ANOTHER SIGN of how much New York has changed: The most influential source of political ideas is a conservative think tank that was founded by Margaret Thatcher’s mentor and Ronald Reagan’s spymaster.
The Manhattan Institute was a speck on the margins of the city’s political landscape when it opened in 1978, promoting the un-New Yorkerish notions of free-market economics, conservative values and the dismantling of the welfare state. Now, 20 years later, it dominates political discussions and helps set the agenda.
Boston Globe, February 22, 1998, by Fred Kaplan
Like the city’s Republican mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, the institute rose on the crushed hopes of the 1980s, when rising crime, spiraling taxes, deep recession, and sprawling disorder — all unfolding under a City Hall that seemed to many a caricature of Democratic liberalism — sparked a backlash.
When Giuliani was preparing his State of the City message last month, he asked the editors of the institute’s quarterly magazine, City Journal, for the galleys of their forthcoming issue, and clearly borrowed some of its themes. “The mayor has a very close working relationship with the Manhattan Institute,” Giuliani’s communications director, Crystine Lategano, said. Daniel Biederman, head of the city’s three largest business improvement districts, said he hears City Journal quoted in various meetings at least twice a week. Harvey Robins, deputy to the city’s two last Democratic mayors, Edward Koch and David Dinkins, lamented, “The Manhattan Institute clearly has become the force, and there is no progressive force to counter it. There isn’t even a debate.”
City Journal’s circulation is only 10,000, and most copies are given away. But the readers are carefully chosen: policymakers, journalists, the movers and shakers of the business community.
“We’re aiming at influential people,” noted its editor, Myron Magnet, sitting in the institute’s offices, across from Grand Central Station.
Magnet, 53, was a graduate student at Columbia University during the 1960s protests. “I marched against the Vietnam War, which I don’t regret,” he recalled. “I helped barricade a building at Columbia, which I do.” He noticed his friends getting more and more “paranoid … talking about America with three K’s.” He drifted rightward while teaching Columbia’s freshman course on contemporary civilization, immersing himself in Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes.
“We have big arguments on the magazine staff,” Magnet said. “But we all believe in the primacy of values in culture …”
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