WASHINGTON—In his drive to be the first politician to go from City Hall to the White House, Republican Rudolph Giuliani is being schooled on issues by a conservative think tank that helped him dramatically reshape New York City's public policy during his mayoralty.
Giuliani is once again leaning on the expertise of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative brain factory. It was founded nearly 30 years ago by Antony Fisher, who was a mentor to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and a friend to Reagan administration CIA chief William Casey.
Before Giuliani's first successful mayoral run in 1993, he sat through hundreds of hours of seminars set up by institute members, where he embraced a "zero-tolerance" approach to crime and a tough-love welfare policy that became hallmarks of his administration.
"We were his idea factory," said Myron Magnet, editor of The City Journal, the institute's urban-policy magazine. It was a must-read for Rudy watchers when he was mayor. "We sharpened his thinking, allowed him to focus, gave him language to put it in. Whatever he took from us, he could recast it in the most vivid language that most New Yorkers could understand."
The institute is reprising its role for Giuliani's 2008 presidential run.
Its scholars are tutoring Giuliani on issues ranging from tort reform to homeland security, according to officials at the institute and Giuliani's presidential exploratory committee. They declined to give specifics.
"We send materials to Rudy on a variety of subjects," said Lawrence J. Mone, the institute's president. "We admire his receptiveness to new ideas."
The institute is small and more narrowly focused than the two better-known conservative think tanks in Washington, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. The Reagan administration relied heavily on Heritage for ideas on virtually everything. AEI is home to many of the neo-conservatives who had the Bush administration's ear on Iraq. The Manhattan Institute focuses mostly on urban and domestic policy, and has little expertise in foreign affairs or national security.
Former Indianapolis Republican Mayor Steve Goldsmith, chairman emeritus of the Manhattan Institute's Center for Civic Innovation, is advising Giuliani on domestic issues. Goldsmith served as a domestic adviser to President Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.
Fans of the institute say it lives up to its motto of "Turning Intellect into Influence" by forcefully advocating a conservative free-market agenda of tax cuts, privatization, school choice and strict law enforcement—and by aligning itself with rising political stars such as Giuliani to carry it out.
"The Manhattan Institute is more libertarian than conservative," said James Allen Smith, a think tank expert and historian at Georgetown University. "They're not hard-core neocons or hard-core social conservatives."
Michael Franc, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation, said the institute may be small, but it's feisty.
"They're a think tank with attitude," he said "They're not afraid to confront a Goliath."
Even if the giant is conservatism.
Institute fellow Heather Mac Donald raised an uproar in the conservative community last August when she wrote an article for Pat Buchanan's American Conservative magazine suggesting that "the conservative movement is crippling itself by leaning too heavily on religion" to the exclusion of non-believing voices.
Critics of the institute see it as an intellectual bully that has disdain for civil liberties and the urban poor and homeless.
"They're in sync with a lot of the neo-conservatives of the Bush administration, without the religious perspective," said Andrew White, a professor at the Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy at New York City's New School University. "The public persona Giuliani projects is the persona of the Manhattan Institute. They offer an overly simplistic view of how neighborhoods and cities run."
Mone rejects such assertions, saying the institute is about ideas, not ideology. He notes that institute scholars have advised Democrats, including New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, who was seeking guidance on charter schools and policing issues.
The institute opened for business in 1978 after Fisher persuaded a group of American investors to pony up $500,000 to start a think tank aimed at marrying free-market philosophy to public policy.
Fisher similarly had founded the Institute of Economic Affairs in England in the 1950s. That think tank became the intellectual engine room for conservative Prime Minister Thatcher, who embraced its privatization policies.
The Manhattan Institute has grown to a 25-scholar operation with a $12 million budget and a reputation for using New York City as a laboratory for its ideas.
Giuliani's relationship with it developed after his narrow 1989 defeat by Democrat David Dinkins in the election for New York's mayor. A 1992 issue of The City Journal devoted to "The Quality of Urban Life" railed against the dirt, crime and homeless that were fouling New York's public spaces. It caught the eye of Giuliani supporters as he was gearing up to run again for mayor in 1993.
Giuliani's campaign contacted Fred Siegel, then the Journal's editor. He worked with Giuliani's handlers to develop tutorial sessions for the candidate, bringing in experts in education, housing and crime.
"This wasn't political strategy, it was policy," said Siegel, a history professor at the Cooper Union for Science and Art and author of "Prince of the City, Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life." "This wasn't Karl Rove and Bush. Giuliani is far more cerebral than the president."
One expert was George Kelling, who lectured on his "broken windows" theory on crime. Kelling argued that letting the smallest infraction go unpunished leads to more serious crime. A vandal breaks a building's window, which goes unfixed, and others will follow and break more windows until every pane of glass is shattered.
His theory morphed into the Giuliani administration's "zero tolerance" policy toward crime. Police turned their attention to what had been considered minor big-city nuisances, such as graffiti, public urination and panhandling squeegee men.
Giuliani says the new approach contributed to the huge crime drop that New York experienced while he was mayor. Homicides in the city plummeted from 1,927 in 1993 to 671 in 2000, according to FBI statistics. Major crimes—which include aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, rape—fell by 57 percent
"I owe the Manhattan Institute more than most," Giuliani said at its 2006 awards dinner, "because they gave us a lot of the ideas and a lot of the direction and a lot of the change in thinking that was necessary."
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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