August 5, 2005


A Mayor After Machiavelli's Own Heart (SAM ROBERTS, 8/04/05, NY Times Book Review)

[F]red Siegel, a history professor at Cooper Union and a former unpaid campaign policy adviser to Rudolph W. Giuliani, has written The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life." In Professor Siegel's view, that genius is largely Mr. Giuliani's, but also the electorate's. By choosing the loud and strong Mr. Giuliani, the voters finally rejected what Professor Siegel regards as the failed liberalism of the city-state inaugurated during the Depression under another ostensibly Republican mayor, Fiorello H. La Guardia - the mayor against whom every successor has been judged.

Professor Siegel, who wrote this book with help from his son Harry, borrows his title from Machiavelli, the 16th-century political handler whose cynical pragmatism is periodically invoked as a framework for Mr. Giuliani's performance. Like Machiavelli's hero, Cesare Borgia, Professor Siegal writes, the mayor "revived the republic with more than a touch of Machiavelli's corrupt wisdom." Like Borgia, Mr. Giuliani was not necessarily a prince of a guy.

Mr. Giuliani isn't inaugurated until Page 99, giving Professor Siegel ample opportunity to ruminate about what he views as decades of "rivalry between those who hoped to restore the legendary Gotham to its former glory and those who lived well off its decline." In fairness, though, context demands that any such rivalry take greater account of two other factors: for many New Yorkers, the 1950's and early 60's weren't necessarily glory days; and if Mr. Giuliani had arrived to save the city much earlier, most citizens probably wouldn't have been ready to be saved. As Jonathan Mahler, author of "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning," says, the city "had to bottom out in a way for the people to be willing to endure the things that Giuliani did."

What he did best, Professor Siegel writes, was reverse the conventional wisdom that New York was ungovernable - giving Police Commissioner William Bratton a free hand and studiously tackling other seemingly intractable challenges - and, with major assists from Bill Clinton and a booming economy, revive the vision of upward mobility, rather than dependency, for the poor.

Accountability was the watchword, for public employees and for those citizens they served, even if it was not always the touchstone for the mayor's personal behavior.

Professor Siegel takes a cheap shot here and there - pointing out that the Rev. Al Sharpton did not send his children to public school (neither did Mr. Giuliani) and oozing sarcasm by observing that the universal condemnation of hooliganism after a Puerto Rican Day parade proved that, after all, "there are limits to multiculturalism."

Twoi thoughts: (1) Ask a Londoner if that last is a cheap shot; (2) Bill Buckley was thirty years ahead of his time by being forty years behind it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 5, 2005 9:55 PM

LaGuardia was even less of a Republican than Mike Bloomberg, but ran and won because the Tammany machine was undergoing its latest bout of political corruption probes. But he was able to strike a balance between FDR and Robert Moses which helped get New York city way more New Deal public works federal funding than it deserved based on demographics. Unfortunately, between that and the ushering in of civil service reform, where the workers no longer had their job security based on the patronage system, Fiorello's 12 years in office set the tone for the "government is always right" strategy the city would follow for most of the next 50 years.

Posted by: John at August 6, 2005 12:49 AM