Thirty years ago, as the temperatures soared and its morale plunged, New York City endured a scathing summer custom-made for tabloid headlines: A crippling July blackout, complete with arson and looting (“24 HOURS OF TERROR”); a media-savvy serial killer dubbed the Son of Sam (“NO ONE IS SAFE”); and a dysfunctional, sensational New York Yankees team (“THE BRONX ZOO”).
There was more: A bitterly contested mayoral race, the lingering threat of fiscal disaster, the perception that crime was turning New York City into Dodge City (albeit with a splashier skyline). The nation’s largest city was becoming a punchline, but those who resisted the urge to flee the five boroughs weren’t laughing.
“There were three things that were bad for the city: First was the blackout and the looting,” recalled Ed Koch, who was running to unseat incumbent Mayor Abe Beame. “Second was the fear in the city with the Son of Sam. And third was Howard Cosell’s comment that the Bronx was burning.”
The air of desperation eventually led to inspiration: ESPN is revisiting 1977 with its eight-part serialization of the Jonathan Mahler book “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning,” while Spike Lee directed the slice of ’77 life “Summer of Sam” back in 1999.
But it’s not an era that inspires nostalgia.
But for the rest of us, who don’t long for New York’s Death Wish/Taxi Driver days, while 1977 may have been liberal society’s nadir, there were signs of optimism if you looked carefully enough:
So chin-up, those of you who think you’re currently living in the worst of all possible times. There are always tiny pockets of hope, if you know where to look.