Coincidentally, the city was in the midst of a mayoral race at the time. A long-running and long-progressive candidate, Ed Koch took advantage of the fear and outrage that spread across the city to transform himself into the law-and-order candidate. It’s entirely possible that he would never have been elected mayor without the power outage.
Didn’t the city tell the police to report to the nearest station building, not the house they were assigned to?
Yes, after the lights went out, the order went out for agents to respond to the… nearest neighbourhood. Of course, many officers lived outside the city, in New Jersey, Westchester, or Long Island, so the closest police stations weren’t in downtown Brooklyn or the South Bronx or other areas where looting was particularly rampant.
It’s also worth noting that the city was only a few years away from its infamous brush with bankruptcies at the time, and budget cuts had forced massive layoffs at the NYPD, so not only were their numbers depleted, but morale in the department was low. In some cases, the entire criminal justice system was simply completely outnumbered by the sheer number of looters. Many of the officers I interviewed in Bushwick told me wild and disturbing tales of stuffing looters into the trunks of patrol cars and handcuffing them to radiators and tables in the crowded station building.
Did the blackout show us the way to where we are now? In 1977, New York was still struggling to get out of the fiscal crisis. Now New York is struggling to put another crisis in the past, but one that has created a huge economic burden.
Well, I’d say yes and no. I think the power outage revealed how desperate social and economic conditions had become in certain parts of the city, and there was even some debate about whether the looting should be seen as crime or as a misguided form of protest. And perversely, because the poorest neighborhoods were hit hardest, many store owners lacked the funds (or insurance) to bear the losses and damage. Many years after that, Broadway, in Bushwick, was largely abandoned.