Koch revitalized the city with his personal style, optimism, and common sense. He rode the subways. He talked to New Yorkers in the streets. He extolled the virtues of the city. Koch also put the city back on firm financial footing. His optimism and enthusiasm were contagious. Koch was also outspoken and often abrasive. but, as the city's economy and financial situation improved, Koch's popularity soared. However, he alienated black leaders. He cut off federal funds to their projects because he felt that they were wasting the money, and he closed an old hospital in Harlem. As the 1981 election approached, black and Hispanic leaders worked to form a coalition against him (Arian, et al. 28-32, Newfield and Barrett 178-182, McNickle 271-279).
V. The 1980's and Koch
The coalition against Koch failed miserably. Koch ran in and won both the Democratic and Republican primaries. He took 75% of the vote in the general election. He even carried the black vote. Koch continued to concentrate on the city's economy. Business boomed with a Wall Street bull market. Racial tensions remained high because of several violent incidents. In addition, Jesse Jackson's 1984 presidential run increased black voter registration enormously, something that would hurt Koch later (Arian, et al. 41-87).
In the 1985 election, the black and Hispanic coalition tried once more to unseat Koch. They were unsuccessful, and Koch won the election with an even larger landslide than in 1981. But trouble for Koch was on the horizon. A group of Koch's associates, who were part of the remnants of the Democratic machine, were charged with bribery, extortion, thievery, and various other crimes. U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani investigated the cases. Although the mayor was never accused of any crime, his image suffered because of his association with the machine. Other scandals followed. In 1987, the stock market crashed and the city's economy declined. Racial tensions continued to fester, and the mayor did little to ease them (Newfield and Barrett 389-450).
The 1989 Democratic primary campaign pitted Koch against David Dinkins, the black Manhattan Borough President. Many people were dissatisfied with the economy, the mayor's abrasive style, and continuing race tensions. Dinkins had the black and Hispanic votes and ran a campaign aimed at restoring harmony to the city. He also promised to be tough on crime. Koch appealed to Jewish voters, but had alienated Irish Catholics with his Northern Ireland stance. Dinkins won a majority of the vote, taking almost all of the black and Hispanic vote as well as 30% of the Catholics and 25% of the Jews. In the general election, Dinkins, with Koch's endorsement, faced Giuliani, the Republican nominee. It was a tough campaign, and a close election. Giuliani took 60% of the Jewish vote, 75% of the Catholic vote, and 30% of the Hispanic vote. Dinkins took the rest and it was enough, just barely, to elect him as the city's first black mayor. The election reflected the changing makeup of the city. Whites had dropped to 46% of the population, blacks rose to 24% of the population, and Hispanics increased to 23% of the population. Minorities now outnumbered whites in the city (Arian, et al. 69-134, McNickle 293-313).
VI. The 1990's to 2001 and Giuliani
Dinkins brought many outsiders into the government, including blacks, Hispanics, activists, and gays. He kept the city budget balanced, reduced crime, and hired more police. Dinkins was a compassionate Lindsey style liberal who expanded social programs. However, some accused Dinkins of being star struck as a long list of celebrities visited the mayor's office, distracting him from city business. By the 1993 elections, crime was rising again. Black leaders like Al Sharpton were disappointed because they felt that that the mayor hadn't done enough to improve schools. When the election came, Giuliani was Dinkin's opponent again. Giuliani campaigned on the crime issue and promised to improve the quality of life in the city. Dinkins emphasized the improvement in race relations during his tenure. However, whites felt that Dinkins favored minorities too much. The race was close, just as the previous one was. The ethnic dividing lines were the same. High white voter turnout on Staten Island and support from the Liberal Party won the election for Giuliani (Kirtzman 42-62).
Giuliani made immediate changes to city government. He unleashed the police on petty crime. He slashed the city budget and reduced taxes. He combined the three city police forces. Giuliani ran roughshod over opposition and ruled with an autocratic, dictatorial style. He refused to deal with black leader Al Sharpton. Numerous racial incidents between the police and minorities increased ethnic tensions. Giuliani unfailingly backed the police (Kirtzman 62-96).
In the 1997 election, Guiliani, with Republican and Liberal support, was opposed by Ruth Messinger, the black Manhattan Borough President. Sharpton campaigned tirelessly for her after his own campaign failed. Most people were satisfied that Giuliani had improved the quality of life in the city and they liked Giuliani's "get things done" style. The primary issues were race relations and education. Giuliani won handily, even taking 20% of the black vote in addition to most of the white vote (Kirtzman 178-220).
Guiliani's second term was marred by further race related incidents such as the Amadou Diallo shooting. People began to see the mayor as unnecessarily confrontational. Further complicating matters, Giuliani battled prostrate cancer and was involved in a high profile affair. Giuliani's second term wasn't as successful as the first. However, he won praise for his handling of the September 11th attack and left office with high approval ratings (Reaves, Kirtzman 221-253, 268-269).
The 2001 election pitted billionaire Mike Bloomberg against Democrat Mark Green. Green won a divisive primary against Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, a Puerto Rican. With Sharpton's support, Green was ahead in the polls. However, Bloomberg received Giuliani's endorsement, which was enough to allow him to squeak into office. The candidates split the Hispanic vote. Green won 70% of the black vote, but it wasn't enough. Bloomberg is mayor, but Giuliani and Sharpton remain political powers in the city (Reaves, Schepp).
Politics in New York is about building and maintaining coalitions. After the war, Irish dominance began to fade. Jews became the single most important group in the city, but the Irish, Italians, blacks, and Hispanics have access to power, too. In the post-machine era politicians have had to find ways to appeal to at least several of these groups to be successful. Based on the past fifty years of politics in the city, this will probably remain true for the foreseeable future.
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