Many, many myths were born in the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedy, the worst being the fabrication of ties between the attacks and Iraq that sent us to an illegal war, but one of the most enduring is that of Rudy Giuliani as hero and America’s Mayor.
I moved to New York City in the last half of David Dinkin’s tenure as Mayor and saw him lose to Guiliani. Rudy, before mayoral politics, was a very successful District Attorney who crippled the New York Mafia families during the ’80’s with a series of high-profile prosecutions.
He ran for Mayor on the platform of cleaning up the City and bringing down the crime rates and defeated the very unpopular Dinkins easily, taking the city reins in 1994.
For his first term, Rudy stuck to his plan and fought crime in the City and brought the budget to balance and slowly the City became safer and better managed. He was tremendously successful at slowing the violent crime rate and I commend him for that. But I began to notice things that were disturbing. City owned gardens in Manhattan were starting to be sold to developers and high-rent apartments put up in their place. Times Square businesses were being closed for questionable reasons.
And then came the Quality of Life campaign. Homeless people roused off of the streets, not to be taken to shelters but pushed to the outer boroughs. A ridiculous attack on hot dog vendors for taking up too much sidewalk space and on the homeless guys that wash your car window while you’re waiting to go through the tunnel at rush hour because …well, no one really ever figured out why he went after them.
And the cleaning up of Times Square. His public outrage at the sex industry was inspiring, really. It just seemed to stop at the East River. When the closed businesses re-opened in Queens, and the street walkers moved there, too, Holy Rudy said not a word.
The reason soon became apparent. Corporations moved into Times Square. Low rent housing in Manhattan all but disappeared, overpriced luxury condo towers sprung up like weeds.
Then there was the little stuff: His (thankfully unsuccessful) drive to build a sports complex on the West Side on top of one of the last affordable housing neighborhoods left and close the stadiums in the Bronx and Queens; his 8 year personal boycott of the US Open and the opening of Aurther Ashe Stadium because it was a Dinkins success (Dinkins had defeated Rudy in his first mayoral run in 1989); his threat to cut off funding to the Brooklyn Museum of Art because it displayed objects he found offensive.
And perhaps worst of all was the unchecked brutality of the NYPD under Rudy: Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, the lesser known case of Patrick Dorisond. Rudy’s own Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington, an African-American, reported being harassed by the NYPD on several occasions. Guiliani stood behind the actions of the cops in all of these cases despite public outcry and, in some instances, overwhelming evidence.
By the time the World Trade Center attacks happened, Rudy’s popularity in NYC was dropping. New Yorkers were beginning to ask each other when the Mayor lost it. I know I was certainly questioning many of his actions.
His public appearances in the aftermath of the attacks were, without a doubt, very calming and reassuring for the nation and for New Yorkers. I don’t want to take that away from him. But he was able to bury his past actions in the City when the media outside of New York picked up the Rudy as Hero story and turned it into the myth is is today. Many who lived in New York pre-9/11 were and are stunned by the reverence with which this man is treated.
So don’t believe the hype. Read the new book by Village Voice writer Wayne Barrett and senior producer for CBSNews.com, Dan Collins, The Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11, watch the documentary Guiliani Time by Kevin Keating to get the other side.
Guiliani did a lot of good in New York City and he handled the public side of 9/11 very well, but lurking just behind that is a long list of questionable decisions, neglect of most of the City in favor of one borough, a failure to disipline a police force run wild and disregard for lower income residents. Rudy ruled New York City with a very limited vision that seemed to help corporate interests, not residents, and enacted policy based on a series of personal vendettas that only made sense to him. What would stop him from doing the same in Washington?