THE OPEN MIND
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Lewis Rudin
Title: “Crime and Personal Safety”
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. Last week we did a program about a group of young people who patrol New York’s subways and other unsafe areas in an effort to be a presence that deters the rising tide of crime in our town, in our country, that is doing such damage to Americans’ traditional sense of personal security. While many citizens have embraced these Guardian Angels, some fear them as potential vigilantes who would take the law into their own hands with exciting but perhaps devastating impact upon our historic assumption that law enforcement must be the function of official law enforcement agencies only.
Well, that’s a debate that will go on. And I’ve invited on THE OPEN MIND today a prominent and distinguished New Yorker who had been very much involved in re-energizing this nation’s primary urban center. As a realtor, he too is concerned with the private sector in this great city, and what private citizens can do to foster safety on our streets and in our homes. My guest today is Lewis Rudin.
Mr. Rudin, thanks for joining me today. I know that you have been watching the program that we were taping with Curtis Sliwa. And as a leading New Yorker you’re so very much aware of what’s been going on in the area of the Guardian Angels. You and I are for members of the New York City Police Foundation, and we’ve talked about this question of private security means. And as a major figure in the private sector, what’s your reaction to this involvement of citizens in this way?
RUDIN: Well, Dick, it’s interesting, because when we started the Association for a Better New York back in 1970 and also within a few months he formation of the New York City Police Foundation, basically we were talking about the same thing. And that was getting citizens involved beyond being politically active or being elected officials. We asked them to get themselves involved in trying to supplement the city services that were faltering because of the budgetary problems. So it’s interesting to see that he has followed this up on a different level with young people. And I must say, in listening to him, I feel encouraged that he is trying to motivate a very positive attitude amongst the members of his organization. And I think that the public is probably reacting very positively to it, as the public reacted when a lot of people started to do voluntary work back in the early ‘70s.
HEFFNER: But there are those still – and in the private sector there are a great many – who have some fear and some trepidation about what this can lead to. I asked him what the downside is, and he very honestly ticked off a lot of concerns that it maybe a militaristic group, it may be a group that pushes a political or a religious point of view. Have you no qualms about this?
RUDIN: Well, I think my original qualms – and I think you and I once discussed this – whether it was a vigilante type affect that might take over, practically the old Chinese system where everybody had their own army. And that scares one. And I think that was part of the problem that you had with the political leadership, or even with the unions. But where does it stop? You have a vigilante group for the subways, and you might have a vigilante group for neighborhoods and the parks and so on and so forth. It doesn’t seem that that’s what’s happening with these people. I haven’t read anything recently where the police or the transit police or anybody have felt that they were acting beyond what they say they’re going to do, which is to create a presence. It’s unfortunate, and I think Curtis hit on it. It’s unfortunate that we can’t afford the uniform, the number of uniformed police that maybe our society deserves. And I think we discovered back in ’71 and ’72 and ’73 when the police were trying to come up with all kinds of programs to stop an accelerating crime rate, decoy cops and all kinds of programs. We found that the most effective deterrent to crime was the uniformed policeman on the street. And I think if you recall the subway strike of a year or so ago, the crime rate went down considerably because there were more police officers on the streets directing traffic and were readily seeable.
HEFFNER: Okay. You said it’s unfortunate that this is an indication that we can’t afford. But can we afford not to bolster, at whatever cost to the taxpayer – and that includes you…
RUDIN: Well, you know, you get to that point and everybody will, if they’re asked on a ballot to decide where their money goes, a lot of them are going to say, “Put more cops on the street”. But when it gets down to the decision-making process, and the mayor and the Board of Estimates have to decide in their budget what goes and what doesn’t go, his leeway, his, the ability of the mayor to make a decision is limited to certain areas. He can only cut fire, police, and sanitation. Other areas of the budget keep growing, and he has no control over it. And if he has to balance that budget, s he, you know, Abe Beame had to do or start to try to do in ’75 and ’76, he has to cut in the areas that he has control over. And sure, everybody promises more cops. Ed Koch now says, “I’m going to put another 1,000 or 1,300 cops on the beat”. But if he has to cut again, if the economy, which is a very sensitive economy in this city, you know, it doesn’t always go up, Dick. Things go down. The hotel business is not what it was last year. It’s down a little bit. The tourist business is not what it was last year. It’s down a little bit. What we have to do now is re-energize our economy again. Because what we want to do is to get more copes on the street. That means we have to broaden the tax base. We have to make business better. But if it has to go down, you will see, unfortunately, that the mayor has very little choice in where he cuts. And he’s going to have to cut probably in police, fire, and sanitation. And that’s a reality of the system that we live under.
HEFFNER: Okay. You play a major role in this system in New York. How would you opt, and what would you opt for in terms of this question of crime in the streets and protection and security for our persons? Higher tax rates? Or are you saying those higher tax rates further diminish the capacity of the…
RUDIN: Well, that’s why we’re in, the balance is very sensitive. As soon as you start to raise taxes in a certain area, a corporate president says, “Hey, it’s uncompetitive to me to do business in New York. My manufacturing costs might be too high. My headquarters operation might be too expensive. If I move to Connecticut I pay two dollars a square foot for real estate taxes against eight or nine dollars in New York City. If I move to Houston I can get less expensive labor. My electricity rate, instead of being $2.25 per square foot is $1.50. There are so many things that you have to put into the pot. So that if we raise our taxes because we need more policemen, and the tenant paying the bill, or the citizen paying the bill says, “Gee, it’s more expensive”, or the personal income taxes go up, “I can go to Connecticut; there’s no personal income taxes”. We are then pushing out the people that are really generating income to pay the freight. So that there’s a very, very, very sensitive negotiation that has to take place.
My position on it is we must bring more business into New York. We must provide more jobs for people. We must get the people that are committing the crimes to be part of the system.
HEFFNER: What do you mean?
RUDIN: Well, more companies do business in New York. More people are going to work. Get the people that are committing the crimes to get educated so they can work. So that when I build a new building and I have floor space to rent the tenants that take the space will be hiring the people that ten years ago might be creating a problem. Now, that may sound like pie in the sky or social, a very, very optimistic social program. But in essence it’s what the Association for a Better New York and a lot of organizations are working at now for a long time.
HEFFNER: With what result?
RUDIN: Well, I think the result that we’ve had in the last seven or eight years from, particularly from the perception point of view, has been excellent. I think people fell New York is a better place to be than even ten years ago. It may not be; but they perceive it to be better. I think a lot of young people today want to come to New York City. Ten years ago it wasn’t the top of their list. You look…
HEFFNER: Because they were too afraid?
RUDIN: There was a lot of misconceptions. I just spent a week with Johnny Carson. A wonderful guy. His wife is a terrific lady that I used to date. But when Johnny Carson was in New York up to 1972 and ’73, he was making fun of New York. He was making jokes about New York. People started to believe it. And you just repeat it and repeat it and repeat it to the point where people say, “Gee, what do I want to go into New York for? Why do I want to visit New York? Why do I want to work in New York?” That perception, negative perception has changed.
HEFFNER: Because he moved to Los Angeles and is making fun of L.A.
RUDIN: And Burbank.
RUDIN: Okay. He loves New York, but that was part of his shtick. Now we have people coming to New York, young, university people first. Let’s start off with people that want to come to New York to learn. I’m a trustee of New York University. The enrollment from out-of state students has increased dramatically, not only in New York University, but in Columbia and the other private schools, and I’m sure also to a great extent in some of the city universities that are enabled to take in out-of-state.
HEFFNER: Because the perception is that it’s a safer, better place to be?
RUDIN: Right. And this is the place where they can learn finance business. This is the place where they can be involved in the theater and in the cultural institutions. This is the advertising headquarters. I don’t have to repeat all of the…
HEFFNER: But Lew, these are the things that run in the face of someone like Curtis Sliwa, saying the sense of New York is the sense of crime in the streets.
RUDIN: Well, but that’s changed. That was the sense in ’70, ’71, ’72, ’73. It’s not the sense anymore. Because you can travel all over the country or in the world and you pick up a newspaper and it’s the same headlines that we get in New York. There’s bank robberies and there’s murders and there’s bombings and what have you, and there’s kidnapping. And it’s worse in Europe. Literally worse, because the business community of Italy and France is afraid to move out into a limousine. You don’t see that in New York City. Bodyguards and security operations are all over the place for heads of major companies all over the world. Not so in New York. People move around New York. Very few, you might have one or two top people, like a Rockefeller, let’s say, that might have private security guards. But beyond that I don’t think that’s a general trend in New York City. We have now, maybe our statistics haven’t improved, but the statistics of the other cities are now…
HEFFNER: Getting worse?
RUDIN: …are getting at our level or worse. You know, when this was happening 11 years ago, New York was 17th or 19th in the 25 largest cities in crime statistics. Now it’s about 12th or 13th or 14th. So the other cities, the other cities are now letting their people know how bad it is. You look at Los Angeles and what people are going through in Los Angeles with schools and how to use mace and how to shoot firearms. I mean, I know people in Los Angeles. There isn‘t one person I know doesn’t have a handgun living in Beverly Hills. I mean, I know there’s a lot of handguns in New York City, but I don’t know any people in New York that I circulate around with a handgun. I don’t have a handgun and I’m sure you don’t have a handgun.
HEFFNER: What makes you so sure?
HEFFNER: I don’t.
RUDIN: I’m sure you don’t.
HEFFNER: But Lew, you know, the question has to do with where do we go, what do we do, if in order to continue to encourage the business community to come back to, to stay in, to come to New York, so that there is a better and larger tax base, so that we can do the things we need to do?
RUDIN: Well, I‘ll tell you what I think has to be done. We went through a catharsis and it was a terrible couple of years in New York from ’74 until ’76. And I don’t know if you remember how close the city came to bankruptcy.
HEFFNER: I do, indeed.
RUDIN: And what happened there was a very interesting exercise. And exercise the business community and the labor community, and government pulling together and developing a formula and a master plant to solve this particular problem. And it was solved. The city never defaulted on any of its obligations. The payrolls of the city employees were met. Services were cut down, but continued. The unions made a major contribution, not only in accepting layoffs and no hirings and reduction of staff by attrition, but by infusing into the city system three and a half billion dollars that the city needed. The business community made a major contribution in providing volunteers for many services and also providing money through prepayment of real estate taxes three times in 1975 to the tune of over $600 million, where the city was able to borrow that money from the taxpayers because it couldn’t borrow the money from the banks. The banks wouldn’t lend them. And then again in 1978 when the same thing happened to the tune of some $650 million. And government, I think government finally came to grips with the recognition that it had to be more realistic in what its overall concept was and its services were. It just couldn’t keep spending money that it didn’t have. So that you saw a slowdown, and unfortunately in some cases it might have hurt people, but you saw a slowdown of some of the city services. And I didn’t think the hospitals were affected to a great degree in those days. The hospitals now have been, some hospitals have been closed. Not to any major extent, but one or two have been closed. Some social programs have been reduced. There was a reduction in the police, fire, and sanitation. And hopefully now it’s starting to build up again. So that there was an active part between those three groups, government, business, and labor, to try to solve the problem and it worked. It worked to the point where the business community outside the city said, “Hey, maybe we ought to give New York another shot”.
Now also, we had going for us a number of generators: the cultural institutions, the museums, the theater, the opera, who never gave up in providing the most outstanding service in the world. You know, you can’t find a better museum than the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Modern Museum or the Museum of Natural History. And the theater business all of a sudden started to get better. And things started to happen. Op Sail in ’76, the Democratic Convention, the New York City Marathon. People started to see New York through television and newspapers as a different kind of a place. The Big Apple campaign was started in ’73, and people started to say, “Gee, maybe we ought to go back to New York City. It looks like it’s thriving”.
HEFFNER: That’s a wonderful story, it’s a wonderful tale; but it’s not the only story that can be told, or we wouldn’t have had this previous program with Curtis Sliwa.
RUDIN: No. But I don’t think, Dick, we’re ever going to be, in our lifetime of my kids’ lifetime or my brand-new grandchild’s lifetime, we going to ever be in a society that’s going to be free from the problems of the haves and the have-nots. And that’s what we’re really talking about. You go to India, God, you’d throw your hands up, wouldn’t you? I mean, there are so many, the population of India is growing so dramatically that I don’t know how they are going to be able to handle it in the next 30 or 50 years.
HEFFNER: So you’re saying, in a sense, that there is, on the municipal level, on the city level, again that choice between guns and bread in a certain way, that we cannot have in a community like New York, you cannot have out of the private sector enough of the basis for taxes to support the kind of police structure we need. Is that a fair statement?
RUDIN: Well, if we don’t have it now we’ve got to work to having it. We have to work to having that. We have to work to getting our transportation system back to snuff. I mean, that’s the spine of our city is our mass transit system, which needs an infusion of tremendous capital. The educational system is another basic ingredient, because that’s the way we’re going to get the kids educated so that they can go to work.
HEFFNER: But Lew, you’re talking about things that have really not been sufficiently funded. You’re talking about institutions that up to this point…
RUDIN: Well, that’s right. And that’s where I think the private institutions of our city, the major corporations, either through taxes or through voluntary involvement, are going to have to fund them. Now, it‘s going to be very tough to see corporations in the city to give money that they feel government is supposed to provide. But it’s not just New York City. Chicago’s Board of Education was bankrupt. Their transit system was bankrupt. Boston’s system was bankrupt. I mean, you just touch base with every city in this country. San Francisco is undergoing a tremendous fiscal crisis.
HEFFNER: You don’t think you’re making me feel any better about this by going…
RUDIN: No. But I’ll let you know something. New York’s business community, I believe, and labor community, I believe, are more ready to participate in what I’m talking about than any other city in the country, because we were right at the tip of the gangplank. We were ready to go under. And if we went under, Dick, it would have affected the whole world. Chancellor Schmidt said that to President Ford: “How could you allow the premier city of your country to go under? Don’t you see what the ramification would be to the rest of the world?” And that was the world opinion. And it was, you know, repeated all over. I think that if the mayor, who will probably get re-elected, is smart, and I know he’s a smart guy, I think he will reorganize this coalition of business, labor, and government, to start a new, per se, he wants to improve service and he will not improve services without the wherewithal, and he needs labor and business as part of his thrust.
HEFFNER: Now, I know perfectly well wearing that big apple, and I’m wearing one now too, you’re not likely to make the concession that it’s all not possible. But sometime in the wee hours of the morning there must come that question, the question that former president of Columbia McGill directed himself and the Carter Commission on the Future to: Can you take these older cities with all of their problems, transportation, number one perhaps, and education, and turn them around in a way that makes it possible for the kinds of optimism that you express?
RUDIN: Well, Dick, in 1973, ’74, ’75, you could have bought three square blocks of Park Avenue real estate for the price the Republic Bank just bought 20,000 square feet.
HEFFNER: That means your business is good.
RUDIN: If my business is good, the city’s business is good, because more people want to be in New York City then. More people want to do business in New York City. More people want to invest in New York City. Foreigners have seen New York City as a very inexpensive place to be by comparison to London and Paris, Tokyo. And if I was to be discouraged, it was 1974 and ’75, Dick, ’73, ’72. That’s when I was discouraged. That’s when people advised the Rudins to sell our real estate and get the hell out of New York City. What are you killing yourself for? And our real estate’s worth a hell of a lot more money today than it was then. And we stuck it out. And I’m saying to you, as bad as some people might look at New York City now, and the problems are tremendous, there’s no question about it, I tell you that we are so much better off today then we were in ’74 and ’75, that, and we have to take the experience that we had and use them and develop new programs.
HEFFNER: Lew, we just have two minutes left. But you bring me to a question that I think is very important. You say, “We are so much better off”. The question is, who are “we”? Are we now talking about a more and more limited, a wealthier and wealthier group of people? And are we excluding more and more people from the “we”, from us?
RUDIN: Well, I would like not to exclude the more and more people. I am a firm believer that whatever our group is doing, and we work with many other groups in the city, male and female, black and white, ethnic groups, as part of our association, part of the chamber of Commerce…But I would like to feel that what we’re doing is we’re trying to raise the total economic level of everybody. It’s a tough job, but I think that’s what our aim is, to make more people have and less people have-not.
HEFFNER: And you feel that the statistics, the numbers indicate that there is some considerable success along those lines?
RUDIN: Well, I feel that, yeah. I see the difference of the people that are in the midtown area, the different look of people today that was here ten years ago. It’s a more cosmopolitan group of people. There’s more colors in the face. That’s terrific. And what we have to do is encourage more people to come into the city and do work in the city and rebuild the areas that at this moment are ready to be rebuilt.
HEFFNER: I’m glad you’re such an optimist. Maybe it takes the edge a little bit off of my own sense of questioning. But I’m glad you’re here to say what you’ve said, Lew Rudin.
RUDIN: Thank you.
HEFFNER: Thanks so much for joining me today.
RUDIN: Thank you, Dick.
HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope that you, too will join us here again on THE OPEN MIND. And meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck”.