The mayor of New York City has done what no other political candidate in the country has dared. He staked his name and future on fighting the drug war.
Without much fuss and not enough press and public attention, Rudolph Giuliani has committed himself and the police and money he would control if re-elected to reducing the drug epidemic around the city.He says it would be the focus of his second mayoralty. It would also be a test for his first. Unless the anti-drug struggle succeeds, he says, the gains against crime in his current term could one day be endangered.
Making promises is what campaigning politicians do at election time. But this promise is different, in a critical way built in by the mayor himself. In advance, he has ruled out the excuses politicians create as escape holes for failure - not enough this, not enough that.
The mayor turned down wiggle-outs in a conversation with me.
Will you have enough money? Yes. Enough police? Yes. Enough places for addicts who can benefit from therapy? Yes.
Do you have the management and technical machinery? Yes; what we learned the past few years about fighting other crimes will give us the computerized statistical information to pinpoint targets, successes and failures, benchmarks, goals - and ac-countability. The system becomes a propellant.
The commitment in a speech last Wednesday covers most of the essential ingredients of an anti-drug plan - law enforcement, criminal justice, treatment and education.
He will speed the hiring of 1,000 more police officers to keep the force at full strength while fighting drugs all-out. He wants to make Washington Square a drug-free zone, increase drug-free school zones and corridors, concentrate on neighborhoods in danger, increase drug courts and treatment beds for prisoners.
The mayor puts the additional cost at $80 million, $50 million coming from the state and federal governments. He thinks the city's share will be met twice over by seizure of drug-tainted goods.
A summary is inadequate. If you care about the drug danger, get the full text at the municipal Web site (www.ci.nyc.ny.us). If you don't have a computer, libraries and schools do; no wiggle-out room.
But no mayor can provide the juice and passion of leadership from Washington. No mayor can give the administration courage to stop "certifying" funds for neighboring countries pouring drugs into America.
Startling, but it does take a bit of courage these days for politicians to take the strong anti-drug commitment the public wants.
That's because a special kind of drug lobby is growing rapidly in America - against the drug war. In it are enough organizations with foundation money, enough people with voices in Washington, the bar, the press and universities, that they drown out the unorganized anti-drug majority of Americans.
That is not only the result of this elite lobby's ability to use its mouth and tax-free treasuries for backdoor legalization. Too many Americans of reputation shrink from taking on the scorn and social clout of the lobby. Even anti-drug ads do not confront it. They are worded as if the only drug dangers to children are drug peddlers, not drug rationalizers.
Giuliani says any form of legalization would increase addiction and crime. Presumably even legalization under whatever euphemism would set limits on how much morphine, cocaine or pot could be ladled out. The mayor says any limit, for adults or children, would create a new black market and new drugs, vastly profitable and almost risk-free for criminals.
In an election campaign, most issues are those that politicians cannot avoid - how to improve schools, health, welfare, or fight brutality - and that everybody wants on the agenda.
Giuliani highlights winning the drug war, a goal that would improve almost everything in America, from edu-cation, jobs and health to civil peace.
But that "focus" is an affront and challenge to those in both parties who want to minimize, denigrate or end the drug war. The lobby bankrollers will give even more foundation money to win pro-pot plebiscites.
Around the country politicians will watch New York's mayoralty race, and think hard about Rudolph Giuliani. With a record for reducing drugs as well as crime, one day he could be leading their parade.