Giuliani Administration Transforms New York City Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

During his two terms as New York City mayor, Rudolph Giuliani gained local, national, and international respect for his economic and educational reforms, for reducing crime dramatically, and for unifying the city after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Although his political agenda and personal style were often polarizing, Giuliani was credited with overcoming crisis conditions to make New York one of the safest and strongest cities in the United States.

Summary of Event

In the early 1990’s, New York City was regarded as a dangerous, deteriorating metropolis. Former U.S. attorney Rudolph Giuliani’s vow to restore order and improve quality of life for New Yorkers took him to the mayor’s office in 1993 and again in 1997. A Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, Giuliani kept many of his promises and made his share of enemies during his two terms. He cut the city’s budgets, taxes, and welfare rolls and increased public education funding. New York’s streets became safer and the “Big Apple” became a site tourists wanted to visit rather than a place residents wanted to escape. His successes made Giuliani an almost legendary leader who got results regardless of whether he was loved or loathed. However, Giuliani’s popularity declined in his second term as a result of several factors, including a tumultuous private life. The final months of his administration not only restored his reputation but also took him to the height of public esteem when the city’s and country’s spirits could not have been lower—in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and killed thousands. New York City, Giuliani administration [kw]Giuliani Administration Transforms New York City (Jan. 2, 1994-Jan. 1, 2002) [kw]Administration Transforms New York City, Giuliani (Jan. 2, 1994-Jan. 1, 2002) [kw]New York City, Giuliani Administration Transforms (Jan. 2, 1994-Jan. 1, 2002) New York City, Giuliani administration [g]North America;Jan. 2, 1994-Jan. 1, 2002: Giuliani Administration Transforms New York City[08790] [g]United States;Jan. 2, 1994-Jan. 1, 2002: Giuliani Administration Transforms New York City[08790] [c]Government and politics;Jan. 2, 1994-Jan. 1, 2002: Giuliani Administration Transforms New York City[08790] [c]Social issues and reform;Jan. 2, 1994-Jan. 1, 2002: Giuliani Administration Transforms New York City[08790] Giuliani, Rudolph Dinkins, David Sharpton, Al

Giuliani was elected as New York City’s 107th mayor in November, 1993, and took office January 2, 1994. This was Giuliani’s second contest with Democrat David Dinkins, who narrowly won a bitter 1989 campaign to become New York’s first African American mayor. The 1993 rematch was also hard-fought, with Giuliani on the attack against the incumbent Dinkins, whose restrained governing style received much of the blame for New York’s problems. Alarmingly high crime rates driven by the crack cocaine trade, racial and ethnic conflicts, and economic difficulties gave New York a negative national image. With more than twenty years of experience as a U.S. federal government attorney, Giuliani presented himself as the person who could save the city.

Although he clashed with the New York City Police Department (NYPD) leadership, Giuliani forged an effective partnership with the force. Practicing a “broken windows” theory of crime prevention based on a belief that an environment rife with petty crime made felonies more likely, the NYPD pursued and punished what some considered minor offenders—vandals, panhandlers, and even graffiti vandals. “Squeegee people” who plagued motorists with unsolicited windshield cleaning and demands for handouts were perhaps the best-known targets of Giuliani’s efforts to improve quality of life. Crime prevention was the NYPD watchword during the Giuliani administration. In addition to increasing the numbers of NYPD officers on the streets, Giuliani oversaw introduction of the CompStat program, a groundbreaking technology that pinpointed criminal activities and facilitated accountability among police precinct commanders. By 2000, the sixth year of Giuliani’s mayoralty, the effectiveness of his anticrime methods was indisputable. Violent crimes including assault, murder, rape, robbery, and shootings exhibited remarkable declines, prompting the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to honor New York City as the safest large U.S. city.

Notable sites of improvement included the Times Square district, once infamous for pornography and prostitution but a pleasant destination for tourists and locals after Giuliani took action. Lower Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market was another Giuliani target, known as much for pervasive organized crime activity as for its seafood. After overcoming stiff resistance from lawbreakers, the NYPD restored legitimacy to this important urban marketplace. However, Giuliani was less successful when his cleanup campaigns seemed to be arbitrary and personally motivated, as shown by his failed 1999 attempt to cut off funding for the Brooklyn Museum of Art because of exhibits he found offensive.

The mayor’s museum defeat confirmed that acclaim for “Giuliani time” was not universal. Some observers tried to put Giuliani’s results into perspective by stressing that New York’s crime rates began dropping during the final two years of the Dinkins administration and that urban crime was declining nationwide in the 1990’s. Others criticized Giuliani’s penchant for publicity, his lack of civility to colleagues, his refusal to make peace with real or perceived enemies, and the turmoil in his personal life, which included three marriages.

Race tended to play the major role in divisions among Giuliani’s adherents and detractors. Relations between New York’s African American communities and the mayor were especially strained, starting with his two runs against Dinkins and never recovering during his administration. With few exceptions, Giuliani defended NYPD tactics fiercely, which provoked outrage following the police torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima Louima, Abner (1997), the brutal shooting death of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo Diallo, Amadou (1999), and the killing of Haitian American Patrick Dorismond Dorismond, Patrick (2000). These incidents raised questions about overzealous police, racial profiling, and Giuliani’s uncritical acceptance of NYPD responses. The uproar over Diallo, an unarmed street vendor who had been shot forty-one times, extended well beyond the African American population and empowered the Reverend Al Sharpton, perhaps the only New Yorker who rivaled Giuliani’s intensity and influence. Known for refusing to deal with those he considered enemies, Giuliani found himself on the defensive as Sharpton led demonstrations in Diallo’s memory, earning credibility as a civil rights agitator and notoriety as the mayor’s chief antagonist.

The last two years of Giuliani’s second term brought additional troubles and distractions. Plans to compete against Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2000 U.S. Senate race were complicated and eventually dropped because Giuliani was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April, 2000, and his second marriage collapsed one month later. The man who governed New York City confidently and decisively mismanaged his separation from Donna Hanover by telling the media that their marriage was over before informing Hanover herself. Opinion polls showed a steep drop in Giuliani’s approval rating prior to the terrorism attacks of September 11, 2001. September 11, 2001, attacks Ironically, September 11, 2001, was also the date of the primary election to choose candidates who would campaign for the chance to replace Giuliani. The redemption and reverence that Giuliani found as “America’s mayor” in the wake of the terrorist attacks would lead him to attempt an unprecedented extension of his term in office. His inability to achieve that goal was one of the few disappointments in his career.


New York City’s mayors are guaranteed to have some influence beyond the city’s limits, given New York’s status as the largest and possibly most diverse U.S. city; as a center for international culture, finance, and politics; and as a symbol of the nation’s strengths and flaws. Rudy Giuliani became one of the most significant mayors in New York City’s history, along with predecessors such as Fiorello Henry La Guardia and Edward I. Koch. Giuliani’s two terms as mayor made an imperiled city into a model city, setting high standards for urban communities elsewhere in the United States. New York City, Giuliani administration

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Giuliani, Rudolph W. Leadership. New York: Hyperion, 2002. The former mayor shares advice on adapting the methods he used for governing New York City to a variety of situations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kirtzman, Andrew. Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. Well-researched, evenhanded, and lively account, with a helpful chronology and updated to address the September 11, 2001, terrorism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Newfield, Jack. The Full Rudy: The Man, the Myth, the Mayor. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2002. Engaging, harsh portrait by a former Village Voice reporter seeking to correct what he sees as a distorted post-September 11, 2001, image of Giuliani.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Siegel, Fred, with Harry Siegel. The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York, and the Genius of American Life. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2005. Admiring analysis of the Giuliani years, written from a politically conservative viewpoint.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Strober, Deborah Hart, and Gerald S. Strober. Giuliani: Flawed or Flawless? The Oral Biography. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2007. Panoramic, provocative narrative that relies on conversations with a host of Giuliani friends and foes.

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Categories: History