The Mayor We Knew

The myth-making machine that is the MSM is a continually astonishing entity for its simplicity of output. In go human beings with all their complexities, out come cartoon characters, as easy to digest as Cap’n Crunch (take that as you will.)

Ronald Reagan popped out of the machine as The Great Communicator. (huh?)

Oscar-winning Nobel Laureate Al Gore became the Great Exaggerator in 2000. (wha?)

And Rudy Giuliani has come to be known as “the candidate who is strong on national defense.” Or some such patriarchal hero-figure. 

Now and again, however, journalism overtakes mythmaking and a reasonable human portrait emerges. Such is the case with the New York Times today, in its anti-nostalgia piece, “In Matters Big and Small, Crossing Giuliani Had Price.”

This is the Rudy I read about in the papers. This is the Rudy experienced by all those human service advocates with whom I worked over the years. You’ll have to read for yourself the many chronicles of careers destroyed for annoying the Mayor, even when the offenders simply tried to pursue the public good, or the truth. Even having worked for his predecessor was grounds for destruction.

But worth sharing is the summation of Giuliani’s tenure, and perhaps the summation of his character:

New York City spent at least $7 million in settling civil rights lawsuits and paying retaliatory damages during the Giuliani years.

Also worth re-telling is the story of Housing Works:

Mr. Giuliani’s war with the nonprofit group Housing Works was …operatic. Housing Works runs nationally respected programs for the homeless, the mentally ill and people who are infected with H.I.V. But it weds that service to a 1960s straight-from-the-rice-paddies guerrilla ethos.

The group’s members marched on City Hall, staged sit-ins, and delighted in singling out city officials for opprobrium. Mr. Giuliani, who considered doing away with the Division of AIDS Services, became their favorite mayor in effigy.

Mr. Giuliani responded in kind. His police commanders stationed snipers atop City Hall and sent helicopters whirling overhead when 100 or so unarmed Housing Works protesters marched nearby in 1998. A year earlier, his officials systematically killed $6 million worth of contracts with the group, saying it had mismanaged funds.

Housing Works sued the city and discovered that officials had rescored a federal evaluation form to ensure that the group lost a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Martin Oesterreich, the city’s homeless commissioner, denied wrongdoing but acknowledged that his job might have been forfeited if Housing Works had obtained that contract.

“That possibility could have happened,” Mr. Oesterreich told a federal judge.

The mayor’s fingerprints could not be found on every decision. But his enemies were widely known.

“The culture of retaliation was really quite remarkable,” said Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, the lawyer who represented Housing Works. “Up and down the food chain, everyone knew what this guy demanded.”

Latest reports have Giuliani’s presidential aspirations in trouble. Let’s hope.

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