GOP front runner Rudy Giuliani pitches himself as a future president on the strength of his record as mayor of New York City. Beyond his performance as "America's Mayor" after 9/11, nothing impresses potential voters so much as Giuliani's tales of how he battled liberals to cut crime in the beleaguered Big Apple by attacking everything from aggressive panhandling to armed robbers and murderers. Recently, Giuliani's opponents have started to attack his record in New York, and press critics have attacked his crime record as stealing credit from the cops who did the real work.
How key was Giuliani in cutting crime in the Big Apple? No one knows better than his sometime ally, sometime adversary William Bratton, formerly New York City police commissioner under Giuliani. Shortly after assuming office as mayor in 1994, Giuliani appointed Bratton. The new mayor and the top cop had a relationship that was both productive and, over time, stormy. Crime plummeted as Bratton installed his "Broken Windows" style of policing to reduce the petty crime and graffiti that emboldens criminals to more major lawbreaking, and launched CompStat, a computerized crime-tracking system that allows police commanders to target and flood high-crime areas. But the relationship soured as the two clashed over Bratton's rising profile as a crimefighter and how much direction over police strategy the mayor should have. In 1996, Bratton resigned under pressure from Giuliani. He's now chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.
In the 11 years since they parted, Bratton and Giuliani barely spoke—until things began to thaw this spring. The presidential hopeful initiated two meetings, to talk about crime and old times. Shortly after the meetings Giuliani told Peter Boyer of The New Yorker, in a story published this month, that his time with Bratton was "extraordinarily productive." "I mean, we took a city that nobody believed could be turned around with regard to crime, and really did turn it around," Giuliani said."Now that I look back on it, I really appreciate the relationship."
Bratton, who declined a NEWSWEEK request to discuss Giuliani before the rapprochement, now says Giuliani deserves "significant credit" for fighting the political battles to let the New York cops do their work. Bratton, a frequent critic of the Bush administration for aid cutbacks to local law enforcement says he's glad Giuliani "gets" the idea that federal help is crucial. But he's not throwing out any endorsements to his former colleague. Bratton says Hillary Clinton gets it, too; he recalls that he was an adviser to Clinton during her 2000 Senate race, and he'd be happy to talk to any candidate to put rising crime in the center of next year's debate. Bratton spoke with NEWSWEEK's Andrew Murr. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: You and Giuliani met in May for the first time in years when he visited LA. What did you talk about?
William Bratton: Actually we met twice. The first time he came in, he was here for a press event with [California] Gov. [Arnold] Schwarzenegger, talking about the spread of gang violence across the country. His particular purpose was to get a perspective on the California and Los Angeles gang problem and how that differed from the crime problem in New York that we dealt with in our time together. He wanted my take on its spread through the United States, particularly the MS-13 issue. [MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, is a street gang formed in the 1980s in L.A. by Salvadoran refugees that has spread east in recent years.] … The second time he came in, he was here for a number of speeches. He was very focusing on CompStat. He had begun to reference CompStat in his speeches as a way to offset the border problem. [Giuliani calls it BorderStat.] He was very specifically interested at that time on CompStating of the LAPD. It had been done in N.Y. How was it working out here in terms of its transferability? Both of us were quite comfortable. It is quite transferable into any area . That was the thrust of the professional side of it.
Did you talk about politics?
No, not at all. Obviously, he's very deep into the race. We reminisced a little bit about times in New York together. We had not seen each other, other than in passing at a couple of events, since 1996. That's when I left.
Crime dropped dramatically in NYC when you were there and when Giuliani was mayor. He's taking credit for part of that. What portion of the credit does the mayor deserve?
It's a big stage. You need a big stage because a lot of people need to get on that stage—including the 38,000 cops who actually did the work. I had an extraordinarily creative team of people who worked with me: the late Jack Maple; John Timoney, who is now the [police] chief in Miami; consultants like John Linder [who drew up the action plan for the cops] and [Rutgers University criminal-justice scholar] George Kelling of the Broken Windows theory.
It could not have been done without Giuliani. In New York City, one of the great strengths of [the mayor's] position is you have ability to coordinate all elements of the criminal-justice system. Particularly with a mayor that was as strongly focused on this issue as he was, if you controlled the jails, influenced strongly the district attorneys and the judges, probation through your budget powers … [he had] the ability to coordinate a lot of what we were doing on the suppressive side of the house with the prisons and prosecutors, probation and parole.
His great strength was believing that you could do something about crime. It wasn't necessarily that crime was caused by societal issues like poverty or racism or the economy. Those are influences, but [he believed that] crime is caused by individuals, by behavior. And that one thing government can do through its laws and in a democracy is empowered to do is to create public safety. Without that, you have what New York was in the 1990s, what America was in the late '80s and early '90s—an increasingly unsafe environment because government was failing in its obligation to maintain public safety. I believed you could do it by focusing on behavior—broken windows, quality-of-life behavior. Fix the little things: squeegee pests, aggressive beggars, prostitutes in the street, drug dealers on the corners. And then we dealt with the big things, the violent crime, the murders, rapes and robberies.
Police were sufficiently resourced, which we were, thanks to Giuliani's predecessor, Dave Dinkins, who had hired 7,000 cops. The only thing I had was, I didn't have a lot of money, but I certainly had a lot of ideas and a lot of cops.
Giuliani basically fought all the political fights against all the naysayers who said it couldn't be done. So he provided the opportunity and the leadership and fought a lot of the political battles with what was at that time an extraordinarily liberal city.
Where we differed and came to differ after a couple of years was on some of the strategies, some of the applications. My perspective was that we had achieved enough success that we could now start refocusing the energies of the department. His belief was that we needed to keep pushing the enforcement side of the envelope. That was one of the reasons we ended up going our separate ways. Some of the expansion of the Street Crime Unit that got them into so much trouble about a year after I left [with the notorious police beating of Abner Louima in Brooklyn in 1997] ... We were opposed to that [expansion]. It was a difference in strategies that we had toward the end.
But he deserves significant credit. It could not have been done with the speed and the comprehensiveness and the ultimate impact without him. Could it have been done over time? Crime was going down 2 percent a year. It wasn't going down 10 to 15 percent as we did in 1994 and 1995.
You've been critical of President Bush's ideas about the limited role of the federal government in local law enforcement. How might Giuliani differ?
One of Giuliani's strengths is he understands the critical nature of federal involvement. Somebody else who understands it also—and this clearly needs to be understood—is former president Clinton and his wife. They understand fully. The crime turnaround of the '90s couldn't have happened without Bill Clinton. Giuliani and I probably had the most visible success story in America and in fact were responsible for about 25 percent of the crime decline in '94-'95. But make no mistake about it: the overall crime decline nationally was [a credit to] President Clinton, who worked with Republicans Newt Gingrich and [others]. He was assisted by a Republican mayor in New York City who saw the need for federal help. The Feds paid for 3,000 new cops in New York City.
It's not an endorsement. I'm not endorsing anybody. My interest right now is that presidential candidates focus on crime and the importance of the federal government getting into the crime battle and the importance of ComStating [the] crime battle at the federal level. He gets that. Hillary Clinton gets it, along with former president Clinton. I was an adviser to her during her [2000 Senate] campaign … so she gets it, too.
The good news is the front runners on both the Republican and Democratic get it. I'm happy to talk with anybody, Giuliani or any of the presidential candidates, on this issue. We know how to do it, and we can do it again in the 21st century, because we did it in the 1990s.
Giuliani also recently said that if elected, he might appoint you to a federal law-enforcement post. Interested?
He did not say that. In the New Yorker piece, he said he could see us working together at some point in the future. That was the [New York] Post's takeaway … There was an extrapolation by the Post.
OK, but the question remains: would you be interested in a federal law-enforcement post?
I don't close doors on any options, but I'm very happy with what I'm doing right now, and there's still work to be done in L.A.