Crime Wave


On the Friday before the election, Michael Bloomberg—giddy with joy—announced his endorsement by 15 prominent African Americans. Among them were many of the biggest names in the black media business, including Earl Graves Sr., the chairman of ‘Black Enterprise’; Ed Lewis, the publisher of ‘Essence’ magazine; and Pierre Sutton, chairman of Inner City Media and son of Percy Sutton, the former Manhattan borough president, who also later endorsed the Republican candidate. Veteran black actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee were also in the group.

In a press release, Graves said he believed Bloomberg would aid minority-owned businesses. Lewis cited Bloomberg’s education proposals and called him the “best hope of our children.”

It wasn’t the first time the group had joined together around political issues. In March 1999, Graves, Lewis, Percy Sutton, Davis, and Dee were among the first to be arrested in the massive sit-in protests at Police Plaza in the wake of the death of Amadou Diallo, the unarmed peddler killed in a hail of 41 police bullets as he stood on his Bronx doorstep. All are friends and supporters of Reverend Al Sharpton, who organized the Diallo protest. And although it went unmentioned at Bloomberg’s headquarters, there was nothing subtle about the timing of the group’s endorsement. It came as Sharpton was threatening to call for a boycott of the mayoral election, citing Mark Green’s continued refusal to fire campaign aides who knew of plans to spread derogatory material about Sharpton’s support of Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer in the October 11 runoff.

On the same day that the black leaders made their endorsement, many New Yorkers received yet another full-color, glossy brochure from the official Bloomberg for Mayor campaign. This one, ostensibly aimed at “Mark Green’s Crime Plan,” opened with a photograph of a pair of motorcycle cops splashed with a lurid, jagged red X. The headline below declared that Green’s crime plan “Puts Neighborhoods at Risk and Takes Us Back on CRIME . . . ” Inside, for the first time in the campaign, Bloomberg invoked Green’s service in the Dinkins administration, an era in which, the flyer stated, “We had families who were prisoners in their own homes, the Crown Heights crisis and zero leadership on crime.” At the bottom of the page, in a large black typewriter font against a yellow background, were the words “DON’T GO BACK.”

Back where exactly? Clearly, to Dinkins-time, the era of the city’s first and only African American mayor. The only effort to soften the obvious racial thrust of the piece was the use of a mug shot of a bearded, long-haired white felon wearing an angry scowl. It was right above a column headed “Mark Green’s Rap Sheet on Crime.”

One of the things that sticks in the craw of Dinkins’s supporters and former aides, not to mention the former mayor himself, is the hugely successful public relations spin Rudy Giuliani executed regarding the drop in crime. In Giuliani’s worldview—one adopted wholesale by Bloomberg—all credit for subduing crime accrues to him and his administration. The corollary is that everything wrong on crime was done before him, specifically by the Dinkins administration, a period when murders made their infamous climb above 2000 a year. But later analysis has questioned both premises. For instance, part of the homicide increase, bizarrely, was merely technical. As revealed in Rudy!, the biography by the Voice‘s Wayne Barrett, Dinkins’s administration coincided with a successful effort by the city medical examiner’s office to use added staff to track down the cause of hundreds of deaths previously listed simply as “undetermined.” In 1988, there were 727 such “undetermined” deaths. In 1989, the year Dinkins was elected, the figure dropped to 186 and continued to decline. Most of the deaths were confirmed as murders, so that rate rose.

In 1990, spurred by the brutal midday killing of a visiting tourist in the subway, Dinkins won approval of the “Safe Streets, Safe City” tax surcharge that allowed the hiring of 6000 more police. Crime began to fall. From 1990 to 1993, Dinkins’s last year in office, murders dropped almost 14 percent, robberies by 15 percent, and auto theft by 24 percent.

Crime dropped by even greater numbers after Giuliani took office, at the same time it was dropping across the nation. But the crime decline during his administration was accompanied by new, massive police sweeps, efforts that led to tragic deaths like those of Diallo and Patrick Dorismond. Green was an outspoken critic of such police abuses, taking intense heat from Giuliani and much of the media in the process. Seeking to determine the basis of police misconduct allegations that had been dismissed or ignored by the administration, Green filed suit to get the information when Giuliani refused to provide it.

And there it was in Bloomberg’s flyer, part of Green’s “Rap Sheet” on crime: “Green Sued the NYPD. He didn’t offer to work with them or to iron out their differences, he hauled our cops into court as if they were criminals.”

On many issues, especially police-community relations, the differences between the two candidates on last week’s ballot could not have been starker. Long before his candidacy, Mark Green had called for curbs on police abuse, and protections to ensure that minority youths are not subjected to harassment. Bloomberg, in contrast, questioned whether racial profiling even occurred. “It’s outrageous to think the Police Department does have any racial profiling,” Bloomberg said in late August. Before he announced his candidacy, Bloomberg had never made any public comment on the deaths of Diallo and Dorismond.

As a campaign strategy, winning a few black endorsements and votes was simply a welcome bonus for the novice candidate. But his victory plan, as detailed since last week by campaign aides, relied on winning large numbers of white Democrats in Queens. To do so, Bloomberg invoked all the racial dynamite implicit in the crime discussion. “Don’t Go Back” was his mantra. Radio host Curtis Sliwa, who campaigned steadily with Bloomberg in the last days of the race, was handed the microphone at a rally at Bloomberg headquarters two days before the election and was recorded by NY1 shouting: “Do you want to go back to the four years of horror of the administration of David Dinkins?”

But in the topsy-turvy world of the 2001 mayoral contest, everyone was on the wrong side. The cops were supporting Green while prominent black civic leaders who braved arrest to protest Giuliani’s police policies were endorsing Bloomberg.

In case they hadn’t received it, the Voice faxed copies of the crime flyer to several of the black leaders who endorsed Bloomberg to get their reactions. A copy was also sent to Ray Kelly, the former Dinkins police commissioner under whom much of the early progress on crime fighting was made and who emerged, in one more upside-down political maneuver, as a Bloomberg backer. What did they think of this campaign brochure? There were no responses.

“We would’ve beaten Bloomberg by double digits, no question about it,” said a Ferrer aide last week, one of those so infuriated by Green’s tactics that he high-fived with Sharpton, Ferrer, and Roberto Ramirez in the back room at Bronx Democratic headquarters on election night after the returns showed Green losing.

But if Ferrer’s backers believe Green won a Democratic Party primary only by playing the race card, one wonders what deck they think the Republicans would have been playing with in a general election against the first Latino mayoral nominee, another former David Dinkins supporter.