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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

O'Reilly: NYC Republicans need to rustle up that old excitement

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks at

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks at the National Press Club in Washington. (2011) Photo Credit: AP

There was actually some passion on display on the Republican mayoral campaign trail last week.

After Rudy Giuliani was called a "jerk" at a forum in the Grand Ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, GOP candidate Joseph Lhota issued a strong defense of his former boss. It was an instant crowd-pleaser -- and it was good to hear Republicans again clapping for Giuliani in that room.

It was where, on Nov. 7, 1989, Giuliani and hundreds of his supporters gathered to await election results in his race against then-Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins.

Pre-election polls had Dinkins with a 9-point lead over the former U.S. attorney, and at least one local television station called the race early for Dinkins.

But then something remarkable happened.

The blinking check mark signaling victory next to Dinkins' name suddenly disappeared from television screens. The race had become too close to call.

The eloquent, exuberant former Manhattan Republican chairman, Roy Goodman, bellowed, "That hungry Tammany Tiger is sure getting his tail twisted tonight!"

No one says things like that anymore. More's the pity.

It was the high-water mark of the evening -- that and Giuliani urging disappointed supporters later on that night to work with the incoming mayor. Out of 1.9 million votes cast, Giuliani lost the race by just 47,000. The loss stung.

But the excitement felt by New York Republicans in the Roosevelt Hotel that night carried over to the next campaign. On another evening, in another ballroom four years later, a desperate, crime-plagued city elected Giuliani New York's 107th mayor.

Eight years after that, a city desperate for continued post-9/11 leadership elected then-Republican Michael Bloomberg its 108th, on term-limited Giuliani's strong recommendation.

If New York Republicans are going to compete seriously this fall, they'll need to find a way to generate that excitement again. And that means they'll need to answer a fundamental question: What are New Yorkers desperate for now?

William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican political consultant.