NYC brought itself back to life once before — but can it again?

Ideas matter, policies matter, leadership is essential. 

That could be a list of bromides, but those ingredients actually produced one of the great examples of urban renewal in American history. Now there is a film that tells the whole story in compelling detail. 

“Gotham: The Fall and Rise of New York” chronicles how the city nearly murdered itself, and how it was rescued and brought back to life as a world capital. The downhill-uphill saga spans nearly 50 years, from mayors John Lindsay to Michael Bloomberg. 

It’s a great story, full of villains and heroes, doers and dopes, and offers the final proof, thanks to the retrospective on the Lindsay years, that the road to hell really is paved with good intentions. 

That’s just one of the many lessons that makes the film a timely intervention as the city once again suffers from the plagues of rampant crime and an exodus of talent and taxpayers. As such, “Gotham” ought to be required viewing for Gov. Hochul and Mayor Adams and every member of their inner circles. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul giving a speech at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
John Nacion/Shutterstock

‘A global story’ 

Likewise, lawmakers in the city and Albany should invest two hours to watch the film since they must get in the game if the current downhill slide is going to be reversed. If nothing else, the images and headlines from the worst of times should scare them into a serious examination of their own beliefs and duties. 

Indeed, far from being frozen in amber, the film, scheduled for a March streaming release, should resonate in cities across America that also are descending into violence and disorder. (I have a role as one of a score of unpaid commentators.) 

“This is a global story,” says Larry Mone, who imagined the movie and brought it to fruition with the director-producer team of Michelle and Matthew Taylor. “Too many people think that the great New York turnaround was just an accident. It wasn’t and it’s important to document what happened and why.” 

Mone was president of the Manhattan Institute from 1995 until 2019, a period in which the organization and its scholars served as a nursery for many of the ideas that would guide New York’s comeback. 

The “broken windows” approach to policing got its big boost there and, under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, became key to dramatic decreases in crime and huge improvements in the quality of life. Having cops sweat the small stuff, like open drug use and obnoxious squeegee men, often drew scoffs from the media, but it was all part of a strategy to create a sense of public safety that wasn’t limited to statistics, but zeroed in on whether people felt safe. 

It still boggles the mind to think that in Giuliani’s first four years, the number of murders in New York dropped from nearly 2,000 in 1993, the year before he took office, to 770 in 1997. 

Eric Adams
Mayor Eric Adams campaigned on fighting crime, and while he’s made some strides, he still needs help from Democrats in Albany.
Paul Martinka

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani
During Rudy Giuliani’s first term, the number of murders in New York dropped from nearly 2,000 in 1993, to 770 in 1997. 

That was one of the most important advances in any city on any issue. Almost by itself, that drop, which led to the lowest murder total in 30 years, proved that New York could be saved and gave people and businesses reason to hope — and stay. 

Revolution in policing 

And it was just the start of a revolution in policing. Before that, the prevailing view was that police could not do much to prevent crime, their job being to catch the bad guys afterwards. 

The new approach, modified often because of circumstances and court decisions, continued under Bloomberg and helped make New York the safest big city in America. In 2013, Bloomberg’s final year at City Hall, murders fell to 335 and eventually hit a modern-day low of 292 before they started to climb again in the second term of Bill de Blasio’s misbegotten mayoralty. 

The dramatic drop in welfare cases is another example. Standing at 1.2 million families when Giuliani took office, and projected to hit 1.5 million, they eventually fell to a little more than 300,000 under Bloomberg. 

In education, the great advance was City Hall’s support for charter schools. The alternative to the regular district schools has proved a godsend to many families, especially in the poorest, nonwhite neighborhoods. 

These improvements in crime, welfare, and education are more than statistical triumphs. As the film makes crystal clear, they represent lives saved and ultimately reclaimed from failure and hopelessness. 

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Mayor Bloomerg’s approach continued to make New York the safest big city in America as in 2013, his final year as mayor, murders fell to 335 and eventually hit a modern-day low of 292.

Those individual victories, in turn, became the basis of a booming city, as public and private investments in housing and infrastructure drew about 1.6 million new residents from the 1970s low. 

New York was the place to be. As Mone says, “This great comeback was all the result of the conscious choices and decisions that leaders made.” 

The de Blasio error 

Inadvertently, the film also offers a contrast to today’s city. De Blasio ended up handcuffing the cops and, predictably, crime took off and the quality of life declined. He dumbed down education and stymied charters in pursuing a radical ideology that helped no one. 

The pandemic gave people another reason to leave. It’s over, but the death rattle still lingers, with many of those who fled deciding not to return. Half-empty skyscrapers dot what used to be teeming streets and shops. 

If that were all, it would have been trouble enough. But so-called criminal justice reforms in Albany unleashed an anything-goes attitude, and everything from murder to shoplifting has soared. 

Adams campaigned on the promise to deliver public safety and has made meaningful gains in taming violent crime, with murders falling last year to 438, compared to 488 in 2021. But he’s gotten almost zero help from fellow Dems in Albany and a demoralized, shrinking NYPD seems overwhelmed by the epidemic of lawbreaking and criminal coddling. 

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio
Adams blamed Bill de Blasio for leaving New York in chaos and made notable gains in taming violent crime, with murders falling last year to 438, compared to 488 in 2021.

Prosecutors who act as if they are defense attorneys further complicate efforts to crack down on things like fare-beating and public urination, leading to a pervasive sense of disorder and fear. 

Can New York be saved again? “Gotham” offers a very encouraging example and points the way forward. But whether the leadership exists to make it happen remains an open question.

Doomed by Biden 

Reader Ron Zajicek offers a vote of no confidence on President Biden’s handling of Ukraine, writing: “Joe’s promised Abrams tanks will arrive in months, millions of Ukrainians have fled, the country will take decades to rebuild and Putin is going to deliver another offensive that’s bigger than before. Both sides have lost, but Ukraine will never be the same.”

Santos lied, but Pete is toxic 

Howard Siegel spots a double standard, writing: “While the media screams for the removal of Republican George Santos, they seem eerily silent concerning our unqualified and incompetent transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg. So let us toast with a glass of tainted water our compliments to Mayor Pete.”