Idea Of The Day

The Mayor’s Vision

Of the many observations and remarks made by Rudy Giulianiyesterday in his last public address as mayor of New York, two stand out. The first was about the city’s fifth borough, Staten Island: “I never lived or worked in Staten Island, but I love it the most and I’m going to retire there, absolutely.” Staten Island? For non-New Yorkers, the mayor’s choice may not appear strange, but for many New Yorkers, it will seem eccentric. Surely a man as accustomed to the bright lights of Manhattan as Giuliani would choose, well, Manhattan. Even if the views of New York’s most glamorous island from the northern shore of Staten Island (one of the least glamorous islands in the New York archipelago) are rather fabulous, won’t the former mayor feel somewhat cut off? Staten Island, separated from Lower Manhattan by an ocean known as New York Harbor, may have been the home of the Melanie Griffith character in Working Girl and the place where Splendor in the Grass was filmed way back in 1960s, but it’s not quite the same thing as Broadway.

The second of Giulani’s remarks concerned the arts. The mayor said:

We will fight for our ideals and the sacred things of the city, both alone and with many. Thus in all these ways we will transmit the city not only not less but far greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us. … And we’ve tried to do that with our cultural institutions, which are at the core of what this city is all about, with the expansion of the Museum of Modern Art and the new project at Lincoln Center. And you have to go look at the Tweed Courthouse. … Or you go look at City Hall Park. And what it looks like now. Just … a few examples of what you can do if you just kind of push through all the things that kind of hold you back in a city like this for getting things accomplished.

That observation led Giulani into a more specific point about what should be done at Ground Zero:

So I really believe we shouldn’t think about this site out there right beyond us right here as a site for economic development. I think we should think about it this way. We should think about how we can find the most creative minds possible who love and honor America and can express that in artistic ways that I can’t, but they can. And we should think about a soaring monumental beautiful memorial that just draws millions of people here that just want to see it. And then also want to come here for reading and education and background and research.

Giuliani is absolutely right (and never mind about the intemperate broadside he aimed at the Brooklyn Museum of Art a couple of years ago when he threatened to withdraw public funding to the museum because he disliked the anti-religious content of the “Sensation” show). But what should be built on the ground where the World Trade Center once stood? Perhaps in addition to a cemetery with a soaring monument, there could be a new museum and a theater. Perhaps the Guggenheimcould be persuaded to move its Frank Gehry-designed museumfrom a proposed site on the East River, just south of Brooklyn Bridge. Even the owner of the former WTC, real-estate developer Larry Silverstein, might welcome such a cultural intrusion. With the exception of its skyscrapers and the Alexander Hamilton Custom House at Bowling Green, Lower Manhattan hasn’t been famed for its public art in years. Moreover, if Rudolph Giulani is going to retire to Staten Island, then he would really appreciate some culture—some art, some theater—that’s just a little closer to Manhattan’s Staten Island Ferry terminal than Midtown.