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FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, April 13, 1998

TAWANA'S tale is more sordid the second time told: Justice still gets raped, but now there's no mystery to be solved.

Tawana Brawley's well-warranted fear of her step-father, a convicted killer and who knows what else, remains the most likely explanation for her disappearance 10 years ago - and for the poisonously fantastical fairy-tale that followed in its wake.

But, however briefly, it seemed that evil had befallen a child. Then into the confusion marched the opportunists Sharpton, Mason and Maddox - who did calculated violence to comity, and to the rule of law.

Today, five months and counting into Steve Pagones' heroic effort to hold the three at least accountable for their foul slanders of him, the best that can be said is that this time the melodrama is playing out 83 miles up the Hudson River from Manhattan - just barely in New York City's peripheral vision.

Thank goodness for small mercies.

Come to think of it, it has been sort of quiet around town lately - in important ways. And New Yorkers seem to have noticed.

Connecticut's Quinnipiac College regularly seeks to take the pulse of the city on matters of politics and public policy - and its polling numbers generally are as good as anybody's.

Last week, a Quinnipiac report opened some eyes among New York's chatterers - even if they did seem to miss the point. The pollsters found that New Yorkers - 56 percent to 38 percent - perceive Mayor Giuliani to be "a good role model for a more civil city."

What's this? Rude Rudy? Mr. Municipal Manners? Go on! Even Quinnipiac's Maurice Carrol, as savvy about these things as anybody, didn't seem wholly convinced when he noted: "It's Emily Post, not the Marquis of Queensbury, at City Hall these days."

Less sophisticated observers simply scoffed - and, for proof, pointed to the verbal artillery duel then under way between Giuliani and his predecessor, David Dinkins, over Crown Heights and related differences.

Well, it's true that Giuliani and Dinkins don't much like each other - and that neither makes any an effort to hide it. But there's more to a "civil city" than a polite mayor: The always-courtly Dinkins, after all, ran a chaotic, often dangerous, city (so too, toward the end, did Ed Koch); Giuliani, who hardly ever hesitates to speak his mind, has restored New York City to a state of tranquility that would have been unremarkable 35 or so years ago - but certainly not since.

The drop in crime is part of it. So is the banishment of the squeegee pests and the more egregious of the panhandlers - plus all of the other "quality-of-life" initiatives undertaken since Jan. 1, 1994.

But Giuliani's principal contribution in this realm has been his refusal - almost literally from Day One - to allow matters of municipal policy to be decided by the ability of one group to shout more loudly than another.

His mayoralty was 2 days old when an incident requiring the swift attention of the NYPD erupted at the Farrakhanite mosque in Harlem; the disturbance had a distinctly Brawleyesque aroma to it - which is to say, it seemed like a set-up.

Then Al Sharpton and his allies loudly laid claim to a principal role in the matter's resolution. And why shouldn't they have? Bluster and intimidation had earned them a place at the table all too often in the past.

But Rudy made it clear that he wasn't going to be rolled by thugs; Sharpton et al. were quite publicly frozen out and the "mosque incident" was resolved on the basis of what it was: A series of violations of the New York state Penal Code.

The mayor was roundly reviled as a racist - four years later, he still is in some quarters - but guess what: Quinnipiac now reports that Giuliani, who carried 5 percent of the black vote against Dinkins, now has an approval rating in the black community of 47 percent. That's not a majority, but it's close - and it's an improvement approaching 900 percent, which ain't so shabby.

It is true that much of the conflict of the past four years had a strong racial element to it - and that's not likely to change in the coming months. Administration policies regarding City University admissions and Health & Hospital Corp. staffing already are being characterized as racially biased.

This is to be expected: A lot of folks learned long ago that allegations of racism will reduce the city's elected class to trembling impotence. Crown Heights is an example of this. So was the Brawley case, for that matter.

But now New Yorkers of all races are thankful to have been delivered from the civic pandemonium characterized by those two events. And Rudy's high marks as an accommodator devolve largely from his high-profile unwillingness to brook such nonsense.

This doesn't mean New York is Podunk. Hardly. This is a vital town, and New Yorkers willingly expend extraordinary amounts of energy - and put up with substantial personal indignities - simply to go about their daily affairs.

What New Yorkers do demand is a sense that they control their own lives. They didn't have this five years ago; hoodlums with bullhorns held far too much sway at City Hall - and it was sensed, correctly, that this was a town in free fall.

No more.

It's always possible that Giuliani will go one civility initiative too far - and come to be perceived himself as an entirely different sort of threat to New Yorkers' need for control. But probably not soon.

Now if Judge S. Barrett Hickman, presiding in Poughkeepsie, could bring himself to exert some control over the Brawley trial maybe the hot air will be let out of Al Sharpton once and for all.

Nah. That's too much to hope for.

copyright 1998 | New York Post | April 13, 1998

Mr. McManus writes for the New York Post.

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