By Holly Dutton
At a packed CoreNet event at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown last week, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani spoke about the past, present and future New York City, while serving up tips for mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.
Ester Fuchs, a professor of public affairs and political science and director of the Urban and Social Policy program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, interviewed Giuliani at the event about his policies as mayor and his advice for de Blasio.
Giuliani was candid on how he felt about the blow-out victory de Blasio won over Joe Lhota, who formerly served as his deputy mayor and whom he called “a very close friend.”
“When Joe came to see me last year about this time and asked me what he thought of his running for mayor, I told him ‘I don’t think you can win’,” said Giuliani.
“The city only votes for a Republican when the city is desperate. I won on a slogan of ‘you can’t do any worse’.”
Though Giuliani acknowledged de Blasio was “an excellent candidate,” he said he disagreed with his views “on everything,” and said the biggest challenge for de Blasio as the next mayor will be “to change all of his campaign promises.”
“I think he should take all of those and throw them in the garbage and become a centrist mayor,” said Giuliani. “Mayors cannot be ideological. If they are, they fail. I say that on both sides. Cities are too complicated to have a political ideology superimposed on them, you have to look for practical solutions.’
The questions eventually turned to affordable housing, and how to make the city affordable for the middle class in particular. Giuliani said efforts like rent-control and rent-stabilization have actually had the opposite effect on housing prices.
“Most of the attempts to make housing affordable, make housing more expensive,” he said. “It subsidizes an unnatural level of the economy.
“You can’t solve this, you can ease this,” he said of the issue. “The best way to do it is to find parts of the city that aren’t developed and build there,” said Giuliani.
Citing lower Manhattan as being an undeveloped residential area during his first term as mayor in the early 90’s, which he subsequently re-zoned, Giuliani suggested the Bronx as the city’s most untapped outer borough.
However, he acknowledged that once areas that are more undeveloped and provide more affordable rents for residents begin to develop, rents there will surge as well.
“There’s a problem here that just can’t be solved,” said Giuliani. “You want the city to be successful, you want the city to be able to produce enough money to take care of all the needs that we think are so important, we want the city to be able to take care of poor people, well that’s a city that’s making a lot of money, that’s a city that’s very desirable to live in and a city where all the rents are going up.”
Giuliani’s first suggestion for leadership to de Blasio was “to know where you’re going.”
“When I came into office I had a really good idea of what I wanted to accomplish,” said Giuliani, admitting that some of it worked while some of it did not. “But at least we always knew where we wanted to go.”
The former mayor sees keeping the city safe and keeping the city financially sound as the first two priorities de Blasio should focus on in his first term.
Giuliani warned that de Blasio’s campaigning to reform the New York Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk” program could see crime rates “slip back.”
“My major objection to de Blasio’s campaign is putting that at risk,” said Giuliani, referring to NYC being a city that focuses on preventing crime.
“Within two or three years, this could all slip away. It’s at the core of what makes everything else work in New York City, because we’re a safe city. If it slips back, that’s going to be very dangerous.”
Giuliani also flatly rejected the “Tale of Two Cities” rhetoric that was a central theme to de Blasio’s campaign throughout the election season.
“Who the hell pays the bills? Where do you think you’re going to get the money to help poor people if you drive the rich people out of the city?” said Giuliani. “I would like to have a lot of rich people in the city. Not only that, I’d like them to spend a lot of money.”