In New York, I lived through the reign of Mayor Giuliani. I survived.
For such a wonderful city –in many respects, that is (let’s not go overboard here)–how come we’ve had such a long parade of unattractive posturing poseurs as Mayors. Except our current Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Despite some serious knocks against him, overall, Michael Bloomberg seems to me a serious, capable, smart person: not ideal, but eminently qualified. In fact –despite those same knocks– I wouldn’t mind a man like Bloomberg as President.(Especially considering another ex-mayor.)
But, for the rest of them –we’ve survived them all For me, it’s not really a matter of politics –it’s a matter of the person.
But Giuliani still stood out in the parade. He brought the city new lows when he put his confused and tawdry personal life on the public stage. (His two kids have recently testified to some of these effects: neither apparently would vote for him.)
For New Yorkers, “class” used to be something of a requirement in our Mayors. If some of them had a little too much class and not enough substance, well, we survived that too.
Self-promotion, of course, is a requirement for the job. We expect it. Sometimes we get too much. Sometimes we get WAY too much. We survive that, too. All we ask for is that it be offset with a tiny glimmer of “not taking oneself too seriously,” maybe a little humor every once in a while. Not that we are always obliged.
Some of our Mayors had a real hunger for the stage, the limelight, the frontpage, the street-name, and now The Google. Perhaps that is part of the necessary drive to become Mayor. But some do take it a little…far.
(A personal story: Two Christmas Days ago, I got a surprise invitation from a wealthy customer (somebody who was a writer; who liked my books and who had even bought a Complete Stone Street Press Collection once; someone who liked to talk about books, and writing, and words –for which category I am a sucker.). Would I be her guest –with another friend, a photographer– at one of New York’s swankiest and most expensive restaurants. As it happened, I was free of family celebrations that year, and I accepted. I had planned to spend some time helping on Christmas Day at the Catholic Worker kitchen serving dinners to the homeless. The Manger Day ironies had a perverse appeal to me.
All this is by the way, to this one mayoral personal story.
We sat at our table and looked out on the East River after a very pleasant meal. I was interested to discover that all the culinary genius of New York cannot transform A Turkey into a gourmet delight anymore than the regular good roasted turkey. But it was still very good.
There we sat, sipping an expensive champagne. I became aware of a tallish figure in the distance, walking slowly through the tables, stopping at each one. The figure would arrive at a table and stand there in silence; the occupants would leave off their conversation; the figure –an older man– would say something apparently affable, the people would say something, sometime hands would be shaken.
Now the figure was approaching our table. He stopped; said nothing; waited. I looked up.
“My God!”, I said, “It’s Mayor Koch!”
Apparently this was Exactly the Right Reaction to have. It brought a wide grateful smile to the crinkly-eyed Mayor’s face. I think I shook his hand; maybe my two companions did so also.
When Mr Koch moved on –after dispensing a Mayoral Christmas Dinner Benediction to us– we looked at each other in some disbelief. What is he doing here? On Christmas Day? (our eyes narrowing on the second question.)
After some discussion we decided it must have been a “they-still-love-me duties” afternoon for the Mayor.
Back to Mayor Guiliani. As I said, we New Yorkers have survived them all, including Rudi Giuliani.
But he showed me something unique that I found fairly chilling and that has stayed with me. On the Sunday after 9.11, our “hero” mayor was the main guest on George Stepanopoulus’s “This Week”, ABC’s Sunday Morning talk show. After telling us how he had bravely gone done a corridor, and then down a second corridor and went out through the door, George S. seized the opportunity for heroic guidance and asked the mayor:
“What should we do now, Mayor?”
“People should go about their lives as normal, George. They are safe. They should go to the shops…”
George is taken aback by Guiliani’s words:
“Can people really shop when they are grieving?” his voice rising in disbelief.
Came Guiliani’s words of wisdom:
“They can do both!”
There we had it: SHOP and GRIEVE!
I think about that statement every time I see Mr. Guiliani’s face or hear his voice. Shop and grieve. (“In that order, Mr Mayor?”)
Shopping. The answer to everything.