In 1978, Ed Koch assumed control of a city plagued by filth, crime, bankruptcy, and racial tensions. In 1989, by the end of his mayoral run and despite the Wall Street crash of 1987, neighborhoods and infrastructure were being rebuilt. Unlike many American cities, Koch's New York was growing, not shrinking. Gentrification brought new businesses to neglected corners and converted low-end rental housing to coops and condos. Nevertheless, not all the change was positive-AIDS, crime, homelessness, and violent racial conflict increased, marking a time of great, if somewhat uneven, transition.
For better or worse, Koch's efforts convinced many New Yorkers to embrace a new political order that subsidized business, particularly finance, insurance, and real estate, and privatized public space. Each phase of the city's recovery required difficult choices between moneyed interests and social services, forcing Koch to be both a moderate and a pragmatist as he tried to mitigate growing economic inequality. Throughout, Koch's rough rhetoric (attacking his opponents as "crazy," "wackos," and "radicals") prompted the charge that he was racially divisive. The first book to recast Koch's legacy through personal and mayoral papers, authorized interviews, and oral histories, this volume plots a history of New York City through two rarely studied but crucial decades, the bankruptcy of the 1970s and the recovery and crash of the 1980s.
Every city and every state needs a Richard Ravitch. In sixty years on the job, whether working in business or government, he was the man willing to tackle some of the most complex challenges facing New York. Trained as a lawyer, he worked briefly for the House of Representatives, then began his career in his family’s construction business. He built high-profile projects like the Whitney Museum and Citicorp Center but his primary energy was devoted to building over 40,000 units of affordable housing including the first racially integrated apartment complex in Washington, D.C. He dealt with architects, engineers, lawyers, bureaucrats, politicians, union leaders, construction workers, bankers, and tenants—virtually all of the people who make cities and states work.
It was no surprise that those endeavors ultimately led to a life of public service. In 1975, Ravitch was asked by then New York Governor Hugh Carey to arrange a rescue of the New York State Urban Development Corporation, a public entity that had issued bonds to finance over 30,000 affordable housing units but was on the verge of bankruptcy. That same year, Ravitch was at Carey’s side when New York City’s biggest banks said they would no longer underwrite its debt and he became instrumental to averting the city’s bankruptcy.
Throughout his career, Ravitch divided his time between public service and private enterprise. He was chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority from 1979 to 1983 and is generally credited with rebuilding the system. He turned around the Bowery Savings Bank, chaired a commission that rewrote the Charter of the City of New York, served on two Presidential Commissions, and became chief labor negotiator for Major League Baseball.
Then, in 2008, after Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal and New York State was in a post-financial-crisis meltdown, Spitzer’s successor, David Paterson, appointed Ravitch Lieutenant Governor and asked him to make recommendations regarding the state’s budgeting plan. What Ravitch found was the result of not just the economic downturn but years of fiscal denial. And the closer he looked, the clearer it became that the same thing was happening in most states. Budgetary pressures from Medicaid, pension promises to public employees, and deceptive budgeting and borrowing practices are crippling our states’ ability to do what only they can do—invest in the physical and human infrastructure the country needs to thrive. Making this case is Ravitch’s current public endeavor and it deserves immediate attention from both public officials and private citizens.
Chris McNickle argues that New York City Mayor David Dinkins failed to wield the power of the mayor with the skill required to run the city. His Tammany clubhouse heritage and liberal political philosophy made him the wrong man for the time. His deliberate style of decision-making left the government he led lacking in direction. His courtly demeanor and formal personal style alienated him from the people he served while the multi-racial coalition he forged as New York’s first African-American mayor weakened over time.
Dinkins did have a number of successes. He balanced four budgets and avoided a fiscal takeover by the unelected New York State Financial Control Board. Major crime dropped 14 percent and murders fell by more than 12 percent. Dinkins helped initiate important structural changes to the ungovernable school system he inherited. His administration reconfigured health care for the poor and improved access to medical treatment for impoverished New Yorkers.
McNickle argues that David Dinkins has received less credit than he is due for his successes because they were overshadowed by his failure to fulfill his promise to guide the city to racial harmony. This stimulating review of a transitional period in New York City’s history offers perspective on what it takes to lead and govern.
The political career of David Dinkins is set against the backdrop of the rising influence of a broader demographic in New York politics, including far greater segments of the city’s “gorgeous mosaic.” After a brief stint as a New York assemblyman, Dinkins was nominated as a deputy mayor by Abe Beame in 1973, but ultimately declined because he had not filed his income tax returns on time. Down but not out, he pursued his dedication to public service, first by serving as city clerk. In 1986, Dinkins was elected Manhattan borough president, and in 1989, he defeated Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani to become mayor of New York City, the largest American city to elect an African American mayor.
As the newly-elected mayor of a city in which crime had risen precipitously in the years prior to his taking office, Dinkins vowed to attack the problems and not the victims. Despite facing a budget deficit, he hired thousands of police officers, more than any other mayoral administration in the twentieth century, and launched the “Safe Streets, Safe City” program, which fundamentally changed how police fought crime. For the first time in decades, crime rates began to fall—a trend that continues to this day. Among his other major successes, Mayor Dinkins brokered a deal that kept the US Open Tennis Championships in New York—bringing hundreds of millions of dollars to the city annually—and launched the revitalization of Times Square after decades of decay, all the while deflecting criticism and some outright racism with a seemingly unflappable demeanor. Criticized by some for his handling of the Crown Heights riots in 1991, Dinkins describes in these pages a very different version of events.
A Mayor’s Life is a revealing look at a devoted public servant and a New Yorker in love with his city, who led that city during tumultuous times.
More than two hundred columns, articles, essays, speeches, and letters, tracing ER's development from timorous columnist to one of liberalism's most eloquent and outspoken leaders. From My Day columns on Marian Anderson, excerpts from Moral Basis of Democracy and This Troubled World, to speeches and articles on the Holocaust and McCarthyism.
No political scandal in American history has had a greater impact on America's political consciousness than the rise and fall of the "Tweed Ring" in New York City between 1866 and 1871. In an age ripe with scandal both public and private, the spectacular corruption charged to "Boss" Tweed and his associates-estimates of their extortion range from $20 million to $200 million-became an enduring symbol of the dark side of democratic politics.
The Tweed Ring contributed much more than cartoonist impressions; it helped to shape a powerful theory of political reform. It was in truth one of the formative events of progressivism, that multifaceted doctrine that has evolved into the modern American creed. In this sense, the Tweed Ring was to produce not only deep misgivings about the existing regime, but an insight into how it should be reformed.
Denis Tilden Lynch's biography of "Boss" Tweed was first published in 1927, in a time filled, like Tweed's, with sudden prosperity, daunting problems, and spectacular scandals. It is a straight-forward, workmanlike study, untroubled by the conceits of modern historical scholarship, and close enough to its subject's generation to have some of the immediacy of journalism. Of all the books published about the Tweed affair, Lynch's study is the only one that is a genuine biography, in which the man himself is the focus. For this reason it conveys something of the texture of daily life in New York in the nineteenth century, while bringing Tweed out from behind the shadows of Thomas Nast's leering cartoons, and presenting him, as much as is possible, as a man and not an icon. An interesting example of Americana, this volume will be of interest to historians of the period as well as those interested in American urban and political life.
Thomas Molnar's Bernanos is an illuminating study of the personal evolution of the French Catholic novelist Georges Bernanos from a reactionary royalist to a religiously principled anti-fascist. It also provides a detailed account of the intellectual divisions within the French Catholic Right and suggests a number of parallels with intellectual and literary figures on the secular and religious left including Zola, Peguy, and Simone Weil. But, as Molnar points out, the significance of Bernanos is not exhausted by his writings. Bernanos the man is as deserving of attention as is Bernanos the novelist, essayist, and social critic.
Molnar shows Bernanos against the troubled political-religious background of modern France: the Dreyfus case, the disillusionment following World War I, the Franco regime, Vichy, and the beginnings of the cold war. Whatever touched France touched Bernanos, and he flung himself into each crisis, not armed with a political system nor an academically sanctioned philosophy, but with a peasant's respect for what is and a Christian's sense of what might be. The portrait that Molnar draws is that of a passionately concerned Christian who knows that truth is hard to come by, but who is ready to follow it wherever it leads, regardless of the consequences.
A crucial theme covered by Molnar is Bernanos' long and conflicted relations with Charles Maurras and the Action Francaise. He makes clear the extent to which Bernanos' fervent Catholicism set him apart from Maurras whose positivistic inspiration and passion for order helped lay the groundwork for the political collapse that led to the Vichy regime. Thomas Molnar's book is a fascinating account of Georges Bernanos' stature as both a political thinker and an important novelist. Bernanos will be enjoyed by historians, political scientists, philosophers, theologians, and scholars of literature.