The Resistible Rise of Rudy Giuliani

by Jonathan Wallace

Rudolph Giuliani is a dangerous man. This may sound like a bizarre statement about a popular mayor with significant bipartisan support, and one who is perceived as having the right stuff to combat crime in New York City. But Giuliani's personality contains a mixture of elements which will inevitably explode. He is rigid, extremely self-righteous, and has no sense of humor. There is not a touch of self-deprecation anywhere in him; he has no idea of his own flaws. Add a gallon of ambition and you have a Molotov cocktail.

In fairness to the mayor, let's start with his good qualities. A few years ago, the annual San Gennaro fesival in Little Italy was exposed as corrupt and mob-dominated. Even the dollar bills tourists attached to statues of the Virgin Mother were going into the Mafia's pockets. It turned out that as a private citizen, prosecutor and mayor, Giuliani hadn't attended San Gennaro in twenty years. For an Italian American politician or wannabe in New York City, it seemed like the festival would be a natural. One had the sense of some strong sense of impropriety, some metal in Giuliani's character which led him to avoid it in the absence of any immediate reward for doing so. There were no headlines, "Giuliani Declines to Attend San Gennaro Again This Year."

On the other hand. In the eighties, when he was known as one of the straightest, most competent prosecutors New York had ever had, it also became apparent that Giuliani was a photo hound. When prosecuting insider trading, he invented the mid-day white collar "perp walk". Indicted brokers would volunteer to come in and surrender. Giuliani would decline, then go to their offices in the middle of the afternoon, arrest them and lead them out in handcuffs in front of all their co-workers. These repulsive scenes were produced by a combination of the two most dangerous chemicals in his character: his self-righteousness and ambition.

Call me sentimental, but if I ever help colonize another planet I will fight to appoint as prosecutor the person who least wants the job. Someone with compassion who derives no joy from the work. Someone who, once convinced of the defendant's guilt, will do everything possible (within the rules) to convict him, but who does not make it a personal mission to crush the defendant as a human being. By contrast, it seemed as if Giuliani would have enjoyed the white collar perp walk even if it was a relatively private act of sadism. Headlines advancing his career were an additional benefit.

Another harbinger of the mayor's tragic flaws came during his original campaign. Giuliani actually triggered a police riot. The police were demonstrating against some initiative of the Dinkin's administration. Something along the lines of forcing them to respect the fourth and fifth amendments, instituting a civilian review board, or ending police brutality. The enraged officers were milling around City Hall, going in and out of the numerous bars with green awnings. The would-be mayor stood up on the steps of City Hall and delivered a speech so inflammatory that the cops closed the Brooklyn Bridge and beat up journalists. Yes, a New York City police riot delivered to you personally by the law and order candidate. At the very least, an abominable lack of judgment on Giuliani's part---one for which he was never held responsible.

As mayor, Giuliani has fought a ferocious campaign against the First Amendment in New York City. A wide variety of organizations---anti-Gulf War, AIDS activists, gay rights, and sidewalk artists among them--know that it is virtually impossible to get a permit to hold a demonstration in Rudyville. You will be permanently tied up in red tape. Want to demonstrate an entire day in June along Fifth Avenue? At best, the Giuliani administration will offer you a permit for a two hour demonstration in August on Eleventh Avenue. The city has lost numerous law suits pertaining to its dishonest denial of permits. But no-one is paying attention. Show me a lifelong Democrat, a "card carrying ACLU member" who voted twice for Giuliani, and I will show you a hypocrite.

After the horrendous murder of Mathew Shephard, a young gay man, out West, gay rights activists held a demonstration without a permit. The organizers explained that they had little hope of obtaining one, at least in any reasonable time-frame. It was the nineteen-thirties come again: police on horseback rode down the demonstrators. There ensued another favored tactic of the Mayor: throw 'em all in prison overnight, then release them and drop the charges the next day. No harm, no foul. Except that more than a few of the demonstrators missed a day of their AIDS medication as a result.

Giuliani is particularly harsh on speech that targets him personally. He sought to prevent city buses from carrying a New York magazine ad that teased him. One of his most vicious, least publicized campaigns has been to break a group of sidewalk artists; their president, Robert Lederman, now specializes in caricatures of the mayor. The artists have been arrested numerous times for demontsrating against the mayor.

For thirty years, the mayoralty of New York City was a stepping stone to nowhere. After holding that job, you were qualified to do television commercials and write movie reviews, a la Ed Koch. Since the city is essentially ungovernable, politicians with national ambitions who took the job ended up in political purgatory.

Let's make sure the same thing happens to Rudy Giuliani. The man is eager to be president. Do you want a humorless, self-righteous, rigid president who goes after personal enemies implacably? We had one not too many decades ago: Richard Nixon. Please don't elect Giuliani to national office, then wring your hands later and say, "Who knew?" We know everything we need to know about the man, right now.