When listening to the strange, lame argument that blacks deserve another symbolic “First,” as justification for electing Barack Obama President of this country, I am reminded of a heated discussion I had with a well-known white libertarian here in New York. It was the late 1980s, and New Yorkers faced the prospect of electing David Dinkins as Mayor.
My libertarian friend was full of enthusiasm for Dinkins. After she conceded the fact of his unremarkable performances as a borough president and city clerk, I asked her why on earth she would want to hand over the city to such a lightweight. And then she came up with a response I would have expected from any New York liberal, but not from her. It went something like this: Look at all the cities that have had black mayors; it's past time for New York to have one.
After gulping in disbelief at such an irrational remark coming from someone I had known to engage in sound, logical reasoning, I asked, “So, you would hand over this city to the empty suit Dinkins, in order to keep up with the trends in other places? Dinkins represents something symbolic to you? That's it?”
But, of course, that wasn't really it entirely. Her real quest was to keep Dinkins' political opponent from winning the office, and that man was Rudolph Giuliani. With street crime through the roof in the city, and homeless vagabonds in your face, with their open palms, at the doors of almost every storefront, subway token booth, and public and private accommodation, New Yorkers were at their wit's end, trying to deal with those daily indignities, as well as with the burglaries, street assaults, and general mayhem. Yet, here was this woman elated over the symbolic gesture of electing a black man to office.
But that was not all. The “libertarian” confessed to harboring a hope then being expressed by many in the city, and which is at the core of why so many whites have conceded ground to undeserving black politicians. Maybe, she speculated, as a black man, Dinkins can get a handle on the criminals; maybe they will listen to him. I laughed as I envisioned the drug dealers, myriad gangsters, and petty thieves, who then virtually ruled life in the city, identifying with and taking orders from the dainty, dandified, bourgeois Dinkins. For all her erudition as an economics scholar, the woman was as clueless as they come.
When I suggested that if crime was of concern to her (as it was to every New Yorker), then Giuliani would be a better prospect for Mayor, she was appalled and exclaimed, “Oh, my God, he'll lock up half the city!” At that point in time, such a notion sounded almost sensible. Although I had railed against Giuliani's grandstanding, bullying tactics, when dealing with those young Wall Street brokers, who were simply engaging in long-established practices for which others were not punished, I certainly preferred him over the docile Dinkins.
I shared the exasperation of most in the city, who were tired of either being victims of the felons, or consoling friends, relatives and co-workers after they were victimized. It had almost become a ritual when arriving at work on a Monday morning to learn whether your co-workers had all made it safely through the weekend.
I asked the libertarian lady what difference it would make if the city got its first black Mayor ten years from now, or in twenty years. She thought I was being “ridiculous.” (Actually, I always thought what the city needed was a good Chinese Mayor.)
Well, Dinkins won that electoral round, but not the next one. During his one-term tenure (God is merciful!), never had the city experienced a more indecisive chief executive, as he bumbled from one crisis to another. His term started out with a bang, with him and the media ignoring a wave of harassments and persecutions by black thugs against Korean greengrocers. For three months, word-of-mouth and radio talk shows were the only sources of information about this ongoing outrage. The city's newspapers declined to cover the story, in an effort to keep Dinkins from looking bad.
In watching today's Mayor Michael Bloomberg run the city, with his crisp, no-nonsense, I'm-on-top-of-it expertise, it's hard to believe that voters ever allowed the namby-pamby Dinkins to get anywhere near City Hall. Throughout Dinkins' tenure, the criminals, of course, continued their crime spree, as merrily as ever. We even endured a riot in Brooklyn. But the good libertarian lady got her black symbol.