It's a true tribute to Rudy that we now choose our mayors by weighing their balls. Even a crucial question like racial empowerment becomes conflated with masculinity: We're voting for a people's macho to replace the racist one. The cojones factor makes it less likely that we'll soon see a woman in City Hall. And it makes the best qualities of a candidate like Greenhis intellectualism and calculationseem more prissy than principled. The underlying question isn't who can do better than Rudy, but who is as much of a man as he.
This is the world the sadistic tropes of pop culture celebrateand that sexual backlash seems forward-looking now. After the twin towers attack, it feels necessary to be led by men who define themselves by standing up to other men. The measure of competence is walking tall.
This is not the quality our best mayors have had. Fiorello La Guardia didn't exactly walk tall. His greatest trait wasn't his ability to thump his chest but his skill at organizing a hungry horde into an army whose achievements are still with us in the form of great public works. John Lindsay was a great mayor because he knew how to form unique alliances that could challenge power relations (up to a point). As for David Dinkins, his best quality was his tenacious humanism. He got caught between two tough guys: the haimishly demagogic Koch and the shamelessly vicious Giuliani. But Dinkins, who dared to speak out against bigotseven black oneswas the real red meat in that sandwich.
It's a media litany that the recession to come will recall the Beame era. It will take a remarkable politician to reconcile legitimate demands of empowerment with this new environment of constraint. But it looks like we'll choose the candidate who is best able to stand up to The Man. The fact that Ferrer got big mo from his refusal to make a deal is more ominous than impressive. As the reign of Rudy attests, you pay for what you get.