The destruction of the World Trade Center and the crippling of the Pentagon on Sept. 11 impelled Americans of all stripes to emerge from the chaos as heroes. Firefighters rushed into the burning buildings, never to return; citizens worked tirelessly through the night to collect relief supplies for the victims, and people across the country flooded Red Cross blood banks to donate the precious gift of life - all were acts of kindness and heroism repeated thousands of times.
If one person exemplifies this spirit more than anyone else in the nation it is New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He was at ground zero almost immediately after the planes crashed, narrowly escaping the towers when his emergency command post inside the World Trade Center collapsed. His was the voice, more than President Bush's, that helped to assure a city shaken by terror. He made his presence felt all across NYC by threatening action against price-gouging shop owners, holding twice-daily press conferences and consoling the grieving.
When the president visited New York two weeks ago, rescue workers cheered loudest for Giuliani. His administration has performed the herculean task of coordinating a restructuring of the fire and police departments after over 400 of their members perished in the collapsing buildings, in addition to coordinating clean up and recovery of bodies, maintaining order in Lower Manhattan, and trying to return life in New York to normal. This effort, however, will be dangerously interrupted when Giuliani, almost universally acclaimed at the end of his second term, is forced to leave office Jan. 1 due to term limits.
Any effort to secure a third term would involve repealing term limit laws, which would require an act of the state legislature and support from Gov. George Pataki, who opposes another term for Giuliani. Such an effort would require lengthy and rancorous legal and political battles the city and state cannot afford at the current time, and would set a dangerous precedent. It would not, however, be an affront to the rule of law if the mayor's current term were extended beyond Jan. 1 for two or three months, an option Giuliani expressed interest in during a recent interview.
Public advocate and Democratic mayoral candidate Mark Green came out against another term for Giuliani, correctly noting, "We don't change the law on the eve of an election." He went on to note electoral continuity during previous crises, notably the Civil War and World War II. Both those incidents were national or global emergencies. The current situation, however, was an attack focused almost entirely on the city, damaging its infrastructure and disrupting everyday life on an unprecedented scale.
Whenever one administration replaces another, a great deal of confusion reigns as the old occupants of civil service positions end their tenure and incoming employees get acclimated to their new surroundings and responsibilities. Considering the state of Lower Manhattan, such administrative upheaval would only hinder the important work of removing the remaining 1.1 million tons of debris and deciding what steps need to be taken next.
In the wake of the attacks, NYC cannot afford the typical transitional period permitted to incoming administrations. Mayor Giuliani and his team have done an excellent job under the most difficult circumstances. The state should allow them to continue doing so for a couple of extra months and grant an exception to the law for what truly constitute extenuating circumstances.