Leading Article: Hope and despair as New York votes

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The Independent Online
NEW YORKERS do not feel safe. Their legendary paranoia has reached crisis level. High crime, recession, decaying infrastructure, recurrent budget crises, tuberculosis, Aids and homelessness have generated deep unease. In today's mayoral election, David Dinkins, a Democrat and the city's first black mayor, may pay the price for failing to reassure his electorate.

The good-natured, glad- handing, vain Mr Dinkins has shown himself unable to provide firm leadership or competent government to an increasingly troubled population. On race issues he has appeared partial to blacks against Asians and Jews. His administration has doled out patronage to the detriment of sound government. His statistics may show that crime has fallen, but the ordinary New Yorker does not believe him and the police hate him. The ethnic mosaic said to have brought him to power is coming apart.

In its disillusionment this most liberal of cities is being courted

by the hard-faced, tough-talking, cop-loving, charmless Republican, Rudy Giuliani. On the rebound, voters are strongly attracted by the Mafia-busting former prosecutor who proved himself the scourge of insider traders in the roaring Eighties. The man who promises to save them from crime could have the winning message. It seems like sacrilege for New York Democrats to elect such a right-winger. It is more like desperation.

A victory for Mr Giuliani would be a watershed. Political correctness would suffer a severe blow: white liberals who felt morally obliged in 1989 to back Mr Dinkins are instead opting for guilty self-interest. The gains made by black politicians would be damaged, though not fatally: there are black mayors in other cities who have achieved more than Mr Dinkins.

Victory by an outsider would remind the Democrat machine that it does not rule New York by divine right. President Bill Clinton would lose an ally whose failure would be seized on as a sign that voters are losing faith in his party.

The result of today's election will be heavy with symbols. But it is likely to have little impact on whether New York experiences fresh vibrant growth or slow decay. Politicians did not create a successful city that defied logic and prospered despite the development of more hospitable metropolises elsewhere on the continent. Nor do today's politicians, confined by severe fiscal difficulties, entrenched social problems and a declining tax base, have a cure to the city's ills. But New Yorkers, even in disillusionment, cannot forsake hope - and therein lies Mr Giuliani's chance of victory.