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Rudy’s Ties to a Terror Sheikh

Three weeks after 9/11, when the roar of fighter jets still haunted the city’s skyline, the emir of gas-rich Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifah al-Thani, toured Ground Zero. Although a member of the emir’s own royal family had harbored the man who would later be identified as the mastermind of the attack—a man named Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, often referred to in intelligence circles by his initials, KSM—al-Thani rushed to New York in its aftermath, offering to make a $3 million donation, principally to the families of its victims. Rudy Giuliani, apparently unaware of what the FBI and CIA had long known about Qatari links to Al Qaeda, appeared on CNN with al-Thani that night and vouched for the emir when Larry King asked the mayor: “You are a friend of his, are you not?”

“We had a very good meeting yesterday. Very good,” said Giuliani, adding that he was “very, very grateful” for al-Thani’s generosity. It was no cinch, of course, that Giuliani would take the money: A week later, he famously rejected a $10 million donation from a Saudi prince who advised America that it should “adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause.” (Giuliani continues to congratulate himself for that snub on the campaign trail.) Al-Thani waited a month before expressing essentially the same feelings when he returned to New York for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly and stressed how important it was to “distinguish” between the “phenomenon” of 9/11 and “the legitimate struggles” of the Palestinians “to get rid of the yoke of illegitimate occupation and subjugation.” Al-Thani then accused Israel of “state terrorism” against the Palestinians.

But there was another reason to think twice about accepting al-Thani’s generosity that Giuliani had to have been aware of, even as he heaped praise on the emir. Al Jazeera, the Arabic news network based in Qatar (pronounced “Cutter”), had been all but created by al-Thani, who was its largest shareholder. The Bush administration was so upset with the coverage of Osama bin Laden’s pronouncements and the U.S. threats to bomb Afghanistan that Secretary of State Colin Powell met the emir just hours before Giuliani’s on-air endorsement and asked him to tone down the state-subsidized channel’s Islamist footage and rhetoric. The six-foot-eight, 350-pound al-Thani, who was pumping about $30 million a year into Al Jazeera at the time, refused Powell’s request, citing the need for “a free and credible media.” The administration’s burgeoning distaste for what it would later brand “Terror TV” was already so palpable that King — hardly a newsman — asked the emir if he would help “spread the word” that the U.S. was “not targeting the average Afghan citizen.” Al-Thani ignored the question — right before Giuliani rushed in to praise him again.

In retrospect, Giuliani’s embrace of the emir appears peculiar. But it was only a sign of bigger things to come: the launching of a cozy business relationship with terrorist-tolerant Qatar that is inconsistent with the core message of Giuliani’s current presidential campaign, namely that his experience and toughness uniquely equip him to protect America from what he tauntingly calls “Islamic terrorists” — an enemy that he always portrays himself as ready to confront, and the Democrats as ready to accommodate.

The contradictory and stunning reality is that Giuliani Partners, the consulting company that has made Giuliani rich, feasts at the Qatar trough, doing business with the ministry run by the very member of the royal family identified in news and government reports as having concealed KSM—the terrorist mastermind who wired funds from Qatar to his nephew Ramzi Yousef prior to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and who also sold the idea of a plane attack on the towers to Osama bin Laden—on his Qatar farm in the mid-1990s.

This royal family member is Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, Qatar’s minister of Islamic affairs at the time, who was later installed at the interior ministry in January 2001 and reappointed by the emir during a government shake-up earlier this year. Abdallah al-Thani is also said to have welcomed Osama bin Laden on two visits to the farm, a charge repeated as recently as October 10, 2007, in a Congressional Research Service study. Abdallah al-Thani’s interior ministry or the state-owned company it helps oversee, Qatar Petroleum, has worked with Giuliani Security & Safety LLC, a subsidiary of Giuliani Partners, on an undisclosed number of contracts, the value of which neither the government nor the company will release. But there’s little question that a security agreement with Qatar’s government, or with Qatar Petroleum, would put a company like Giuliani’s in direct contact with the ministry run by Abdallah al-Thani: The website of Qatar’s government, and the interior ministry’s press office, as well as numerous press stories, all confirm that the ministry controls a 2,500-member police force, the General Administration of Public Security, and the Mubahathat, or secret police. The ministry’s charge under law is to “create and institute security in this country.” Hassan Sidibe, a public-relations officer for the ministry, says that “a company that does security work, they have to get permission from the interior ministry.”

What’s most shocking is that Abdallah al-Thani has been widely accused of helping to spirit KSM out of Qatar in 1996, just as the FBI was closing in on him. Robert Baer, a former CIA supervisor in the region, contends in a 2003 memoir that the emir himself actually sanctioned tipping KSM. The staff of the 9/11 Commission, meanwhile, noted that the FBI and CIA “were reluctant to seek help from the Qatari government” in the arrest of KSM, “fearing that he might be tipped off.” When Qatar’s emir was finally “asked for his help” in January 1996, Qatari authorities “first reported that KSM was under surveillance,” then “asked for an alternative plan that would conceal their aid to Americans,” and finally “reported that KSM had disappeared.”


Giuliani’s lifelong friend Louis Freeh, the FBI head who talked to Giuliani periodically about terrorist threats during Giuliani’s mayoral years and has endorsed him for president, was so outraged that he wrote a formal letter to Qatar’s foreign minister complaining that he’d received “disturbing information” that KSM “has again escaped the surveillance of your Security Services and that he appears to be aware of FBI interest in him.”

Abdallah al-Thani remains a named defendant in the 9/11 lawsuits that are still proceeding in Manhattan federal court, but his Washington lawyers declined to address the charges that he shielded KSM, insisting only that he never “supported” any “terrorist acts.” Asked if Abdallah al-Thani ever supported any terrorists rather than their acts, his lawyer David Nachman declined to comment further. The Congressional Research Service report summarized the evidence against him: “According to the 9/11 Commission Report and former U.S. government officials, royal family member and current Qatari Interior Minister, Sheikh Abdullah (Abdallah) bin Khalid Al Thani, provided safe harbor and assistance to Al Qaeda leaders during the 1990s,” including KSM. While numerous accounts have named Abdallah as the KSM tipster, the report simply says that “a high ranking member of the Qatari government” is believed to have “alerted” KSM “to the impending raid.”

Freeh’s letter in 1996 highlighted the consequences of this government-orchestrated escape with a prophetic declaration, saying that the “failure to apprehend KSM would allow him and other associates to continue to conduct terrorist operations.” Indeed, had KSM, who was even then focused on the use of hijacked planes as weapons, been captured in 1996, 9/11 might well have never happened.

In other words, as incredible as it might seem, Rudy Giuliani—whose presidential candidacy is steeped in 9/11 iconography—has been doing business with a government agency run by the very man who made the attacks on 9/11 possible.


This startling revelation is not a sudden disclosure from new sources. It has, in fact, been staring us in the face for many months.

The Wall Street Journal reported on November 7 that one Giuliani Partners client the former mayor hadn’t previously disclosed was, in fact, the government of Qatar. Quoting the recently retired Bush envoy to Qatar, Chase Untermeyer, the Journal reported that state-run Qatar Petroleum had signed a contract with Giuliani Security “around 2005” and that the firm (of which Giuliani has a 30 percent equity stake) is offering security advice to a giant natural-gas processing facility called Ras Laffan. While the interior ministry wouldn’t confirm individual contracts, it did tell the Voice that Qatar Petroleum and security “purchasing” are part of its portfolio.

(The Journal story was followed by a similar piece in the Chicago Tribune last week, which revealed that Giuliani’s firm has also represented a complex casino partnership seeking to build a $3.5 billion Singapore resort. The partnership included “the family of a controversial Hong Kong billionaire who has ties to the regime of North Korea’s Kim Jong II and has been linked to international organized crime by the U.S. government.”)

The Journal story, however, didn’t go into detail about the unsavory connections that Giuliani had made in the Middle East. The Journal wrote that it learned about the Qatar contract after reading a speech that Untermeyer gave in 2006, when he said that Giuliani’s firm had “important contracts” in Qatar. In fact, Untermeyer—who returned to Texas when he stepped down as ambassador to join a real-estate firm partnered with the National Bank of Qatar—told the Houston Forum that Giuliani’s “security company” has “several” contracts in Qatar, and that Giuliani himself “comes to Doha [Qatar’s capital] twice a year.” Untermeyer’s wife Diana spoke at the same event about their daughter Elly, who she said “makes friends with all she meets—other kids, generals, sheikhs, and even our famous American visitors like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whom she deems ‘cool.’ ”

While it is true that Giuliani hasn’t disclosed the particulars of his Qatar business, he and others at the firm have been bragging about it for years, presumably on the assumption that mentioning good-paying clients is the best way to generate more of the same. Giuliani told South Africa’s Business Times in June 2006, for example, that he’d “recently helped Qatar” to transform Doha in preparation for the Asian Games, an Olympics- sanctioned, 45-country competition that occurred last December. He was in Johannesburg in part to offer to do the same before South Africa hosts the 2010 World Cup. “They had the same concerns as you,” he said at the Global Leaders Africa summit, “and I helped them pull things together. You can see not only how they pulled together physical things that were necessary, such as stadiums, but how they used the plan to improve their security.”

Richard Bradshaw, a consulting-services manager for an Australian security firm that played a two-and-a-half-year role in planning the Asian Games, says that “the ministry of the interior is essentially the chief ministry in charge of internal security”—for the games and other matters. Bradshaw says that he “heard the name of Giuliani Partners quoted in this town,” but that he knew nothing directly about their Asian Games involvement, adding that “maybe they just dealt with high levels in the government.” But Hassan Sidibe, the interior ministry’s press officer, says that a special organizing committee handled contracts for the Asian Games and that “the minister of interior was part of that committee.”


In addition to specific references to the natural-gas and Asian Games deals, Giuliani Partners has hinted at broader ties to Qatar. A New York Post story in January that was filled with quotes about Giuliani Partners’ clients from Michael Hess, a managing partner at the firm, reported that Giuliani himself “has given advice from Qatar to Spain.” Another Post story in May reported that Giuliani had made lucrative speeches in 30 countries—which he does in addition to his Giuliani Partners business—and named Qatar as one of those locations. A New York Times story in January, also laced with Hess quotes, reported that Pasquale J. D’Amuro, the ex-FBI chief who replaced Bernard Kerik as the head of Giuliani’s security division, “has traveled to meet with executives in Japan, Qatar, and other nations, often focusing on clients who seek the firm out for advice on how to protect against a terrorist attack.” Any of these dealings in Qatar that involved security would necessarily connect the firm with the interior ministry run by Abdallah al-Thani.

Peter Boyer, whose New Yorker profile of Giuliani appeared this August, quoted D’Amuro and Giuliani about the expertise and work of Ali Soufan, an Arabic-speaking Lebanese-American who also left the FBI to become the international director of Giuliani Security. Both D’Amuro and Giuliani said that Soufan, the lead investigator in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, had been spending “most of his time” in a Persian Gulf country that is a Giuliani client. Boyer didn’t identify the country, but another source familiar with Soufan’s assignment has confirmed that Soufan has, until recently, been based in Qatar. “The firm has helped the country with training, and with a revamping of its security infrastructure,” Boyer wrote. “The locale is an ideal listening post for someone whose expertise is unraveling the tangle of international terror.” Soufan was the firm’s point man with the royal family, according to another former FBI operative, even providing security advice for Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, the emir’s favorite of his three wives.

Gulf States Newsletter, a respected news publication in the region, used similar language this October to describe the firm’s business in Qatar. Closing a lengthy piece of boosterism that assessed who was getting security contracts in Qatar, the newsletter cited a sole example “in the field of high-end consultancy,” namely what it called “well-partnered players like Giuliani Associates.” It said the firm had, “through a combination of luck and good positioning, become trusted partners” of the Qatari government. The “key lesson for any security sector incomer,” concluded the newsletter, is that “in Qatar it is necessary but not sufficient to be technically competent. As ever, it may be who you know, not what you know, that wins the day.”

Despite this ample supply of evidence, Sunny Mindel, the firm’s spokeswoman, denied in a November 11 Post story that Giuliani Partners “had any ties to Qatar Petroleum.” Mindel may have meant that the company’s business in Qatar had come to an end, parsing her verbs carefully, or she may have been denying that the contract came directly from the petroleum entity, suggesting that the government itself paid for this security advice. Mindel’s elusive answers are consistent with other efforts by the company to conceal the Qatar deals, even as Giuliani and others have occasionally talked openly about them. These efforts suggest that Giuliani is aware the association could prove disquieting, even without the embarrassing connection to the notorious KSM.

The best example of how Giuliani’s Qatar ties could prove disastrous for his presidential candidacy occurred a year ago, at the opening of the Asian Games on December 1, 2006, eleven days after Giuliani registered his presidential exploratory committee. Ben Smith, then of the Daily News and now with Politico.com, obtained a detailed internal memo from the Giuliani campaign in January, and it contained a travel schedule. Smith wrote that “Giuliani spent the first weekend in December in Doha, Qatar, at the Qatari-government sponsored Asian Games, on which he had reportedly worked as a consultant.” Giuliani’s calendar indicates that he arrived in Qatar on December 2 and left on December 3, heading to Las Vegas to address the state’s GOP. The Qatari government spent $2.8 billion to host the games, building a massive sports complex with security very much in mind. “We have 8,000 well-trained security members and the latest technology that were used in the Olympics,” said a security spokesman.

On December 1, the day before Giuliani arrived, the emir’s special guests at the lavish opening, attended by 55,000, were Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and Syrian president Bashar Assad, all of whom are Qatar allies and were pictured sitting together on television. Giuliani’s presence that weekend wasn’t noted in news coverage at the time, even though his firm had apparently provided security advice for an event that included Ahmadinejad, whose country Giuliani has since promised to “set back five years” should it pursue its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad was later assailed by opponents in his own country for watching a female song-and-dance show that was part of the opening extravaganza. The presence of Hamas’s Haniyeh, who attended private meetings with the emir while Giuliani was in Qatar, might also have been embarrassing to Giuliani, since Qatar agreed to pay $22.5 million a month to cover the salaries of 40,000 Palestinian teachers, as well as to create a bank in the territories with a $50 million initial deposit. This break in the boycott against Hamas orchestrated by the U.S. and Israel prompted a stern rebuke from the State Department on December 5.


While Qatar’s emir has allowed the U.S. to locate its central command and other strategic facilities in the country, including the largest pre-positioning base in the region, his government was also the only member of the U.N. Security Council to oppose the July 2006 resolution that called on Iran to suspend all nuclear research and development activities. Indeed, Iran and Qatar share the North Field/South Pars natural-gas deposit off the Qatari coast, the very one that includes the Giuliani-advised Ras Laffan project. Similarly, the emir praised the Hezbollah resistance in Lebanon during the 2006 war with Israel, calling it “the first Arab victory, something we had longed for,” and he visited southern Lebanon after the war, meeting with families and giving away $250 million to rebuild destroyed homes. While Qatar had allowed Israel to open a small trade mission in Doha amid much fanfare in the mid-’90s, it had virtually shut down the office by 2000, and the last of the Israeli envoys left in 2003.

Also, Saddam Hussein’s wife, Sajida Khayrallah Tilfa, lives in Qatar, in defiance of an Interpol arrest warrant and her appearance on the Iraqi government’s 2006 most-wanted list for allegedly providing financial support to Iraqi insurgents, according to an October 2007 report by the Congressional Research Service. Invited with her daughter to Qatar by the deputy prime minister, she has not returned to Iraq despite an extradition demand issued months before Giuliani’s December visit.

Another potentially uncomfortable Giuliani visit to Doha also stayed under the radar. On January 16, 2006, Giuliani visited the Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence and the Aspire Zone, the largest sports dome in the world, built for the Asian Games as well as future international events (including the Olympic Games, which Qatar hopes to host someday). Giuliani praised the academy, which he called “a fantastic achievement,” adding that he was “looking forward to seeing it develop in the coming years.” Aspire’s communications director says that Giuliani “spent more than an hour and a half” touring its facilities, adding that the former mayor “spoke very eloquently.” But even putting his stamp of approval on such apparently benign facilities could come back to bite Giuliani: The academy, a $1.3 billion facility designed to move Qatar into the top ranks of international soccer, has been denounced in unusually blunt terms by Sepp Blatter, the head of world football’s governing body, FIFA. Blatter called Qatar’s “establishment of recruitment networks”—using 6,000 staff members to assess a half-million young footballers in seven African countries and then moving the best to Qatar—”a good example of exploitation.”

The Aspire facilities were part of the Asian Games security preparations that Giuliani told the Business Times his firm had participated in planning, since the dome allowed 10 sports to be staged simultaneously under one roof. But even the notice of Giuliani’s January appearance, which was posted on the website of an English newspaper there, made no mention of his consulting work for the government. The ex-FBI source says that Giuliani’s secretive security work in Qatar—which also includes vulnerability assessments on port facilities in Doha and pipeline security—would necessarily have involved the interior ministry.


A case officer in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations for nearly 19 years, Robert Baer—who calls Qatar “the center of intrigue in the Gulf”—laid out the KSM escape story in his 2003 book,
Sleeping with the Devil. His source was Hamad bin Jasim bin Hamad al-Thani, a close relative of the emir who was once the finance minister and chief of police. (An exile living in Beirut in 1997 when Baer began a relationship with him, Hamad al-Thani has since been captured by Qatar and is serving a life sentence for attempting to overthrow the emir.) Hamad told Baer that Abdallah al-Thani, whom he described as “a fanatic Wahhabi,” had taken KSM “under his wing” and that the emir had ordered Hamad to help Abdallah. He gave 20 blank Qatari passports to Abdallah, who he said gave them to KSM. “As soon as the FBI showed up in Doha” in 1996, the emir, according to Hamad, ordered Abdallah to move KSM out of his apartment to his beach estate, and eventually out of the country. “Flew the coop. Sayonara,” Hamad concluded.

Baer’s account of how KSM got away is the most far-reaching, implicating the emir himself. Since KSM “moved his family to Qatar at the suggestion” of Abdallah al-Thani, according to the 9/11 Commission, and held a job at the Ministry of Electricity and Water, Baer’s account is hardly implausible. The commission even found that Abdallah ah-Thani “underwrote a 1995 trip KSM took to join the Bosnia jihad.” Bill Gertz, the Washington Times reporter whose ties to the Bush White House are well established, affirmed Baer’s version in his 2002 book, Breakdown. Another CIA agent, Melissa Boyle Mahle, who was assigned to the KSM probe in Qatar in 1995, said that she tried to convince the FBI to do a snatch operation rather than taking the diplomatic approach, concerned about “certain Qatari officials known for their sympathies for Islamic extremists.” Instead, “Muhammad disappeared immediately after the request to the government was made,” making it “obvious to me what had happened.” Louis Freeh’s book says simply: “We believe he was tipped off; but however he got away, it was a slipup with tragic consequences.” Neither Mahle nor Freeh named names.


Counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke so mistrusted the Qataris that he plotted an extraordinary rendition, but the FBI, CIA, and Defense Department said they couldn’t pull it off. Then he asked the ambassador to “obtain the Emir’s approval for a snatch, without the word getting to anyone else.” Despite assurances that “only a few senior officials knew about our plan, KSM learned of it and fled the country ahead of the FBI’s arrest team’s arrival,” Clarke concluded in his book, Against All Enemies. “We were of course outraged at Qatari security and assumed the leak came from within the palace.” Clarke noted that “one report” indicated that KSM had evaporated on a passport supplied by Abdallah al-Thani’s Islamic-affairs ministry. When Clarke was told by the Los Angeles Times in 2003 that Abdallah had been elevated to interior minister, he said: “I’m shocked to hear that. You’re telling me that al-Thani is in charge of security inside Qatar. I hope that’s not true.” Having just left the Bush administration, Clarke added that Abdallah “had great sympathy for bin Laden, great sympathy for terrorist groups, [and] was using his personal money and ministry money to transfer to al Qaeda front groups that were allegedly charities.” The Los Angeles Times quoted “several U.S. officials involved in the hunt” for KSM who fingered Abdallah as “the one who learned of the imminent FBI dragnet and tipped off Muhammad.”

Even earlier than the Los Angeles Times report, ABC News’ Brian Ross reported that Abdallah had warned KSM, citing American intelligence officials, and added that KSM had left Qatar “with a passport provided by that country’s government.” Ross didn’t limit his broadside to Abdallah, saying that “there were others in the Qatari royal family who were sympathetic and provided safe havens for Al Qaeda.” A New York Times story in 2003 said that Abdallah “harbored as many as 100 Arab extremists on his farm.” The story also quoted Freeh as saying that KSM had “over 20 false passports at his disposal” and cited American officials who suspected Abdallah of tipping him off. However, the Times story also quoted a Qatari official who claimed that Abdallah “always provided support for Islamic extremists with the knowledge and acceptance of Qatar’s emir.”

Indeed, the Times reported in another 2003 story that after 9/11, KSM was said by Saudi intelligence officials to have “spent two weeks hiding in Qatar, with the help of prominent patrons.” Abdul Karim al-Thani, a royal family member who did not hold a government post, was also accused in the story of operating a safe house for Abu Massab al-Zarqawi, who later became the face of the early Iraqi insurgency but was depicted then as an Al Qaeda operative moving from Baghdad to Afghanistan. Abdul al-Thani, according to a senior coalition official, provided Qatari passports and a million-dollar bank account to finance the network.

Other connections between Qatar and terrorism have been reported in the press. Newsweek identified an Iraqi living in Doha and working at Abdallah’s Islamic-affairs ministry as being detained by Qatar police because of the ties he had to 9/11 hijackers—yet he was released even though phone records linked him as well to the 1993 bombers and the so-called “Bojinka” plot hatched in Manila to blow up civilian airlines. A Chechen terrorist financier harbored in Qatar was assassinated there by a Russian hit squad in 2004. Yousef Qardawi, a cleric with a talk show on Al Jazeera and ties to the emir, issued a fatwa against Americans the same year. An engineer at Qatar Petroleum carried out a suicide bomb attack at a theater popular with Westerners in early 2005, killing one and wounding 12.

Finally, the long-smoldering question of whether Osama bin Laden played a role in the 1996 bombing of the American barracks at Khobar Towers—funneling 20 tons of C-4 explosives into Saudi Arabia through Qatar—resurfaced in a story based intelligence reports and endorsed by none other than Dick Cheney. In 2003, Steven Hayes of The Weekly Standard wrote a celebrated story based on a 16-page Defense Department intelligence assessment. The thrust of the story was to advance the administration’s thesis about Al Qaeda’s ties to Iraq, but Hayes also found that in a January 1996 visit to Qatar, Osama bin Laden “discussed the successful movement of explosives into Saudi Arabia, and operations targeted against U.S. interests” in Khobar and two other locations, “using clandestine al Qaeda cells in Saudi Arabia.” The 2007 CRS study says that it is “unclear” if those conversations were “related to the preparations for the June 1996 attack” that killed 19 servicemen, but that the “Qatari individual” who reportedly hosted bin Laden for these discussions was none other than Abdallah al-Thani. Bill Gertz and others have been writing for years that the path to the carnage at Khobar led through Doha.

The Khobar attack closely followed an unsuccessful coup attempt against the emir on February 20, 1996, which Qatar officials, in later criminal prosecutions, formally accused Saudi Arabia of fomenting. Analysts in the region have suggested that any use of Qatar as a launching pad for the Khobar attack so soon after the coup attempt was likely to have been approved at the highest levels of the government. In October 1996, within months of both the KSM escape and the Khobar bombing, Abdallah al-Thani got his first major promotion, elevated by the emir to Minister of State for Interior Affairs, a cabinet position.

All of this evidence of Qatar’s role as a facilitator of terrorism—reaching even to the emir himself—was reported well before Giuliani Partners began its business there “around 2005.” Yet even the New York Times story, filled with quotes from Giuliani’s friend Freeh, didn’t deter him. Nor did the firm’s retention of D’Amuro and Soufan, two ex-FBI counterterrorism experts who certainly knew the terror landscape of Qatar.

Soufan, in fact, was the primary investigator who assembled the case against the terrorists who bombed American embassies in Africa in 1998. And the testimony in that 2001 trial established that the Qatar Charitable Society, a nongovernmental agency that is said to “draw much of its funding from official sources,” helped finance the attack. Daniel Pipes, a foreign-policy adviser to the Giuliani campaign, has branded the Qatar Charitable Society “one of bin Laden’s de facto banks.” Reached at home and asked about his work in Qatar, Soufan declined to comment.

Even the revelations about Khobar Towers didn’t slow Giuliani down, though he’s subsequently made the bombing a central feature in his stump-speech litany of the Clinton administration’s failings. Giuliani also ignored an official State Department report on terrorism for 2003—released in mid-2004, just before his firm began doing business in Qatar—which said that the country’s security services “monitored extremists passively,” and that “members of transnational terrorist groups and state sponsors of terror are present in Qatar.” The report added that Qatar’s government “remains cautious about taking any action that would cause embarrassment or public scrutiny” when nationals from the Gulf countries were involved. (Later reports issued by the new secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, moderated the department’s Qatar assessment.) Also in 2004, Michael Knights, an analyst at the Washington Institute who works with the Defense Department, wrote that a “Wahhabi clique” tied to extremists “is still in charge [in Qatar], and seeded the security establishment with personnel of their choosing.” But even this strong, specific warning didn’t deter Giuliani Partners’ interest in Qatar.

Presumably, Giuliani’s rationale for doing business there was that Qatar had become an American ally, hosting up to 40,000 troops. The CRS report put the complexity of the relationship well, noting that American concerns about Qatari support for terrorists “have been balanced over time by Qatar’s counterterrorism efforts and its broader, long-term commitment to host and support U.S. military forces.” In a footnote, the CRS report adds that the emir may finally be downplaying Abdallah al-Thani’s influence, even as he reappointed him this year. The U.S. government may have to be satisfied with that suggestion of progress; it does not have limitless military options in the Middle East. (The emir, for his part, once reportedly explained his willingness to host U.S. forces by saying: “The only way we can be sure the Americans will answer our 911 call is if we have the police at our own house.”)

Giuliani Partners, however, has a world of choices, quite literally. Some American companies who do business in Qatar, like Shell and ExxonMobil, have to chase the gas and oil wherever they are. But a consulting company with instant name recognition like Giuliani’s—and which claims to carefully vet its clients—can be both profitable and selective. Moreover, it’s the only American company known to be providing security advice to Qatar; the rest hail from Singapore, Australia, and France. A company headed by a man who has known that he would make this presidential run for years—and with 9/11 as its rationale—could have chosen to make his millions elsewhere. Especially a candidate who divides the world into good guys and bad guys, claims that this war is a “divine” mission, and shuns complexity. For that kind of a candidate, Qatar may become one Giuliani contradiction too many.

 

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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.

And:

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. ■

 

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ONE MORE CHANCE

The Tunnel was many things to many people: for house heads, a place to dance to DJs like Junior Vasquez and Danny Tenaglia; for young scenesters like Michael Alig and RuPaul, a place to see and be seen; for Rudy Giuliani, a nuisance in the way of Chelsea gentrification; and for New York City hip-hop fans, a place to get wild to the latest Jay-Z and B.I.G. records, as played by DJs like Cipha Sounds, Big Kap, and Funkmaster Flex. Tonight, that last group of clubgoers gets their day, as Flex and crew — joined by Canarsie’s DJ Riz, one of the quickest mixers in the city — come to B.B. King’s for a late-night reunion.

Fri., Jan. 31, 11:59 p.m., 2014

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OLD NEW YORK

When Mayor Rudy Giuliani took office in 1994, artist Lucien Smith was just five years old. In his latest exhibition, “A Clean Sweep,” the now 24-year-old multimedia innovator and Cooper Union graduate goes in search of remnants of the gritty New York that were lost during the gentrification of the Giuliani era. The show is broken up into three parts: a group of free-standing brooms collected from New York City streets to symbolize the cleanup effort; 43 Polaroids of the city; and a short film narrated by writer Glenn O’Brien that will make you feel like you still live in the best city in the world.

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. Starts: May 14. Continues through June 22, 2013

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The Rat Czar Plots His Ascent

It was an ugly meeting last week when the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board voted to raise transit fares. Members of the public were furious; even the MTA board members who voted for the hike called it “a sad day,” pointing out that, once again, poor New Yorkers were going to feel it most acutely.

But the board’s chairman, Joseph Lhota, didn’t want to let the meeting end on a down note. As soon as the increase was approved, Lhota moved on to sunnier news: After less than a year at the helm of his generally foundering ship, he was stepping down to explore running as a Republican to become mayor of New York City.

It takes some balls to walk away from an agency teetering on the edge of structural collapse, mere minutes after sticking straphangers with yet another bill, and then tell the press that your departure to pursue your own political advancement is “bittersweet.” But no one has ever accused Lhota of lacking balls.

Politically, Lhota is a creature of Rudy Giuliani, a man he has called “the most energetic and intelligent person I’ve ever had the chance to work for.” Lhota’s wife, Tamra, raised thousands of dollars for Giuliani’s mayoral campaigns, and a few months after Rudy was elected, he brought Joe on board. Lhota quickly ascended from being a deputy mayor’s chief of staff to finance commissioner, budget director, and deputy mayor.

Those titles all paled in comparison to “Rat Czar,” the vivid honorific Lhota assumed as the administration’s expert on pest-control issues. As Rat Czar, he tabulated the city’s rat complaints and extermination missions and urged residents to put lids on their trash cans.

But Lhota was even more useful to Giuliani as the Imperial Mayor’s top attack dog, taking to the role with gusto—and an overweening vocabulary. When the New York Public Interest Research Group’s Gene Russianoff knocked Giuliani’s charter revision commission in the mayor’s first term, Lhota told him to “apprehend your hubris and rethink your definition of democracy.”

In 1998, Lhota was busted for calling Wall Street firms to talk them out of attending a fundraising dinner for the Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group critical of Giuliani. In 2000, a New York Times reporter wrote about Lhota giving her the finger.

Even after Giuliani left office, Lhota ran interference for him. When it was revealed that Giuliani was using a taxpayer-funded police detail for security during his trysts with his mistress, Lhota said the creative accounting that hid the expense was commonplace and predated Giuliani. Confronted with the reality that the sneaky bookkeeping was, in fact, a Giuliani innovation, Lhota folded immediately, telling the press, “I’m going to reverse myself on that.”

This past February, Lhota had to apologize after picking a fight with State Senator Bill Perkins over his old pet topic, rat control. He had told The New York Times that “as a legislator, he does nothing but talk and talk and talk, and he does nothing.” By the next day, he was eating his words: “Bill is an excellent legislator,” he wrote. “I share his commitment to addressing the problem of rat proliferation in New York City.”

In September, when MTA board member Charles Moerdler pushed back on Lhota’s drive to reduce the number of times the transit board meets, Lhota exploded, challenging Moerdler to “be a man,” accusing him of “blubbering,” and daring him to step outside.

Last month, Lhota had to apologize again, for telling the press that Mayor Bloomberg was behaving “like an idiot” in offering projections of when storm-damaged transit service would come back on line.

As a mayoral candidate, Lhota’s got some ground to cover. A November Quinnipiac Poll found him pulling 9 percent versus a generic Democrat’s 60 percent.

But if New Yorkers aren’t ready for a return to Giuliani time, team Giuliani certainly is. Unnamed sources have already told the New York Post that “Giuliani’s circle believes it can raise $10 million for him to run.” After Rudy’s catastrophic presidential bid and general evaporation from the national stage, you can almost hear him and his crew dunning the Czar for sinecures and comfy consultancies. Maybe there will even be room for Rudy’s former right hand, Bernie Kerik, once he’s released from federal prison.

Of course, the “business community” is just as eager for a Lhota administration. Never slow with a dog whistle, they are already hailing the candidacy of a Rudy lieutenant as an opportunity for the city to consider what New York was like before America’s Mayor made it “vibrant and safe and livable.”

A Lhota campaign will at least make the mayoral race more interesting. As a former investment banker and the Giuliani standard-bearer, Lhota could give Bloomberg’s anointed successor, Christine Quinn, a run for her money with Wall Street. For that matter, the Bronx- and Queens-raised son of a cop and his wife could be a more comfortable choice for outer-borough blue-collar voters than Quinn and hers.

Even if Lhota’s candidacy is shorter than a rat’s gestation period (“21 days,” he once informed a reporter), the members of the press are glad he’s rolling the dice. However you describe him—frank, spirited, belligerent, bullying—he’s a damn sight more colorful than the gray-faced hopefuls in the race so far. Let the bird-flipping begin.

npinto@villagevoice.com

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Osama bin Laden’s Death Doesn’t Solve Everything. But It Helps.

I remember a day with few clouds, a brilliant sun.

I used to live in an apartment that overlooked the Hudson river. I was holding a cup of coffee looking out the window. Just then, a passenger jet flew by. I said to myself, “That plane is low.” But I didn’t register the significance of that right away.

Back then, I was riding my rickety Miyata bicycle to work in Brooklyn federal court. I thought nothing of that low plane, until I turned to 14th Street and saw the towers on fire. For some reason, I thought it was something like an accident. Americans didn’t believe anyone would attack us, even after 1993. But both towers? Impossible.

I pedaled down toward Chambers and West streets. I remember the river of people, cast in ashes, walking up the bike path next to the West Side Highway, ashen, dust-choked, terrified.

I remember a police officer firing his weapon in the air to move a recalcitrant motorist. “Move your fucking car!” he screamed. At that moment, the first tower gave a vast, sickly rumble and fell. A police officer yelled, “Go, go, go,” and everyone ran, me included.

I circled back to Chambers and West, and then the second tower fell, and this time I slipped past the police cordon and made my way toward the damage.

I remember a colleague dressed in purple and white emerging from the smoke and waving. Behind him, debris from the towers had ripped the face off 7 World Trade Center.

I remember encountering a firefighter confused and injured and alone, dazed and covered in dust, talking to himself.

I remember other firefighters stretching a hose from the river toward the fires.

I remember a grief-stricken firefighter wielding an iron bar like a club against a circle of foreign photographers. “Get the fuck out of here,” he screamed.

I remember Pete Hayden, one of the few senior Fire Department officials to survive the collapses, climbing on a rig and addressing several dozen firefighters. “OK, let’s see who we have left,” he said. I remember a firefighter reciting a list of the companies that were gone.

I remember a pile of roasted cash lying on Liberty Street that nobody would touch.

I remember three paramedics sitting on the sidewalk in exhaustion. No, they didn’t feel like talking.

I remember a firefighter talking on the last working pay phone behind the World Financial Center, trying to tell his son what had happened.

I remember seven bodies brought initially from the wreckage. They had been covered in blood-soaked sheets. Adults so crushed they had become child-sized, they were left on the sidewalk under a pedestrian bridge at the World Financial Center, while a temporary morgue was set up a few blocks away.

I remember sharing a set of headphones with someone and listening to President Bush’s speech that night, words that began the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

I remember leaving to go home sometime after 2 a.m., as a column of grim-faced firefighters arrived to relieve their brethren.

I remember asking a fellow reporter how I looked, and he just laughed and said, “Forget about it.”

I remember reaching my apartment and embracing my wife. She was so happy I was alive. It was only then, when I saw the videos of the planes striking the tower, that I felt that sense of shock all over again. It took at least an hour in the shower to scrub the chalky white dust off my body.

I remember that I got up the next morning and went back to work, but I couldn’t get back into the site. Mayor Giuliani dubbed it a crime scene and sealed it. Meanwhile, he and his aides gave guided tours to dignitaries and celebrities.

A fellow reporter told me how he waited at St. Vincent’s Hospital for an expected flood of wounded, but few people came—save the terrified relatives and friends of the dead and missing.

More than 2,750 people were killed, including 343 firefighters, 37 Port Authority police officers, and 23 NYPD cops, including John Perry, a man that I knew. The fires burned for three months.

The toxic nature of the site—the dust and gases—contributed to illnesses and deaths among thousands of police officers, firefighters, and construction workers. But the government resisted the warning bells for years, until the damage was done.

I remember the outpouring of support and the flood of volunteers who arrived in Manhattan. I remember spending the next evening at the Police Academy and watching Giuliani embrace a woman who was looking for her paramedic husband. She handed him a photograph, and he said a few quiet words to her.

I remember sitting with construction workers in a makeshift cafeteria and listening to them talk about their back-breaking work on the pile. I remember interviewing shop owners who said their stores had been looted in the days and weeks that followed the collapses.

I remember interviewing a fire safety worker at the trade center, who had saved himself from death by crawling under
a truck.

I remember traveling to Circleville, New York, to interview a man who had worked at the towers, but who refused to set foot back inside Manhattan. He had moved his family to Circleville because it was outside the blast radius of a nuclear explosion.

I remember interviewing relatives of the dead, and helping to perpetuate their very public grieving process. In hindsight, I wish we reporters had left them alone. Instead, year after year, we go back to them and ask them once again, “How did it feel?” I was actually glad when, almost two years later, my newspaper took me off the 9/11 beat.

Today, the site is a construction zone, and unfortunately, a kind of ghoulish tourist attraction.

Ten years later, Osama bin Laden is finally dead, and I have to admit feeling satisfied, and astonished that all these memories came back so clearly as if no time had passed at all.

grayman@villagevoice.com

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Rudy Giuliani and Bernie Kerik: The Final Chapter

The main events in the always fascinating saga of Rudy Giuliani and his once-beloved lawman, Bernie Kerik, came to a close late last year. Kerik copped a plea in November in federal court to fraud and tax charges stemming from favors he collected from a mob-tied contractor.

Giuliani finally ended his own tease just before Christmas, taking himself out of the running as a candidate for statewide office, at least for the immediate future.

All of which tended to lower the often-feverish temperatures of those of us who have closely followed the career paths of the volatile ex-mayor who tried to become president, and his one-time sidekick, the former police commissioner who nearly became the nation’s Homeland Security secretary. But buried in court legal papers that were not released until weeks after Kerik’s guilty plea are some strong hints of the lumps that the reputation of New York’s legendary former chief executive might have taken had the Kerik case gone to trial.

Giuliani, who started out as a rackets-busting prosecutor, has always been fuzzy about his own knowledge of Kerik’s ties to Interstate Industrial Corp. The contractors were desperately trying to convince city regulators that their business dealings with organized-crime figures were incidental, and that they should not be denied lucrative city contracts worth some $30 million. The city’s concerns had been sparked after Interstate bought a large waste-transfer station on Staten Island from a Gambino crime family soldier named Edward “Cousin Eddie” Garafola, and then kept the gangster’s wife and sons on the payroll as mob-owned trucks rolled through the gates.

Kerik helped contractors Frank and Peter DiTommaso relay their side of the story to city officials. The grateful builders in turn secretly funded a quarter-million-dollar renovation of Kerik’s new Bronx apartment. All of this happened even as Giuliani was promoting his former driver and bodyguard from head of the city’s Corrections Department to police commissioner.

When Kerik’s Homeland Security nomination blew up in a tempest of scandal in 2004, the ex-mayor insisted that he knew nothing about his top cop ever going to bat for the mob-tainted contractors. But back in 2007, the Times‘ William Rashbaum got hold of a transcript of Giuliani’s April 2006 testimony before a Bronx grand jury that was the first to probe the episode. Giuliani, the transcript showed, admitted that he was briefed more than once by his own top investigations chief—but then forgot all about it.

It took a lot of forgetting. Among the exhibits that prosecutors were prepared to introduce as evidence in the federal case were three pages of never-released notes that Kerik typed out in March 2000 regarding his involvement with Interstate. The memo—in detective-style jargon of initials and free-form punctuation—was written, prosecutors explained, for then city investigations commissioner Edward Kuriansky, who was regularly briefing Giuliani about his agency’s activities.

The notes show someone who, as the government said in its motion, was “peculiarly well-informed about the nuances” of the investigation that city officials were then conducting:

“FD [Frank DiTommaso],” typed Kerik, “believes that perception about [the transfer station] emanates because of acquisition from EG [Edward Garafola] he was EG’s primary customer when NYCTWC [the city’s Trade Waste Commission] cancelled EG’s license. EG contacted him, explained that his license was pulled and that he needed to sell the company. FD’s analysis reveals that it’s beneficial to acquire based on their needs and structures deals within 30 days to avoid losing license. Part of agreement is that EG’s wife and two sons stay on for 4 weeks to familiarize incoming team with business. NYCTWC makes request to interview EG’s relative, they walk out. $2M to $1,750,000 w/ 5 year payout.”

City officials had good reasons to be concerned that a top law-enforcement officer was involving himself with a contractor doing business with a gangland figure like Garafola. At the time, Garafola was in charge of the construction division of John Gotti’s crime family, overseeing union shakedowns and contractor extortion. He later pled guilty to racketeering in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme aimed at the MTA and to having helped murder one of his cousins. Garafola was also indicted in a mob stock fraud case in Brooklyn in 2000; among his co-defendants was Lawrence Ray, Kerik’s then best friend who had been hired by Frank DiTommaso as a consultant on Kerik’s recommendation. It was that indictment, prosecutors stated in court papers, that prompted investigations chief Kuriansky to quiz Kerik about his complicated relationships with Interstate and its associates.

In his discussions with Kuriansky, prosecutors noted, Kerik also told the investigator about a controversial 1999 lunch at Walker’s Restaurant in Tribeca with the head of the city’s Trade Waste Commission, which was overseeing Interstate, and a Corrections Department investigator. Everyone present agreed that the subject was Interstate’s ongoing licensing problems, although just how heavily Kerik advocated for the company later became a matter of dispute.

The important issue for city investigators, however, had to be just why Kerik—then the city’s Corrections Department commissioner—was involved in any of this. Kuriansky, the key figure at the time, has since died. But prosecutors and FBI agents who participated in the federal probe quizzed city investigators closely about how things worked. One of those they questioned was Walter Arsenault, who served as first deputy commissioner for the Department of Investigation (DOI) from 2003 to 2008.

“During the Giuliani Era at DOI,” Arsenault told the FBI, according to a memo compiled for the case, “Edward Kuriansky had to inform the Mayor of the details of what was going on at DOI. During this time, Kerik provided details to Kuriansky about the Walker’s meeting, and other aspects of what Kerik was involved in, yet no one did anything to look into it further.”

The opportune moment to look into it further was in the late summer of 2000, as Giuliani was preparing to name Kerik the city’s 40th commissioner of police. But no one did. As was later acknowledged when the Kerik scandal broke full-bore in late 2004, the new commissioner wasn’t told to fill out a new background questionnaire, a standard city procedure.

Even at that point, four years later, Interstate was still battling hard to overcome city objections. To help make their case, the DiTommaso brothers hired as their lobbyist one of Giuliani’s most stalwart political supporters, former Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari. As their attorney to testify that they’d cleaned up their act, they brought on another veteran Giuliani loyalist, former deputy mayor Randy Mastro. As a City Hall aide, Mastro had helped create the Trade Waste Commission and served as its first chairman where he helped produce the tough scrutiny that it used on private waste carters. It was all part of the mayor’s avowed crackdown on mob influence in the industry.

In December 2004, as the scandal was breaking, the Voice asked Mastro if he’d learned about Kerik’s role at Interstate. “At some point, I was told by people at the company,” he said. Had he shared that knowledge with Giuliani? “No,” he said. “It wasn’t an issue that I ever discussed with anyone.”

For his part, Kerik is currently under house arrest at home in New Jersey, an electronic ankle bracelet monitoring his movements. He’s due to keep it on until his sentencing on February 18 by Judge Stephen Robinson in court in White Plains. Prosecutors have agreed to a prison term of 27 to 33 months. The judge could go higher if he chooses.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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The Mayor’s Press Pass

One reason for the remarkably charmed life of Mike Bloomberg’s administration as he sails toward re-election has been the waning of the city’s news business. This is an odd blessing for a man who made his fortune as a media mogul. But just ask Rudy Giuliani, or David Dinkins, or Ed Koch, and they’ll painfully explain.

When this city enjoyed four fat daily newspapers, editors clamored for strong, tough copy to fill them. Whenever scandal hit—make that even a mini-scandal—each one scrambled after the story. Local TV news, which gets its morning bearings from the dailies, gleefully joined the hunt as well. This happy combination produced many full-strength media pile-ons and visible shivers in City Hall.

There was a keen reminder of this changed world when a man named Raymond Harding put himself back in the news this month by pleading guilty to fraud at the state’s pension fund. Back in 1997, Harding, the boss of something called the Liberal Party, was the city’s top lobbyist, his law firm raking in millions from clients seeking favors from Giuliani’s City Hall. These were easy for Harding to arrange since he had personally invented Giuliani as a political player.

It took a while for the dailies to catch on to this scheme, but when they did, the effect was viral: They became a four-man tag team, taking turns serving up tales of greed and insider trading. Giuliani was then at the top of his game and delighted in telling off reporters. But he knew disaster when he saw it. Claiming ignorance that his mentor was making a fortune off his administration, he publicly chided his aides and ordered his pal to lay low.

These days, the papers are onion-skin thin, and exposés are catch as catch can. Newsday, which once gave rival editors panic attacks every morning, doesn’t even have a city edition anymore. When Dinkins was in office, the Long Island tabloid investigated even the type of fertilizer he used on the Gracie Mansion lawn. Nowadays, to fill their meager space, editors prefer colorful yarns to investigations. Until this month, one newspaper carried an entire column about empty rooms. We have the Web, with all of its many hardworking blogs, but most of these spend their energies keeping political scorecards with all the obsession of fantasy baseball addicts: Who’s on first, and what coaches are in the dugout? The business of government and its many failings goes largely unexamined.

Poor Ed Koch: He was trashed as a miserable miser in multiple front-page stories because he had some 2,000 homeless families sleeping in shelters. Mike Bloomberg has five times as many, and no one even knows about it.

It’s not that there’s no investigative spadework being done. What’s missing is critical mass. Last week, the Daily News‘s Juan González delivered some excellent fodder for a full-scale media assault in City Hall’s Blue Room. He reported that the mayor’s billion-dollar plan to relocate the city’s emergency 911 call system has become a fiasco. Not only has Bloomberg’s team blown its budget and deadlines, but it has also ignored the findings of its own consultant, which found the project was mired in mismanagement. Rather than dump its lead contractor, as the consultant recommended, Bloomberg’s top aides insisted that the plan go ahead as is—defects be damned.

This type of project is supposed to be smack in the mayor’s sweet spot since it involves computers and communications, the business that made him the city’s richest man. It should also be one of those instances where he runs rings around old-school politicians because of his keen business acumen. Instead, here he is, tripped up by the same cost overruns and bureaucrats that plague ordinary humans. Another mayor in another time might have suffered many tough questions the day after such information surfaced. Instead, only the News chased its own story.

The same thing happened this summer, when the Voice reported a scandal at the city’s NYC-TV operation, where the top executive was fired and his deputy arrested (“Inside the Mayor’s Studio: NYC-TV’s Secrets of New York,” August 4). Unlike the perennially tainted buildings department that has plagued every mayor, the problems at NYC-TV came from Bloomberg’s own supporters. He had repeatedly hailed the station as an example of his innovative approach to government. But instead of minding the store, his aides had traipsed around the world, making their own private movie. This tale also failed to trip the press alarm that scrambles the media into action.

The big story late last week was the stunning court ruling on the illegal Stuyvesant Town rent hikes. But you’d never know from the coverage that Bloomberg had praised the original deal cut by landlord Tishman-Speyer (headed by one of his strongest allies). Or that his top aides had scotched a plan to keep Stuy Town affordable. Or that a hefty chunk of the financing for the deal came from Merrill Lynch, the late investment firm that was a top Bloomberg LP client and which the mayor was barred from dealing with under a Conflicts of Interest Board ruling. That story—told here in detail by Wayne Barrett just last month—also died an orphan.

Bloomberg’s biggest claim to mayoral fame as he grabs for the third term that he used to insist he would never seek is his success at the business of education. This is a debate worth having. But Bloomberg consistently wins by default because the other side never fully shows up. As the legislature was considering the renewal of Bloomberg’s mayoral control law this year, Brooklyn Assemblyman Jim Brennan issued six lengthy reports on the law’s impact on the schools. They were detailed and thoughtful critiques on student achievement, school organization, and contracting. Asked recently how much press he received about them, Brennan paused. “I’m not sure there was any,” he said.

There have been scattered stories about instances of grade inflation and test-score manipulations (again, with the News in the lead). The startlingly poor results of national student tests this month prompted even the Post, whose news pages have steadily cheered Bloomberg’s education policies, to suggest that fraud was afoot somewhere. But the big picture still escapes us, along with whatever role was played by the education bureaucrats at the Tweed Courthouse.

At the mayor’s annual Gracie Mansion Christmas party for the press last year, those in attendance report that Bloomberg took the stage to offer his idea of a joke. “I see that my three best friends in the media—Mort, Rupert, and Arthur—aren’t here,” he quipped. Then he walked out, right past the grunts who cover him all year.

Actually, the joke’s on us. Even as newspaper fortunes sank in recent years, Bloomberg diligently courted media barons like Zuckerman, Murdoch, and Sulzberger, who he understood could make his life difficult if they so chose. Minus their support, as Joyce Purnick’s new Bloomberg biography proves, he would have never risked his end run around term limits. But he knew he had little to fear. As Purnick’s book also tells us, even his weekend disappearing act to go to his mansion in Bermuda has gone unchallenged.

“He does his radio show Friday morning,” a former aide told her. “At 11:05, the latest, he’s in his car. At 11:30 he is at the airport. His plane is in the air at 11:40, he’s in Bermuda at 2:10. He’s on the golf course by 2:30. . . . Almost every weekend, spring and fall.”

There’s a photo op that’s been even more closely guarded than military caskets arriving at Dover Air Force Base: Mayor Mike, golf bags over his shoulder, striding across the tarmac toward Air Bloomberg.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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A Bloomberg Score Card: The Mayor’s Hits and Misses

Even if Democratic challenger Bill Thompson could buy enough airtime to get his message out, this year’s mayoral election would still be a referendum on Mike Bloomberg. And for many voters, Mayor Mike is a riddle, at once admirable and agonizing.

If things do tighten up, the 10 percent of voters who rate Bloomberg’s job performance favorably, but don’t want to see him re-elected, could become an important swing demographic. The mayor has spent $65 million already, yet his numbers are flat. The avalanche of his television ads only highlight the power of his money at a moment when, to many New Yorkers, wealth and wisdom appear increasingly contradictory. And, perhaps most unsettling, he wouldn’t be on the ballot at all but for the coup he engineered to extend term limits set in two referendums, defying voters just months before he started seducing them again.

Third terms diminished Ed Koch, Mario Cuomo, and George Pataki, but there is a tangible sense of purpose about the Bloomberg we see now, an energy reminiscent of his post-9/11 resolve. It could be just the campaign that is animating him, but the daily drumbeat of announcement and action now is in stark contrast with the bored and unfocused tedium of the second term, when he drifted into a presidential haze and lost his lust for the details of governing. He appears again to actually want the job.

A second Bloomberg sequel seems as surreal as it does inevitable. Though Thompson has shown some movement in polls, we can’t help feeling that we’re being pulled into a third Bloomberg administration whether we want one or not. Perhaps the best we can do as the election nears is add up the mayor’s accomplishments and mistakes in as clear-eyed a manner as possible.

Our accounting does not inspect the style of his leadership, which biographer Joyce Purnick captured—calling him “curt, profane, cranky, and willful,” as well as “allergic to introspection” and “ever confident he is right,” even as she pronounced him potentially “one of the most effective mayors in the city’s history.” It doesn’t examine how white his inner circle is, or the astonishing fact that Rudy Giuliani appointed more blacks to high posts in his administration than Mike has. Nor does it salute him for the towering courage he displayed when the city was on its heels and he was new to public office, imposing the largest property tax hike in history and pushing new income surcharges on the wealthiest, to protect services.

But the list that follows is intended to be a useful measure of the man. If it reads like I am arguing with myself, I am. Bloomberg is the most perplexing of the five mayors I’ve covered. I receive the calls that all undecided voters get, again and again, from the Bloomberg phone banks, perhaps the only stimulus program Obama is not financing. I have told them I will not decide until the debates are done, that I am giving Bill Thompson the chance to show he is ready for the job. That is really only partly true. I am also wrestling with my Bloomberg demons, shifting uneasily between days of trust and torment. These are the reasons why.

Mayor Mike knows how to hire, but he can’t bring himself to fire. He’d be a millionaire if he ran his company like this.

“We joke that getting the Post to demand our resignation is the ultimate job protection,” one Bloomberg aide told Purnick. Bloomberg has made some terrific choices—Health Commissioner Tom Frieden and Housing Commissioner Shaun Donovan have already been tapped by President Obama for top national jobs—but, as Purnick put it, he lets “weak commissioners stick around long after any other mayor would have dumped them.”

Fire Commissioner Nick Scoppetta is Exhibit A. Eight years after the ex–Commissioner of Children’s Services became the unlikely head of the FDNY, we still don’t know if he can turn off a stove. We do know that when he climbed to the roof of a firehouse to see the damage caused by debris falling off the nearby Deutsche Bank demolition site, he didn’t order an inspection for the bank building, or even notice that the department’s regular inspections, required by law every 15 days, weren’t being done at all. And when the building went up in flames three months later and two firefighters perished, we know that the mayor and the fire commissioner collaborated to blame underlings. Bloomberg’s own investigations commissioner found a few months ago that Scoppetta’s executive team “did not address noncompliance with the 15-day rule,” contributing to a “culture of widespread disregard” in “commands throughout the department.” Even then, Bloomberg refused to ax him. Finally, just last week, Scoppetta announced that he would leave at the end of the year.

Scoppetta had many accomplices in the lead-up to this deadly fire—buildings commissioner Patricia Lancaster, deputy buildings commissioner Robert LiMandri, and Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff—though none have paid a price for allowing concerns about the pace of the demolition to take precedence over a safe takedown of the city’s most toxic building, next door to Ground Zero. Lancaster was forced out over failings unrelated to Deutsche Bank, LiMandri was elevated to commissioner, and Doctoroff won the ultimate promotion (president of Bloomberg LP).

The list of the unaccountable extends far beyond Deutsche Bank. Department of Aging commissioner Edwin Méndez-Santiago lasted two and a half years after the first of two sexual harassment complaints were filed against him. The city eventually settled both cases, but Méndez-Santiago wasn’t dumped until the mayor extended term limits and readied himself for a re-election run. Giuliani’s cousin, Ray Casey, installed by Bloomberg as a favor to Giuliani, took a profitable Off-Track Betting Corporation into such a financial tailspin that, six and a half years later, Bloomberg finally prevailed on the state to take the nearly bankrupt bookie over. Robert Walsh, the Small Business Services commissioner, was put in charge of the two great minority initiatives ballyhooed by Bloomberg during the 2005 campaign, and when his agency’s mishandling of both was revealed, the mayor said “nobody read” the damning critique.

Aside from Lancaster, who resigned after conceding that her buildings department had mistakenly granted an improper permit to a project in which a crane collapse killed seven, the only other forced departure was finance chief Martha Stark, an election-year fatality. Though a federal probation report, and other government findings, laid the failings that led to the Staten Island ferry crash at the feet of transportation commissioner Iris Weinshall, Bloomberg retained her for years afterward and celebrated her elevation to a top City University post. Weinshall was an accomplished commissioner in many other ways, but the mayor never held her accountable “for placing an unqualified person in charge of a large municipal ferry service,” as the probation report found (also concluding that the top executives of her agency had “a share of responsibility for the accident” that killed seven).

Rudy Giuliani famously said he wanted to “blow up” the independent Board of Education. Bloomberg instead made it his own—persuading the state legislature to disband the board and turn this $18 billion bureaucracy into a mayoral agency. Mike might be hyping the grades, but there’s no doubt he has a right to boast.

Let’s examine a statistic that neither Bloomberg nor the Department of Exaggeration compiled. The City University Office of Institutional Research & Assessment says that between 2002—when Bloomberg became mayor—and 2008, there was a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of city high school grads who became freshmen at CUNY institutions. There are 8,000 more freshmen matriculating today than when Bloomberg took office.

Audits by Comptroller Bill Thompson have raised legitimate questions about the controls the Department of Education has in place to assure that high school diplomas are being granted only to those who earn them. But it’s inarguable that the graduation rate has substantially improved, even if you believe that the 10- to 15-point boost by city standards (and nine points by state standards) can’t be trusted. Any comparison with the flat grad rate before Bloomberg—moving only between 48 percent and 51 percent for a solid decade—confirms the reality that this mayor has changed schools for the better. The hike in reading and math scores is certainly a by-product of teaching to tests that are easier than ever, but that only diminishes the level of claimed improvement, not the fact of it.

No other modern mayor has ever said, “Judge me by the schools,” and no mayor has been more hands-on, meeting weekly with his chancellor, engaging in the minutiae of operational decision making. His chancellor, Joel Klein, left a guaranteed, five-year, $2.5 million-a-year contract with Bertelsmann to take on the city’s toughest, and once thought intractable, public challenge, at a tenth of the salary. He now appears primed to do the bulk of a 12-year term if Bloomberg is re-elected, in sharp contrast with the instability of the eight Giuliani years, when four chancellors played musical chairs.

More than any chancellor in my lifetime, Klein has stood up to the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which prefers to micromanage the schools in service of its members. Bloomberg has undercut Klein to negotiate politically inspired contracts with the union, granting giant pay and benefit boosts while failing to win Klein-backed contract changes that would rid the system of bad teachers. The two have combined, however, to create an alternate universe of nearly a hundred charter schools, almost all of which operate outside the confines of the UFT’s 165-page contract, and Bloomberg recently announced his determination to double that number. By every standard, these charters, clustered in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, are destroying the whispered narrative over the years that “these kids can’t learn,” narrowing what’s called the “Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap.”

Bloomberg gave us eight years of bully pulpit on the city’s need for pension reform, but let himself be bullied by the labor barons. City contributions to pensions leaped from $1.4 billion to $6.3 billion. Paying the bill for Mike’s union alliances will cost New Yorkers thousands of layoffs and diminished services in the third term.

The Independent Budget Office (IBO) offers the following statistical critique of the Bloomberg years: The city budget went from $41 billion to a $59.5 billion projected total for the current fiscal year. Salaries and benefits for city workers went from $22.8 billion to $35.9 billion. Pension, health, and other benefits grew from $5.7 billion to $13.4 billion. The full-time workforce went from 247,681 to 274,696. Debt rose from $43 billion to $60 billion. If a liberal Democrat presided over such soaring numbers, Rupert Murdoch and Mort Zuckerman would put a tabloid bull’s-eye on his back (for evidence of that, look what they’ve done to David Paterson, with a record of less imprudence).

The day of reckoning will come as soon as Bloomberg is re-elected. He is using every cent of a $2.7 billion surplus carried over from the good years to close the current budget gap, and with projected gaps over the next two years of $12 billion, mass layoffs—especially of teachers—might as well be announced at the victory party. “The mayor has typically looked to get headstarts on significant shortfalls,” says the IBO’s Doug Turetsky. “The fact that he didn’t this time was out of character. So he put a new twist on the term ‘election-year budget.’ Rather than big new spending, he held off from taking the kind of steps he might have in a year without municipal elections.”

The biggest drag on the budget—exploding pension costs—can’t be laid solely at the mayor’s feet. In fact, some of the blame can be assigned to his Democratic opponent, Bill Thompson, whose investment decisions as a prime manager of the pension funds have become a target of Bloomberg commercials. But even the mayor’s office agrees that roughly 30 percent of the new costs are attributable to the salary and benefit hikes he granted, which, in turn, pushed pensions higher. Though city officials concede that the 43 percent cumulative hike in teacher salaries awarded by Bloomberg is the largest in the country, they argue that the average boost for city workers is only six points higher than inflation. At the outset of his first term, Bloomberg demanded productivity improvements to pay for these salary increases, but he largely abandoned that demand around the time of his re-election, in 2005.

Lax management is also driving pensions upward. Nearly three of four retiring firefighters since 2004 are receiving disability pensions, collecting three-quarters of their pay tax-free for the rest of their lives (25 percent of Chicago firefighters get disability pensions). Incredibly, many firefighters are even racking up overtime after their supposedly disabling injury, juicing up their departing pay to grab even bigger pensions. That’s only one of the overtime scams tolerated by Bloomberg management. The state’s Financial Control Board (FCB) recently concluded that the city “has done little to control overtime spending,” which, it says, is “one of a few areas in the city’s budget directly under management control.” Overtime, says the FCB, has boomed an average of 3.2 percent per year in the past five years, exceeding a billion dollars for two years in a row.

Jim Hanley, who has been the city’s labor commissioner for 20 years under four mayors, tried to put the salary hikes in context during a Voice interview, noting that the city engages in pattern bargaining, even granting two-year, 14 percent salary increases to police at the same time it was laying off 5,000 of them during the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s (when Hanley was a young assistant in the office). This pattern bargaining, which intertwines the increases granted to various unions and began in 1898, is the reason that Bloomberg was still awarding two-year, 8 percent boosts just a few months ago, even as the city economy collapsed, insists Hanley. Remarkably, as bleak as the budget is, Bloomberg has set aside funding for 8 percent increases for teachers, to be awarded right after election. “The city is now ending that pattern,” Hanley explained, predicting that “there will be a much greater emphasis on being frugal in the next round of bargaining.” If Bloomberg is re-elected, “he will be tougher on these issues,” he contended, adding that the budget crunch will give him the leverage to be tougher. He says that “almost all unions prefer layoffs” to any givebacks or reductions in salary increases, because laid-off workers can’t vote in union elections. The administration appears content to live with even this union priority.

Bloomberg correctly blames a compliant state legislature for pushing pension costs higher by passing “sweetener” bills that enrich them, and Hanley says the mayor has almost uniformly opposed this periodic largesse (even as he became the single largest donor to the Republican Senate that approved them). Bloomberg “has fought these sweeteners harder than any mayor I’ve worked for,” Hanley contends, adding that Bloomberg recently cajoled the legislature into raising the service requirement for pensions to 22 years for new police officers and firefighters, two years more than the longstanding 20-and-out early eligibility that has the city picking up the tab for 10,000 cops who’ve recently retired in their forties. Hanley cites this adjustment as evidence that, seven and a half years into his two terms, Bloomberg is finally attacking the pension issue with effect. The teachers union also recently agreed to modify their pensions, and a coalition of municipal unions signed off on increased co-pays for health care.

All of this is too little, too late, but Bill Thompson is unlikely to bring the issue of labor and pension costs up during the campaign, since some of the city unions are backing him.

No mayor ever—here, or anywhere else in America—has done more to fight illegal guns. It’s a promise Bloomberg made to the families of cops killed by imported guns. The anti-gun war is just a part of Bloomberg’s public safety record, which is admirably better than his celebrated predecessor’s.

Nine years in politics have chipped away at Mike Bloomberg’s authenticity, but his resolve to combat gun violence is genuine and visceral. Ask Plaxico Burress. Ask the National Rifle Association, which depicted him as an octopus on its magazine cover, deriding his “anti-gun reach across America.” Ask Carolyn McCarthy, the Long Island Democratic congresswoman whose husband was killed in an infamous 1993 Long Island Rail Road shooting and who did a television commercial endorsing Bloomberg because his gun-control commitment “saves lives.” Ask the 450 mayors from 40 states, representing 56 million Americans, who have joined his Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, jump-started with $3 million in Bloomberg contributions. Ask the gun boosters in the U.S. Senate who saw Bloomberg’s coalition help defeat the Thune Amendment, which would have required states with tough laws to grant reciprocity to gun owners with permits from weak-law states.

Bloomberg was a major force behind the passage of a new law in New York that tripled the mandatory minimum sentence for gun possession, just as he pushed a new-offender registration law through the City Council making it possible to track gun offenders. But his really extraordinary action was his pursuit of 27 gun dealers in several Southern states that were selling illegal guns used in the commission of crimes in the city, successfully settling with 24 of them and forcing changes in their practices. The litigation followed Bloomberg-orchestrated sting operations that caught dealers selling guns in apparent violation of federal law. Not only did the Bush Justice Department refuse to prosecute the dealers, they warned the city of “potential legal liabilities” resulting from the interstate undercover operation. A Johns Hopkins study verified that, after the settlements, there was a sharp decrease in the number of illegal guns sold by these stores that wound up in NYC. Bloomberg even recruited the biggest gun-seller in America, Wal-Mart, to join his coalition.

And just last week, Bloomberg revealed that his investigators had completed a similar integrity test at gun shows in several states, making a video called “Gun Show Undercover” and documenting that 19 of the 30 sellers approached at these shows sidestepped federal law and sold guns to undercover investigators who said they couldn’t pass a background test. The mayor is sending the video to every member of Congress in an effort to close the gun show loophole that permits these sales.

The anti-gun campaign is a distinctly Bloomberg contribution to the decline in violent crime achieved under both his and Giuliani’s administrations. Bloomberg’s approach, however, has destroyed the Giuliani premise that to lower crime, the mayor and the NYPD have to raise the racial temperature of New York. As recently as the allegedly DWI cop who ran over the pastor’s daughter in Brooklyn, Bloomberg has found just the right voice of indignation and assurance, even as other officers on the scene were allegedly scrambling to cover it up. Racially tinged stop-and-frisk numbers call out for a change in policy, as does the NYPD’s handling of civil protest, but Bloomberg’s record as the protector of the people of his city is commendable, whether the perpetrators are muggers or terrorists.

Another abiding Bloomberg commitment is public health. When his poll numbers were down in 2002, he didn’t care if an unpopular smoking ban would be harmful to his political health. His budgets invested billions in city hospitals, reversing years of Giuliani disinvestment. Johns Hopkins has already named its legendary School of Public Health after its most generous backer. When he is done as mayor, Bellevue should be renamed “Bloomberg.”

We don’t really know if Bloomberg deserves credit for the year-and-a-quarter gain in life expectancy since he has been mayor. Nor do we know if 350,000 fewer New York smokers is a consequence of the ban, the tax hikes, mass distribution of smoking-cessation patches, and the stream of graphic television and other advertising that the administration has done to fight smoking. HIV deaths, drug deaths, and infant mortality were all decreasing before Bloomberg became mayor, and no one credited Rudy. As hard as it is to figure out what share of the credit belongs to the mayor, it’s easy to determine that some of it does.

The city’s rise in life expectancy significantly outpaced the national average. The percent of adult smokers in NYC, for example, fell from 21.5 percent to 15.8 percent, while the drop in Los Angeles was less than a single percentage point (the city’s rate is now lower than all but five states). When Bloomberg became mayor in 2002, a quarter of New Yorkers did not have a regular doctor; today, it’s less than 20 percent. The percent of blacks and Latinos getting colonoscopies has grown dramatically, and the screening rate for everyone has increased by 48 percent.

Each of these improvements has been connected to a program developed under Bloomberg—including an electronic health record system that has helped more than a thousand doctors connect with a million patients—concentrated in the city’s poorest and sickest neighborhoods. A new Diabetes Prevention program is just beginning to achieve results, and the trans fat ban and overhaul of the restaurant inspection system are making dining out safer.

But there’s no greater measure of Bloomberg’s health commitment than the dollars he has put into public hospitals. Giuliani tried to privatize them and was rebuffed by the courts. When Bloomberg came to office, the city’s net subsidy to the Health & Hospitals Corporation was $241 million; it climbed to more than a billion by 2006. It has dropped a bit since then, says the IBO, a technical budgetary adjustment without an impact on services, but Mayor Mike inherited a demoralized and damaged public system and can now boast that some city hospitals are getting top national ratings.

“New York is healthier than ever,” Bloomberg said at Maimonides Cancer Center in Brooklyn this spring. “If that isn’t the purpose of government, I don’t know what is the purpose of government.” As quiet as it is kept, even by Bloomberg’s stumbling campaign, the beneficiaries of his health, crime, and education initiatives are mostly poor minorities, utterly contrary to the Thompson critique that he is a mayor only for the rich.

As much as the city ought to name a hospital after Mayor Mike, it is more likely to name a stadium or arena. He has certainly spent enough of our money on them to pay for the naming rights. If he gets a pre-election Yankees World Series parade, the confetti should remind us of the bonanza of tax dollars that helped finance the stadium in which it was won.

City officials resent any suggestion that Bloomberg’s has been a stadium-centric economic development policy. They rightly point to his smart focus on biotechnology, including the ongoing construction of the East River Science Park and support of the SUNY Downstate Biotechnology Incubator, all contributing to top rankings as a life science city in two national surveys. They point to his nurturing of the tourism, film/TV, and nonprofit sectors. The $4 billion he has invested in new housing is cited as an economic development marker. But the fact remains that the only major projects built or to be built in the Bloomberg era—the monuments to Mike—are Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, and the soon-to-be-bonded-by-the-city Nets arena in Brooklyn. Even the city-financed extension of the 7 subway line, ballyhooed by Bloomberg aides, is merely a potential pathway to Westside development, not a project itself.

That’s a dismal track record, especially from a mayor who derided the job development benefits of stadium deals when he junked Giuliani’s in 2002. The city is directly spending a half-billion on the two stadiums, largely for infrastructure improvements, some of which are still incomplete. It is also tapping its own supply of tax-exempt bonds, which are supposed to be used for projects of great public value, like hospitals, for $1.9 billion, subsidizing the two teams that are claiming to be building the stadiums themselves to the tune of $1.3 billion (a combination of the savings achieved through the bonds and other property, mortgage, and sales tax exemptions). The evidence that top officials of the Bloomberg administration reversed land assessments for the Yankees deal to artificially jack up the value in order to qualify for the tax-exempt financing is overwhelming and would—in a time when a good scandal had staying power in New York—make Bloomberg wince at the thought of an election eve parade. E-mails like one from a top aide to Deputy Mayor Doctoroff explicitly said they were making the assessment “so high” in an attempt “to support the tax-exempt financing.”

By December, the Bloomberg administration will replicate its scandal-ridden history of bonding these projects by supporting the issuance of $678 million in state tax-exempt bonds for the Nets. The IBO estimates that the arena will also cost the city $350 million, combining direct and indirect subsidies, concluding that it will lose at least $40 million over the life of the deal, assuming the most optimistic revenue projections. Salty Mike’s response to the unstated, apolitical IBO: “I don’t know what the IBO studies would have shown back when they tried to establish the value of Central Park.”

A Bloomberg hero, the late Senator Patrick Moynihan, attached an amendment to the IRS code in 1986 to try to bar cities from using tax-exempt bonds to finance stadiums, but the IBO reports that the city “found a way to circumvent these strictures” by technically structuring these two privately built and operated stadiums as publicly owned and leased for 99 years. The IRS originally OK’d this arrangement and then reversed itself, prohibiting such maneuvers in the future. Yet the city plans to do the arena precisely the same way, and the IRS grandfathered the arena in under its initial ruling, giving the city until the end of the year to sell the bonds. Incredibly, all of these resources have been used either to induce a basketball team to move across the river or to build stadiums with fewer and more expensive seats, neither of which is much of a public benefit. And every independent analysis re-establishes what the mayor once believed—nothing generates fewer real jobs than these television studios disguised as sports facilities.

It’s at least a bit awkward that Bloomberg LP’s business news channel, a linchpin to the growth of the media giant Mike owns almost entirely himself, now occupies the Yankees’ precious former location (Time Warner’s channel 30) on the New York cable dial, moving up 74 notches from channel 104, with the acquiescence of the Yankees, whoseYES network moved to channel 53. It’s more than awkward that the administration’s favorite developer, Steve Ross, was so cozy with city development czar Doctoroff that he assumed a $4 million loan Doctoroff made to the city’s Olympic committee shortly before Doctoroff took office. And it’s stunning that the mayor himself boldly endorsed the biggest real estate acquisition of all time—the $5.4 billion purchase of Stuy Town—even though the 20 percent owner of Bloomberg LP at the time, Merrill Lynch, was one of the buyers and he was legally barred from doing anything in his official capacity to aid Merrill.

Bloomberg is proud of his self-financed campaigns, often celebrating the fact that he takes no contributions from anyone. But the evidence is mounting—with 33 of Bloomberg LP’s top 124 customers having business with the city—that we may be getting the quid without the quo. The mayor’s friends and prime-time business supporters appear to be reaping the same rewards as those big donors used to get, only minus the donations, and the circle of insiders that openly rallied to him during the term limits debate is, by and large, the same group that is prospering from his discretionary decisions. The New York City Partnership, co-chaired now by Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein and Rupert Murdoch, has become Bloomberg’s modern version of an oldline political club.

Even as the mayor can make the case that his health initiatives and other priorities benefit the poor, his near 100 rezonings, construction deregulations, generous subsidies, and other policies have fed the aura of a government of, for, and by the elites.

When I was in high school, and John Kennedy and Richard Nixon were squaring off, my father helped me craft a list of the qualities and issues we should use to judge the two candidates, a score card so logical that it did not take into account the heart or the gut. I wound up the only kid in my class, at a small Catholic high school in Virginia, willing to champion Nixon in a debate.

There is only so far that a checklist of pluses and minuses can carry you, though this one is not as detached as the one I concocted in 1960. I won’t let my emotions rule, either, however. I believe that the self-serving reversal of term limits was the greatest abuse of power I have covered in more than three decades on this beat. But elections are choices between names on the ballot—not opportunities to file a protest.

In some ways, this choice is between the Mike Bloomberg of his first and second term, when he moved from determined to distracted. The negatives explored here mushroomed in and after 2005. A city that is shuddering with uncertainties has to figure out which one of the two Bloombergs we are likely to get the third time around.

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The Bloomberg Dilemma: Favorite? Or Just No Obvious Alternative?

Michael Bloomberg remains an overwhelming favorite for re-election, even as polls keep finding that most New Yorkers would just as soon someone else took over at City Hall. It’s the riddle of Campaign 2009. Chalk it up to uninspiring opponents, the advantages of incumbency, and the results of $36 million worth of electoral carpet-bombing by an incumbent taking no chances.

Whatever the reasons, despite all that costly self-promotion, scratch any surface and you’ll find voters who are less than thrilled with Mayor Mike’s performance, but who don’t see the obvious alternative. Take, for example, those involved in the nasty development battle now being waged in the Kingsbridge Heights section of the Bronx.

Last Wednesday night, Bloomberg’s top Democratic challenger, Bill Thompson, stood in front of a standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 local residents and union members gathered at Our Lady of Refuge on East 196th Street. Thompson got only polite applause when he was introduced by Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, leader of a coalition of community and labor organizations calling itself Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance. But the city comptroller pulled a deafening roar as soon as he said that he wouldn’t vote for Bloomberg’s proposal for a new city-subsidized shopping mall at the huge old armory on West Kingsbridge Road, unless the developer agrees that new jobs there will pay decent wages.

“The Bloomberg administration hasn’t pushed to make sure that people are paid a living wage in this city,” Thompson told the crowd. “I am going to continue to vote no on this project until the right thing happens.” Thompson paused, enjoying the moment. He looked like he was about to break into a full-throated takedown of Bloomberg policies: The audience was his for the asking. Instead, he grinned, waved, and ducked out of the room.

There were plenty of potential recruits to be had. Among those hooting loudest for Thompson were representatives of unions like the carpenters that have actually endorsed Bloomberg’s bid for a third term. Also part of the coalition seeking a better jobs deal for the armory project is Local 32BJ of the building service workers, which, last week, gave Bloomberg its backing.

Being for the mayor while opposing him is an ongoing dilemma for Bloomberg supporters. A political aide to another building trades union that has endorsed the mayor put it this way when asked the basis for endorsing Bloomberg: “The basic rationale? He’s going to win. That’s the basic rationale.”

There’s not a whole lot else. Mike Bloomberg’s own argument last fall for overturning the term limits that voters had twice approved in referendums was that the city needed to keep his strong hand on the tiller as we weather a terrible economic storm. Last week, however, the storm raged unabated: City unemployment hit 9.5 percent, matching the national rate for the first time. Unemployment in the city is now running even higher than the rest of the state, the labor department reported.

There’s an even bigger disconnect between the mayor’s views on labor and his union endorsers. Bloomberg has garnered support for his third term from the Teamsters, the Laborers, and the Food and Commercial Workers unions. All are fierce champions of the Employee Free Choice Act—the congressional legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions. On Friday, even as news surfaced that key provisions of the bill were being dropped in the face of conservative opposition, national union spokesmen restated that the legislation remains labor’s single most crucial goal, calling it “essential to recovering our nation’s economy.”

And where does Mike Bloomberg stand on the bill? The question was posed last Thursday, moments after the mayor issued a press release announcing another labor endorsement. A campaign spokesman said she’d get back to us. We’re still waiting.

That’s a good example of the mayor’s strategy in this campaign: Play rope-a-dope on tough questions, while burying voters under a multimillion-dollar avalanche of positive ads.

The armory fight is another instance in which Bloomberg’s position on labor standards goes against the grain of his union supporters.

Ever since the huge armory was handed over to the city back in 1998, local groups have been fashioning ideas about what it could become. The building is a vast, castle-like affair, with some 575,000 square feet tucked under a cavernous, vaulted ceiling that looks like it could swallow the better part of Madison Square Garden.

Rudy Giuliani tried to force through a scheme to create sprawling, suburban-style big-box stores there. Groups like the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, whose members and organizers held the neighborhood together through the worst of the “Bronx Is Burning” days, had been thinking more along the lines of schools, youth facilities, and retail stores that didn’t drive local merchants to the poorhouse. Thankfully, Giuliani’s plan turned out to be just bluster, never even getting off the ground.

Bloomberg played things much smarter, agreeing to give community groups input into the planning. Locals recruited architects and planners from the ever-helpful Pratt Center for Community Development in Brooklyn to help. This time around, City Hall’s new request for developer proposals included language aimed at discouraging big-box stores. It also gave preference to builders whose schemes would place local residents in jobs that paid more than minimum wage.

When Bloomberg’s team finally settled on a developer it liked for the project, lo and behold, it was an administration favorite: Steve Ross and his Related Companies. The builder counts both Bloomberg and former deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff (now running the mayor’s mighty corporation, Bloomberg LP) among his close pals and has been chosen to handle several other development projects by Bloomberg’s administration, including the redevelopment of the old Bronx Terminal Market, for which he didn’t even have to compete against anyone else.

Still, Related is a union contractor, and it would have been fine with everyone if not for another bait and switch. After initially describing the components of what it quaintly dubbed “The Shops at the Armory,” the developer quietly let it be known that it would seek a 50,000-square-foot supermarket for the site. Such a mega-market, enjoying its share of the project’s $18 million in city tax breaks, would have a strong, competitive edge over a pair of long-standing nearby family-owned supermarkets that have contracts with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union covering some 150 workers.

Related then threw another deal-buster into the mix: Under no circumstances would it require its tenants to offer full-time jobs at $10 an hour, plus benefits, the current yardstick for a so-called “living wage.”

Bloomberg’s economic development aides shrugged. Any job is a good job, they said. With City Hall’s blessings, Related upped the ante even more. If forced to tell tenants to hike wages, it would walk away from the deal, its lawyers told the local community board.

This “my way or the highway” threat had the desired effect. A divided community board #7 voted last week to approve the project on condition that everyone keep talking. The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, including its union partners, is still pressing its demands. “We got involved three years ago to support the principle of good wages and working conditions at this site,” said Fred LeMoine, a leader of the Lathers Local 46 who helped organize last week’s rally. “We’ve got ours, and now we intend to help the rest of the community get theirs.” Yes, he acknowledged, it was unusual for a building trades union to be adding demands to a development project—and yes, there had been “a little pressure” to back off. “But we’re not going anywhere,” he said.