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Jeff Greenfield: Kinder, gentler New Yorkers

CNN correspondent Jeff Greenfield
CNN correspondent Jeff Greenfield

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Millions of people in New York City lost electricity as a power outage struck New York, Connecticut, parts of Canada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. But CNN correspondent Jeff Greenfield reported that New Yorkers, reputed to be impatient, rude and harried, have demonstrated calm, compassion and courtesy.

He talked to CNN anchors Bill Hemmer and Daryn Kagan Friday morning about how the city behaved Thursday night and compared it with the extensive blackout that struck the city in 1977.

GREENFIELD: This is a remarkable evening. When I think of the city, my hometown, civility is not the first phrase that comes to mind. It's an impatient city. Last night, I took a walk from CNN's bureau across Penn Station all the way up 8th Avenue. It's a five-mile walk, and you go through five different kind of neighborhoods-- commercial hotels, grungy hotels. And the theme all the way of that walk was a sense of civility.

You saw tourists pouring off those double-decker buses looking dazed and confused. People were offering them free glasses of water and restaurants were putting out food that was spoiled for free.

I saw police officers politely asking New Yorkers, "Would you mind please getting out of the street." "Please." "Excuse me." Those are not words in your vocabulary. The contrast you were mentioning from 1977 is that then there was not just massive looting but a sense that the city had abandoned some of the poor neighborhoods.

Police officers set up a cordon along 96th Street and basically said to the African-American community, 'You're on your own. We're going to protect the richer portion.' You see none of that -- a drop in crime.

The sense is this is a more liveable city.

HEMMER: We've been here at two hours at this location and yet to hear a horn.

GREENFIELD: I'm glad you mentioned that. I didn't get a whole lot of sleep last night. One of the points I wanted to make. I walked down here, and heard one horn honking. As you say, in this town, if you wait a nanosecond when the light changes, you're going to get your ears blown off.

You have just seen a city that I think has changed. Having said that, I'm really glad the power is starting to come back on.

I have to say the little vignettes all last night, young Christian social workers who come to the city to help the homeless, performance artists we have in Central Park -- you had a sense of different cultures taking a breath and saying we got to roll with this.

HEMMER: Governor Pataki is saying there is a lot of tough questions that have to be asked immediately. I cannot think the politicians and those in charge in this city and state, for that matter, are going to tolerate a lack of sufficient and complete and full answers as to what happened here.

GREENFIELD: You begin to think, well, if the city could be brought to that kind of halt this time by accident, that is a vulnerability that had to be addressed. Imagine if the city was paralyzed and very bad guys started doing what they were going to do. I think this kind of concern is in the area of bureaucratic fingerpointing and responsibility.

I think for now here in New York, at least, what I think everybody is feeling, particularly at 6:08 this morning when the power came back on in at least part of New York, was a profound sense of relief. I have to admit, I was starting to think, "Can we go through a hot summer weekend without power?"

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