The Failed Rehabilitation of Rudy Giuliani
A few weeks ago, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was said to be under consideration for a cabinet position in the Trump administration, maybe attorney general, maybe even secretary of state. At one point it was reported that Giuliani could have pretty much any cabinet position he wanted.
As it turns out, Giuliani was passed over for attorney general and secretary of state, and apparently for everything else as well.
Most Americans remember Giuliani for his leadership after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Most people have forgotten that on September 10, 2001, Rudy Giuliani was something of a laughingstock in the city over which he presided as Mayor. His political ambitions were lost and his personal life was in very public shambles.
Giuliani’s first term was marked by big ideas, at a time that New York badly needed them. After New York nearly went bankrupt in 1975, New Yorkers elected the feisty self-promoter Ed Koch to three terms as Mayor. From a progressive point of view, Koch’s tenure was a decidedly mixed blessing, but solidly on the plus side was Koch’s restoration of the city to fiscal health. Koch’s third term was a scandal-ridden disaster, and New Yorkers got tired of Koch’s loud-mouthed style that included saying things like, “the constitution is dumb” when someone pointed out that one of his law enforcement proposals was grossly unconstitutional. Still, Koch ran for a fourth term in 1989.
When Giuliani first ran for Mayor in 1989, he thought he would be running against Koch. But David Dinkins upset Koch in the Democratic primary, setting up a very different general election. In an overwhelmingly Democratic city, Dinkins was the first African-American Democratic nominee for Mayor. The Dinkins campaign was burdened by some ethics scandals (Dinkins had failed to file tax returns, for instance), and Giuliani made the most of them.
Still, Dinkins was a fairly standard-issue Democrat in a Democratic stronghold, yet he beat Giuliani by just 47,000 votes, about 2.5 percent of votes cast. I’ve never doubted the roll of race in the election. I heard it from voters on the streets and in the subways – most vividly, I remember a Hispanic woman complaining that Dinkins would “only take care of his own people,” presumably meaning African-Americans. I heard no complaint that Giuliani would “only take care of his own people.”
Dinkins ran on a promise of racial healing, after 12 years of Ed Koch’s racially divisive mayoralty. Unfortunately, Dinkins ran a fairly nondescript administration, and his accomplishments tended not to make headlines. He brought the Walt Disney Corporation to Times Square, at last cleaning up what had long been a cesspool of drug dealing, prostitution, and porn theaters. He rehabilitated housing in Harlem and the Bronx, laying the foundation for economic recovery in those areas after decades of decay. His administration expanded mental health care and made meaningful reductions in homelessness. Dinkins created New York events that remain popular to this day, including Restaurant Week and Fashion Week. Dinkins’s deal with the U.S. Open brought the City more revenue than the City’s previous deals with the Yankees, the Mets, the Knicks and the Rangers, combined.
Most importantly, Dinkins oversaw the first decreases in crime rates in New York City in 30 years. He fought for funding to expand the police force by 25 percent, and his “Safe Streets, Safe City” initiative brought about three consecutive years of major reductions in crime.
Dinkins got no credit for these crime reductions at the time (and he has gotten very little credit since then). Police unions unhappy with Dinkins’s management, avidly abetted by the once and future candidate Giuliani, promoted the notion that crime was rampant because Mayor Dinkins wouldn’t let the police do their jobs. They focused on the Crown Heights riots of August 1991.
On the evening of August 19, 1991, a car in a motorcade transporting Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, head of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic sect, sped through an intersection to catch up to the rest of the motorcade and crashed onto a sidewalk. Two seven-year-old cousins, children of Guyanese immigrants, were pinned. Gavin Cato was killed, and Angela Cato was seriously injured.
The responding city EMS unit reported that when it arrived at the scene, black teenagers were pulling the driver from his car and beating him. Ultimately, police officers ordered that the driver be taken from the scene for his protection while Gavin Cato was still trapped under the car. Rumors began to circulate: the Hasidic sect’s private ambulance service had refused to assist Gavin because he was not Jewish; the driver didn’t have a driver’s license, or had been drunk or talking on a cell phone; police had delayed assistance to Gavin.
In the poisonous racial atmosphere that then prevailed in New York, the sense that the Hasidic driver had received better treatment than the seven-year-old black victim was as a spark to gasoline. Rioting began that night and continued for three days. During the rioting, an Australian Jew named Yankel Rosenbaum was murdered by an African-American teenager.
When he ran against Dinkins in 1993, Giuliani gave great emphasis to the Crown Heights riots, which he termed a “pogrom” – an absurd diminishment of the true, state-sponsored pogroms of Russian and European history, including the Holocaust. His accusation was that Dinkins had deliberately restrained police response to the riots, because many of the rioters were black and many of their targets were Jewish. In fact, hundreds of police officers were dispatched. The New York Daily News reported that “police in riot gear filled the streets of Crown Heights last night.”
The “pogrom” rhetoric also glossed over Hasidic violence, as well as a streak of Hasidic racism manifested during the riots. Photographs prove that large numbers of Hasidim threw rocks at African-Americans. Members of the Jewish Defense League patrolled the streets, promising “revenge.” When Mayor Dinkins visited the area, Hasidim threatened him, as if he were one of the rioters simply because of his race.
The 1993 election was just as close as the 1989 election had been. Giuliani won by 53,000 votes, or 2.8 percent of votes cast. As Giuliani was eager to point out, Dinkins’s victory in 1989 had been the closest mayoral election in history; I don’t recall Giuliani ever mentioning that his victory in 1993 was the second-closest.
Again, I have never doubted that race played a prominent roll in Dinkins’s 1993 loss. White voters so inclined were persuaded that their African-American mayor tolerated violent crime and even “pogroms” by black New Yorkers. The fact that crime rates were headed sharply down in 1991, 1992 and 1993 was not appreciated. Giuliani, the white ex-prosecutor, promised to lift the constraints on police officers and let them do their jobs. It was enough to shift 100,000 votes out of 1.9 million from Dinkins to Giuliani and reverse the 1989 election outcome.
Given that the Crown Heights riots were sparked by a widely held perception that black New Yorkers did not receive equal treatment – a perception that was hardly without basis – there are obvious parallels between those riots and the generally more peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrations. It is revealing that Rudy Giuliani believes that the slogan “black lives matter” is “inherently racist” – a proposition that I, at least, find to be shocking. To the Giuliani mind, it is “inherently racist” to advocate for a disadvantaged race in a racially unequal world.
Giuliani came to city government with a promise to remake it. In particular, he was a big proponent of privatization, pushing initiatives to move governmental functions to the private sector. At an early meeting of his agency heads, he argued that there is relatively little that government does that can’t be done by the private sector. He emphasized that he wanted to run the City government more like a business.
Although I disagreed with most of his ideas, I admired the ambition of them. After 20 years of fiscal struggle, New York had lost the ability to think big. New York hadn’t built a major bridge since 1964, when the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened. Badly needed subway expansions, like the Second Avenue subway line, were on indefinite hold.
One of Giuliani’s big ideas was to sell off the city’s public hospitals and other health care facilities. To start off, Giuliani proposed the sale of three of the system’s large hospitals. Opposition grew, based largely on concern that privately run hospitals would be less attentive than publicly run facilities to the needs of lower income New Yorkers. The plan morphed into a proposal to lease city hospitals to private companies, but opponents were not mollified.
Still, Giuliani went ahead with an effort to lease out the city’s Coney Island Hospital. A long litigation battle resulted in a crushing defeat for the Mayor – in 1999, New York’s top court ruled unanimously that the Mayor lacked the authority to lease out the city’s hospitals. The only way, the Court of Appeals ruled, for the city to get out of the hospital business was the same way it had gotten in: by an act of the New York State legislature.
Another one of Giuliani’s big ideas was to consolidate the city’s three police departments. The rationale was that the Housing Authority police, with responsibility for federally funded low-income housing developments, the Transit Authority police, with responsibility for city subways, and the New York Police Department, with responsibility for the city streets, would be more efficient and better coordinated if consolidated under a single police commissioner (and mayor).
I didn’t deny the validity of that argument. Still, the housing police and the transit police had a different culture than the NYPD – a better culture, I think. I attributed the difference to the fact that the housing and transit police were subordinate components of larger, civilian-run enterprises that inculcated a customer-oriented ethic into their policing. The NYPD, by contrast, was then and remains to this day stubbornly resistant to civilian oversight, whether that oversight comes from the mayor, the City Council, the courts, or elsewhere.
The police consolidation fight is one that Giuliani won. Twenty years on, I think both sides of the argument have been proved right: consolidation has enhanced efficiency and coordination, but at the cost of the more customer-oriented, civilian-directed ethic that prevailed in the housing and transit police departments.
Giuliani largely devoted his first term to a handful of these big ideas, proposals that were launched at the very beginning of his administration. By contrast, his second term had the feeling of marking time. The big ideas were largely played out, and there seemed to be neither a reserve list of new big ideas nor a mechanism for generating them. My feeling at the time was that Giuliani was trying above all to avoid controversy while he figured out what office he wanted to hold next.
In November 1998, Democratic Senator Daniel Moynihan announced that he would retire instead of running for re-election in 2000. Giuliani quickly entered the race. Many of us who worked in his administration questioned this choice – the Giuliani personality is clearly an executive personality, not a legislative one. Giuliani likes to be in charge, laying down his decisions like fiats. We couldn’t imagine that Giuliani really wanted to be a senator, one in 100 who can achieve only by persuading, cooperating, and sharing both authority and credit.
Persuaded by New York Democratic leaders afraid of losing Moynihan’s seat to the Republican Giuliani, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton entered the race. A novice campaigner, Clinton made a number of rookie mistakes, and she had to deal with the “carpetbagger” label, which Giuliani pressed hard. Clinton finally seemed to get her footing early in 2000, becoming more effective in parrying Giuliani’s over-the-top attacks. By April 2000, Clinton had taken a significant lead in the polls.
Clinton was certainly helped by Giuliani’s clumsy and callous handling of the police killing of Patrick Dorismond on March 16. In the early hours of that day, undercover officers approached Dorismond and a friend while they were waiting for a taxi outside a bar. The officers apparently asked Dorismond if he could sell them crack cocaine, angering Dorismond. An argument escalated to a fistfight, although the officers and Dorismond’s friend disagreed about who started it. The officers claimed to believe that Dorismond was armed – which he was not – and one of the officers drew his weapon. The officers claimed that Dorismond grabbed the gun, causing it to go off. Dorismond was killed by a bullet through his aorta.
Giuliani’s response then – as it seems to be now – was to blame the victim. Within hours of the shooting, Giuliani released Dorismond’s criminal record, which included arrests from years before, when Dorismond was legally a juvenile, and two disorderly conduct convictions as an adult. Juvenile records are legally confidential, but Giuliani insisted that a person’s confidentiality protections expire upon the person’s death. Giuliani did not disclose the officer’s disciplinary record, which included pulling his weapon during an off-duty bar fight in February 1997.
Obviously, Giuliani’s intention in releasing Dorismond’s records was to justify the shooting – even though the past criminal violations were unknown to the officers at the time. Giuliani himself said that his intention was to show that Dorismond was not “an altar boy.”
In a stunningly unfortunate irony for Giuliani, it turned out that Dorismond had actually been an altar boy, having attended the very same Catholic high school Giuliani had. Although the officer in question was not indicted and in fact was returned to full duty, Dorismond’s family won a $2.25 million settlement from the city several years later – which strongly suggests that the city’s lawyers expected to lose at trial.
Giuliani’s relationship with New York’s African-American communities had never been good. He had unseated the city’s first African-American mayor in a campaign infused with racial backlash. He had refused requests to meet with African-American community leaders. His policy initiatives, including not least his proposal to sell off the city’s health care facilities, were widely considered to be not in the interests of minority communities. The Giuliani administration over-represented white appointees in a city that was increasingly populated by minority groups. Two other unarmed African-American men had been killed by New York police in the 13 months before Dorismond died.
Such was the racial context of Giuliani’s callous response to the fatal shooting of Patrick Dorismond. In a Quinnipiac College poll of New York City voters released on April 19, 2000, Giuliani’s approval rating as mayor hit a new low of 37 percent. Seventy percent thought that Giuliani had made race relations worse, and only 16 percent approved of his response to the Dorismond shooting.
That was just the beginning of what for Rudy Giuliani had to be one of the worst two months in the history of political campaigns. On April 20, Giuliani’s second wife, Donna Hanover, announced that she would take over the leading role in the play, The Vagina Monologues – just as Giuliani was trying to persuade upstate New Yorkers that he shared their social conservatism. In an extra special slap at the Mayor, the play’s author, Eve Ensler, was publicly supporting Clinton’s Senate campaign.
The relationship between Hanover and Giuliani was long known to be distant, and Giuliani had recently stopped wearing his wedding ring. He was frequently seen in the company of Judith Nathan, who later became his third wife, but he oddly – and not very credibly – insisted that she was just a “very good friend.”
On April 26, Giuliani confirmed press reports that he had early stage prostate cancer, which had killed his father.
On May 2, the Daily News published accounts of Giuliani’s relationships with unnamed women, unleashing a series of press reporting on Giuliani’s relationships, including with Nathan. On May 6, Hanover held a highly sympathetic press conference at which she promised to stand by Giuliani during his “illness,” because “this marriage and this man have been very precious to me” – inevitably implying that their marriage was not very important to Giuliani. The press conference was held at an entrance to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where mourners were paying their respects to the late Cardinal John O’Connor before his funeral.
On May 10, Giuliani held his own press conference, announcing his separation from Hanover. Giuliani had not informed Hanover in advance, so she learned of her husband’s intentions from the media.
Looking ahead to the state nominating convention on May 30, New York Republican leaders began to talk about replacing Giuliani as their candidate for the Senate. Finally on May 19, Giuliani announced his withdrawal from the Senate race.
Giuliani went into 2001, his last year in office, with his political ambitions and his personal life in tatters. But instead of gaining sympathy – even for his cancer diagnosis and treatment – Giuliani seemed determined to be as much a boor as possible. He dragged Donna Hanover through a vicious and public divorce fight, starting when his high-powered divorce lawyer accused her on Mother’s Day, 2001, of being an “uncaring mother” who had prolonged a bad marriage for “twisted motives.” The same lawyer justified Giuliani’s extra-marital relationship with Judith Nathan on grounds that Giuliani’s impotence resulting from treatment for prostate cancer left him unable to violate the Sixth Commandment.
Although Giuliani inexplicably fought hard against it, Hanover won a court order barring Nathan from visiting Gracie Mansion, the mayoral mansion where the estranged but still lawfully wedded couple and their children lived. Ultimately, Giuliani left Gracie Mansion himself, moving in with a campaign contributor.
Perhaps frayed by his political and personal problems, Giuliani’s temperament remained, let’s say, sub-optimal. When questioned by a reporter whether accepting free room and board from a campaign contributor was a conflict of interest, Giuliani snapped, “Don’t be a jerk.” (For the record, it’s not a conflict of interest for a public official to accept a gift of free rent from a personal friend.) When bus drivers challenged Giuliani at a town hall meeting, contending that his administration had shown corruption in changing a particular bus route, the Mayor called them “morons.”
Then came September 11.
Credit where due: I say without reservation that Mayor Giuliani led the city, and to some extent the entire country, with grace and eloquence. He gave voice to our grief, and our outrage. He calmed a terrified city and a badly shaken nation, and he gave us confidence in our ability to rebuild. Then he went on Saturday Night Live and told us it was OK to laugh again and resume our lives.
After that, Giuliani’s approval ratings in New York soared, and he became “America’s Mayor.”
Still, Giuliani could not restrain himself. Before September 2001 was out, he had floated the idea of repealing New York’s term limits law to allow him to stay on for a third term, even though candidacy petition deadlines had long since passed. (September 11 was actually primary election day in New York; the vote was postponed two weeks in light of the attacks.)
When that idea went nowhere, Giuliani proposed that he be allowed to stay on a few months beyond the expiration of his term. Fortunately, the rule of law prevailed and Giuliani ultimately left office on schedule.
Although Guiliani is justly remembered as a hero of the aftermath of 9/11, his preparation for 9/11 was marked by two remarkably bad choices.
First, although Giuliani had the foresight to see that New York City needed a state-of-the-art command facility to coordinate responses to disasters, he unaccountably chose to locate the facility in the World Trade Center complex. Given that the World Trade Center had been the target of a terrorist attack once before, in 1994, many of us in city government wondered why the Mayor would put the office that was most critical for post-disaster operations in a complex that had already been attacked by terrorists.
It turned out that we weren’t the only ones wondering. When Giuliani was running for president in 2008, a 1998 New York Police Department memo on the subject was leaked to the New York Times. In that memo, the Police Department, advised by the Secret Service, insisted that the World Trade Center was “a poor choice for the site of a crucial command center for the top leadership of the City of New York.” Siting the command center, with 1,200 gallons of diesel generator fuel, on the 23rd floor of Seven World Trade Center, exposed the center to unacceptable risk.
When the memo was disclosed, Giuliani played it down as one piece of advice among many. He attributed the memo to a “jurisdictional dispute” between the Police Department and his emergency management director, Jerome Hauer, and he claimed that he had assigned site selection to Hauer. Hauer disputed that claim, and produced to the CBS news program “60 Minutes” a memo he sent to Giuliani advising against a site in lower Manhattan, and in favor of a building in Brooklyn.
Of course after the jets crashed into the twin towers, Seven World Trade Center was well within the perimeter of buildings that had to be evacuated, rendering its state-of-the-art emergency command facilities useless. And in any event, burning debris fell from the stricken towers onto Seven World Trade Center, igniting the building and its diesel fuel reserves. The building ultimately became the third to collapse on that day.
Mayor Giuliani’s state-of-the-art emergency command center was rebuilt – in a low-rise building in Brooklyn, far from the “high value” targets of lower Manhattan.
Second, Giuliani repeatedly declined invitations from his successor as U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Mary Jo White, to sit for briefings about terrorism threats. It has been reported, and to my knowledge not refuted, that Giuliani didn’t know who Osama bin Laden was before 9/11, which might well explain his disinterest in the offered briefings. It certainly disqualifies Giuliani from any claim of expertise in dealing with terrorism, at least before the fact. Giuliani’s emergency management director confirmed that, although he and Giuliani discussed biological and chemical terrorism, and car bombings, they “never” discussed the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.
These matters illustrate some of the salient features of Giuliani’s mayoralty: disinterest in policy beyond a closely circumscribed sphere of predetermined initiatives; dismissiveness of opinions and advice that contradict predetermined decisions; willingness to turn on subordinates when blame must be laid.
Another salient feature of the Giuliani administration was obsession with political loyalty. Giuliani came to office with a small set of big ideas, and no interest in negotiating them or even discussing the practicality of any aspect of them. He brought with him a cadre of people who had worked for him at the U.S. Attorney’s office. He made clear that he regarded them as much smarter and more capable than the riff-raff who worked for city government under previous administrations. Our loyalty was suspect; there was no sense that civil servants might be professionals committed to public service, ready, willing and able to accept the direction of our duly elected chief executive.
When Giuliani took office, unusually large numbers of middle managers were replaced. It is customary for a new mayor to replace most, if not all, heads of agencies. But Giuliani’s reach extended well beyond heads of agencies. He had a particular problem with agencies’ general counsels and press officers; he especially wanted those positions staffed by people whose loyalty to him was certain. Although Giuliani professed an intention to run the City government “more like a business,” you won’t find a successful business that dumps its middle management every time the CEO changes. You won’t find a successful company that respects experience at the company so little.
Yet another salient feature of the Giuliani administration was an excessive reliance on partisan politics to make governmental decisions.
When Giuliani became mayor, I was serving as an administrative law judge in a small city agency. Giuliani demoted and replaced the sitting chief judge, a career civil servant who had risen to become chief judge under Mayor Koch, kept on by Mayor Dinkins. In his place, Giuliani appointed a woman whose chief credentials seemed to be that she was the wife of the treasurer of the Liberal Party, which had rather unaccountably endorsed Giuliani over the distinctly more liberal Dinkins, and she needed a job because she had reached mandatory retirement age in her previous position in the judiciary.
After she was appointed, the new chief judge told a story – with pride, as if it proved her qualifications – of her sitting with Giuliani’s chief of staff, paging through a directory of city agencies, looking for a job for her. They came across my agency, which the appointee acknowledged that neither she nor the chief of staff had never heard of – she had her job, and her predecessor had his demotion.
In 1998, I was selected by the Commissioner of Buildings to fill a newly constituted position as assistant commissioner in charge of code enforcement, to remedy short-comings in the program that grew out of the abolition of the position as an economy measure a few years earlier. Hiring decisions throughout the Giuliani administration were subject to approval by a body known as the Vacancy Control Board, the primary function of which was to serve as a political enforcer for Giuliani’s City Hall.
Approval of my hire was unusually delayed – not, I later learned, because of anything about me, but because the Buildings Commissioner was resisting a City Hall demand that he fire a particular Buildings Department official. The official’s offense was to correctly apply the city’s Zoning Resolution in denying a construction permit application submitted by a Giuliani campaign contributor. Ultimately, as I recall, the official was transferred to some bureaucratic Siberia, and my hire was approved. The Commissioner of Buildings resigned and left the administration a few months later.
While I was in charge of code enforcement under Giuliani, it was made clear to me that I would be wise to pre-clear with City Hall any enforcement action I might want to take against a campaign contributor or other favored person. The procedure was to go to our intergovernmental affairs liaison so he could get City Hall’s permission to prosecute code violators for code violations.
Most comical to me about that arrangement was how it ended. After Michael Bloomberg took office, our intergovernmental affairs liaison insisted over my objection on going to the Bloomberg City Hall, pursuant to the Giuliani procedure, about a proposed enforcement action. He related back to me that City Hall was confused about the request for permission to enforce the code: “Did they break the law?” Bloomberg’s City Hall asked. “Yes,” Intergovernmental Affairs answered. “Then why are you asking us?” City Hall wanted to know.
Giuliani’s City Hall took an usually active roll in city hiring, even at the lowest levels. Hiring managers received resumes, sometimes marked “must interview,” and sometimes marked “must hire.” I received a few “must interviews,” but fortunately never received a “must hire.”
I did once “inherit” a mandatory hire – a nephew of Mayor Giuliani’s, as it happens. He was a law student, hired originally in one of our offices in a position not well suited either to his skills or his legal aspirations. An effort was made to find a more productive place for him, and after I became assistant commissioner, he was transferred to me. It turned out that he was a great guy, personable, smart and capable. But he was a law student working essentially as a paralegal, and his salary was about half again as much as I was able to pay law school graduates working as lawyers.
None of this is corruption in the traditional meaning of the word. No illegal payoffs were made, and to my knowledge no laws were broken. But I regard the practices as corrupt in a broader sense – governmental decisions were being made for the good of the Mayor’s political prospects, not for the good of the taxpaying public. When code enforcement procedure is explicitly differential depending on the political loyalties of code violators, then law enforcement has been corrupted. When unmerited appointments are made, or merited appointments are overpaid, based on political and family connections, then hiring has been corrupted.
The Giuliani administration was prone to artifice – to put it kindly. For instance, the administration often required that a departing regular, full-time employee be replaced by a “full-time per diem” employee. Per diem employees are paid by the hour, whereas regular employee are salaried. But the new per diem employees were hired to work full-time schedules. From the employee’s point of view, the only difference between a regular employee and a full-time per diem employee was that the latter was not paid for legal holidays for an initial period of employment.
The purpose in shifting from regular employees to full-time per diem employees had nothing to do with saving money – the fiscal benefit to the city of denying holiday pay to new employees was trivial in the scheme of things. The purpose of converting regular employee positions to per diem positions had to do with a quirk of the city’s budgeting procedures, which allotted budget “lines” to salaried employees but not to per diem employees. Per diem employees therefore did not count in the city’s workforce “headcount,” even if they worked full-time. Thus the shift from regular salaried full-time employees to per diem full-time employees enabled Giuliani to claim that he had drastically reduced city government’s employee “headcount.” Giuliani boasted frequently and loudly that his reductions in employee “headcount” reflected substantially reduced city government size and substantially increased city government efficiency. Both claims were the rankest lies.
One of Mayor Bloomberg’s first actions upon taking office in 2002 was to measure the city workforce by “full-time equivalents,” eliminating the “headcount” distinction between per diem employees and salaried employees, and revealing the lie in Giuliani’s claim to have drastically shrunk the city’s workforce.
Throughout the Giuliani administration, the two sons of the Liberal Party chairman, Ray Harding, held prominent positions in city government. I met both Russell Harding and Robert Harding, a pair of intellectual lightweights. In 2000, Russell Harding was appointed to head the city’s Housing Development Corporation, despite the fact that Harding, then 34 years old, had neither a college degree nor even the most vaguely relevant experience. After his appointment, Harding stole city money and ultimately pleaded guilty to fraud – and, by the way, to possession of child pornography – and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Bernard Kerik started out in the Giuliani administration as a police detective who served as Giuliani’s driver during the mayoral campaign. When Giuliani appointed Michael Jacobson commissioner of corrections – even though Jacobson already had a full-time job as commissioner of probation – the word was that Kerik was the power behind the throne. In 1998, Giuliani abandoned the pretext and made Kerik the actual commissioner of corrections. Two years later, Kerik was promoted to police commissioner.
After leaving office, in 2003, Giuliani got George W. Bush to make Kerik the interim minister of the interior of Iraq under Paul Bremer. Then in 2004, Giuliani got Bush to nominate Kerik to be secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The level of scrutiny given to a cabinet nominee led to state and federal investigations, prosecutions, and convictions on multiple charges of corruption and fraud that included charges from Kerik’s time in the Giuliani administration. Kerik was sentenced to four years in prison.
For a lawyer working in city government, Giuliani’s tenure was especially difficult. A lawyer’s job requires firm and clear objection to a proposed action that is of dubious legality or, worse, clear illegality. Giuliani’s administration combined a famous unconcern with legal niceties like the First Amendment and Due Process and a low tolerance for objections to his proposals. So a lawyer who raised a legal concern was risking her career. Giuliani’s management style was “my way or the highway.”
For one of Giuliani’s early initiatives, I served on a committee of staff representing the numerous agencies participating in the initiative. The committee consisted of scores of people. We were charged with figuring out how to achieve the purpose of the proposal, and we met in earnest sessions for well over a year.
But in just a matter of weeks, it became apparent that the committee was a hoax. Although we had been told that we were to develop the details for implementation of the proposal, it became clear that those details would be decided by the Commissioner of Finance and Mayor Giuliani, and in some cases those details had been decided even before the committee was assembled.
Committee members representing hundreds of years of executive-level experience in a wide range of city government agencies protested that this was not the best way to achieve the purpose of the proposal, but the Giuliani administration did not care. Scores of the city’s middle managers spent time that must have totaled in the thousands of person-hours developing a plan of implementation that the administration simply did not want to hear, even though they had asked us for it.
The proposal was never implemented, because the necessary state legislation was never enacted. It wasn’t ever close. Giuliani pursued it for two or three years, then finally let the initiative die an unmourned death.
Even though many of us on the fake committee disagreed with Giuliani’s objective, Giuliani was our boss and as professionals we were committed to help him achieve it. We tried to advise him how he could get there – which aspects of his proposal were unworkable, how he could get to his goal by tweaking and tinkering. Instead of benefiting from the collective knowledge and experience of the city’s civil service, Giuliani treated our efforts as markers of disloyalty.
I don’t know why Donald Trump didn’t pick Rudy Giuliani to be his attorney general, his secretary of state, or anything else in his administration. Maybe it was because Giuliani has “come to resemble a bad-tempered Rottweiler,” in Gail Collins’s words. I do know that Giuliani was a terrible manager, the worst by far of the five New York City mayors I worked for. Passing over Rudy Giuliani may be one of the smartest things the Trump transition team has done.