Monday, January 21, 2008

Il Douche in His Glory
I really need to go to bed, but can't forego recommending this Times story about how former Mayor Rudy Giuliani spent his time in between sexcapades. (Hint: it wasn't "studying Islamic terrorism" or figuring out which radios might work when firefighters needed them most.)

No, what Hizzoner--a misnomer if ever there was one--really liked to do was pick fights, ideally with underlings or nobodies, and best of all when they didn't have the stature or resources to fight back:

In August 1997, James Schillaci, a rough-hewn chauffeur from the Bronx, dialed Mayor Giuliani’s radio program on WABC-AM to complain about a red-light sting run by the police near the Bronx Zoo. When the call yielded no results, Mr. Schillaci turned to The Daily News, which then ran a photo of the red light and this front page headline: “GOTCHA!”

That morning, police officers appeared on Mr. Schillaci’s doorstep. What are you going to do, Mr. Schillaci asked, arrest me? He was joking, but the officers were not.

They slapped on handcuffs and took him to court on a 13-year-old traffic warrant. A judge threw out the charge. A police spokeswoman later read Mr. Schillaci’s decades-old criminal rap sheet to a reporter for The Daily News, a move of questionable legality because the state restricts how such information is released. She said, falsely, that he had been convicted of sodomy.

Then Mr. Giuliani took up the cudgel.

“Mr. Schillaci was posing as an altruistic whistle-blower,” the mayor told reporters at the time. “Maybe he’s dishonest enough to lie about police officers.”

Mr. Schillaci suffered an emotional breakdown, was briefly hospitalized and later received a $290,000 legal settlement from the city. “It really damaged me,” said Mr. Schillaci, now 60, massaging his face with thick hands. “I thought I was doing something good for once, my civic duty and all. Then he steps on me.”
Two private employers in New York City, neither of which wanted to be identified because they feared retaliation should Mr. Giuliani be elected president, said the mayor’s office exerted pressure not to hire former Dinkins officials. When Mr. Giuliani battled schools Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines, he demanded that Mr. Cortines prove his loyalty by firing the press spokesman, John Beckman.

Mr. Beckman’s offense? He had worked in the Dinkins administration. “I found it,” Mr. Beckman said in an interview, “a really unfortunate example of how to govern.”
In 1999, Mr. Giuliani explored a run for the United States Senate. If he won that seat, he would leave the mayor’s office a year early. The City Charter dictated that Mark Green, the public advocate, would succeed him.

That prospect was intolerable to Mr. Giuliani. Few politicians crawled under the mayor’s skin as skillfully as Mr. Green. “Idiotic” and “inane” were some of the kinder words that Mr. Giuliani sent winging toward the public advocate, who delighted in verbally tweaking the mayor.

So Mr. Giuliani announced in June 1999 that a Charter Revision Commission, stocked with his loyalists, would explore changing the line of mayoral succession. Mr. Giuliani told The New York Times Magazine that he might not have initiated the charter review campaign if Mr. Green were not the public advocate. Three former mayors declared themselves appalled; Mr. Koch fired the loudest cannonade. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Mr. Mayor,” he said during a news conference.
... A civic group estimated that the commission spent more than a million dollars of taxpayer money on commercials before a citywide referendum on the proposal that was held in November 1999.

Voters defeated the measure, 76 percent to 24 percent.

I experienced the smallest taste of Giuliani's government-by-goon-tactics in the waning weeks of his administration. After 9/11, as we all know, Giuliani was at the height of his popularity for his response to the attack. But the city's economy was reeling, not least because the damage to lower Manhattan had thrown more than a hundred thousand people out of work as their places of business were temporarily or permanently off-limits. In early November, I wrote a short policy brief for the Center making the fairly obvious point that the unemployment crisis that followed the tragedy might have been mitigated if the administration had simply expended more than $100 million in federal funds for workforce development that instead remained "under the mattress."

Within two weeks, administration officials had written to our board of directors and funders, accusing me of outright lies and calling for a public apology. Instead, my director and I wrote them back at length, refuting their charges--none of which had any factual basis--point by point. By the time they received the response, scant days remained in the Giuliani administration, and at any rate the fact that I'd been targeted by a hated mayor and an even more hated welfare commissioner was, if anything, a huge help with our board members and funders; I wanted to send the administration a thank-you note for their support with our 2002 fund-raising, but my management figured we shouldn't push our luck.

Still, if there had been another year to run in the administration, I'm sure they would have made trouble for me. It's just how that crew operates. And while we can all be thankful that Il Douche seems destined for the political scrap heap, he's hardly the last would-be Leader for whom vindictiveness is a guiding principle.

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