What’s Wrong With Rudy Giuliani?

What’s Wrong With Rudy?

ON A RAINY DAY LATE in June, about a month after Rudolph Giuliani formal­ly announced his candidacy for mayor of New York, his car rolled north to Harlem for lunch at Sylvia’s restau­rant with an endangered species: black Republicans. Giuliani was conserva­tively dressed in a gray suit, his thin­ning black hair combed into the now familiar it-only-looks-like-a-bad-tou­pee style. He was missing his belt, wristwatch, and the eyeglasses he uses for reading. Giuliani forgot them while rushing out of his East Side apartment in the morning.

The prosecutor-turned-politician was fiddling with a portable phone in an effort to reach a former colleague who had just won convictions in a tough mob trial, when the talk turned to the city school system:

“What are your thoughts about the number of chil­dren enrolled in special education programs?”

“In what sense?,” the candidate replied.

“There are a staggering number of kids enrolled in special education. What are your thoughts on that?”

“You’ll have to make it a more specific question.”

“OK. Well, the number of children enrolled in special education is thought by some to be abnormally high, distressingly high.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand the question.”

“Do you think there are too many children enrolled in special education?”

“Do I think that there are children enrolled in special education inappropriately? That shouldn’t be in a spe­cial education program because the numbers are so high? I don’t know the answer to that.”

This is the man who was the most famous federal prosecutor in memory — the media’s darling, who never seemed to make a false move when the public eye was on him. Now, suddenly, Rudy Giuliani seemed very mortal.

As New York’s top cop, Giuliani spent the past five years in a fortress-like environment, as insulated from the nitty-gritty of urban life as any midwestern Republi­can here to gape at the tall buildings and exotic types. In that monastery of indictments and investigations Giu­liani excelled, but on the streets of New York, he frequently seems lost. His solemn face and candlewax skin were appropriate for an avenging angel announcing the indictment of mobsters, inside-traders, and crooked pols. But at street fairs, walking tours, and other venues for mayoral candidates, Giuliani looks wooden, robotic, even a little ominous at times. If he held up a baby, it might cry.

What happened to the Rudy Giuliani many peo­ple had such hope for? A stunning cross-sec­tion of the city was excited about the idea of his candidacy, but after more than three months of lackluster campaigning, he has slumped badly in the polls. He is trailing both his likely Democratic opponents, Ed Koch and David Dinkins, and so far, he’s looked good only in comparison to the dread Ron Lauder. Fortunately for Giuliani, many voters have yet to make up their minds, but among the uncom­mitted, his campaign has raised doubts and failed to quell fears. And the media, which initially smiled on Giuliani, has joined the chorus of doubt. “I like the idea of change at City Hall,” says one newspa­per executive. “And I like the idea of Giuliani coming in and cleaning things up. But I don’t know what this guy stands for.”

The crime-fighting Giuliani would nev­er have dreamt of becoming, in a single day, the target of tabloid headlines that ranged from “RUDY’S MEN ACTED LIKE NAZIS,” in the Post, to “RUDY HAS A BLACK EYE,” in Newsday. The former allegation was largely bogus; the latter was the biggest blunder of Giuliani’s law enforcement career. In 1987, the prosecu­tor arrested three Wall Street executives on insider trading charges so flimsy that the case against them dissolved almost overnight. Nevertheless, he pressed a two-and-a-half-year criminal investiga­tion of the trio. It ended last week with no charges filed against two of them. The third executive pled guilty to a charge unrelated to the allegations that prompt­ed the arrest. “It was a mistake to move with that case at the time that I did,” Giuliani said, “and to that extent I should apologize to them.” But Giuliani’s tortured explanation did not help. The politician was paying a heavy price for the abuses of the prosecutor.

Giuliani’s supporters believe his strongest personal and political quality is his leadership ability, but the campaign has so far found him on the defensive on important issues like abortion and irrele­vant ones like Noriega. His continued fixation on the C-words — crime, crack, and corruption — might well require the services of a deprogrammer before the election. (Giuliani recently conducted separate press conferences on corruption on three straight days.) “He’s good at the only thing a mayor doesn’t have to do — ­prosecute criminals,” says Democratic mayoral candidate Richard Ravitch.

Giuliani’s political beliefs remain shrouded by the “fusion” fog pouring forth from his $23,000-a-month headquarters at Rockefeller Center. Giuliani’s press releases refer to him as a “fusion candidate” or omit his party affiliation. This is an honorable tradition in New York, where Fiorello La Guardia ran as a Republican/Socialist, and John V. Lind­say initially pieced together a Republi­can/Liberal coalition and won reelection without the GOP. But La Guardia, and Lindsay (at least initially) had a popular touch that overcame confusion about their affiliations. Giuliani will go through the ritual flesh-pressing of New York politics, but watching him meet and greet voters, it’s clear he doesn’t have the com­mon touch. Giuliani is used to the kind of personal appearances a crimebuster would be expected to make. He is intro­duced, makes a short, formal speech, an­swers questions from a friendly, white, middle-class audience, and departs. This is not exactly the testing ground on which voters in New York decide whom they will allow to live in Gracie Mansion.

The abortion issue, in particular, has left the two-fisted gangbuster doing more head spinning than Linda Blair in The Exorcist. The Supreme Court’s ruling last month underscored Giuliani’s unwilling­ness to take strong positions on most controversial issues. “I would not take a leadership position supporting or opposing abortion,” Giuliani said just after the court’s decision was announced.

But the problem for Giuliani goes much deeper than appearances. There’s a perception among large groups of voters he will need to fashion a winning coali­tion that Rudy is traveling in three direc­tions at once. Giuliani wants the Republi­can and Liberal Party nominations. He must also attract large numbers of Demo­crats if he is to become the next mayor of New York. He therefore presents himself to the voters in the fuzzy form of Mr. Fusion, the candidate who is all things to all people.

It’s worthwhile noting that Giuliani’s pronouncements on issues like abortion are made only after what one of his asso­ciates calls “considered judgment.” For instance, shortly after the abortion ruling was announced, staffers huddled at Giu­liani’s campaign headquarters. They re­viewed the decision and Giuliani’s previ­ous statements on abortion. They also discussed questions Giuliani might be asked as a result of the ruling. They then moved on to a second meeting with the candidate himself. “We presented to him what had happened and what he’d said on abortion,” former campaign manager Russ Schriefer explained. “We let Rudy talk for a while, and as he talks, we kind of get an idea what his position is, where he’s coming from.” The Giuliani team then peppered the candidate with ques­tions he might be asked. Only after this process was completed did Giuliani emerge from his campaign cocoon to pub­licly turn one thumb up and one thumb down.

As Schriefer explained, without appar­ent irony, the most challenging aspect of the Giuliani campaign was illustrated by the abortion controversy. “Every decision you make has to be weighed as to how it’s going to affect another element or anoth­er area,” he says. “Abortion was one where the decision-making process had to take into account that there was a liberal position, a Democratic position, and a Republican position.” The “decision-­making process” clearly wasn’t good enough. Giuliani’s waffling hurt him bad­ly among women and Jews, prompting an unconvincing recent “clarification” in which the man opposed to Roe v. Wade said that he would fight any effort to outlaw abortion. “It’s one thing to screw up through inexperience,” said a Koch campaign official. “But you don’t have to be a brain surgeon or a savvy politician to have a strong, clear position on abor­tion.”

At a recent town meeting, Giuliani was asked a simple question about whether community boards should be given more power and money. It took him 350 words to explain that he would “be happy to consider” such an increase. Even when it comes to crime, Giuliani’s performance has hardly been emphatic. The candidate has had much difficulty in straightening out the exact age at which he believes young killers should be electrocuted. Is it 14, 15, 16, 17?

Then there was the Donald Trump newspaper ad in which the balding air-­shuttle executive talked about his “hate” for muggers and murderers and the need to incinerate the little criminals. Even death penalty–Ninja Ed Koch found this excessive, but Giuliani hailed the ad by the co-chairman of his first big fundrais­ing event as contributing to what he called a “healthy debate.” On the day he announced his candidacy, however, Giu­liani traveled to Bishop Loughlin, the Catholic high school in Brooklyn that he attended as a boy, and faced a solidly black and Hispanic student body. Giu­liani swiftly distanced himself from “Trump-the-ad” when a black student asked him if he endorsed the hyperactive casino owner’s position. No flapdoodle for this audience.

Giuliani has raised eyebrows among Irish voters by expressing warm admira­tion for Margaret Thatcher, and blundered through a campaign appearance at a city firehouse — a place where partisan politicking has always been prohibited. His campaign garnered a potentially valuable endorsement from the families of four slain policemen, but he promptly angered other fallen cops’ relatives by announcing the endorsement minutes af­ter a memorial service for the officers.

“Rudy does not suffer from the Arthur Goldberg or Pete Dawkins syndrome,” in­sists Raymond Harding, the Liberal Par­ty leader who has singlehandedly crafted the Giuliani fusion. “This is not a man who goes out to campaign and steps on his dick.”

Perhaps not, but Giuliani is clearly a man who has had trouble with his fly.

By mid-June, it became apparent that the campaign was in trouble. By July, the polls confirmed the obvious: Giuliani was trailing Din­kins and Koch. His declining pop­ularity has made fundraising more diffi­cult, and by August, he was faced with a financial crisis. Two weeks ago, he cut staff salaries in order to generate cash for television ads — the lifeblood of any effec­tive campaign.

Perhaps it was inevitable that, when trouble arose, Giuliani would place the campaign in the hands of one of his old­est and most trusted friends. With the exception of one stint as a lawyer in pri­vate practice, he has spent his entire ca­reer as a criminal prosecutor. He shares the caution and suspiciousness of the law enforcement fraternity. As a prosecutor, Giuliani’s top deputies were more than subordinates; they were his personal friends. So it’s not surprising that he would push out the pros. Says one Giu­liani confidant: “You don’t win Rudy’s trust overnight.”

Peter Powers and Rudy Giuliani go back to high school. They double-dated, joined the same fraternity at Manhattan College, graduated in the same class at NYU Law School, and then went their separate ways professionally — Giuliani to the federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan, Powers to a successful practice as a tax attorney. The two men still live close to one another on the Upper East Side, and their passion remains arguing about politics. This decades-old dialogue goes back to the days when Giuliani was a Kennedy liberal. Powers is a lifelong con­servative, and though the two still don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, he has emerged as the most influential figure in Giuliani’s organization.

The steady, cautious Powers has been involved with the campaign since day one. He was part of a team who picked Richard Bond, George Bush’s former deputy campaign manager, and Schriefer, another Bushie, as a team to run the campaign. As Giuliani’s candidacy floun­dered, he turned more and more to Pow­ers. One afternoon in late June, the two men sat side by side in a nearly empty car of a Metroliner bound for Philadelphia. It was the first time in months Giuliani and Powers had been able to enjoy each oth­er’s company without interruption. Their talk, however, was about the problems they had left behind in New York. “Look,” the candidate told Powers as the train slid through Trenton, “I think it’s time you came on board full-time.”

Over the next month, Powers was phased into the campaign. By July, Schriefer, who had been the day-to-day manager of the campaign, was meeting each morning with a “management com­mittee” composed of Powers, campaign chairman Arnold Burns, and Liberal Par­ty chief Harding. On July 25, Giuliani made it official by appointing Powers as his campaign manager. Attorney Ken Ca­ruso, another longtime Giuliani pal, is slated to become Powers’s deputy. He joins deputy campaign manager Bob Bucknam, another friend who worked for Giuliani as an assistant U.S. attorney. Schriefer and Richard Bond — two “Bushies” originally hired to run the campaign — were pushed aside.

(Giuliani’s old sidekick, Denny Young, has never been a major player. Young made the move to White & Case with Giuliani, and his duties with the firm have prevented him from becoming a full-time campaign activist. His presence is missed. As Giuliani’s top deputy in the U.S. attorney’s office and a close friend, Young often seemed epoxyed to his boss. The mild-mannered Young functioned much as a human Thorazine tablet by calming Giuliani in moments of anger and tension.)

The new team is long on the trust factor and very short on political experi­ence. Powers clearly has his work cut out for him. Despite a large and highly paid staff of 35, Giuliani has no briefing book containing his positions on important is­sues and other pertinent facts. The candidate has also been writing his own speeches — an enormous waste of time, particularly since Giuliani lives in anoth­er era when it comes to the written word. He does not type. He does not dictate. He writes everything from letters to major speeches in longhand on yellow legal pads and gives them to his faithful longtime secretary, Beth Petrone, to type. Outsid­ers brought in to check the campaign’s temperature were amazed to realize that the candidate was laboriously composing speeches that should have been done by hired hands.

Powers says speechwriting has now been turned over to others. A briefing book is being prepared. Another nagging problem, the lack of a media consultant, has been solved with the hiring of Roger Ailes.

The newest member of Giuliani’s inner circle of advisors, Ailes is a 49-year-old veteran GOP media man with the reputa­tion of a tough guy. Ailes is said to have a certain flair for leaning on journalists. Barely on board, he has already called a reporter to complain that her story on a recent Puerto Rican Day Parade in the Bronx had a pro-Koch slant.

Ailes was one of Nixon’s key media men in 1968, and has a lengthy involve­ment in GOP politics. When Nixon went on television in 1970 to announce the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, Ailes was there. Foolish Nixon advisers wanted the president to use a pointer to illustrate the movement of our boys into the tiny Asian nation. But Ailes quickly realized that the heavy pointer might cause Nixon’s hand to shake, thereby sending the wrong message to the nation and the communist enemy. Thanks to Ailes, Dick Nixon used his forefinger on that fateful night.

Ailes was also manning the ramparts during the dark days of Al D’Amato’s campaign for the Senate in 1980. Once again, the media savant proved equal to the task by unleashing Ma D’Amato on television audiences. The elderly lady was strategically placed at the produce counter of a supermarket. “Every time I go to the supermarket, prices keep ris­ing,” she complained. “I am afraid to walk the streets because of crime. That’s why my son is running for the Senate.”

The rest is history.

Ailes fashioned George Bush’s televised attacks on Michael Dukakis last year, though the modest videomeister denies any responsibility for the infamous Willie Horton commercial. This year he has already raked in major bucks by turning out insufferably boring commercials for Giuliani’s Republican foe, Ron Lauder. After either being ousted in a power struggle or discovering to his horror that Lauder was out to get Giuliani, Ailes quit the Lauder campaign.

Giuliani aides say Ailes has been push­ing the candidate to go on television as soon as possible, but the campaign’s con­tinuing financial woes have made it un­certain when commercials will begin. Ailes is planning a series of “positive” ads to precede the September 12 primary. This may well work against Ron Lauder, but in the general election, some of Ailes’s better-known traits may emerge. There’s already been a backlash among liberals to the mere presence of this hard­core Republican — a heartbeat from Lee Atwater — in the Giuliani camp. Ailes’s own image problems could complicate Giuliani’s task of courting Democrats in the general election.

If that weren’t difficult enough, Ailes must teach the candidate to deal with the press. Giuliani needs to return to the “directness and candor” that marked his style as a prosecutor, says Ailes. “I think he’s been too careful. Rudy should stop worrying about being political candidate Giuliani and just be Giuliani.”

That first day of Giuliani’s campaign, May 17, also launched his mushrooming press problem. The day began well enough. The candidate, flanked by his wife, television anchorwoman Donna Hanover; son, Andrew; and mother, Hel­en, launched into a speech highlighting the C-words: crime, crack, and corruption. The R-word, Republican, was never uttered.

After delivering the speech announcing his candidacy, General Giuliani executed the first flanking maneuver of the war to come by walking out of the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan without answering any questions from the media. Television, the important medium, would be forced to focus on his message without the danger of annoying questions that might deflect attention, and airtime, from the candidate and the C-words. The strategy worked in the same way one might succeed in “tricking” a drunken gang of Hell’s Angels armed with chain saws and lead pipes. The press quickly caught up with Giuliani and began a sav­aging that continued for weeks. Wasn’t his new law firm, White & Case, representing the government of Noriega, the Panamanian dictator/drug dealer? Of course it was a nonissue. And the media would cream him with it.

The transition from prosecutor to poli­tician transformed Giuliani’s press rela­tions. During his five-and-a-half years as U.S. attorney, Giuliani’s critics liked to revile him as a masterful media manipu­lator, but it took candidate Giuliani less than a week to establish just how gener­ous that assessment of his talent really was. Giuliani sweated, shifted in his seat, and in one instance simply fled the pres­ence of a hostile television journalist. Nothing remotely like this had happened to him on Foley Square.

“It’s the case of a guy from a very protected environment being thrown into one of the toughest [media] bullrings in the world,” says David Garth, Koch’s me­dia maven. “I can understand the culture shock.”

And Giuliani’s new opponents were not handcuffed or accompanied by lawyers telling them to say nothing. The candi­date’s political enemies readily heaped verbal napalm on his head. Of attacks by rascals Ed Koch and Republican perfume scion Ron Lauder, Giuliani said: “If they really were men, they would apologize.” Needless to say, the unmanly imps sneered at the White Knight and contin­ued to slip thistles under his mayoral saddle.

“Prosecutors throw bombs. Mayors catch them,” says Mitchell Moss, director of NYU’s Urban Research Center. “Giu­liani has proven to be a bleeder.”

Koch in particular seemed to sense instinctively that it takes very little to set Giuliani off. He was right. Even as U.S. attorney, Giuliani could be stupendously thin-skinned. For instance, there was a flattering profile of Giuliani published in the Daily News Magazine shortly after he became U.S. attorney in 1983. The story was typical of the favorable pieces that were regularly written about Giuliani dur­ing his tenure. The author provided some balance to the article by mentioning a few criticisms of the prosecutor. There was a line in the story that reported — correct­ly — that Giuliani had a temper.

“He got so upset about it,” his wife, Donna Hanover, recalls. “He was hurt, saying this is terrible and so forth. I said, ‘Honey, it’s a little line. There are two or three criticisms in this long article.’ But he was in agony. We agonized the whole Sunday. It was a miserable, miserable day.”

Giuliani’s best qualities — intelligence, courage, honesty, and leadership abili­ty — have yet to put in an extended appearance on the campaign trail. His worst traits — self-righteousness, hypersensitivi­ty, and a grasping opportunism — have been too much in evidence.

His message, certainly, is not getting through. Most New Yorkers know little more about what Giuliani believes than they did three months ago. They might be forgiven for wondering if the candi­date actually has any strong feelings on any issue besides law enforcement.

Just what does Giuliani believe?

As most people know, Rudy Giu­liani started life as a liberal Democrat who worshipped John and Robert Kennedy. He voted for George Mc­Govern in 1972, and according to friends who knew him then, despised Richard Nixon with a fervor typical of Kennedy worshippers. A year later, however, he registered as an independent. He did so partly because of his growing disillusion­ment with the party of McGovern but also, as he told the Daily News, because he was working as a federal prosecutor in a Republican administration.

In 1975, Giuliani came under the wing of Judge Harold Tyler, a pillar of the respectable Republicanism of the Eastern Establishment. Tyler was appointed num­ber two man in the Justice Department of Gerald Ford, and took Giuliani along with him as his deputy. When Ford was turned out of office in 1976, Tyler took Giuliani back to New York with him as a partner in the white-shoe law firm then known as Patterson, Belknap & Webb. By then, his politics blended with those of the firm: the liberal Republicanism of Nelson Rockefeller.

A month after Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980, Giuliani switched again, registering as a Republican. The timing was not coincidental. When Rea­gan took office in 1981, Giuliani was of­fered the number three job in the Justice Department. Giuliani took two young as­sociates with him to Washington. He ad­vised Renee Szybala, a liberal Democrat, and Ken Caruso, who had no party affili­ation, to become Republicans, just as he had.

Giuliani was showing a flair for taking on the political coloration of his employ­ers, and his stint as associate attorney general from 1981 to 1983 marked him as a loyal and energetic Reaganaut. He was a leading player in the administration’s war on drugs, and capably supervised an array of important Justice Department agencies.

His first messy mission involved a pending criminal case against McDonnell Douglas. The gigantic St. Louis airplane manufacturer and four of its executives had been charged during the Carter ad­ministration with bribing Pakistani offi­cials to buy the company’s DC-10 airlin­ers. In one of the controversial early decisions of the Reagan administration, Giuliani dropped criminal charges against the four executives. He concluded that the government’s case against the four rested on the retroactive application of a congressional act outlawing overseas bribery, even though the courts had up­held the legality of the indictment. It was the kind of pro-business gesture that set the tone for the Reagan years.

A second act Giuliani undertook as as­sociate attorney general has come back to dog him in the mayoral campaign. The Reagan administration decided to stop the influx of Haitian refugees into south­ern Florida by jailing those who arrived in the Sunshine State and turning back those they could stop at sea. More than 2000 Haitians were placed in detention facilities critics described as “concentra­tion camps.” This shameful policy was not of Giuliani’s making, but he went to dubious lengths to defend it. Partly on the basis of a 48-hour trip to Haiti in 1982, he testified that political repression was not a problem in Haiti under Presi­dent-for-Life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

“It was like someone in our own gov­ernment getting up to say the Soviet Union is a democracy,” said Stephen Cohen, a State Department human rights specialist in the Carter Administration, who found Giuliani’s assessment “laughable.”

Giuliani’s opinion — although based on a visit somewhat shorter than a luxury cruise boat-docking — was important. Im­migration law permitted aliens to be granted asylum in the U.S. if they fled political persecution. So if the Haitians were to be kept out, it was essential for Giuliani to find an island bereft of politi­cal torture, imprisonment, and intimida­tion. He followed up his trip to Haiti with an appearance as a government witness in a federal civil case in Florida filed on behalf of the refugees. Under questioning by lawyers for the Haitians, Giuliani de­scribed the dread Tonton Macoutes as an “interior police department” that was “alleged” to have committed repressive acts in the 1960s.

Q. Do you believe that the Tonton Ma­coutes does not exist anymore?

A. I don’t know if they exist or don’t exist.


Q. Mr. Giuliani, in your tour of Haiti, how many prisons did you visit?

A. I spoke with no prisoners.

All of this suggests that like most poli­ticians, Giuliani is a man quite capable of adjusting his beliefs to suit the temper of the times. And a man whose political advice the candidate values highly is, not surprisingly, a professional pollster.

Robert Teeter was the pollster and a top campaign strategist for George Bush in last year’s presidential campaign. The 50-year-old former political science in­structor has been active in Republican politics since he went to work for Michi­gan governor George Romney in 1956. He is widely regarded as one of the best in the business by Democrats and Republi­cans alike.

Teeter’s advice helps to account for the Johnny One-Note character of Giuliani’s campaign. “By anybody’s definition, those [crime and drugs] are severe prob­lems in the city,” Teeter says. “But more importantly, they are the problems the voters think need attention right now.” Teeter, who lives and works in Ann Arbor, Michigan, flies into New York peri­odically for discussions with Giuliani and members of his campaign staff. He and Giuliani also talk by phone. Teeter, at least, has no doubt about Giuliani’s poli­tics: “I think he has a fundamental, basic, Republican, center-right philosophy.”

Which brings us to the old saw about strange bedfellows. The last member of Giuliani’s Gang of Four is Ray Harding, a portly aficionado of unfiltered Camels who holds a doctorate in political schem­ing. Harding has been a major player in the endless and impenetrable infighting in the state’s minuscule (and ridiculous) Liberal Party. But he delivered the par­ty’s nomination to Giuliani and is ad­mired by the candidate for his shrewd­ness and political judgment.

Of the men Giuliani relies upon the most for political advice — Powers, Ailes, Teeter, and Harding — only Harding has extensive experience in New York poli­tics. Some political observers believe this to be a serious shortcoming. Ailes dis­agrees: “I haven’t done a whole lot in New York,” he says, “but politics is poli­tics. I’d never done anything in Wyoming, and I won in Wyoming.”

With the new team in place, the future of Giuliani’s campaign is becoming clear. “You’re going to see a new Rudy coming down the pike in the next few weeks,” Powers predicts. The “new” Rudy will speak more forcefully; his answers will be clearer and more concise. The candi­date is being made over into a strong leader with the courage and determina­tion needed to make the changes voters want.

His learning curve is on the rise. De­spite blackouts on topics like special edu­cation, his knowledge of municipal prob­lems has increased since the campaign began. He has earnestly studied the is­sues in briefing sessions that feature guest experts who enlighten him on vari­ous subjects. But one of those urban spe­cialists, who arrived eager to share his expertise with the mayor-to-be, came away disappointed by Giuliani’s glassy-­eyed response. “He was very passive, and he didn’t seem at all familiar with the issues we were discussing,” the expert said. “If it were Mayor Koch, he would have been engaging me and asking tough questions. I didn’t have any sense that I was getting through.”

“Getting through” to Giuliani is a mat­ter of arousing his passion. The man who as a little boy donned priestly vestments sewn from Turkish towels to solemnly perform the mass and distribute Holy Communion to his mother and grand­mother does not take things lightly. (On one occasion, his mother substituted chocolate mints for the white Necco wa­fers she normally gave him for use as communion hosts. Young Rudy sternly rebuked her for sacrilege.)

Giuliani has moved from passion to passion throughout his life. Horse-racing, tennis, New York Knicks basketball, pho­tography, and the Civil War are among the interests that he has embraced and abandoned. These pursuits are not as well known as his love of the law, opera, and the New York Yankees, but he has approached them all in the same way. He will read everything he can get his hands on about a topic that strikes his fancy in an effort to master it as quickly as possi­ble. Last winter, when Giuliani privately decided to become the 106th mayor of New York City, he devoured books about municipal government in his small East Side apartment at night and played U.S. attorney during the day.

But the passion always seemed to be missing. Giuliani appeared to look upon governing New York City as a problem to be analyzed and dissected rather than an intoxicating challenge to his abilities. He has always been keenly interested in poli­tics, but there is nothing in his past to suggest that he wanted to become the mayor of New York. He has talked with some measure of enthusiasm about be­coming governor, but the road to Albany is blocked by Mario Cuomo’s popularity. He also toyed at length with the notion of challenging Democratic senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, but he ultimately abandoned the idea.

At the time, one of his closest friends said Giuliani seriously considered run­ning against Moynihan only because the opportunity had presented itself rather than because Giuliani wanted to become a U.S. senator. The same might well be said of his mayoral candidacy. Ed Koch’s job was the only important political posi­tion on the horizon when Giuliani wrapped up his law enforcement agenda at the end of 1988 with the trial of Bess Myerson and the settlement with Drexel Burnham, Wall Street’s big bad investment firm. Giuliani took the plunge, but nothing about the candidate or his campaign to date suggests that anything approaching a fire burns in his belly.

Giuliani’s supporters are betting that he’ll hit his stride as the campaign un­folds and take on the job of vanquishing his rivals with the same workaholic drive he applied to the Mafia and political cor­ruption. That may happen. Giuliani is a man who doesn’t like to fail — as a college student he was blackballed by the most prestigious fraternity on campus, but he rebounded by promptly gathering a group of his friends and taking over a dying fraternity with three members. The re­born frat made Rudy its president.

But New York City is no fraternity. The divisions between rich and poor, black and white, prochoice and antiabortion, are too deep to permit the election of a formless Mr. Fusion. Rudy Giuliani isn’t La Guardia, and he won’t defeat a Dinkins with bona fide liberal creden­tials, or a middle-class hero like Koch, unless he tells the voters exactly who he is and what he stands for. “It’s going to be a lot easier for us when we get down to the general election and it’s one of them against one of me,” Giuliani predicts. It’s true that he will get a second chance. But the “new” Rudy will have to show much more to convince New Yorkers he’s an alternative to the “old, tired political leadership” that has made one of the world’s great cities a miserable place for the poor and middle-class alike. ■



The Mayoral Debate Was Mostly About Yelling a Lot

The mayoral general election debate that took place Tuesday night was never going to be very much about substance, and most everyone knew it.

This was true of the crowds milling around the venue, Symphony Space, before the 7 p.m. start time, where the chanting and yelling mostly steered clear of any substantive policy points. Joseph Pidoriano of Staten Island stood at the front of a crowd of sign-waving supporters of GOP candidate Nicole Malliotakis and held up his phone to film the Local 802 brass band playing in support of incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio. He explained to his remote viewers that “these are all the socialists. All the Marxists.”

In a rapid-fire rant, Pidoriano accused de Blasio of being anti-cop and anti-small business. “After a police officer was killed, he flew off to Germany, but he delayed his vacation for two days after Eric Garner died,” he said, referencing the mayor’s trip to Hamburg shortly after the slaying of Officer Miosotis Familia in early July.

Independent candidate Bo Dietl, a bombastic ex-NYPD detective who had promised not to be “wild man Bo” in the debate, strolled around the corner of 95th and Broadway, seeming to delight in the bubble of tumult that surrounded him as he approached the venue. He is, after all, a proven headline generator.

Also present was fellow independent candidate Mike Tolkin, who was not invited to the debate by sponsor NY1 despite being certified eligible by the city’s Campaign Finance Board. He recently finished a hunger strike to protest his non-inclusion, and looked gaunt as he chatted with “professional protester” and independent City Council candidate Marni Halasa. Sal Albanese, who lost the Democratic primary election to de Blasio but is now running on the Reform Party line, was nowhere to be found. Both he and Tolkin are suing the CFB and debate sponsors over their decisions.

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Inside the venue, the heckling, booing, and name-calling started before the cameras were rolling and ended only after they were turned off. One person who shouted at de Blasio as he was trying to answer a question was escorted out by security after a frustrated Errol Louis, an NY1 anchor and the debate’s moderator, swiveled around and singled out the heckler directly: “Get that person out of here. Good night, sir.” He wasn’t the only one to leave early, though for the others it likely had more to do with frustration than an armed escort.

Onstage, civility and content likewise took a backseat to petty bickering, with fringe issues and low blows dominating any meaningful discussion of the city’s most pressing problems. This was perhaps best exemplified by the portion of the debate where candidates were allowed to ask each other questions. Given a direct opportunity to challenge the mayor’s record on affordable housing, policing, public health, or any other aspect of governance, Dietl opted to ask de Blasio why he’d built a fence around Gracie Mansion. “Is it the Berlin Wall?” he asked. “What are you hiding?”

Malliotakis, who has sold her candidacy on a reexamination of homelessness, transit, and the city budget, decided to ask why the mayor had traveled to Germany following Officer Familia’s death and an earlier subway derailment. The issue of the mayor’s out-of-city travel and its attendant expenses is certainly a fair one, but Malliotakis made sure to clarify that this was purely an ad hominem attack. “What kind of person are you?” she demanded. “What kind of mayor are you that you would leave the city at a time like that?”

Then de Blasio, who had already used the phrase “safest big city” at least three times, squandered his chance to confront his opponents over their stances on public safety and their plans for a police department in flux and instead again asked Malliotakis why she had voted for Donald Trump for president. This, too, is a valid concern, but not a significant enough one to merit being converted into one of the de Blasio campaign’s key talking points against Malliotakis.

All of this took place over whooping and yelling from the crowd that continuously drowned out the candidates. The interruptions ranged from simple booing to someone calling Malliotakis a traitor for having sued to preserve the records created by the city’s IDNYC program, something that immigrant advocates worried might be used by the federal government to track down undocumented immigrants. Competing with this were the interruptions by Dietl, who talked over his opponents and the panel alike. “Hold on, I haven’t asked my question yet,” Politico reporter Gloria Pazmino said at one point as Dietl launched into a diatribe before she’d gotten out a full sentence.

Any discussions of policy that did take place held few surprises. Malliotakis attacked the mayor’s record on affordable housing — “He brags about 75,000 or so apartments created. Those are mostly preserved units with maybe a small amount being created” — the city budget — “He tripled the number of his assistants in City Hall!” — and crime — “He wants to say we are the safest city. That is not true if you are a woman in this city.” Each of these arguments contained a multitude of nuances: creating new affordable apartments without preserving the existing stock can result in a net loss of affordability; there are disagreements over the merits of special assistants; crime overall is down, though it is true that sex crimes on the subway system are way up, which might partly be due to increased reporting.

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Dietl hit at the mayor’s relationship with the NYPD — “Cops say they’ll leave the city, and it’s because of him” — and the mayor’s decade-long deadlines for plans to close the Rikers Island prison complex and to build and preserve affordable housing. He managed to call de Blasio “Big Bird” — a favorite epithet — only once. Both Malliotakis and Dietl reiterated support for reforming Rikers rather than closing it.

De Blasio spent most of his time repeating his talking points about crime reduction, the construction of new homeless shelters, universal pre-kindergarten, and the closure of Rikers while conducting impromptu “fact checks” on his opponents’ statements. Often when Louis or the panelists — Pazmino, NY1’s Grace Rauh, NY1 Noticia’s Juan Manuel Benítez, and WNYC’s Brian Lehrer — tried to press the candidates on a particular issue, they would be forced to revert to trying to enforce time allotments and keep the candidates from pontificating without responding to the questions.

It didn’t work. The debate didn’t so much end as it tapered off, with no closing statements. The panel had run out of time after the candidates frittered it away yelling over each other, to the point where Pazmino threatened to have Malliotakis’ mic cut off after the last question.

As the lights brightened and the audience began filing out, Public Advocate Tish James meandered over to the assembled reporters. Someone asked her what she’d thought about the preceding hour and a half. She thought for a few seconds, then said simply, “We not only have to reform our government, but we need to reform how we do our debates.”

In a city of 8.5 million people facing an affordability crisis, crumbling transit infrastructure, and looming public health and public safety troubles, it’s astounding that what will be remembered from the night is probably the shouting. Perhaps changing the debate format may be the only way to have those wishing to lead New York City publicly reckon with what that responsibility really entails.


The Misunderstood Candidacy of Corey Johnson, the Man Who Wants to Replace Christine Quinn

On November 5, New Yorkers will choose their next mayor. Whether City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is on the ballot or not, her seat in the Third District, which covers Chelsea, the West Village, and the Highline, will be in contention. And, as of now, one Democratic candidate named Corey Johnson (shown above) is in the running as her replacement. But he faces many of the same attacks on Quinn’s mayoral campaign, some of which are mired in too-easy-to-leapfrog judgments.

Ever since she convinced the council to legislatively hand Bloomberg a third term, Quinn’s opponents have labeled her as Ms. Hizzoner. But that’s old news–a remnant of distrust left over from the mayor’s years in office more so than a substantial policy attack on the now-mayoral candidate. If we’re talking about the latter, Quinn has fallen prey to calls of LGBT betrayal (the subject of a recent Voice cover story) and, of course, her ties to Big Development (the subject of a Voice series on this blog). To a certain extent, critics like rival Yetta Kurland say Johnson emulates both.

In 2000, the candidate, 31, came out as a homosexual while still captain of his high school football team in Massachusetts, becoming a young star in the LGBT movement. He would move to New York soon after and eventually become the chairman of Community Board 4, the local citizen group in Quinn’s constituency. Using that experience, he joined GFI Development Corporation as its director of government and community affairs in 2008–a position that would naturally attract attention from opponents.

GFI is a Wall Street titan. City data show that the company has received millions from the city in subsidies since 2002. Its development side is responsible for projects like the Ace and NoMad hotels–both of which are in Johnson and Quinn’s stomping grounds. Also, GFI has built serious, sky-scraping condos in North Williamsburg and Fort Greene.

So, like Quinn, Johnson has benefitted from real estate wealth, which his campaign has received $8,400, in total, from; several of his donors are even veterans from the speaker’s past and current campaigns, like Mario Palumbo of Millennium Partners and the development crew behind the Brooklyn Naval Yard. This should be noted, given the amount of political power in City Council their money carries. But, unlike Quinn, the candidate has strayed away from blatantly siding with the developers.

“He has a strong record of standing up to overzealous developers–whether in opposing the NYU land grab or the Chelsea Market Expansion or the Rudin plan at St. Vincents–as Community Board 4 Chair,” R.J. Jordan, Johnson’s campaign manager, told me. “These are among the reasons why Corey has been endorsed by leaders who symbolize the values of the West Side, like Jerry Nadler and Tom Duane.”

According to sources who spoke to the Voice, Johnson never registered with City Hall as a lobbyist for GFI as required by law. But that’s because, in his position, he was not responsible for those efforts on behalf of the corporation–a misconception from which the aforementioned judgments originate.

Born into public housing, Johnson grew up with a mother who worked as a lunchlady, unable to pay for her son to go to college–a background that led to his career as a community organizer. At GFI, his job was simply PR for the public, to make sure the Corporation didn’t look like the bad guy to tenants by mending ties between Big Development and the little man. He was assigned as peacekeeper of the Ace Hotel, NoMad Hotel and Fort Greene projects; in Brooklyn, he helped secure almost 26 percent of the condo space for affordable housing purposes.

So this statement of misleading juxtaposition from the Post story on Johnson last week deflates fast from intra-business confusion:

Last week, at a candidate forum, Johnson said he increased affordable housing for one of GFI’s buildings located at 470 Vanderbilt Ave. in Fort Greene.

But GFI, which develops luxury hotels, including the Ace and NoMad, was accused of being a discriminatory mortgage lender, prompting US Attorney Preet Bharara in April 2012 to file suit against it.

That article focuses on another line of criticism against Johnson, one that also shuffles around nothingness like a washing machine set on high to extract some sort of controversial talking point.

In the past, GFI has donated money ($30,000 or so) to politicians known for their anti-same-sex marriage positions, like Erick Salgado, one of the Democratic candidates for mayor. And they probably did it at the same time Johnson was working there. All too easily, the timeline parallel birthed this headline: “City Council candidate Corey Johnson worked for anti-gay-marriage company.”

Now Johnson, 31, is seeking to fill in the shoes of Christine Quinn, the first openly gay Speaker and mayoral hopeful. After leaving GFI in 2010, Johnson took a director position at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (G.L.A.A.D.) and then a marketing position at the Sydell Group, the new owners of the NoMad Hotel. There, he’s employed part-time to help company relations with the LGBT community.

He’s also HIV-positive–a fact he has made public in the past, further dignified by the fact that Thomas Duane (a supporter, as said before) once occupied the 3rd District seat. Duane was the first openly HIV-positive legislator in council history; he won the seat in 1991 at the height of the AIDS crisis in New York City, a truly remarkable achievement for the time. So, with all that being said, does the Post headline still make a sense?

I chose the treatment of Corey Johnson’s candidacy for a reason. His situation highlights an all-too-common theme of election seasons: laziness, plain and simple. The most catchy clip jobs are fueled by accusatory dialect, a ton of misdirected pathos and, as a result, SEO bait. It’s a replacement of logic that detracts the voter from the reality of the situation, stretching facts and leaving truths few and far between.

Of course Christine Quinn has a “Bloomberg Lite” problem. Of course Joe Lhota has a “Giuliani Lite” problem. And of course Anthony Weiner had a cybersexting problem. But the public sphere thrives when we critique our officials on firm substance, not easily-attached emotions that come with labels. Argumentatively, for the reader, the Post headline and story leave us with little room to think. And, in a time when the political future of the five boroughs is at stake, we need all the room we can get.


Christine Quinn Picks Up SEIU 32BJ Endorsement After Paid Sick Leave Bill

At the end of March, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn flip-flopped. She had stood in opposition to a paid sick leave bill for years, arguing that the measure would cause economic harm to a city deep in the Great Recession. But the mayoral race’s influence trumped all: Pressing her Democratic base, she switched positions and eventually passed the bill with few exceptions for small businesses. In exchange, she handed the Service Employees International Unions Local 32BJ chapter a victory, resulting in their endorsement of her campaign yesterday.

“For us, the election is a process in which we look at the experience with the candidate. To us, the leadership she has demonstrated on prevailing wage, on stop-and-frisk, on a number of issues, this leadership we value,” union President Hector Figueroa said, alongside Quinn. “We do not necessarily need a mayor that will agree with everything we say.”

When asked about the paid sick leave bill factor, Figuroa assured reporters that the politically personal deal brokered between Quinn and the union to get the bill passed wasn’t the only reason why they endorsed her. “We were already considering Speaker Quinn prior to the passage of paid sick leave,” he stated.

The SEIU 32BJ support–one of the most sought-after in the race–is the largest labor endorsement of the Speaker thus far, handing her a significant amount of voters and electoral sway come September. And, as the union vote continues to self-segregate amongst the candidates, she’ll need it: Bill Thompson has already snagged the United Federation of Teachers vote, John Liu has District Council 37’s backing, and Bill de Blasio is the SEIU 1999’s candidate.

“Does this room feel split? I don’t feel any split!” Quinn remarked in a room packed with SEIU 32BJ union members. Figueroa followed suit: “I don’t think that labor is divided in this race.”

That leaves Anthony Weiner as the sole City Hall aspirer without a major labor endorsement; strange, given his newly plated position as the race’s Democratic frontrunner. So maybe the SEIU 32BJ didn’t feel “split” mid-endorsement, but it sure seems like the division is widening outside for the runner-ups.


Anthony Weiner Is the New Democratic Frontrunner for Mayor

In late April, the polling team at Marist released a survey titled “Weiner Candidacy for Mayor Could Scramble Democratic Primary Contest.” it projected major percentage points of approval for the former congressman, should he decide to step into the fray. A few weeks later, he did. And, nearly two months after that original sampling, its title has validated itself: according to the newest WSJ-NBC New York-Marist poll, Anthony Weiner is now the leading Democratic candidate for mayor in New York City.


Last night, the results came in: leading at 25 percent is Weiner–a rating City Council Speaker Christine Quinn had for months. Quinn, the assumed frontrunner, clocks in at 20 percent of the vote, edging 7 percent ahead of bronze medalist (and UFT favorite) Bill Thompson at 13 percent. Behind them, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is at 10 percent and Comptroller John Liu remains stalled at 8 percent.

Mathematically, that leaves us with a quarter of Democrats who still have no idea who the hell they want in City Hall. And, as we know, never discount the undecided voter.

It didn’t take Weiner long to rise in the polls, nearing Quinn’s solidified spot on top. In the past few weeks, the speaker has fallen victim to criticisms of all sorts, be it her standing amongst the LGBT community, her campaign’s ties to the real estate community, or a view of Quinn as Bloomberg Lite.

Meanwhile, the politician who was caught cybersexting just two years ago has certainly gathered that following predicted by Marist in April; a rise without the help of any major union endorsement and a testament to just how split the labor vote could be in the primaries. But the newest poll adds flame to the fear of Democrats when Weiner first stirred speculation of a run with the New York Times Magazine profile on him and his wife, Huma Abedin: that his entry could lead to a runoff and, as a result, hand the election to the Republicans.

Then again, what’s an election without a little competition? Besides, September is still three months away.

Send your tips on the 2013 mayoral race to Follow his tweets here.


Kenneth G. Langone, Controversial NYU Trustee and Citizens United Provocateur, Is Major Lhota Backer

On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court decided that corporations were people, too. The Citizens United ruling unleashed a new wave of influence in American elections; one that still has modern democracy reeling, as the last presidential election witnessed billions of dollars coming in from all over the country. Mega-millionaire Kenneth G. Langone, 78, was (and still is) at this frontline of legal corporatism, and his ties are everywhere, including NYU’s much-talked-about loan compensation program and the wallet of the Republican frontrunner for City Hall, Joe Lhota.

For background, Langone made his fortunes as a market-savvy investor, now a holder of some $1.1 billion in assets. He did so by putting tons of capital into a little company he founded known as Home Depot, which eventually made him millions in the hardware business. He helped former Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot’s data company go public and now sits on as a director on the Board of Yum! Brands–the largest restaurant chain in the world (read: KFC, Taco Bell, etc.).

If you’re a New Yorker, you might’ve heard his name before: NYU’s Langone Medical Center and its Stern School of Business’s Langone Part-Time MBA carry the investor’s namesake, as he was a graduate student there after attending Bucknell University down in Pennsylvania. That was the reward after he gave NYU’s medical center a whopping $200 million donation in 2008–the largest contribution in the center’s history. His unrestricted donation is now being used by the school to build a new, green hospital, just months after the Langone Medical Center famously saved hundreds of patients during Hurricane Sandy (one of whom was the benefactor himself, who was undergoing pneumonia treatment).

With this type of profile at the school, Langone was given the vice co-chair position on the university’s board of trustees (as well as the Medical Center’s); on its site, the governing body states that it’s “responsible for, among other things, creating policy, setting mission and purpose, strategic planning, reviewing programs, and relating campus to community and community to campus.” However, the “other things” are what’s important here: The board of trustees is also responsible for numerous controversial moves on behalf of the administration, spurring no confidence votes in President John Sexton across the different sub-schools.

It was the Board of Trustees who raised Sexton’s income to $1.5 million and gave him a $2.5 million bonus for his “length of service.” And the millions upon millions of eventually-forgiven loans for the professorial staff’s ritzy condos here and out east that we reported on last week? The board’s compensation committee. The foundation responsible for collecting these exorbitant funds in light of even more exorbitant tuition is their job.

Exhibit A: Robert Grossman, the medical center’s dean and CEO. He’s now given an annual paycheck of nearly $3.5 million and resides in a $6.15 million condo, guaranteed and paid for by the university. As we mentioned last week, an NYU student’s tuition is nearing $45,000, not including room and board.

(The Voice has reached out to NYU for comment on Langone’s involvement with the loan compensation program and is waiting to hear back).

Langone is no stranger to overpayment, though. In the early 2000s, he was the president of the New York Stock Exchange and at the center of a huge lawsuit by then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. According to the case, Langone was in charge with secretly authorizing a pay package worth $190 million for Richard Grasso, fellow NYSE chairman and NYU trustee, without telling the financial institution’s board. As a non-governmental organization, this salary for an administrator is virtually impossible, which was the main point of Spitzer’s argument. Langone defended the pay package for years, resulting in this wonderful quote he gave to Forbes in 2004:

“They got the wrong fucking guy. I’m nuts, I’m rich, and boy, do I love a fight. I’m going to make them shit in their pants. When I get through with these fucking captains of industry, they’re going to wish they were in a Cuisinart–at high speed. If Grasso gives back a fucking nickel, I’ll never talk to him again.”

The case was dismissed in 2008 on the grounds that the New York Stock Exchange had, by that point, become a for-profit entity. So, now that we have the collegiate-meets-Wall-Street connection down pat, let us move on to politics.

A few weeks after the decision came down for Citizens United, American Action Network was created to foster the new freedoms the case brought for corporate contributions: Its mission statement includes the intention “to put our center-right ideas into action by engaging the hearts and minds of the American people and spurring them into active participation in our democracy.” The ANA funds Tea Party ads and anti-Democratic campaigns, and opens its treasures chests to all sorts of corporate dollars. Langone remains a main donor to the quasi-SuperPAC, as well as an accomplice to the Koch brothers’ inner circles, but tangled money with politics way before it was officially legal.

In the lead-up to the 2000 presidential election, Langone co-founded a company called ChoicePoint, Inc., which bought Database Technologies–another company of his–for $4 million. Its contract entailed a list of ineligible list of voters in (who would’ve guessed?) Florida, a majority of whom were minorities and Democrats. It was later reported that the company erred with categorizing numerous voters as felons before Election Day, deactivating their right to a vote in a contest with a 537-ballot margin of victory.

“In a tough fight, Kenneth G. Langone is a guy you want in your corner,” Landon Thomas Jr. of the New York Times once wrote. As an outspoken Republican donor, Langone has had his financial hands in the last major GOP wins in New York. He was a major foundation of Carl Paladino’s run against Cuomo in 2010. And he bundled a ton of corporate cash for Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral campaigns throughout the ’90s. That naturally leads us to the final point.

As CEO of his own company, Invemed Associates, Inc., Langone has made the City Hall run of Rudy’s former right-hand man and protege, Joe Lhota, his newest political investment. In the frontrunner’s campaign finance disclosures, Langone and his wife, Elaine, donated a combined $9,900 to Lhota in the first part of the election cycle. He’s already been listed as one of Lhota’s main business world backers and, if Giuliani’s campaigns were indicative of anything, that position will soon be smothered in dollar signs, weaving a web between Wall Street, Washington, NYU and a man that could one day be your mayor.



Former Exec VP Joe Lhota Has Deep Ties to Madison Square Garden’s 30-Year Tax Break

In between his roles as Giuliani’s “Rat Czar” and the MTA’s chairman, mayoral candidate and Republican frontrunner Joe Lhota spent his days at 4 Pennsylvania Plaza. For five years, he was an executive vice president of Cablevision; then, in 2010, he was named the chief administrative officer at Madison Square Garden Co., the “mega-corporation” that runs the world’s most famous sports arena, as well as Radio City, the Beacon Theater, the Knicks and the Rangers. There, he was responsible for securing the best gift of all from Albany: a free tax ride for the corporation worth millions.

In 1982, at the end of Ed Koch’s first mayoral term, the Knicks and the Rangers, two teams who call MSG home, threatened to leave the city. The city’s fiscal insolvency of the ’70s was only just dissipating and the economic boom of the late ’80s had yet to take hold; as a result, the sports organizations, which bring millions of dollars in revenue to the city every year, felt threatened by the uncertain times and wanted an escape plan.

To retain them, Koch and the New York State Legislature granted the Corporation a tax abatement; by doing so, it would not have to pay any property taxes whatsoever. Thirty years later, this break has cost the city nearly $300 million; in the coming fiscal year, MSG Corp. will get away with not paying $16 million to the taxman.

But this is common procedure in New York. The Yankees, Mets and, now, the Brooklyn Nets have always been given profit incentives, courtesy of the taxpayer. As the New York Times reported, “Among them, the three teams are receiving more than $1.4 billion in subsidies over the next 40 years, including $230 million in property tax abatement.”

The only difference with MSG Corp.’s break is that it’s 20 years past due. Even Koch, in a 2008 interview, was confused as to why it’s lasted 31 years: “My original intent was for the abatement to last 10 years. It should have never stretched for an eternity.” By then, it was assumed the Knicks and Rangers would’ve stayed.

“The MSG tax break is really a distinct case,” Maria Doulis of the Citizens Budget Commission told me. “It was codified in state law in 1982 without any sunset or renewal provisions.The tax break is perpetual so long as the Rangers and Knicks play there, but it is conditional on the arena having a permit from the city.” Madison Square Garden’s permit was extended for another 15 years a few months ago.

Because of this, almost everyone in the New York City political sphere is against this weird intersection of archaic management and corporate welfare. Mayor Bloomberg has demanded that “they should pay taxes just like everyone else,” with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn arguing that MSG’s “time is out.” Both the mayor and the council have called for a 10-year sunset period so the Dolan family can eventually move out of 4 Pennsylvania Plaza, making way for an extremely and absolutely needed renovation of Penn Station–a terminal built for 200,000 commuters and now used by 650,000 every day.

In 2008, the City Council, in a 40-3 vote, passed a resolution calling for an end to the abatement. And, this month, Council Members Margaret Chin and Brad Lander have rallied in support of a bill upstate sponsored by David Weprin, the former Council Finance Committee chair who initiated the vote in 2008. But attempts in the past have failed due to one thing: they have to get Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s approval.

Now, this is where Joe Lhota comes in.

This little piece of property hasn't paid any property taxes since 1982.
This little piece of property hasn’t paid any property taxes since 1982.

“I am enthusiastic about joining the exceptional management team at MSG, and look forward to successfully executing the company’s strategic plan. MSG is one of the world’s leading sports, entertainment and media companies, and I look forward to helping ensure the company’s continued growth and success,” Lhota said on the day of his new job announcement.

In 2010, Lhota was put in charge of, among other things, government relations for the Corporation. That makes sense, given his public past: as deputy mayor under Giuliani, he was the city government’s liaison to Albany and Washington. With his refurbished role in the private sector, he would be taking his contacts from his time in the Giuliani administration and using them for MSG Corp.’s benefit; the most important of whom, in this case, was Silver.

“The position puts him in frequent contact with elected officials such as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Rangers fan who is often spotted at games,” Andrew Grossman of the WSJ reported back in 2010. And the Dolan family, the powerful clan who bought the Corporation in 1992, doesn’t have a more supportive friend in Albany than Silver.

His campaigns for the Assembly have received enormous donations from midtown corporate leaders and the money-politics connection is evident. Silver was an integral part of shutting down Bloomberg’s West Side stadium proposal–a plan that Cablevision and the Dolans both opposed. Silver’s former chief of staff, Patricia Lynch, played the role of lobbyist for Cablevision, advocating (and eventually succeeding in) a continuation of the exemption.

The ties continue to this day. When asked about Weprin’s pending legislation, Silver told the NYDN last month, “This was a commitment that was made to encourage development, and it would be troubling to remove it.” Translation: bye-bye, bill.

In contact with Silver, Lhota was the middleman between MSG Corp. and Albany; a future mayoral candidate responsible for ensuring his employer millions of dollars that could’ve been spent on anything from elementary schools to mental health clinics all over the city. It’s an example of a revolving door ripped right out of a political textbook: leave public life, ensure private profit.

And, now that he’s making an attempt to return to the former, he’s well-endowed. According to campaign finance papers, the Dolan family has donated upward of $10,000 to the Lhota campaign already, guaranteeing their interests will be met should Lhota go on to win in November.

If that’s the case, Koch’s “eternity” for the $300 million exemption will most certainly become a reality.

UPDATE: The Madison Square Corp. has issued the following statement to the Voice:

The Madison Square Garden Arena acts as a vital driver of the city’s economy, supporting thousands of jobs, and hosting 400 annual events that attract 4 million people to the heart of New York City each year. In addition, MSG is the only venue in the city that has used its own money, nearly $1 billion, to transform The Garden into a state-of-the-art facility for the 21st century to help ensure it attracts even more premiere events to New York. All other teams, including the Yankees, Nets and Mets, have received, and continue to receive, significant public subsidies, including property tax exemptions, that are estimated to total more than $2.3 billion.

The Voice has reached out to the Lhota campaign. We’re waiting to hear back.


The Teacher’s Candidate: The UFT Endorses Bill Thompson for Mayor

Made up of over 70,000 members, the United Federation of Teachers has demanded a voice in this upcoming mayoral election. President Michael Mulgrew told the Observer two weeks ago that he expected his union to sway the election; the reason why each Democratic candidate has gone above and beyond to court his attention. And, as of last night, it looks like one of the most powerful unions in city politics has made its decision: The UFT wants Bill Thompson as its mayor (Sorry, Anthony Weiner).

As seen above, the endorsement was announced on Twitter. The official vote came from the UFT’s 3,400-member delegate assembly after the executive board made the recommendation for Thompson.

Thompson is no stranger to the UFT. Before assuming the comptroller position, the mayoral candidate was a high school teacher and the head of the pre-mayoral-control Board of Education. However, in 2008, the UFT endorsed Democratic state Senator Kevin Parker, not Thompson, who went on to become the nominee.

Thompson’s platform includes a moratorium on school closure and additional DOE funding for school supplies. But he hasn’t made a move on the UFT’s largest concern–receiving over $3 billion in back wages from City Hall that Mulgrew believes is owed to his union from seven years without a contract.

Also, akin to John Liu’s DC37 endorsement, the UFT support for Thompson seems a bit strange when one takes a look at poll numbers: the two most prominent labor chapters have endorsed the two candidates least likely to win. Of course, it’s only June; things can and will change.

Then again, the UFT has endorsed losing candidates the past three mayoral elections. So maybe Mulgrew isn’t onto something.


Christine Quinn’s Prime Real Estate: Macro Sea / Brooklyn Naval Yards

As the days wind down to November 5–when New Yorkers will choose their first post-Bloomberg leader–the would-be mayors continue their mad dash for donors, seeking large contributions from New York’s most powerful elites. Spearheading that movement is City Council Speaker and Democratic frontrunner Christine Quinn; with the largest campaign treasure chest of any candidates thus far, she faces major criticism for her connections to the real estate industry. In this series, we’ll be spotlighting Quinn’s most prestigious bundlers in Big Development for the upcoming mayoral election.

Our third subject: Macro Sea, a developer that’s reinventing the Brooklyn Naval Yards, largely due in part to its preferred (and funded) mayoral aspiration.

“The Navy Yard is a testament to New York City’s resilience and creativity,” Quinn said last year at a press conference with Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She was there to announce the opening of the Green Manufacturing Plant in the once-desolate spot near downtown Brooklyn, where workers built battleships a century ago.

The Brooklyn Naval Yards Industrial Park perfectly summarizes its 21st-century goals in its slogan: “We used to launch ships; now, we launch companies.” Akin to Long Island City, the endless space is the one of the epicenters of manufacturing’s New York City renaissance; a cooperative space planned for the end of 2014 that will be home to hundreds, if not thousands, of start-ups seeking to weave together the old with the new. 3D printers, advanced body armor and environmental constructions are just a few innovations on the product list of the future.

The Yards are, without a doubt, an economic force to be reckoned with: a two-year study conducted by Pratt Institute projects that the space will be an “economic model” of sustainable jobs and investment for American cities soon enough.

Now, Macro Sea is one of the Naval Yards’ lead tenants. Strange, given the fact that a real estate developer holds the most prominent position at a New Tech haven, but not really, given the circumstances.

The company is led by David Belt and has developments in Philadelphia, Paris, Princeton, and plenty of other spots. In New York, Macro Sea’s main project is New Lab, which exists as an overseer of the incoming startups at the Yard. It is also led by Belt and has already moved in to Kings County: Beta Space, a prototype of what’s to come to the Yard, was launched by Macro Sea in May to get a feel for the new digs.

Belt’s hopes for New Lab are high: “New York City is supposed to be sort of a design hub,” Belt told the Times. “I was frustrated seeing so much time and effort pumped into software. I’m more interested in products and hardware.” In turn, he has essentially made Macro Sea the Naval Yards’ broker and New Labs its landlord.

In Quinn’s campaign finance papers, Belt has designated himself as “self-employed” for his intermediary role in raising money for the Speaker. His list of contributors, totaling some $38,000 for the campaign, runs as a roster of the NYC tech community and Belt’s former staff at a company called DBI Consultants, all of whom are confident that Christine Quinn will be Tech’s Favorite Mayor should she win in November.

The New Lab’s renovation costs over $60 million and lists Quinn as one of its central sponsors. That’s because the speaker has guaranteed the council provide $7.5 million of the $18 million Macro Sea is receiving from city, state, and federal sources to pay for the immense project. Through private investments, the Brooklyn Naval Yards Development Corporation is covering the rest. Oh, and add in the $3.5 million in capital funding from the city legislature as well.

Out of all of her rivals, Quinn is the most outspoken on the innovation front. In a speech she delivered at the end of May, she called for the city to be totally WiFi-connected by 2018, a new online 311 program called myCityHall, free tech classes for New Yorkers, more capital funding for startups, and the establishment of an Office of Innovation. She’s even called for a new CUNY campus at the Brooklyn Naval Yards, focused on churning out the newest class of advanced manufacturers.

As a result, Quinn has taken Bloomberg’s insistence on transforming New York into the next Silicon Valley to the next level. The idea of this ultra-modernity shift could provide a plethora of jobs in a city that desperately needs them. But millions of dollars of capital funding in exchange for donations and votes from the tech community is a whole different story.


The Mayoral Candidates Talked Tech in Queens Last Night and Didn’t Sound PC

“What type of cellphone do you have, what carrier is it and what’s your favorite app?” At 7:30pm, after media and tech folk scrambled into the Museum of the Moving Image off 35th Avenue in Astoria, the NYC Tech Forum began. Hosted by Coalition for Queens–a non-profit organization that promotes the tech community from Long Island City and elsewhere–Sal Albanese, John Liu, Adolfo Carrion Jr. and Anthony Weiner were subject to numerous questions about the realignment of New York City as the next Silicon Valley. Let’s just say the phrase “coaxial cable” was in abundance last night.

“Currently, over 900 tech companies in New York City are hiring right now,” Jukay Hsu, founder of Coalition for Queens, said as he introduced the candidates. “Growth is happening all over the place.”

Moderators Nilay Patel of the Verge and Anjali Altavaley of the Wall Street Journal then took the floor and reminded audience members that this was a forum, not a debate. Surprisingly enough, the candidates remained civil throughout (reminder: Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio were not in attendance).

In their opening remarks, the Democratic and third-party contenders mixed campaign message with some shred of innovation. Sal Albanese, who seemingly knew the least about the topic area, reiterated that he wasn’t a “career politician” and railed against special interests; the indie Carrion Jr. declared that tech was “as important as air and water;” Liu summarized his Comptroller office’s transparency measures; Weiner–whose greatest foe was ironically once technology–advocated for a strengthened middle class to broaden the industry’s base.

The media circus gathers outside the NYC Tech Forum.
The media circus gathers outside the NYC Tech Forum.

The media circus gathers outside the NYC Tech Forum.

When asked about Bloomberg’s emphasis on tech, the candidates did not hesitate to honor the Hizzoner and Speaker Quinn’s efforts (of which are the focus of a profile here today). But, looking forward, Carrion called 2013 a “pivotal time for the city’s future” and focused on the lack of transparency in the franchise agreements that dominate New York’s broadband and telephone access, labeling Time Warner and Comcast as “monolithic.” Liu agreed: “Monopolies have gotten away with too much and need to be held to a much higher level of accountability. They’re not upholding their side of the deal.”

Soon enough, the conversation of competition would become a main talking point of the night.

While Albanese, Carrion and Liu called to revisit the years-old agreements, Weiner went a different route, seeing the agreements as a source of power instead of a solution. “There needs to be a tangible giveback for access to the marketplace,” Weiner energetically said. “We need to write in the agreements, ‘You need to provide X amount of service.” For context, think Google and AT&T’s free WiFi in subway stations; both gifts to New Yorkers in exchange for business.

Then, the conversation shifted to what the tech community calls “disruptors,” which are companies that opposing the government bodies standing in the way of innovation. “I like the disruptor title,” Weiner quickly quipped. “I’d like to think I did it to the mayoral race.” His rivals didn’t blink at the joke.

For example, a disrupter can be seen in Uber’s lawsuit with the City or the litigation against Air BnB. All four candidates announced that the legal codes would be dug up and changed for the modern times; Albanese went as far to say that he’d establish a Deputy Mayor of Innovation who would act as the “thought leader” of bureaucratic tech.

Naturally, with the high price of office space in DUMBO and SoHo, the intersection between tech companies and real estate came to the forefront of the discussion. The candidates, sticking to their ideological lines, all advocated for more affordable housing and a reversal of Bloomberg’s rezoning over the past 12 years. Albanese, who met a few “hipsters” in Williamsburg the other day, argued that the zoning in start-up locales like North Brooklyn is not up to par with effectiveness.

Patel of the Verge asked a more specific question relating to his personal career: how can city government handle the leases of rapidly fast-growing start-ups who need to move constantly? Weiner, Albanese and Liu agreed that city government really can’t do anything to help. But Carrion Jr. was the only one to positively respond, saying that it was time to “dial back, bring the stakeholders together and find out what’s right for everyone.”

On the topic of education, the candidates hoped to concentrate more money in the STEM schools and make computer science its own separate entity in schools. Weiner was the only one skeptical about this; he had a problem with “anticipating what kind of person we want our schools” and opted to focus more on the foundations of the public school system.

Projects like CityTime–the scandal that revealed millions of taxpayers’ dollars spent on exorbitant corporate kickbacks–were raised as well. If tech is to rise in relevance, how do we ensure some level of accountability? As Comptroller, John Liu was obviously the first to argue that more governmental oversight was necessary. Moving beyond that, Weiner and him stressed the need to crowd-source and digitize all city information so New Yorkers can participate in budget talks rather than simply download data as PDFs.

Of course, in the end, it was Weiner, as per usual, who remained consistent with his constructive metaphors and general interest. “As Mayors, we need to see landing strips where businesses hover around the City looking to land… we need to diversify our economy; right now, we have white rice and we need pad thai.”

All in all, the candidates brought a surprising amount of knowledge to the table last night. Carrion Jr. might’ve said “techies” by accident but the proposals resonated with the attendees. And that’s wholly important, given the day and age we live in. Carrion Jr. was right: 2013 is a pivotal moment for tech here in New York. So the more these candidates seem to know, the more economically suited the city will be in the coming years.

Oh, and if you were still wondering: Albanese (Blackberry Bold, Verizon, MLB app), Carrion Jr. (iPhone, AT&T, Pandora), Liu (iPhone, AT&T, favorite app N/A) and Weiner (“Two camelbacks strapped to my leg, or what’s known as a Blackberry,” AT&T, favorite app N/A).