It was a bitter cold New Year's Day in New York City, and Rudolph Giuliani, former US Attorney, had just taken the oath of office to officially begin his second, and by law his final term as mayor. His inaugural speech, delivered to a group of 5,000 shivering but loyal supporters, was vintage Rudy.
In it, Giuliani took much of the credit for the 30% reduction in crime during 1997. That the reduction in crime mirrored a stunning national trend, or that much of it can be explained by factors which are out of the control of politicians, were not mentioned. This came as no surprise, however, as Giuliani has amassed such a reputation for expansive self-evaluation that New York Magazine is currently running an ad campaign which describes their publication as "perhaps the only good thing in New York for which Rudy hasn't taken credit." (Last month a state court threw out Giuliani's lawsuit against the magazine for the unauthorized use of his name.)
But perhaps the statement which showed the greatest level of hubris (in New York we call it "chutzpa") was not one in which Giuliani took credit for something he had done, but one in which he anticipated credit for something he plans to do. Standing in his suit jacket on that bitterly cold podium, Rudy said (with a straight face, we're told) "Four years from now, when the next mayor of New York City stands here, I want the newspapers and magazines around the nation to be writing about how New York City led America to a Drug-Free America." As a first step toward his planned annointment as the St. Patrick of the Drug War, Giuliani plans to hire 1,600 additional cops.
To be sure, Rudy had been less than secretive since his re-election in November about his plans to focus on drugs in his second term. As a prelude, a police initiative had already been operating whose goal is to eliminate drug-dealing from Washington Square Park, in the middle of Greenwich Village. Reporters from local papers who have visited the park have indicated that this effort isn't going very well, with "smoke" still being offered regularly to visitors in and around the famous site. But Giuliani has reiterated his determination to clear the park of dealers, going so far as to install surveillance cameras at various locations and instituting reverse stings, or "sell-and-busts" with undercover officers posing as dealers and arresting would-be buyers of nickel and dime bags.
The operation in the park, and the difficulties in making it work, only serve to illustrate the absurdity of a "drug-free" New York City, much less a drug-free America. Washington Square Park is two square blocks of relatively open real estate, with very few places for drug dealers to hide. The fact that intense focus on even this tiny area, out of a city of enormous geographical size and a population of around 8 million, cannot make the drugs disappear, ought to show Rudy that even he cannot make the Drug War work.
Rudolph Giuliani's hopes for receiving credit for leading all of America toward "drug-freeness" from his office in City Hall are an indication of his future plans. A rising star in the Republican Party despite their well-documented spats over such issues as his endorsement of Democrat Mario Cuomo in the New York's last gubernatorial race, Rudy has set his sights on national office. The buzz in New York political circles is that his next race will be for the governorship, with an eye toward the White House. That governorship is currently held by George Pataki, the man who defeated Mario Cuomo in a result which surprised many people, not least of whom, Rudolph Giuliani. Pataki is also said to be interested in a run for the White House.
But the question, albeit one which would have sounded ludicrous a very short time ago, is whether a staunch prohibitionist, one who continues to tout a law-enforcement approach to the drug problem, will even be electable by the time Rudy is ready to run for President. Judging by international events, and the rising movement for reform in America, the War, at least as Rudy knows it, could well be over by then. Or at least it should be seriously winding down. Where will Rudy and his sell-and-bust operations be then?
To be fair, Giuliani probably does not belong to the most vile class of drug warrior. He is, in the words of long-time reform activist Aaron Wilson, a "true believer." From all indications, Rudy honestly thinks that enough firepower, or surveillance, or prisons, can win the war. The question, then, is whether his enormous ego will prevent him from learning from his mistakes, and from the mistakes of others. Because if not, there is a good chance that he will make the error of trying to prove himself right at all costs -- arresting and brutalizing thousands upon thousands of his own constituents in an attempt to beat them into submission. Such tactics, in arguably the most important city in the free world, could shine a huge spotlight on the inherent failure of Prohibition, and greatly hasten its demise. But perhaps this wouldn't hurt Rudy's chances for national office at all. Because if that happens, and the Drug War ends, he'll be totally justified in taking the credit.
Adam J. Smith