Rudy Giuliani's anti-urban ad?

In his first paid TV spot, the Republican front-runner walks a fine line between boasting of his exploits and bashing his hometown.


Michael Scherer
November 14, 2007 10:36PM (UTC)

To much fanfare, Rudy Giuliani released his first television advertisement today, a glowing, well-produced 60 seconds that charts the turnaround of New York City under his command. In a lot of ways, it fits the long-running Rudy narrative.

In the first half of the ad we get shots of old New York, crowded, racially mixed, poor and washed of color. "They used to call it unmanageable, ungovernable," Giuliani says in the voice-over. Then in quick succession, there is a montage: A busy, ethnically diverse shopping street. The old XXX Harem Theatre in Times Square. Empty streets with stopped traffic. Riot cops rushing forward. Apparently abandoned tenements. As the visuals flash by, Giuliani checks off New York's old problems: "A city that was the crime capital of America," he says. "A city that was the welfare capital of America."

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Then everything changes. The washed-out grays become vibrant colors, and the messy urban scenes give way to brilliant parodies of bourgeois pleasure: A woman running alone in Central Park. A giddy white couple playing tourist with a digital camera. A black couple moving their belongings into a high-end brownstone. School kids walking to school through falling leaves. "Instead of being hopeless, a large majority of people have hope," Rudy says.

The theme here hits at the heart of Giuliani's presidential campaign message: Rudy knows how to deal with crisis. He didn't kick ass in New York. He kicked New York's ass. And if he did it in New York, he can do it anywhere -- even Washington, D.C.

But the ad also raises some touchy questions. The most obvious are these: Is Rudy running against New York? And is he selling urban fear to Middle America? As anyone who has lived in the Big Apple since the Rudy era will tell you, the entire city has not become a sparkling yuppie playground. It remains one of the most racially and economically diverse places in the world; in the outer boroughs, especially, where the vast majority of New Yorkers live, there are still patches of empty tenements. There are still racially charged police shootings. Most important, it remains a wonderful, chaotic, human place, a community of 8 million still fueled by the energy of first-generation immigration, still struggling with hardship, still reaching for a piece of the American dream.

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But it is also a foreign place for many of the voters whom Giuliani is struggling to win over. To survive the early primary states, Giuliani is counting on doing well in South Carolina and Florida, both places where many Republican voters have somewhat cynical views of Gotham life. So Giuliani must walk a very fine line. Go too far, and he will be accused of exploiting racial and class stereotypes. Not go far enough, and he will fail to deliver his message, which is that his tough love brought New York back from the brink.

This first ad, if nothing else, perilously straddles the line.

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Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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