Perhaps the most interesting story about city life to come out of the 1990s is New York City's unprecedented reduction in crime -- more than 44 percent since 1993 -- the largest drop in 28 years. The man behind the story is, of course, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the Brooklyn-born grandson of Italian immigrants, who rose to prominence as a tenacious associate attorney general.
When Giuliani became mayor in 1993, not only was crime out of control, but the streets swarmed with the homeless and 1.1 million people struggled to get by on welfare, the largest number since the Great Depression. By 1997, however, there were 220,000 fewer people on the welfare rolls, the city's payroll had been downsized by 23,000 and, oh yes, the murder rate had dropped 48 percent to levels not seen since the 1960s.
Columnist George F. Will has called Giuliani the mayor who "grabs institutions by their lapels and tells them to shape up." But he is also the mayor learning to embrace the future, in terms of automating City Hall and helping the city switch over to the digital economy. Technology has helped the police stamp out crime in the boroughs and social workers weed out fraud in the city's welfare system. Electronic kiosks have put city government on the streets of New York and the award-winning Web site, NYC LINK is extending government right into the homes and apartments of New Yorkers.
As the new millennium approaches, Giuliani's New York faces challenges from an aging infrastructure to a digital economy that could change the face of such stalwart New York industries as finance and publishing. How the mayor will deal with those issues and others remains to be seen, but clearly, technology will play a greater role in shaping New York City for the next generation.
GT: When you became mayor in 1993, New York City streets were swarming with the homeless, more than a million people were on welfare and the crime rate was at a record high. Today, all those alarming problems have been reversed. What's been your secret to the successful turnaround of the city's fortunes and what role has information technology played in the transformation?
Giuliani: Increasing public safety is key in our overall strategy for revitalization. We were unable to face our other challenges in the past because we were crippled by crime. Integral also to our overall strategy is a focus on quality-of-life issues, such as cleanliness and making government more accessible and responsive. New York City is the safest of the nation's largest cities that report complete data to the FBI, with crime continuing to decrease. There's now a fundamental sense of security in New York City, whether it be in the home, walking down the streets or going to work. We've created a cleaner, safer, more vibrant city which people are eager to experience. Technology has played a very important role in these accomplishments.
In the area of public safety, the COMPSTAT system provides preliminary crime figures on a timely basis to all levels of police management. The system has facilitated the Police Department's ability to respond to local trends, and has allowed us to implement preventative anti-crime strategies in a flexible and effective manner. The use of closed-circuit television in public-housing facilities also helped produce a significant decrease in crime. Technology is central in our strategy for customer-service enhancements. Through NYC LINK we have made tremendous strides toward establishing the Internet as a viable point of access for government services. The deployment of kiosks -- multimedia, interactive information booths -- throughout five boroughs is providing the public with easy local access to city information and services. We plan to build upon and expand these efforts.
GT: What are your priorities for investing in information technology during your administration?
Giuliani: We will accelerate the implementation of technology at all