Richard Reeves

The Words and Deeds of Rudy G.

NEW YORK -- It is a given in New York that more people in New York City will vote against Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton than will vote for them. It is also a given that each of them is the only person the other could possibly defeat.

It is, after all, rare or perhaps even unprecedented for two candidates to have such high public recognition and such high "negatives" -- that is, voters who are against them from the start no matter who runs against them. Those negatives are in the 40-percent range, and even higher in some polls. It is a given that a likable local from the suburbs could probably beat either one of them on any Tuesday.

It was also a given among the political class that Mrs. Clinton was going to lose -- until two weeks ago. That has changed now.

The reason, on the surface, is obviously the killing by police of another unarmed black man. This time it was a young man named Patrick Dorismond, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time (and was the wrong race) when a couple of undercover cops were out trying to make an easy drug arrest. As most everybody knows, a white cop named Moran, in mean street clothes, came up to Dorismond after midnight and asked if could score some "krill" -- that's crack cocaine. Dorismond, who was 26 years old and some say wanted to be a cop himself, got mad. A minute later the black man was on the street bleeding to death. He had been shot by another officer, this one named Vasquez.

It was, in a certain sense, an accident. It happens all the time, usually to black men. Police officers here shot and killed people on an average of 28 times a year during the mayoralties of Edward Koch and David Dinkins. It has happened an average of 22 times a year under Giuliani. Last year, 1999, it happened 11 times, the lowest number on record.

The crime numbers since Giuliani became mayor in 1993 are astonishing. Overall crime, according to law enforcement statistics, is down by more than 55 percent. Homicides are down by more than 65 percent. In Dinkins' last year in office, there were 222 incidents in which police officers intentionally fired their guns at citizens, bad guys and good. Last year there were only 71 incidents. To put it another way, in a city of almost 8 million people, police fired 965 bullets in 1993. They fired only 417 last year.

So why is Giuliani in such trouble over this incident? This is one New Yorker's theory, mine: People in New York City like what Giuliani does; they don't like what he says.

This shooting was a "tragedy," to use a cheap word. The victim's family said the next day that they expected no justice, that there would be an investigation, the city and the police department would say it was a "tragedy" -- their word -- and the cops who did it would be back on the street. That is the way it usually happens.

But Giuliani won't even say it was a tragedy. What he has said, basically, was that Dorismond was a bum who deserved to die. He would not even offer an apology to the family -- though Vasquez did -- instead releasing Dorismond's "criminal" record, including a juvenile offense legally sealed by the court system. That record, nothing but a dropped charge that he hit a girlfriend and one conviction for disorderly conduct, did not exactly make the young man a candidate for capital punishment.

There is a psychology to cities; you can practically see it when you look at people. New Yorkers have been looking good. The Big Apple has been on a roll for years now -- particularly for anyone who remembers the near-bankruptcy of 1975 -- with Wall Street money flowing down the avenues, cleaner avenues at that, with crime down and subways cleaner. New Yorkers like what Giuliani has been doing -- and part of that does have to do with tougher policing.

But they don't like what he says, and apparently thinks. "Our fascist" is the word heard around town. He has actually gotten better, but he still sounds as if he believes governing and combat are the same thing; that anyone who disagrees with him is godless and probably a felon. He could be elected mayor-for-life under a different system, but here's his problem now:

Senators don't do anything, really; they just talk. Hillary Clinton has her problems -- some people hate what she does -- but she talks very well and says the right things. Maybe they think she'd be a lousy mayor but would not be an embarrassment as a senator.

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