Saturday, August 11, 2007

Giuliani: Better from a Distance

Trivial matters do affect our lives, and for that reason I'd like to comment on Rudy Giuliani.

The leader-hero of 9/11, Giuliani was the model for the hot-dogging district attorney of Bonfire of the Vanities,1 and he still makes a better comic character than a leader in a democracy. Does anyone else think it's funny that the mayor with the foresight to develop a crisis command center--perfect for the disaster of 9/11--located it in the World Trade Center?

Okay, so it's not funny. But neither is Giuliani, whose shining moment occurred when the disaster gave him a near-dictator's powers.

That's no surprise: Giuliani loves giving orders, getting limelight, and using force. He's the politician who ran the ball on the "broken-window policy" of crime, which holds that if you crack down on small crimes you prevent bigger ones. He also pushed for CompStat, the computerized crime tracking system, which led to far more effective law enforcement.2 It is no doubt thanks to Giuliani's prior spadework that New York now has one of the best counterterrorist intelligence systems in the world--or so says The New Yorker.3

We can be glad about this. I like being able to walk the dog at midnight. But it's worrisome if you care about civil liberties--the chief political issue of our day.

Since the Bush administration turned the Constitution into a paper airplane and sent it out the window, CompStat is looking a lot scarier. How far away is a system that adds cameras to the mix, like the one China is implementing now?7 I bet it sounds great to Giuliani.

Look at Rudy's mayorship. The city had a brand-new civilian complaint review board when Giuliani was elected, and Giuliani fought it. Of the eight policemen fired for brutality between April 2006 and October 2007, most had been convicted of actual crimes. State law required their dismissal. Only one was fired based on review-board actions.4

Then came election year. The police started monitoring "problem" officers. Turns out there were 225 who'd had six or more complaints against them.5 Six or more!

Also smack in the middle of the Giuliani years6: The death of Amadou Diallo--an unarmed man, dark-skinned in a dark place, who was killed by some 41 police bullets--and the unspeakable Abner Louima crime, in which a gang of white policemen rammed a broom handle up a black man's rear end in a police-station bathroom.

Diallo's death involved mixed signals and automatic weapons, but it's hard to imagine its taking place in a tonier neighborhood than the South Bronx. As for Louima's torture, there are no mitigating arguments. Where do thugs in uniform get the idea they can get away with brutality? From attitudes filtering down from the top, that's how.

In short, Giuliani is like a high-school athlete with bad acne: Better seen from a distance.

When Rudy was in action as the city's quarterback after 9/11, he was a marvel--or so I'm told; I didn't see it personally. But Giuliani is profoundly a local star. In his first shot at the big leagues, he recommended Bernard Kerik (New York's police commissioner during 9/11) as Homeland Security head. Kerik's star fizzled on account of a few mere peccadilloes from his past. Kerik pled guilty to two: bribery and failure to report a "personal loan" as a potential conflict of interest.8

But hey, Kerik was a policeman.

As for ugliness, let's not forget how Giuliani told his wife (and children) that he was separating from her: He said so at a press conference. This followed a number of public events to which Giuliani brought his girlfriend. 9 Lest anyone doubt Giuliani loves the limelight, he was once fond of taking the stage in drag at charity events.

When voters get a close look at Rudy, they'll recoil. That makes his glory-hound run for the White House merely annoying, like Mitt Romney. At least Rudy's wasting right-wing campaign cash.

In one way, though, Giuliani differs from our hypothetical high-school athlete: There's a cure for acne.

1Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel.
2One policeman's description of CompStat: http://www.nycop.com/Oct_99/Comstat_at_One_Police_Plaza/body_comstat_at_one_police_plaza.html
3"The Terrorism Beat," William Finnegan, July 25, 2005, The New Yorker
4"Safir Has Dismissed 106 Officers, 8 for Brutality," October 6, 1997, New York Times
5Police Dept. Begins a Monitoring Program for 225 Problem Officers," New York Times, 9/17/1997.
61997 and 1999, respectively. A BBC News report from July 8, 1999, describes some of the issues of police treatment of minorities: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/388758.stm. BTW, the city's answer to complaints of police racism was Gee, we need to get more minority police officers. If a minority policeman is the thug, nobody can call the police racist. This is simple reasoning. More accurately, it's stupid.
7Wrote former parks commissioner Henry Stern, “Officials have gotten into trouble for sexual misconduct, abusing their authority, personal bankruptcy, failure to file documents, waste of public funds, receiving substantial unrecorded gifts, an association with organized crime figures. It is rare for anyone to be under fire for all seven of the above issues." --quoted in "Busted," by Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, January 10, 2005. Mead's article is a stitch and a half. See also: "High Infidelity," by Steve Benen, in The Washington Monthly, 7-8/2006.My info on what Kerik pled guilty to came from (blush) Wikipedia.

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