July 13, 2007

Vanity and Opportunism on the Campaign Trail

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is touting his status as "America's Mayor" - a nickname given him in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks - as the centerpiece of his campaign for President of the United States. Unfortunately for Mr. Giuliani, a significant number of people whom one would expect to back him if his leadership had been as good as claimed - including the families of 9/11 victims and New York City fire fighters - are instead working diligently to make sure that the voting public is aware of his significant shortcomings.

While Americans living outside of New York City had had some exposure to Rudy Giuliani during his early tenure (he even appeared on Saturday Night Live), September 11, 2001 seemed to largely erase their memories about what, exactly, his time in office had been like up until that point. The same is not true of New Yorkers themselves however, and it is clearly worth considering the input of the only people who have lived under his executive leadership. So, while Mr. Giuliani can credibly claim some of the credit for a resurgence in tourism and a decline in crime in the Big Apple, we should examine the type of policies and behavior in which he engaged on an everyday basis.

Like George W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani has habitually surrounded himself with cronies, a notable number of whom have gone beyond the merely embarrassing and proven themselves genuinely criminal. Bernard Kerik, whom the mayor had promoted repeatedly from his position as a driver and eventually recommended as a candidate to head the Department of Homeland Security, ended up pleading guilty to corruption charges and remains under further investigation to this day. Russell Harding was tapped to lead the New York City Housing Development Corporation despite the lack of both a college degree and experience relevant to the position, and was convicted on charges of corruption and possessing child pornography before being sentenced to 5 years in prison. Just last month, Thomas Ravenel, the state treasurer for the Giuliani campaign's South Carolina operations, was indicted on charges of dealing cocaine. Given the lack of transparency, corruption, incompetence and outright arrogance we've seen from the Bush White House, it is reasonable to ask if we need more of the same.

Likewise, Mr. Giuliani appears to share with our current president an unhealthy disregard for civil liberties and constitutional niceties like free speech. The Thomas Jefferson Center, an organization dedicated to preserving free expression, documented a host of offenses by the mayor, for which they named him the first-ever recipient of a Lifetime Muzzle Award. So dedicated was he to stifling speech and expression that he didn't like - or which he felt threatened his administration in some way - that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought no fewer than 12 First Amendment suits against Mr. Giuliani, and won eleven of them.

Worse, like many men who value what they perceive as "security" over liberty, Mayor Giuliani made little effort to restrain a police force to which he had imparted policies that resulted in a string of horrific abuses. In 1997, Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was beaten severely and sodomized with a broomstick after being arrested by two police officers outside a Brooklyn nightclub. In 1999, an unarmed, 23-year-old Guinean transplant named Amadou Diallo was shot 19 times by officers of the NYPD - who fired at him 41 times - and died of his wounds. Only a year later, another Haitian immigrant named Patrick Dorismond was killed by undercover officers when they tried aggressively to get him to sell them cocaine. (Dorismond's last words were an angry remonstrance that he was not a drug dealer.) Where others might have looked inward to contemplate a policy change, Mr. Giuliani instead said this after the Diallo case:
Probably until the day I die, I will always give police officers the benefit of the doubt. We also have a vicious form of anti-police bias which leads to entertaining every doubt possible against the police, and you know, police officers are human beings also.
After the Dorismond killing, the mayor further complained that "The police can't get an even break here," but juries disagreed. The city paid $3 million to Mr. Diallo's widow, $2.25 million to Dorismond's family, and $8.75 million - the largest police brutality settlement in New York City history - to Mr. Louima.

Perhaps even more telling about the authoritarian tendencies of Rudolph Giuliani however, was his attempt to extend his term in office during the election for his successor. Forced to step down because of New York's 2-term limit, Mr. Giuliani claimed that his desire for additional, un-elected time in office was to "ease the transition" after the September 11th attacks and to "maintain the unity that exists in the city." Simply put, there is not now, nor has there ever been, any legal basis for such a move under American law. While Mr. Giuliani's overtures were rejected - despite his threat of a lawsuit, no less - the very fact that he would seek to undermine the ordered, peaceful transition of power that is the foundation of American democracy is profoundly disturbing.

As if all of this weren't bad enough, Mr. Giuliani's experience and leadership with regard to fighting and responding to terrorism - the very cornerstone of his public image - are highly suspect despite his claim that he will "keep America on offense in the terrorists' war on us." In June, it was reported that the mayor, who had agreed to serve on the Iraq Study Group (ISG) - the bi-partisan policy team tasked with evaluating American policy in the Middle East in general and Iraq specifically - failed to attend a single meeting or contribute in any way whatsoever. The reason for his absence? "Previous time commitments" in the form of speaking engagements that netted him hundreds of thousands of dollars, including a fundraiser for the disgraced former leader of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed. Mr. Giuliani was asked to begin attending the ISG's working sessions or resign. He chose the latter.

Most recently - and potentially most tellingly - the non-partisan International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) has very publicly come out against the former mayor of New York City for what they describe as utter disrespect for the sacrifices of the FDNY during and after 9/11. The union has released a video and launched a website called Rudy Giuliani: Urban Legend describing the mayors' failure to properly equip firefighters with working communications gear, as well as his decision to establish a terrorism command post at the World Trade Center, a location known to be a target for attack after 1993. The IAFF further released a scathing letter detailing their position:
Mayor Giuliani’s actions meant that fire fighters and citizens who perished would either remain buried at Ground Zero forever, with no closure for families, or be removed like so much garbage and deposited at the Fresh Kills Landfill.
What Giuliani showed is a disgraceful lack of respect for the fallen and those brothers still searching for them. He exposed our members and leaders to arrest. He valued the money and gold and wanted the site cleared before he left office at the end of 2001 more than he valued the lives and memories of those lost.
IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger says "Rudy has used the horrible events of September 11 to create a persona that is an elaborate fabrication. He is nothing more than a shameless self-promoter."

Despite the accolades that were showered on him in the aftermath of September 11th, given his record, it is difficult to disagree with that assessment. Rudy Giuliani isn't a brave leader for difficult times. He's a vain and opportunistic bully cut from the same cloth as George W. Bush.

The Rudy Giuliani: Urban Legend video from the International Association of Fire Fighters:

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