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Salt Lake City Weekly Start Spreadin' the News

By Bruce R. Baird

MARCH 16, 1998:  Walking down a busy street the other day, I was shocked by what would have been, in other circumstances, a fairly normal act.

Newly paved, the street was brightly lit, without graffiti, safe, with family-oriented entertainment and shopping on both sides and with no homeless nor beggars in sight. A woman dropped a wrapper from her lunch onto the sidewalk. Looking embarrassed about defiling such a pristine venue, she quickly picked the paper off the ground and placed it carefully in a nearby trash can.

What surprised me about this vignette was that it took place on what was, until recently, a modern simulation of Sodom and Gomorrah: 42nd Street in Manhattan. Now I stood next to mammoth new Disney stores and theaters, down the street from a subway entrance gaudily framed in flashing lights. The subways were clean and safe, too.

There have been allegations that the NYPD, with tacit approval or actual encouragement of city politicians, has made the streets safer by using Gestapo tactics and there have been a few notorious recent abuses. I don't know whether these complaints are valid and don't condone them if true. But the difference between New York City today and five years ago, when every other storefront advertised sex and every third person assaulted you for money or offered you drugs, is astonishing.

New Yorkers, at least in the Times Square/Fifth Avenue area where I was, seemed even more pleased with the new civility of their environs than were the thousands of wandering tourists who recently returned in droves. The denizens of Midtown didn't all walk with their heads downturned, resolutely avoiding eye contact. Even in a light drizzle, I saw smiles as people passed each other on the sidewalk and overheard animated conversations on the subway, sometimes between strangers, unrelated to any sensational crime du jour.

It appeared to me that the quality of civic life, in the business areas of Manhattan, was nearly as good as in downtown Salt Lake City. Maybe that's because you can travel to and around New York City without finding every other street or access road closed indefinitely for repairs. And maybe it's because since people actually live in the city the entire range of services necessary for life are found within a few blocks of wherever you are standing.

It also seemed to me that part of the resurgence of pride in the city was attributable to Mayor Rudolph Giulianni. While I was in the city, Giulianni, a former United States Attorney who had successfully prosecuted mob figures, was accused of being a hypocrite and scofflaw. Scandalous. He spent 10 minutes at one of his regular news conferences (a novel concept—a mayor talking regularly and openly to the press) angrily denying that he had committed the unforgivable sin of which he had been accused.

It seems that Rudy had allegedly driven 11 miles over the speed limit. The city rose up to support Giulianni in his vehement declarations of innocence. Rudy wasn't a crook nor a hypocrite. And New Yorkers knew it in their hearts. They respected him as a man of unquestionable integrity. They were justifiably proud of him. And they were proud that they had had the good sense to elect him as their mayor.

Another novel concept—pride in the honesty and integrity of an elected official.

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