When Rudy Giuliani relented last week and met with black New York’s nicest aunt and uncle, the once spurned Virginia Fields and Carl McCall, he was not so much turning over a new leaf as he was moving past his own darkest instincts. Giuliani politics have long been rooted in the belief that black people couldn’t hurt him. That premise perished the past two weeks in front of police headquarters.
He won in 1993 with barely a black vote.
Even before he took office, one of his top deputies told him he shouldn’t worry, “two white men” have been ruling New York “for 200 years.”
Blacks howled when bitten throughout his first term and no one with power heard them.
He won again in 1997 and the media pretended that blacks had helped reelect him, though 80 percent preferred his weak white opponent.
Until the Diallo killing put a movement in the streets so telegenic no news editor could resist it, Giuliani had proven that a mayor could dis NYC’s largest ethnic group for five full years and pay no price for it. Indeed, never before in modern city history had unconcealed contempt for one group been such a spur to broader popularity.
But now, with his favorables plummeting in every local poll and his legacy in doubt, Rudy Giuliani has, for the first time in his mayoralty, come face-to-face with a force larger than his own gestalt. One fatal fusillade has opened the eyes of a just city— beyond blacks to Latinos, Asians, and whites— and suddenly he is seen for what he has long been. A petty partisan whose only agenda is ambition. A punishing self-
promoter who inhales credit and exhales venom. A prince of pander whose “one city/one standard” promise was always mere double-talk.
As clear as it is, however, that his own antiblack policies are now haunting him within the city, it’s unclear how much he cares. His media adviser, Adam Goodman, appeared on NY1 last week and was asked about the sharp drop in the mayor’s numbers here. He answered by pointing to Rudy’s rise in the suburbs, as if the city was no longer the mayor’s constituency. A top state Republican told the Voice that so long as Giuliani looks upstate like “he’s taking on Al Sharpton in defense of cops,” this issue is “a boost” to his senate effort.
With polls showing his beyond-the-Bronx support growing even as city voters sour, Giuliani is already auditioning his new campaign theme, “one state/one standard.” So much so that his administration reversed itself in February on a critical watershed development issue the same day the newest member of the GOP majority in the state senate, John Bonocic, called to complain. At the behest of the first-term senator who represents reservoir-crowded Delaware County, City Hall ate four letters it had sent to federal environmental officials over the prior seven months, claiming that the deputy commissioner who’d written them was an unauthorized renegade.
That’s a level of responsiveness no elected official who represents any part of this city could evoke, not even the longtime king of Giuliani-era leverage, Staten Island’s Guy Molinari.
The mayor’s out-of-city agenda may also be why his so-called Diallo remedies have so far been so strange. First came hollow-point bullets, which police officials said would make sure offenders shot by cops fall quicker— as if staying upright had been Diallo’s fatal error. Then came a $10 million advertising bonanza for the mayor’s media friends, a campaign to recruit minorities after almost all the cop jobs were already filled. Next was Howard Safir’s pay raises and career-ladder promotions for the Street Crime Unit, whose members killed Diallo. The commissioner also announced that 50 minority cops would be transfered to SCU while still refusing to divulge how many were already there.
Safir has also started insisting that he’d actually “implemented” 84 percent of 75 recommendations issued by the mayor’s task force on police/community relations, as large a lie as the scheduled “meetings” Hollywood Howard pretended might keep him from last Monday’s City Council hearings. Safir claimed in writing to have implemented “an aggressive affirmative action plan” and “a prospective residency requirement,” as well as “partially implemented” the elimination of the 48-hour rule. He said the promulgation of a code of professional standards for cops was “under consideration,” though he first announced he was developing one in June of 1996. He insisted he’d enhanced the Cadet Corps, which trains minority cops, when in fact he’d twice cut its funding.
At least Safir was truthful about 16 of the most significant recommendations, saying they were beyond the purview of the NYPD. Of course the mayor has done nothing to “create an independent auditor to monitor and evaluate the civilian complaint processes,” or to tie the Civilian Complaint Review Board’s budget to the department’s “staffing increases,” or to require public disclosure of what happens to CCRB complaints and why, especially the substantiated ones. Not even an administration that specializes in phony numbers dared suggest Rudy had complied with many of the recommendations of a task force he’d derided just a year ago.
McCall and Fields in fact told the Voice that Giuliani brought “no plan” of his own to their recent Gracie Mansion sessions, with Fields suggesting that she believed he’d “move to another level at subsequent meetings.” This is remarkable optimism for a borough president who was denied access to the mayor for 15 months and scolded for imposing a “racial overlay” on issues she approaches with an openness recognized by probably a couple hundred thousand Manhattanites who voted in 1997 for her and Rudy. The truth is that no one knows if the mayor will meet again, or ever consider real reforms.
Part of the mystery is that Giuliani is our first term-limited mayor and we are only beginning to find out what that might mean. Term limits clearly jumpstarted a four-year job search for him, nationwide at first, statewide now. While Ed Koch’s ill-fated gubernatorial run in 1982 disrupted his second term for eight months, Rudy is already in the midst of a two-year hunt for a senate seat. His calendar and his policies have already been subordinated to that goal.
Just as term limits make him less of a mayor, they also make him more of a target. Brian McLaughlin, the head of the Central Labor Council that endorsed Giuliani in 1997, appeared Saturday at the planning session of the Diallo coalition and said that his 500-union organization had passed a resolution backing the protests. The confab and press conference took place at the headquarters of Local 1199, the activist hospital workers’ union that surprised everyone and sat out the 1997 election. Neither McLaughlin nor 1199’s Dennis Rivera might be as willing to openly challenge a mayor whose powers weren’t so inherently circumscribed.
With the Times‘s editorial page praising Giuliani’s baby steps, the mayor’s exit strategy may simply be to blame the protesters for crime numbers that started inching upwards before the major protests began, and to insist that he’s taken action and it’s now up to minorities to replace their “cop-bashing” with his own “cop-boosting” mantra.
But hovering just around the corner are the Abner Louima trial, an April 15 mass Diallo rally, the ongoing state and federal probes of police practices, and a May hearing of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. That combination guarantees that this time the master of media manipulation will be unable to dictate an endgame.
Research: Camila Gamboa, Coco McPherson, Kandea Mosley, Soo-Min Oh, Ron Zapata
Cops Killing Whites
When City Council GOP leader Tom Ognibene and his six colleagues weighed in on the Diallo debacle a few weeks ago, he used Giuliani-supplied data to suggest that “you are in more danger” of being shot by the cops “if you are white and you are subject to arrest for a serious crime than if you are in the black and Hispanic community.” Citing the statistic that 13.5 percent of the people who were killed by cops were white, and juxtaposing it to the 7.5 percent of murderers who were white, Ognibene concluded that whites are twice as likely to be “shot during pursuit” as blacks.
With no help from the NYPD, the Voice has since collected details from D.A.’s offices, the medical examiner, neighbors, and others about the circumstances surrounding the 16 cases involving whites killed by cops since Giuliani took office that we could identify. In five cases, the cops shot someone they knew. Patrick Fitzgerald shot his wife, children, and himself in his Orange County home a year ago. Cathleen Byrnes killed Joseph Saglimbeni,the man she lived with in a City Island cottage, just as another officer killed his ex-girlfriend, Bliss Verdon, in Queens in 1997. Steven Soorko shot his drunken brother Douglas at home in 1995 when Douglas swung a chair at him. Richard Molloy is currently on trial in the Bronx for shooting an exIRA guerrilla, Hessy Phelan, in Molloy’s girlfriend’s apartment after the two left a bar together.
Other killings were actually models of police restraint. A half-naked Kevin Cerbelli walked into a Queens precinct last year with a knife and a screwdriver, crazed on cocaine, and stabbed a sergeant in the back. Instead of shooting him, cops fired a taser stun gun at him, but the 50,000 volts did not slow him down, and they finally fired four times at him. Voice interviews with Michael Nunno’s widow indicate that cops fired at him only after he opened up on her and two officers with a rifle as they approached her Staten Island house.
Sterling Robertson was killed after he wrote an apparently suicidal letter to YMCA officials and hid in his West Side YMCA room, brandishing a long-blade knife. Police talked to him for an hour, blasted water through an opening in his door in a futile attempt to knock him off his feet, and misfired a tranquilizer dart at him. Finally they tossed a percussion grenade into the room, shocking him into dropping the knife. When two cops rushed in with riot shields, however, he picked up the knife and cut gashes in the shields. One cop fired twice when Robertson tried to reach over his partner’s shield to attack him.
Similarly, John Cochran was killed by cops on the East Side in 1996 after writing a note saying he wanted to have a confrontation with cops. Cochran was carrying what police called “an imitation gun,” and was shot after he threatened two men on the street with it. Raymond Murray, a college student, was shot by an off-duty cop outside a bar where they both were drinking after Murray and his friends got into a fight with bouncers and Murray got a pellet gun the officer mistook for a rifle. The cop who killed Murray was also a bouncer.
A Queens cop killed Michael Argenio near the cop’s Suffolk home after he found Argenio driving over lawns, knocking over trash cans, in the middle of the night. The cop chased Argenio and claimed his gun accidentally discharged twice when he finally caught him.
The remaining five cases involved the kind of criminality Ognibene was referring to: Joseph Gasparro was shot trying to steal a police car and get away after a stationery store holdup. Carmine Capone, a gun dealer who’d already done two sales to undercovers, was shot after he and his partner figured out that one undercover was a cop and began to wrestle his gun away from him in the backseat of a car. Eugene Keenan pointed a shotgun at cops while fleeing a bank holdup. Paul Rizzo was killed when he and a companion tried to rob an off-duty cop on the street at 2 a.m. And Joseph Orlando was a crack-addled car thief with 16 convictions who cops said reached under the seat of a stolen vehicle when he was stopped. Three of the five died from a single police bullet.
Research: Camila Gamboa, Coco McPherson, Kandea Mosley, Soo-Min Oh, Ron Zapata —W.B.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 30, 1999