After the primary, the fear focus changes
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With primary-night grins now gone from the candidates' faces, political operatives may resume their grim warnings that "the bad old days" will return to New York City if the "wrong person," or party, wins in November.
So far, much of this call to fear and loathing of the past has issued from City Hall itself as voters look to the post-Michael Bloomberg era. Rudy Giuliani, Bloomberg's predecessor, rings alarms about the years before his own mayoralty as he campaigns for his ex-deputy, GOP candidate Joseph Lhota.
Democrats in campaign mode push their own version of negative nostalgia when they suggest Bloomberg and Giuliani purposely polarized the city economically or racially in their combined 20 years in office.
Even before the primary results were known, it was clear the weapons of anti-nostalgia could be arrayed against Democrat Bill de Blasio because he worked for ex-Mayor David Dinkins; against Bill Thompson because he chaired the city's now-defunct Board of Education; or against Christine Quinn, whose Council leadership came with old-fashioned party machine support. Lhota as nominee would no doubt be caricatured by foes as "Rudy II."
But human cloning, like time travel, has yet to be perfected. It is a good bet, for instance, that no U.S. city will suddenly find loft apartments evacuated so breweries and factories may return to their old spaces.
Thai Jones, author of "More Powerful Than Dynamite," a history set in 1914 New York, said: "There's an eternal urge to find similarities between the present and past, especially in New York City, where there's a tradition of extremely colorful mayors."
But "there are specific contexts that differ," Jones said, from one period to the next. For example, he said, "the city today is markedly different from what it was even when Bloomberg took office."
Mark Green, the 2001 Democratic mayoral candidate, said: "Historical analogies are fun, impossible to disprove -- and usually misleading." He asked if it was "remotely credible" that candidates of either party "would want to 'go back' to an era before social media, Barack Obama's presidency or the murder-rate reduction of three-fourths."
In May, as de Blasio trailed in polls, Bloomberg deputy Howard Wolfson slammed the candidate's attack on police-search policies by saying: "Mr. de Blasio may be nostalgic for the days when the ACLU set crime policy in this city." But Wolfson never stated exactly when he believed Clarence Darrow, Emma Goldman or William Kunstler might have served as police commissioner.
Four years ago, Giuliani, campaigning for Bloomberg against Democrat Thompson, cited the former "fear of going out at night and walking the streets" and said "this city could very easily be taken back to the way it was with the wrong political leadership."
"You know exactly what I'm talking about," Giuliani told the Jewish Community Council in Borough Park, Brooklyn, in mid-October 2009. Thompson's campaign said Giuliani was using a "timeworn Republican tactic" to "scare people" into support for their side "by threatening their personal safety." De Blasio, then running for public advocate, said Giuliani's remarks "verged on race-baiting."
No matter whose purpose it serves to pretend otherwise, neither Dinkins, who supports Thompson, nor Giuliani are candidates this year. Crises lie ahead as always, but rest assured, they'll be new ones -- faced by new elected officials.