The Giuliani coalition was the traditional and aging New York of wealthy Manhattan elites and white ethnic populations in other boroughs — the police and firefighters, the owners of the hardware and liquor stores in Howard Beach and Bensonhurst (the “red” parts of New York City), the pressmen at the Daily News plant, the sons and daughters of the men and women who had worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the war.
They were white. As such, they were privileged, even if it often didn’t feel that way to them. By and large they did not like the changes, like letting Black and Latino people into their unions and neighborhoods, that the emerging New York was seeking to impose on them. In Mr. Giuliani, they found their avenger.
Fundamentally, those two coalitions in our largest city are now our two coalitions in the United States. And just as those two mayoral elections were close, hard-fought referendums on which New York would have power, our recent national elections have followed exactly the same pattern. Emerging America won in 2008 and 2012. Backlash prevailed narrowly in 2016. Then, a few thousand votes switched, and multiracial America won again.
In some ways, I feel like I’ve been watching the same movie for 30 years. It even has some of the same stars, saying some of the same kinds of things. Of that 1989 election, Mr. Giuliani once told the journalist Jack Newfield: “They stole that election from me. They stole votes in the Black parts of Brooklyn, and in Washington Heights.”
Mr. Dinkins, though a good and decent man, in the end didn’t have the political vision and will to transcend the divisions. Mr. Giuliani, like his friend President Trump, didn’t have them, either (in his case, more by choice).
But these days I wonder who can transcend them. I know Joe Biden wants to, but I sure don’t get the feeling the other side wants to play along. Lee Jones was righter than he knew, not just about 1993 but also about what’s unfolded ever since: The two coalitions have not only held; they’ve metastasized. I may be watching this movie the rest of my life.