1999-01-03 The Giuliani M.O. – NY Times

January 3, 1999
In America; The Giuliani M.O. The New York Times



City Hall is set off from the rest of New York by metal barriers, concrete barricades, signs that say ”DO NOT ENTER” and ”NO THRU TRAFFIC,” and coils of yellow tape marked, ”Police line — do not cross.” It’s an ugly and depressing sight.

Cops in patrol cars are prominently stationed inside the barricades. They are there to insure that none of you give even a moment’s thought to the foolish notion that City Hall is a place that belongs to you, a place where you might be welcome.

It once was, but that’s over. Rudolph Giuliani is the Mayor now. City Hall belongs to him and the changed atmosphere reflects his personality — cold and remote and unforgiving.

Last week the Mayor came up with another one of his heartless and vindictive public-policy moves. He is evicting a successful state-run psychiatric center from a city-owned building in Brooklyn in order to open a homeless shelter there. This is not because of a need for a homeless shelter. It is simply to punish the local Councilman, Stephen DiBrienza, for sponsoring homeless legislation that the Mayor didn’t like.

This kind of move, carefully and cruelly crafted by the Mayor, no longer astonishes anyone. When Mr. Giuliani acts reprehensibly, it is widely seen as no big deal, just ”Rudy being Rudy.” Only a nitwit or an out-of-towner could think that concern for the troubled individuals helped by the psychiatric center would stop this Mayor from shoving a homeless shelter in the face of the offending Councilman.

Ed Koch is hardly a disinterested observer. But he has a pretty accurate take on Mr. Giuliani, with whom he has frequently feuded.

”His is an administration where there is no individuality among the commissioners,” said Mr. Koch. ”You don’t even know their names, because they are in perpetual fear of doing anything that will bring down the wrath of the Mayor.”

Mr. Giuliani’s modus operandi, said Mr. Koch, is to ”dehumanize and demonize” his opponents. ”If you are a critic, you are not just a critic, you’re a threat to the world. You’ve gotta be destroyed. Go for the jugular is what he does on every occasion. So taxi drivers whose livelihood is involved — whether you agree with them or disagree with them, they want to be heard — they become taxi terrorists. Food vendors become poisonous.”

When the Mayor’s opponents want to exercise their right to peacefully protest his policies, they frequently are stymied. ”He doesn’t allow for any difference of opinion,” said Mr. Koch. ”When he bars the different groups that want permits, they have to go to court. They win every time. But nevertheless, it means you have to hire lawyers. Not everybody has that true grit that will take you all the way to the end.”

Compared with the Giuliani administration, the Koch administration of the late-70’s and 80’s (which I covered closely) was a golden era in terms of the openness of City Hall, the tolerance of peaceful dissent and the flow of information to the press, the public and other agencies of government.

Mr. Koch noted that many government officials have had to sue Mr. Giuliani for information they had a right to see, and that was provided routinely in prior administrations. Lawyers representing the Independent Budget Office, the Public Advocate, the City Council, the Comptroller’s office and others all had to go to court against Mr. Giuliani.

”Every one of them won,” said Mr. Koch. ”Isn’t this an abuse of power? I think it is.”

Mr. Koch believes that Mr. Giuliani, on balance, is doing a good job, and a ”brilliant” job fighting crime. ”I agree with about 80 percent or more, substantively, of what he wants to do,” said the former Mayor. ”It’s the way he wants to do it.”

I wouldn’t give Mr. Giuliani such high marks, but that’s for another column. The simple fact is that New York closed out 1998 with fewer homicides than any year since 1964. New York ended the year with fewer homicides than Chicago, which has four and a half million fewer people.

Those kinds of statistics are what enable the Mayor to get away with policies and behavior that offend decency, undermine democracy and ought to be widely denounced and curtailed.

The post-Giuliani era is coming. Maybe then the barricades can be removed and we can show that a safe city can also be a free and open one.