New Yorkers credit local leaders with engineering the bounce-back of the Big Apple after hijackers carried out a pair of deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, a potential pivot point that marked one of the worst days in American history and threatened to sink the city both economically and spiritually.
As the country watched New York City bear the brunt of a three-state attack that resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths and countless injuries, Americans also saw the resiliency of New Yorkers, the city banding together during one of its worst moments.
Fast forward 20 years and New York City faces a new set of challenges: combating the coronavirus pandemic that has resulted in the death of more than 33,000 New York City residents, a rise in violent crime, and leadership — or a lack of it — embroiled in constant infighting and scandal.
While the problems facing the city now are vastly different from those forced on it on 9/11, New Yorkers agree the solution to the issues plaguing the city now is the same as it was 20 years ago: strong leadership.
"New York City was hit as hard as ever on the worst day in its history, September 11, 2001," said political commentator and New Yorker Deroy Murdock. "But despite the chaos and deadly mayhem, it bounced back with surprising speed, thanks to the courage and resilience of New Yorkers and the competent, heroic leadership of Republican mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani and his successor, Michael Bloomberg."
Murdock points out that while the city isn’t still embroiled in a constant battle with radical Islamic terrorism per se, it is "suffering major and ongoing harm, thanks to another destructive ideology: the socialism of far-left Democrats."
He said New Yorkers have been "sabotaged" by the toxic combination of disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the City Council.
"These neo-Marxists never met a lavish spending program, absurd regulation, or bloodthirsty criminal they didn't love," Murdock said. "And there is no police officer, small businessman, or school-choice advocate they don't hate."
Bernard Kerik, who served as New York City’s police commissioner on 9/11, doesn’t have a ton of sympathy for the modern-day leaders, considering New York was facing a high crime rate when Giuliani was first sworn into office in 1994, too.
At the time, Kerik said the New York Police Department was logging an average of 2,200 murders per year.
"It was more murders than Atlanta, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles combined," he said.
Thanks to policies put in place by New York City’s political leaders, including Giuliani, Kerik said violent crime dropped by 60% and the homicide rate dropped by 65% before the city was attacked on 9/11.
"We had gone from the most violent crime infested city in the nation to an international model for public safety," Kerik said. "That is where we were when we were attacked."
He said the same leadership that was responsible for cleaning up the violent crime sweeping through the city also carried out the "most successful rescue mission in the history of our country."
"New York City was able to come out of 9/11 stronger and more resilient," Kerik said. "If you had to sum up what it was, it was leadership. That was it. The same exact thing that was responsible for reducing violent crime, shootings, and murders in the city. It was leadership. The same exact thing was responsible for overseeing the response, rescue, recovery, and investigation in the aftermath of the attack."
Under the leadership of Giuliani, who was dubbed "America’s mayor" for the role he played in leading the city after the attacks, and his commissioners, Kerik said thousands of people were rescued from the crumbling buildings and millions of people were evacuated out of Manhattan and harm’s way.
"Nothing like that had ever happened before in the history of our country," he said.
Two decades later, when New York was hit with coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, Cuomo and de Blasio shut down the city and much of the state and imposed strict — and controversial — virus mitigation measures that caused the economy to crumble.
Cuomo is still under investigation for allegedly covering up the number of nursing home deaths that have been attributed to one of his coronavirus-related policies that mandated nursing homes accept residents who tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, as the economy struggled and Cuomo burned bright and then burned up due to multiple scandals that included allegations of sexual harassment, de Blasio turned his focus to support the radical "Defund the Police" movement, which was gaining popularity in Democrat-led cities in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody.
Kerik said de Blasio’s promotion of the leftist group, spray painting of Black Lives Matter murals on city streets, and decision to put roughly 600 plainclothes officers in anti-crime units back in uniform all contributed to the spike in violent crime.
But he said de Blasio isn’t the only one to blame.
Kerik said Cuomo’s implementation of several laws that were "anti-law enforcement and pro-criminal" have also contributed to the rampant crime rate.
One of the biggest factors that impacted crime is Cuomo’s bail reform policies.
"The bail reform issue put bad guys back on the streets without accountability," he said.
With judges unable to hold people on bail, Kerik said criminals are released back on the streets where they often commit more crimes.
In 2020, nearly 90% of suspects arrested on gun charges were released and sent back into the community, according to NYPD statistics.
"This is a devastating statistic," Kerik said.
He added prosecutors to the mix, too, saying they are to blame for "not enforcing laws on the books that would hold criminals accountable for their violent conduct."
And more bad news: Kerik said New Yorkers shouldn’t expect to see any changes unless a new mayor "has the courage to do what Giuliani did back in the ‘90s."
"Nothing is going to change in New York unless the new mayor has the courage to stand up and fight Albany, get the prosecutors and courts in line, and then take the handcuffs off the police department and let the police officers do the job they were sworn to do," he said.
But while New Yorkers may crave strong leaders to set the tone, national security expert Charles Denyer pointed out that everyday people in and around the city have proven time and again that they can overcome whatever hardships are thrown their way.
"New Yorkers are battle tested, hardened, and resilient," Denyer said. "If there's ever a city that can rebound and rebuild, it's New York."
Denyer was just outside the grounds of the Pentagon, which also was attacked on Sept. 11, at the moment the Twin Towers were hit.
He recalled watching the unthinkable destruction on television and the incredible rescue efforts that ensued, which "showed the toughness and incredible fortitude of New Yorkers."
"They never give up or give in," Denyer said. "From terrorist attacks to political scandals, the city has a backbone like no other."
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