Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Remembering Rudy

Police and marchers struggle at 1999 pride march.

Police arrest at 1999 pride march.

A protester at the 1999 pride march.

“New York City will again be the capital of the world,” Rudy Giuliani promised in his first mayoral inaugural address that was delivered in January 1994. In his second such address in 1998, he said “We are the undisputed capital of the World.”

Of course, that made him the world’s mayor. That hubris was classic Giuliani. He had the dumb luck to be elected New York City’s mayor just before the national economy began to grow dramatically and crime across the nation began to fall precipitously.

With regular press conferences touting the drop in crime in the city or boasting of job growth, Giuliani never failed to associate himself with these trends despite having nothing to do with the former and very little do to with the latter.

“Here’s the reason why you should vote for me,” Giuliani said at a 1996 press conference held at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence, with members of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. “You shouldn’t vote for me because you are gay and lesbian...You should vote for me because I’ve reduced crime in this city more than any other mayor in history and made New York City the safest large city in America. You should vote for me because since I’ve been mayor of New York City you’ve had 102,000 more jobs in New York City.”

Giuliani was gearing up for a second mayoral run in 1997. As he appears to be considering yet another run at the White House, following his failed effort in 2008, it is worth recalling his eight years in office and what he did and did not achieve.

When Giuliani spoke at that first inaugural, the national unemployment rate was at 6.7 percent. Four years later, it was at 4.7 and fell to 4.3 percent by December of that year. Nationally, unemployment was at 4.2 percent when Giuliani left office and had ranged from 3.9 percent to 4.1 percent since October of 1999.

New York did not do as well. The state rate was 7.1 percent in January of 1994 and fell to 5.4 percent by the end of that year. By January of 1998, unemployment was 8.5 percent in New York City and it fell to 5.1 percent by January of 2001 when Giuliani left office.

Still, the economy did improve. What did Giuliani do? As with everything else in his tenure he squandered the opportunity to reduce the size of city government when the economy was good and New Yorkers could find jobs in the private sector.

In a classic Republican move, Giuliani cut taxes instead and went on a borrowing binge. The city-funded debt grew at an average annual rate of 6.6 percent during the 90s, according to a report from the state comptroller. By 2002, the city’s debt burden was more than twice “the average of the nation’s 56 largest cities,” that report said. Giuliani also pandered to the city unions by growing the size of the city work force to the largest it has ever been.

While the decline in crime in New York City was impressive and sustained, it began under David Dinkins, who held City Hall right before Giuliani, and it was seen across the nation which puts the lie to Giuliani’s endless promoting of the idea that he was uniquely responsible for that reduction. Those low crime rates have continued under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and we have not been subjected to quarterly press conferences with Bloomberg preening before some graph that illustrates the fall.

With crime falling and the economy growing came a chance for greater comity in New York City. Not, apparently, when it was Giuliani time. The mayor effectively unleashed the police department on the city and on New Yorkers of color in particular. There were 61 police shootings in 1994, a number that was down from the highs of the 70s and 80s. Those numbers began to decline late in Giuliani’s first term and continued down in his second term to 19 in his last year in office.

In the more notorious instances of police brutality, the killings of Patrick Dorismond and Amadou Diallo and the assault on Abner Louima, Giuliani could not bring himself to be decent and always managed to pour more fuel on what were already incendiary situations. His relations with New York City’s gay community were little better.

Giuliani angered some in the gay and lesbian community by launching a crusade against the sex clubs, bathhouses, and porn shops that were favored venues for sex among gay and bisexual men. (I had a whole lot to do with that, but I will let others rage on that topic.) He later successfully pursued a city law that limited where porn shops could operate.

His efforts to dismantle what is now called the HIV/AIDS Services Administration, the city agency that enrolls people with AIDS in food stamp, Medicaid, housing, and other entitlement programs, resulted in Housing Works, an AIDS group, successfully suing City Hall to stop the cuts. The City Council also enacted local laws that imposed a number of mandates on HASA operations. Giuliani also opposed efforts to teach effective AIDS education in city schools and his response to anti-gay violence was seen as insufficient.

In his 1997 mayoral race, 56 percent of self-identified lesbian and gay voters favored Democrat Ruth Messinger, who was certain to lose, over Giuliani though only 40 percent of the white gay voters backed Messinger.

So it was that in 1998 Giuliani was briefly run out of the city’s annual gay pride march by a group of demonstrators who blocked his path on Fifth Avenue. Police made 20 arrests for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The demonstrators wore tee-shirts with slogans reading “Rudy Get Out Of Our Parade,” “Kids Need AIDS Ed Now” and “Stop Lying About Queer Bashing.” The group chanted “Quality of life is a lie, you don’t care if people die” and “Giuliani, you’re a mess, you’re a bigot in a dress.”

The next year, Giuliani responded as only he would. In the 1999 gay pride march, Giuliani was guarded by uniformed police officers who marched along the sides of Fifth Avenue and roughly two dozen plainclothes officers, identified by the yellow sweat bands on their wrists, who kept pace with the mayor on the sidewalks. The large police presence further inflamed passions.

“I find it ridiculous that on a day that is supposed to be a celebration...that we would be threatened with arrest,” Joo-Hyun Kang, then the executive director of the Audre Lorde Project, told me then. Kang said she had been threatened with arrest three times. As I spoke with her on Fifth Avenue, Allan Hoehl, then the police department’s chief of the Manhattan South division, instructed her to move along. When Kang asked that he not touch her, Hoehl warned that the next time he touched her she would be under arrest.

Giuliani was marching with the Log Cabin Republicans that year and they made the mistake of stepping into the middle of the parade’s People of Color contingent. As groups in that contingent tried to pass Giuliani, police jostled with them on the sidewalks and on the avenue. At West 37th Street, police arrested one marcher on the sidewalk as she tried to join friends marching in front of Giuliani. As the woman was being rushed by police down 37th Street, a friend of hers was arrested as she tried to intervene. Both women were charged with disorderly conduct.

As he moved into the 30s and 20s, the anti-Giuliani sentiment seemed to grow stronger. Boos, profanity, and cries of “Rudy Get Out” came more frequently. When he was introduced at the 23rd Street reviewing stand any cheers could not be heard above the booing.

The protests continued during a later press conference as roughly one dozen members of Fed Up Queers chanted “Rudy Get Out” as the mayor spoke.

“The man has attacked us during his entire term,” Brownie Johnson, a Fed Up Queer, told me. “He does not belong here. He does not belong in our parade.”

He does not belong in the White House either.

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