has learned a lot as he has grappled with the problems of the city.... I think he is growing in the job," says Myron Magnet, the editor of City Journal, published by the conservative Manhattan Institute, which recently sponsored one of the Giuliani speeches.
Successful political leaders are always defining and redefining their issues, observes Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie. "There is never a bad time to provide more definition to your political persona," he adds.
At the base of Giuliani's vision is the "social contract." This concept originated with the 17th-century English social philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who proposed that a sovereign would provide peace as long as the subjects agreed to give up certain rights. Giuliani's updated version of the concept is, "It's not how much I can grab, but how much I can share."
In Giuliani's vision for New York, sharing means "reciprocity." In particular, the mayor has applied this concept to welfare - a program that many big city mayors are reshaping. He champions the idea that able-bodied recipients must work for their stipends.
The city currently has about 35,000 people in the state-run "workfare" program. By next year, the workfare force here will swell to 50,000. But Giuliani is critical of federal welfare reform, which mandates that a portion of those who receive federal welfare also perform workfare. Giuliani calls it an unfunded federal mandate, since Congress did not provide any funds to pay the workers or cover their day-care expenses. "I take issue with the fact we are not given the resources for that - that's not reciprocity," says the mayor.
Another essential part of the mayor's philosophy is the need for personal responsibility. The city is not responsible if a parent beats a child to death or a boyfriend stabs his girlfriend, says Richard Schwartz, a senior adviser to the mayor. "The government is there to help protect and defend and improve people's quality of life, but there is a point where there is an individual responsible for what happens," he explains.
Giuliani believes individuals function best when their lives are influenced by institutions that are close to them, such as churches, community groups, schools, or voluntary organizations. "Today we are seeing that governments closest to the people are the most competent," says Giuliani, who cites Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis as examples of effective municipal governments.
Defender of immigrants
Interwoven into the mayor's vision of the city is a bubbling hub of new workers - immigrants. New York has always been a magnet for legal and illegal newcomers to the US. But Giuliani of late has become a spokesman for those trying to work their way to the Statue of Liberty, attacking provisions of Congress's immigration legislation and welfare reform that restrict services to legal immigrants. He says he is not sure about immigrants in other parts of the country, but in New York, "immigrants are producers of income."
Those immigrants also often produce children, who are now entering the city's school system at a significant rate. Newspapers here regularly report on overcrowding in the city school system. But the mayor maintains he has little control over the education system, which he considers a bloated bureaucracy.
On immigration, Mr. Miringoff observes that Giuliani "seems to be trying to expand the lights of Broadway into other areas."
This may be a wise strategy, since New Yorkers like a mayor who seems to have stature. The Big Apple was always known as "Ed Koch's New York." Says Miringoff, "Giuliani does not dominate the landscape the way Koch did."
At least during this term.