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Published on Tuesday, February 8, 2000 in Pop & Politics
The Carpetbagger vs. Mayor Mean
The Choice Is Clear
by Farai Chideya
This weekend, Hilary Rodham Clinton became the first First Lady to ever run for office, setting her sights on a U.S. Senate seat out of New York. Right now NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani is nine points ahead of HRC in the polls, but many New Yorkers aren't terribly enthusiastic about either choice. Our Mayor’s prickly personality just won’t translate to the backroom dealmaking of the Senate. Hilary’s flaw is far more obvious. “It Takes a Village” Clinton is no New Yorker—for one, she’s barely broken in her Yankees cap. But this carpetbagger may be just what New York needs.

When it comes to dealing with poor New Yorkers, homeless New Yorkers, black and Latino and immigrant New Yorkers, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani may just qualify as the Meanest Man in New York. His constant bullying of those less powerful than he ought to disqualify him from higher office.

Mayor Giuliani has a consistent policy on issues like homelessness: do everything possible to avoid solving the underlying problem. "Streets do not exist in civilized societies for the purpose of people sleeping there," the Mayor said recently. "Bedrooms are for sleeping." Yet, in a city where the average one bedroom apartment costs over a thousand dollars per month, the mayor has cut the housing budget for homeless New Yorkers by 74 percent—despite a city budget surplus. Mayor Mean has suggested housing the homeless in empty public hospital beds (which could compromise the health of patients), and, most recently, taking children away from homeless parents who refuse to work.

Even more shortsighted than the homelessness policies are the Giuliani administration’s positions on workfare. I reported on a case in 1996 where the administration was trying to get a 19 year-old boy to drop out of high school in order to do workfare. He had stayed home from school one year to take care of his dying grandmother, the woman who raised him on public assistance. (No, this was not a mistake. When a judge ruled resoundingly against the Giuliani administration, the administration appealed!)

Giuliani prides himself on inspiring law and order, though the decline in New York’s crime began before he took office. But when police officers commit a crime, the Mayor turns a blind eye. With every controversial police force case--from the sodomy of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima to the 42 shots fired at the unarmed, now deceased Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo, to the killing of Gary Busch, a mentally ill man in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood--Mayor Giuliani has rushed to defend the police first, without urging that the department get to the bottom of the cases. Yet he had little to say when one of New York’s finest confessed to the brutal attack on Louima.

Finally, Mayor Mean sure can hold a grudge. He refused to meet with the city’s top black elected official, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, for 11 months—until the Diallo shooting made a reconciliation politically expedient.

Has Mayor Giuliani done good for New York? Yes, for some New Yorkers, especially wealthy ones. Those who did not, in large part, vote for him—the poor, and blacks and Latinos—he has ignored, even punished. The true test of a politician is not whether he can govern those who put him in power. It’s whether he can serve everyone in his community, even those with whom he has differences. Mayor Giuliani has failed that test in New York City. Why give him a chance to fail in the U.S. Senate, on behalf of the state?


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