City Slickers

IN THE GREATEST METROPO- lis on earth, on one of those sparkling autumn afternoons that light up any imagination, the mayor has a few moments to himself. Crawling up Sixth Avenue in his armored Suburban wagon--just a driver, a bodyguard and two aides are aboard--Rudolph W. Giuliani gazes out the smoke-black window. ""One Lumina, one Crown Victoria and, over there, a Caprice,'' he drones. ""Lumina, Crown Victoria... another Lumina.'' The mayor of the City of New York has a mound of key urban issues to ruminate over: rotting public schools, strained race relations and the future of welfare in the Age of Clinton. So why is he tediously counting yellow taxis? It seems Chevrolet is about to pull out of the cab business in New York, leaving the market mostly to Ford, and that monopoly wouldn't be good for the riding public. ""This is my taxi fleet,'' Giuliani declares. If the micromanaging mayor had time, he'd probably do the lube jobs himself.

In the loveliest city in the country, on a fogless early morn, Willie Lewis Brown Jr. plays a different tune on a different stage. At the landmark Top of the Mark lounge--he's got a table permanently reserved--the mayor of San Francisco is fully caffeinated ebullience. Lookit that view of the Golden Gate! How about those 49ers! He'd make Kathie Lee look downright dour by comparison. ""Hard Copy'' is filming an interview not about homelessness or union problems, but Don Johnson's TV series ""Nash Bridges,'' which is shot in town. Brown tells his questioner that Johnson is ""a fun-loving guy'' and gets to all the good parties (like the black-tie dinner they both attended at Danielle Steel's in Pacific Heights). However, ""Don's a terrible dresser,'' Brown adds. ""Horrible jeans, terrible shoes and a nothing T shirt.'' The mayor would know. This morning, he's wearing an Armani shirt, Kiton tie, Ferragamo shoes and a pinstripe Brioni suit costing three grand (a local columnist once wrote that San Franciscans think Brioni is Italian for ""Brown''). The ""Hard Copy'' crew loves the mayor's shtik, not realizing he's got the routine down to an art form for the uninitiated. ""My kind of media,'' mugs the mayor on the elevator ride to the Lincoln limo.

Willie and Rudy. Black and white, Democrat and Republican. One runs a city of 700,000; the other, 7 million. One sports a feathered fedora, the other a bad comb-over. Willie's full of swagger; Rudy thinks panache is a pastry. But in this narcoleptic electoral season, both Brown and Giuliani symbolize where the real action is. Local politics are resurgent. The Feds are downsizing, shifting power back to states, which in turn pass the buck (but not the bucks) back to municipalities. Of course it counts who'll be in the White House. But if you want to witness government experimenting, solving problems, reinventing itself--where government is leading--visit places like New York and San Francisco. In these political bogs, conventionally thought to be unmanageable, Brown and Giuliani have energized urban governance. Willie's a diehard liberal, Rudy a conservative at heart. But each has come to realize, as Fiorello La Guardia--the patron saint of mayordom--did: there's no such thing as a Democratic or Republican way to collect the trash.

In a famous dig when he was speaker of the California Assembly, Brown himself dismissed mayoring as ""street lights, dog-doo and parking meters.'' Once upon a time, the federal government was indeed the cash cow and cities its fiscal wards. Washington wrote the programs because it wrote the checks. But federal aid plunged 54 percent between 1980 and 1993, and the implementation of ""unfunded mandates'' like welfare reform have only compounded the shortfall. Today, cities are on their own to deliver basic services, spur growth and deal with such ongoing crises as immigration. American cities are ""laboratories for creative ways of doing more with less,'' says urban-affairs professor Steven Erie of the University of California, San Diego. ""Mayors matter more than they have in a long time.'' Call them the lowest-paid CEOs in the United States.

Chicago had the first of the nonideological breed of mayor-managers--Richard M. Daley. His mythic father, Richard J., was the last of the Big City Bosses and ran Chicago like Patton for a generation. This Daley hates politics, loves the nuts-and-dolts of government. Imagine inviting some mayors over to the house for drinks. Willie would be the life of the party, Rudy would try to be (and think he is) and Rich would be off in the corner discussing the finer points of municipal debentures. Daley wouldn't waste his time preening for the cameras as he strode boldly into some E.R. to comfort a street cop's young widow. That's for showboats. Instead, he's privatized city services, planted thousands of trees, cooled racial temperatures; most important, he's cut a deal with Republican state legislators to seize control of Chicago's heretofore miserable public schools.

The new mayors have found lots of resourceful ways to reform their cities. Some examples:

Make Deals. Mayor Dennis Archer brought Detroit back from the dead by luring investment rather than crackheads back to the inner city; General Motors will be bringing suburban workers back to downtown. Jerry Abramson got Louisville Slugger to return to Louisville (from across the river in Indiana) with a sweet real-estate deal..

Get Tough. Tony Masiello of Buffalo called in the National Guard to bulldoze a crack house. Ed Rendell took on the sclerotic municipal unions of Philadelphia. In Ft. Wayne, Ind., Republican Paul Helmke stood up to his party and supported the Brady gun bill; the party hasn't forgiven him.

Play Grandmother. In West Palm Beach, Fla., ""Iron Lady'' Nancy Graham, 50 and already a grandmother, publishes the names of johns in the local papers and charges admission to watch building demolitions. In Clinton, Iowa, LaMetta Wynn, who is black, got elected by a population that's 96 percent white. A registered nurse and proud grandma of nine, she's credited with restoring civility to a city council known best for near brawls. (Maybe she medicated them.)

WHAT ALL THE MAY- ors have in common is pragmatism fortified by personality. Giuliani, 52, made it to prime time as the crusading Eliot Ness of federal prosecutors. During the 1980s, he busted mobsters, pushers and everybody's favorite greedhead, Michael Milken--all the while bragging about it on the 11 o'clock news. When he became mayor, he found another high-profile target: the Squeegee Men. Before Giuliani was elected, these tattered, drug-addicted homeless riffraff were a metaphor for New York's mean streets. At dozens of intersections, with a rag in one hand and Windex in the other, they menaced motorists for money. Giuliani declared war on them and other ""quality of life'' offenders--subway panhandlers, drunks, ATM cowboys, prostitutes and graffiti artists. It wasn't supposed to be mere window dressing; the theory was that anarchy is contagious and that ridding the street of low-level disorder would deter serious crime.

For Giuliani, there was also an object lesson to be taught: big-city government wasn't impotent at solving problems and, in fact, could get to it right away. Now, three years later, even critics agree the crackdown has produced results. Most of the windshield brigands are gone and, far more important, murders and violent felonies are down dramatically as part of a radical shift in thinking about law and order. Precinct commanders are directly accountable for reducing crime. They get autonomy to clean up the streets--with special emphasis on seizing illegal guns--and hear the riot act if they fail. Statistics are tracked daily on computerized grids and, in response to trouble, headquarters continually redeploys officers. In 1996, New York City will have fewer than 1,000 murders--still frightening, but a drop of more than 50 percent since 1993. These days, virtually every other city in America looks to borrow from New York's crime strategy.

With that record, along with an articulate attack on Republican immigrant-bashing, Giuliani ought to be as wildly popular as so many of the other dynamic mayors. His wife is a pleasant TV personality and his young son an amusing presence at Yankee games. So why does Rudy leave a bad taste so often--the political equivalent of cod-liver oil? Why does his approval rating top 50 percent only on occasion (like when he endorsed Democrat Mario Cuomo for governor in 1994)? It's not just that the city is facing a billion-dollar budget gap, which will require a new round of cutbacks. Or that he hasn't cracked the whip on the municipal unions. Or that for all the talk of quality of life, most Manhattan motorists still consider red lights to be just a suggestion.

Giuliani's dilemma is more personal. ""He's probably the least lovable mayor New York has ever had,'' says Prof. Alan Altshuler of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Former mayor Ed Koch has called him a ""horse's ass''--and whom better to ask? Whether he's hounding a schools chancellor out of town, fighting Time Warner over cable-TV programming or berating the latest ""idiotic'' question at a press briefing--when he's lucky, he can get in all three before lunchtime--Giuliani delights in being confrontational. In part, it comes naturally--he's certain about his convictions. His father taught him that given a choice between being respected and being loved, he ought to choose the former. There's method in it, too. Giuliani, along with other tough-guy mayors, has figured out that no Mr. Congeniality is going to get anything done in these burgs. Better to be like Frank Perdue. ""It takes a tough mayor to make a tender city,'' says Randy Mastro, Giuliani's deputy mayor. Mastro says any crusader-politician is going to be tarred. ""It was the same way for Teddy Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia--and they're regarded as two of the greatest New Yorkers ever.''

But the confrontational MO has costs. It drove Giuliani nuts that his Police Commissioner William Bratton got primo credit for the anti-crime campaign. New York Magazine put both of them on its cover; Time didn't bother with Rudy. Bratton tired of Giuliani's jealousy and quit. ""There was credit enough for both sides,'' Bratton says now. ""Giuliani selected me and provided the political support. He should've been able to take pride in that, but that wasn't enough.'' The mayor got skewered in the press. That's always been vintage Rudy, the good with the bad. ""Giuliani is someone who has to control everything,'' Altshuler says. ""That runs counter to a lot of management theory today about dispersing authority and building trust. But Giuliani has been very effective and the public may want that more than personable lovableness.''

IN SAN FRANCISCO, WILLIE BROWN, a.k.a. The Emperor, offers the other model of American mayoring. How shrewd an operator is he? This fall, Brown received a Humanitarian of the Year award from the American Cancer Society, which was grateful that San Francisco became the first city to sue cigarette makers. No big deal, except Brown has long been in the saddle with the Marlboro Man. During his legendary 14 years as speaker of the California Assembly, he collected $750,000 from Big Tobacco, more than any other politician, including North Carolina's Jesse Helms. Brown belittles his detractors--""the money went to a good cause''--and chuckles at the notion he shouldn't be linked with the Albert Schweitzers of the world. ""After this,'' says Prof. Rich DeLeon of San Francisco State University, ""we expect to see Brown walking across the bay.''

Nobody's said that for a long time in San Francisco politics, where the old joke goes: ""How many San Franciscans does it take to change a light bulb?'' Punch line: ""Change?'' It's a comment not only about what Brown calls the ""dysfunctional'' nature of city government--he changes his own bulbs at city hall because he says it's faster than getting a maintenance guy to show up--but the smug inertia that epitomizes San Francisco's liberal politics. The townsfolk love the place as it was the day they got there, so why do anything? ""The system is designed to delay decision making--to invest more in process than results,'' Brown says. Elsewhere it's The Art of the Deal; in San Francisco, it's The Art of the Ordeal. Homelessness continues to be intractable, and a major highway damaged by the 1989 earthquake is just now being repaired.

Brown (whose daughter, Robin Brown-Friedel, is a NEWSWEEK art director) governs by sheer force of personality--on the public stage and in the back rooms. That's why he can get away with things that would ruin Giuliani or any other mayor. Like complaining he can't make do on $140,749 a year. Or still being technically married but making no secret of his various girlfriends over the years. Brown's always talking and if it's funny or outrageous--or better yet, both--the people love it. ""Polls show that San Franciscans love Mayor Brown, think The City is doing fine,'' says Rob Morse, a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner. ""But,'' he adds, ""they don't know why.''

In less than a year in office, Brown has indeed managed to reorganize some of the byzantine bureaucracy, close a few real-estate deals and take aim at the pitiful Muni public-transportation system (Now, Brown boasts, ""there are no cockroaches on Muni!''). Like a latter-day LBJ, he threatens, he wheedles, he charms: antagonists have a hard time saying no. When he was speaker in Sacramento, he horse-traded with the best of them--often walking away with more Republican ponies than he went in with. It's that kind of political legerdemain he hopes to pull off in San Francisco. What makes such a man go? His estranged wife, Blanche, says he's never escaped his upbringing in Mineola, east Texas. ""He was a poor kid in a segregated town,'' she says. ""What really drives him is to get the power that always eluded him.''

That's what brought him to California four decades ago, where he went on to a fat-cat legal practice and lorded it over the state legislature. Term limits booted him out of office, so he ran for mayor. But the fact remains that his tangible accomplishments so far are modest relative to the wave of good feelings his administration has generated. If Giuliani's mayoralty is the antithesis of style, Brown's is its full embodiment. Sure, he may someday make the trains run on time. But what makes him a political magician is simply being Willie Brown, larger than life.

That may sound shallow, perhaps ridiculous. But take a walk with him in one of San Francisco's pastiche of neighborhoods and learn what American mayoring is all about. On this Saturday morning, he's visiting the Tenderloin, helping to clean up Boeddeker Park. Tyrone Miles, a teacher at a high school for troubled students, comes up and asks him to pay a visit--not to award some grant, but to serve as a black male role model. Miles says Brown has been one of his idols ever since he heard years ago that Brown got caught speeding in his Porsche. ""Ever since,'' Miles says, ""I wanted to be Willie Brown.''

The mayor smiles at the memory. ""I'll come to your school,'' he promises. And he did.

For mayors who matter--like the buttery-smooth Brown or the pugnaciously sharp Giuliani--doing those little, local things have made them the envy of elected officials. They might even give politics a good name again. Imagine that.

With federal money drying up, cities are increasingly on their own in battling crime, bad schools and tepid economies. Here are 25 mayors- some new, some dynamic veterans- who have come up with innovative solutions.

Chavez, 44, made his mark fighting youth crime. When he spots graffiti--frequently a sign of gangs marking territory--he picks up his cell phone and calls the city's graffiti hot line, a cornerstone of his three years in office. He's also pushed a curfew for minors and a program of before- and after-school activities for at-risk students in the crucial middle-school years.

Campbell--with help from the Olympics--put Atlanta on the map. But now that the party's over, he's back to the issue that got him elected in 1990: crime. Homicide is at its lowest level in a decade, but that's not good enough. After every major felony, Campbell, 43, posts reward money from his own campaign war chest.

Five years ago Bridgeport became a symbol of urban failure when it almost went belly up in bankruptcy court. Ganim, 37, brought it back to life by slashing the city payroll, cutting welfare costs and even selling the zoo. The city now runs surpluses large enough to replace its police cars before their floorboards fall out.

In July, Masiello, 49, called the National Guard to bulldoze a crack house. No wonder crack arrests are up almost 400 percent since 1989. But drug offenders get help, too. An innovative program uses four city agencies to monitor and counsel nonviolent abusers while keeping them out of jail.

When the homeless shelter overflowed, Riley, 53, hired an architect to design housing that wouldn't be an eyesore in the city he's run for 21 years. The result: 832 units so elegant they won an award. With the Spoleto arts festival and a gorgeous riverfront park, the city has become a tourist mecca.

Daley, 54, doesn't grandstand; he even jokes about having had to take the bar exam three times. But in seven years, he's cooled Chicago's racial caldron and improved education by seizing the school system. Crime is down, too. His father's Chicago was The City That Works. Under the younger Daley, it works better.

Cleveland--a.k.a. the ""mistake on the lake''--used to be a sure-fire punch line. But with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a $435 million sports complex and a revitalized downtown, White, 45, is having the last laugh. The second-term mayor even managed to survive the defection of the venerable Cleveland Browns.

Before Wynn's election last year, city council meetings looked like kindergarten: name-calling, tugs of war. But Wynn, 63 and the mother of 10, put an end to that with her dignified, no-nonsense attitude. An African-American, she's the toast of the town that's 96 percent white.

Webb, who wears tennis shoes even with suits, took a laughingstock of an airport from his prede- cessor and helped get it open. Webb, 53, also revived downtown with a new baseball stadium. Next year, Denver hits a new Rocky Mountain high when it hosts the G-7 summit.

Archer, 54, seems to have resurrected Detroit overnight. In the last six months, he's brokered deals to turn the old GM building into a grand city hall and build side-by-side stadiums for the Lions and Tigers. He's not only running the city. After two years in office, he still jogs through the streets every morning.

He's been in office less than a year, but King, 45, is doing something right. A white mayor in an 85 percent black town, he's bringing in FBI and ATF agents to stop crime. A gang has already offered a bounty to have him killed.

Lanier, 71, is a back-to- basics mayor: more cops, cleaner ditches. He's also a fence-mender. He pushed a 35 percent increase in minority-preference programs--a Texas-size win in a multiethnic city.

When he was 14, Ramirez wanted to become mayor so he could pave Laredo's dusty streets. In 1990, the 37-year-old got his wish; the paving is almost finished. Laredo is now the fastest-growing city in Texas.

When manufacturing dried up on Main Street, Abramson, 50, spent millions on cobblestone streets and landscaping; museums and theaters bloomed. Even better for the three-term mayor: Louisville Slugger bats moved back from Indiana.

Bredesen, 52, built two stadiums, for hockey and football. He's been slammed for giving away too much to lure Houston's Oilers. And Nashville still doesn't have an NHL team. But the construction boosted the booming local economy.

Giuliani, 52, is the most hated, successful mayor in America. He manages by confrontation, and New York--not surprisingly--is learning to like him. And why not? Crime has plummeted, workfare is working. Even the Yankees won.

Rendell's successful, bare-knuckles fights with the unions have become legendary. But Rendell, 52, has made the battles pay off after only three years. Fortune just ranked Philly No. 3 of best cities to live and work in.

The Olympics are coming to Salt Lake City in 2002, thanks in part to Corradini, 51. A non-Mormon, she's quieted concerns about the city's religious demands. One payoff: Salt Lake's economy is the fifth strongest in the country.

San Diego is the largest city with a woman mayor, but Golding, 51, may not complete her second term. With the crime rate the lowest in the nation and the city's economy bubbling, she may run for governor in 1998.

Brown, 62, has been in office for less than a year, but he's already revived the city's spirit. Like Ronald Reagan, he understands that symbolism, leadership--and great suits--can make the man. Being a consummate power broker helps, too.

Hammer, 57, has seen a lot of building projects in six years, but she draws the line at the 90,000 acres of hills, farms and wetlands around the city. Her Greenline Initiative would tie up builders in red tape.

""Comedy Relief'' named Rice, 53, America's Funniest Mayor in a contest last year. It's not as funny as it sounds. After seven years, Seattle adores its feel-good leader. His $500 million downtown face-lift also has locals smiling.

Savage, 44, has tackled Tulsa's bad-air days. When air quality takes a nose dive, the city offers free bus rides and asks businesses to put workers on flex time. The plan is so successful, it's expected to be adopted by other cities.

When Oberndorf, 55, was diagnosed with breast cancer just before last spring's election, she decided to tell voters. She won a third term in a landslide. Later this year the city will give her a mile-long pink ribbon to honor her courage.

When people in the poor part of town complained about prostitutes, Graham, 50, published the johns' names in the paper. Then the second-term mayor got tougher. Police can now seize a man's car on the spot. Recovery cost: $500.

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