On Thursday, both mayoral candidates addressed the Crown Heights riots through the prism of Bill de Blasio’s tenure as a junior city hall staffer. By de Blasio’s description, he was working in City Hall on those days and received an unspecified number of phone calls from concerned community leaders. He further says, however, that as a junior staff member he was not actively engaged in responding to the rioting. Lhota has seized upon de Blasio’s receipt of phone calls without further engagement as evidence of de Blasio’s lack of readiness to govern the city.
There is much to unravel in the current discussion of this ugly 20 year old chapter in the City’s history, particularly the inverted resuscitation of the bitter Dinkins/Giuliani rivalry. Giuliani, of course, redeemed his initial loss by besting Dinkins in their second and final mayoral election and is widely viewed as having rescued the City from the long-running street crime epidemic that continued into the Dinkins era. In the 2013 inverted edition, however, it is the Dinkins junior staffer who is electorally crushing the once high-ranking Giuliani aide. Forgotten by much of the City, the riots nonetheless remain a paradigmatic moment for the man elected in part on public revulsion of the City’s response to the riots and for his former deputy. Whether that former Giuliani deputy can transform the failures of 1991 into 2013 electoral gain remains unanswered.