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New York's Giuliani Makes Crime His Issue


By Bill Schneider/CNN

LOS ANGELES (Jan. 3) -- The biggest political race of 1997 is for mayor of New York. And that race got off to a breathless start this week, on New Year's Day, as Mayor Rudy Giuliani ran his version of the New York Marathon.

It was Mayor Giuliani's five-borough tour. He took Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, too. Not to mention Brooklyn and Queens.

"What I like to do on New Year's day is go to four or five or six places where people who are working for New York City are working, just to thank them," Giuliani said. (96K AIFF or WAV sound)

How thoughtful! But could the mayor have had another objective in mind, one that had something to do with, say, his re-election campaign?

"Let's now make this kind of a permanent condition for New York City, that New York City is one of the safest large cities in America, and let's keep it that way," Giuliani said.


You see, crime statistics just came out showing a much-larger-than-expected drop in major crimes in New York. Rape, robbery, assault, burglary, auto theft -- all are down nearly 40 percent since 1993, the sharpest drop in the city's crime rate since prohibition.

New York ended the year with fewer than 1,000 homicides, the first year murders in New York have dropped below 1,000 since 1968. Giuliani's message: he did what he promised to do the day he was inaugurated in 1994.

"With the spirit of my administration, New York City is poised for dramatic change," Giuliani said then. "The era of fear has had a long enough reign."

Mayor Giuliani tried a new approach to crime. It included more community policing; a crackdown on so-called "quality of life" crimes like graffiti and vagrancy to convince New Yorkers that things had changed and the city was in control; and a new police commissioner, Bill Bratton, who took a tough, results-oriented approach to police management.


With re-election approaching, Giuliani had two political problems. One was Bratton. The two men were rivals for the limelight. Only one could survive. Last March, Bratton gave into pressure from the mayor and resigned, ostensibly on friendly terms. He even shared credit with the mayor for the New York miracle.

"There's enough credit to go around," Bratton said. "But let's be clear about one thing. This could not have occurred without the election of a mayor who was willing to take this city in a very different political direction, to take it in the direction where the quality of life became a paramount concern."

But soon after leaving, Bratton became a registered Democrat and considered challenging the mayor. Then last month, after consulting with the city's Democratic politicos, Bratton backed down. He had 6.2 million reasons not to run. That's the record number of dollars Giuliani has raised for the campaign.

Giuliani's second problem is that crime rates are down all over the country. What's so special about New York? Giuliani's got an answer: New York led the way.

"There is no city in America that has reduced crime as much as we have in the last three years," Giuliani said. "This is not the product of accident. This is the product of design."


Whatever, it's working. Giuliani's job ratings are up, and his ratings on the crime issue are soaring. Experts say there are many reasons why crime is dropping all over the country, including fewer young men who commit violent crimes, tougher law enforcement and stabilization of the drug trade.

But no one can match Giuliani's political skill in making the issue his own. That's why his tour de force on Wednesday was the Political Play of the Week. Giuliani even took a shot at Texas Gov. George Bush, who said before the Yankees-Rangers playoffs back in September, "I don't want to go to Yankee Stadium and have to arm myself."

Giuliani shot back, "You have less of a chance of being murdered, mugged, beaten or robbed here than just about any place in any large city in Texas."

Giuliani's a New Yorker, right? He's got an answer for everything.

This story originally appeared on CNN's "Inside Politics."

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