The Mix

Giuliani: The legacy of an a**hole

A pox on the "mayor who cleaned up New York."
Steven Wishnia is the latest writer to cover the new documentary on former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, "Giuliani Time." I usually can't read more than one review per subject, but I've read about six reviews of this documentary so far (see, especially the Gothamist takedown, and the Village Voice's. Maybe it has everything to do with the fact that Giuliani is probably my least favorite American political figure. My specific hatred for Giuliani was for his barely concealed racist policies, and Wishnia is all over it:
Crime-fighting is the cornerstone of the Giuliani legend. In 1990 and 1991, with heavily armed gangs battling for control of the crack trade, the city averaged six murders a day. Giuliani supporters such as Myron Magnet of the Manhattan Institute, his main advocate in this film, simply point to the numbers: By the time Giuliani left office, crime had dropped to the levels of the mid-’60s, with murders below three a day. But the decline of New York crime in the ’90s began under Dinkins and paralleled a nationwide decline. Did Giuliani’s policies -- in particular, “quality of life” policing, prosecuting small offenses like public drinking and pot-smoking (and even reviving a Prohibition-era ban on dancing in bars!) -- really bring it down in New York? William Bratton, Giuliani’s first police commissioner (who admits he never got along with the mayor) cites the use of computers to pinpoint high-crime locations -- and the 6,000 new police officers hired by Dinkins.
“Quality of life” policing was actually most successful in reducing the perception of crime. Giuliani’s campaign against the menace of “squeegee men” epitomized this; it played to the fears of white car owners who were so terrified of being accosted by a ragged-looking black man that they wanted them all locked up.
But the racial subtext of Giuliani’s policies eventually caused his political downfall. The 1999 police killing of Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant shot 19 times because he pulled a wallet during a police stop, cracked the mayor’s invincibility. Giuliani dismissed the ensuing protests as “silly,” which translated to many as callous and racist.
The other key racial-code issue of the era was welfare. Giuliani imposed a punitive mandatory-work policy, using welfare recipients to do laid-off city workers’ old jobs for less than minimum wage while couching it in rhetoric about “ending dependency.” The film juxtaposes black welfare recipients complaining that they need “real jobs” with footage of Giuliani welfare commissioner Jason Turner, who responds to a union leader’s complaint about “slave labor” by declaring, “Work is what sets you free.” ...
Was Giuliani a racist? Former city education commissioner Rudy Crew, one of the few black officials in his administration, says his support of school vouchers was racist. And all three of Giuliani’s mayoral races were racially polarized: He won more than two-thirds of the white vote and less than 20 percent of the black vote.

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Jan Frel is an AlterNet staff writer.