NEW YORK, NY – As I reflect on what’s happened to my favorite city on planet earth, police are searching for a pair of men suspected of assaulting a 64-year-old man at a subway station turnstile on Sunday morning. Station video released by the NYPD over the weekend shows the victim attacked by two masked men wearing hoodies. Police said the man was slashed in the head and punched and kicked by the suspects. The men also allegedly made off with $150 taken from the man before fleeing the station. My mind flashes back to my experiences as a young girl living in the shadow of this city. Riding the subways with my mom in the late 1970s and early 80s was a risky business. We would often move between cars when my mother feared a “mugger” might be in the car. I would look for safety, and you knew where to look. You looked for the red berets, the guardian angels. They were the ones that could keep us safe in what had been dubbed “fear city.” I also remember the renaissance in the early 1990s. That rebirth occurred after the city deteriorated to a shell of its former self. Finally, New Yorkers did something they hardly ever do. They voted for a Republican mayor.
In 1994 New Yorkers finally got a mayor who cared about the city. Someone who was in the trenches with them, a mayor who had their backs. In Giuliani’s first term, the New York City Police Department adopted an aggressive enforcement and deterrence strategy. This involved crackdowns on relatively minor offenses petty theft, turnstile jumping, and prostitution. The theory was that prosecuting crimes would send a message that order would be maintained and that the city would be “cleaned up.” It was a simple strategy to maintain law and order, and the plan worked. Giuliani also worked with law enforcement to pursue enterprises linked to organized crime. By breaking up the mob control of solid waste removal, the city saved businesses over $600 million. Giuliani had a history of being tough on crime, serving as the United States Associate Attorney General from 1981 to 1983 and the USA for the Southern District of New York from 1983 to 1989. His resume’ was key to his success in the position. His background fighting crime fit the needs of a city in peril.
Flash forward to 2021, and historical recurrence has reared its head. The city of New York puts out a weekly report on crime statistics. Bill de Blasio as mayor, has his name on the top of the report. The last report on May 28 shows a chilling reality. In the previous 28 days, murder is up 71%, transit crimes 74%, shooting crimes 101%, and perhaps the most disturbing number of all, hate crimes rose 225%. Anti-Semitism is the preferred target; de Blasio said there was “no place for anti-Semitism” in New York City. In times of crisis, actions speak louder than words. Will this reality be enough to move New Yorkers into the red zone when they hit the voting booth?
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The street crimes of 1979 were eerily similar to today’s spiraling crime in the city. Back then, Curtis Sliwa was a night manager of a Bronx McDonald’s. He was tired of watching the terror. He organized a dozen of his employees into a team of night watchmen, who initially surveyed over a few subway lines, keeping them as safe as they could. What was initially called the Magnificent 13 Subway Safety Patrol quickly expanded, spilling into more trains and onto neighborhood streets. They soon became known as the Guardian Angels. They fought crime without weapons, using martial arts and defense tactics to take down the bad guys. Their red berets made them unmistakable. Even as a 7-year-old, you would have known that they were the good guys. It was apparent and satisfying to watch. Mayor Koch, the democrat mayor, disagreed. He opposed the group, calling them vigilantes. Vigilante was meant to be a derogatory term, but they embraced the title as the mayor fought them in the press, fighting crime on the streets. David Dickins, another democrat who followed Koch as mayor, wasn’t much better. The people saw the value of the group, despite leadership throwing darts. A turning point came for the Guardian Angels in 1993. Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, was elected. He the first mayor to embrace the Angels. Subsequently, crime rates across the city plunged. The city got its life back.
Watching the guardian angels in my childhood was magical. Over a year ago, I finished writing my book, Behind The Headlines, in print this fall. The manuscript was the first place I put pen to paper about these stories. I did not know the relevance this writing would have today. As a little girl in 1979, I believed that a real live superman lived in the city that I loved. That vigilante hero was Curtis Sliwa. The founder of the iconic group changed New York with their bare hands and red berets. Perhaps even more magical, in the present day, that man that acted back then. He is taking action to become the next mayor of New York City.
The 2021 New York City mayoral election will consist of Democratic and Republican primaries on June 22, 2021, followed by a general election on November 2, 2021. Incumbent Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, is barred from running for a third term. You can thank term limits for that one.
The list of other candidates is boring. The expected class of ex-lawyers, billionaires, and business tycoons have their eyes on the position. Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa is the one and only candidate who has any experience fighting crime. This is something that the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, acknowledged last week. He stated that New York City’s biggest problems are “crime, crime, crime.” He added that the Big Apple wouldn’t recover from the COVID-19 pandemic until the streets and subways are safe again” If you were to apply logic, you might think that the Governor would endorse a candidate like Sliwa.
However, we already know that logic doesn’t apply to the positions of Democrat politicians.
Curtis is the candidate to tackle surging subway crime. There are the slashings and robberies, and innocent bystanders pushed onto the tracks. Just last week, Sliwa called out the other candidates in the race. He urged Democratic mayoral hopefuls to join him to ride the Subway for 24 hours. He even brought hockey masks for them in case they feared being slashed. “Hey, Democrats! Wanna be mayor? Gotta ride the subway,” Sliwa said in a video on his Twitter, holding up the masks. “Come ride with me! I’ll protect you.” He rode the No. 4 line for 24 hours, the exact line where he started his group. He invited his democrat challengers to join him. Like he did 40+ years ago, he rode the train to stand up for the people and the city he loves. In the present, just like in the past, he did this without the support of city leadership.
In the era of ‘Defund the police,” Sliwa has outlined plans to “reinvigorate” the NYPD in public appearances. He recently stood outside the NYPD’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan and announced a ‘Refund the Police’ plan. A stark contrast to the city’s narrative of years past. Sliwa is promising to hire an additional 3,000 officers on top of the NYPD’s roughly 36,000 current headcounts, more use of the stop-and-frisk tactic, and a stricter response to protests.
Sliwa told Gotham Gazette he would reimplement and reform the NYPD’s controversial anti-crime plainclothes units that were the subject of many complaints about brutality in the past and were disbanded last year by Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. Sliwa also supports implementing special teams in each precinct composed of mental health experts who would respond simultaneously with officers in cases involving mental health issues.
The future of New York hangs in the balance as the straphangers are flashing back to the crime-ridden days of 40 years ago on New York’s Subways and in the streets. There seems to be a clear answer in looking to a red beret to rehabilitate a city that has risen from the ashes before. Let’s hope New Yorkers are ready to see red.