Touting “America's mayor”: Will the media cast a critical eye on Rudy Giuliani?

Recent media coverage of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has focused largely on his presumptive bid for the 2008 Republican nomination for president. Certain media outlets, however, are seemingly reluctant to look past Giuliani's reputation as “America's mayor” and note that Giuliani's career as a political figure -- both before and after the 9-11 attacks -- has been marked by numerous controversies and incidents that, at the time, were considered politically damaging.

Rudy Giuliani, who served as mayor of New York City from 1994 to 2001, received high marks for his conduct following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: He was Time magazine's 2001 "Person of the Year" and was nicknamed “America's mayor.” Recent media coverage of Giuliani has focused largely on his presumptive bid for the 2008 Republican nomination for president (though Giuliani maintains he will not announce whether he will run until after the 2006 midterm elections). Certain media outlets, however, are seemingly reluctant to look past Giuliani's reputation as “America's mayor” and note that Giuliani's career as a political figure -- both before and after the 9-11 attacks -- has been marked by numerous controversies and incidents that, at the time, were considered politically damaging. Media Matters for America offers the following examples.

The failed Kerik nomination

On December 3, 2004, President Bush announced that he had nominated former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to replace outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Giuliani, Kerik's long-time friend and business partner, reportedly urged Bush to nominate Kerik for the position. Kerik was once Giuliani's bodyguard, and Giuliani later appointed him commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction in 1998 and New York City Police Commissioner in 2000. Following his term as mayor, Giuliani employed Kerik at his consulting firm, Giuliani & Partners.

On December 10, 2004 -- just one week after the nomination was announced -- Kerik withdrew his name from consideration. According to a December 11, 2004, New York Times article, Kerik's reason for withdrawing his nomination was “that a housekeeper and nanny he had once employed was not clearly a legal immigrant and that he had not properly paid taxes on her behalf.” However, not long after Kerik announced his withdrawal, new information surfaced that shed light on Kerik's controversial past, and questions arose as to whether the so-called “nanny problem” was given as the reason for withdrawal in order to draw attention away from Kerik's record.

Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk weblog (now known as CJR Daily) listed Kerik's alleged misdeeds, including various lawsuits, allegations of corruption, and potential conflicts of interest:

  • "[As a top NYPD official], Kerik accepted thousands of dollars in cash and gifts without making proper public disclosures." (New York Daily News)
  • “A New Jersey judge had issued an arrest warrant for him in 1998 as part of a lawsuit over unpaid bills on a property he owned.” (Newsweek)
  • “On Thursday, the day before he took his name from contention, Kerik, 49, was forced to testify in a civil lawsuit about an alleged affair with a subordinate ... Plaintiff Eric DeRavin III contends Kerik kept him from getting promoted because he had reprimanded the woman, Correction Officer Jeanette Pinero.” (Newsday)
  • “In the three years since Mr. Kerik left city government, he has made millions of dollars in the private sector, much of it working for companies that do business with the Department of Homeland Security and that are seeking to expand their sales.” (New York Times]
  • “On six-month Pentagon assignment in mid-2003 to train Iraqi security forces, Kerik left abruptly after 3 1/2 months.” (Newsday)
  • “Kerik had to pay $2,500 after New York City's Conflict of Interest Board found he improperly used three city cops to travel to Ohio to learn details about his mother for his autobiography, The Lost Son. He also sent detectives to the homes of Fox television employees after his book's publisher, Judith Regan, said her cell phone was stolen while she was on a Fox show.” (Newsday)
  • "[Kerik] was expelled from Saudi Arabia amid a power struggle involving the head of a hospital complex where Kerik helped command a security staff. [He] said it was necessary because of the Saudis' laws prohibiting drinking and mingling of the sexes in public." (Washington Post)

Kerik also “had social ties to the owner of a construction company suspected of mob connections,” according to a December 16, 2004, New York Times article. The White House maintained that Kerik had undergone a “very thorough vetting process'' that ''looked at all the issues relating to his public, financial and personal background.” Giuliani maintained that he was largely unaware of Kerik's past legal difficulties, though newspapers and political figures questioned whether Giuliani really was ignorant of Kerik's actions. The December 16, 2004, Times article reported:

The [New York City] department [of Investigations] learned of Mr. Kerik's connections and questioned him. Mr. Giuliani says he would still have made Mr. Kerik police commissioner if he had known about his link to the company, but maintains that he did not.

If the former mayor did not know the findings of his own administration's investigative agency, which was headed by his own commissioner, why didn't he? It was out of character. Mr. Giuliani, a former prosecutor who ran a proudly top-down government, was closely involved in anything that touched on criminal justice and organized crime.

Mr. Kerik's personal links to that construction company might not have influenced his appointment, but they might at least have given the mayor pause, and led him to ask a question or two of his former chauffeur.

The Baltimore Sun, in a December 20, 2004 article, quoted New York Conservative Party head Mike Long questioning Giuliani's claim to ignorance:

“I don't think this Kerik thing is over,” said Mike Long, head of New York's Conservative Party. “Every day there seem to be new revelations. It was on the mayor's watch. It reflects on him. This was his police commissioner. Are you trying to tell me the mayor of the city of New York doesn't know what his police commissioner is doing?

The New York Times reported on December 13, 2004, that Kerik's withdrawal -- widely regarded as an embarrassment for the White House -- had strained relations between Giuliani and Bush, and damaged Giuliani politically. According to the Times:

That embarrassment has put a new strain on a mutually beneficial relationship that has always been more complicated than mere friendship.

''I feel very bad,'' Mr. Giuliani said in a telephone interview on Sunday afternoon, adding that he felt somewhat responsible for the nomination of Mr. Kerik, who withdrew his name on Friday because he had failed to pay taxes for a nanny who was in the country illegally.

''Even though there was never a conversation about it, I realize that one of the reasons they did it was because of my confidence in Bernie over the years,'' he said. ''And I feel like maybe I should have involved myself more in it.''

Mr. Giuliani added that he did not think the situation would hurt his relationship with President Bush or the White House. ''It doesn't and shouldn't affect my feelings toward them, and I don't think it will affect their feelings toward me,'' he said. ''We're friends.''

The view at the White House is somewhat different. Although people close to the president say he likes and respects Mr. Giuliani, they say the president has long been leery of him as a man who could not be counted on for the loyalty demanded by Mr. Bush. And while the breakdown of Mr. Kerik's nomination is not lethal to Mr. Giuliani's relationship with the White House, the friends and officials say, it will hardly burnish his credentials with the president.

''It hurts him politically, so therefore by extension it's going to hurt him with the White House,'' said a Republican close to the administration who has worked for both Mr. Bush and Mr. Giuliani and who asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of the situation. ''Nobody at the White House is saying to themselves, 'Damn that Rudy Giuliani.' It's more, 'Well, he got his licks.' ''

The NYPD scandals

When campaigning for mayor in 1993, Giuliani presented himself as a “crime-fighter,” and openly subscribed to the “broken windows” theory of criminology, which maintains that petty street crime, left unchecked, serves as an invitation for more serious offenses. Giuliani proposed crackdowns on petty offenders -- most notably the "squeegee men." Since 1990, the crime rate in New York City has dropped steadily and drastically.

However, during Giuliani's term as mayor, the New York Police Department was involved in a series of scandals involving police officers using excessive force on minor offenders and innocent people.

  • Abner Louima: Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was arrested outside a Flatbush nightclub on August 9, 1997, and was taken to a Brooklyn police station, where police officers beat and tortured him -- at one point inserting the handle of a toilet plunger into Louima's rectum, and then shoving it in his face. The incident inflamed racial tensions in New York, and several officers went on trial for their involvement in Louima's torture, including Officer Justin Volpe, who was accused of actually performing the brutal acts. After initially pleading not guilty, Volpe changed his plea to guilty in May 1999 and admitted to torturing Louima. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

    At the time of Louima's torture, some blamed Giuliani for creating an environment that fostered police brutality and chastised him for not recognizing a larger pattern of police violence. According to an August 30, 1997 Philadelphia Inquirer article:

    About 7,000 angry demonstrators, many waving toilet plungers and Haitian flags, marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall yesterday, chanting slogans and cheering speakers who asserted that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had created a climate that encouraged police brutality.


    One of the speakers, Norman Siegel, who heads the New York American Civil Liberties Union and was a law-school classmate of Giuliani's, criticized the mayor for treating the assault as an aberration.

    “How many incidents like this do we need before it's not an isolated incident?” Siegel asked. He said that research on civilian complaints has identified as many as 2,000 “bad cops” among the department's 38,000. He called upon Police Commissioner Howard Safir to retrain them, or purge them.

    Siegel and others presented a litany of abuse cases that preceeded the Louima case - mostly black and Hispanic victims, including dozens who have been killed in police custody. Several of these cases were presented in tearful detail by surviving family members.

  • Amadou Diallo: On February 4, 1999, four New York City police oifficers knocked on the door of African immigrant Amadou Diallo's Bronx apartment in search of a rape suspect. As the police questioned him, Diallo reached into his pocket to retrieve his wallet, at which point the officers fired 41 shots at Diallo, striking him 19 times and killing him. As with the Louima incident, Diallo's death stoked racial tensions in New York City, especially after the four officers involved were acquitted of wrongdoing in Diallo's death in February 2000.
  • Patrick Dorismond: On March 16, 2000, an undercover New York City narcotics officer approached Haitian-American Patrick Dorismond to solicit marijuana. Dorismond reportedly grew upset at officer's request, and scuffled with Detective Anthony Vasquez, who fatally shot Dorismond. Dorismond was later found to not have any drugs or weapons on him. Dorismond's death, occurring in the immediate wake of the Diallo acquittals, sparked demonstrations, and violence broke out at Dorismond's funeral between protesters and police. Giuliani inserted himself into the controversy by stridently defending the officers involved and releasing Dorismond's juvenile arrest record. The New York Times reported on March 23, 2000: “At a news conference in Brooklyn, the mayor said he had not visited Mr. Dorismond's family and had no plans to do so because that might imply that the shooting was unjustified.” The Times went on to report:

    Although Mr. Giuliani initially responded cautiously to the shooting, he ordered the release of Mr. Dorismond's sealed juvenile police record on the day of his death. By the weekend Mr. Giuliani was saying in a television interview with “Fox News Sunday” that Mr. Dorismond was not “an altar boy.” By Tuesday, Mr. Giuliani had ratcheted up his remarks at an angry news conference, saying that Mr. Dorismond's arrest record and previous behavior, including a fight with his girlfriend this month, might have been a factor in his death. “That Mr. Dorismond spent a good deal of his adult life punching people was a fact,” the mayor said.

    Mr. Giuliani's advisers said this week that they could not control him and that they would not have advised him to make such statements.

    Two months after the shooting, Giuliani apologized for his reaction to Dorismond's death, saying: "“I made a mistake I should have ... conveyed the human feeling I had of compassion and loss of a mother.” [Newsday, 5/19/00] On July 28, 2000, a grand jury declined to file charges against Vasquez.

In an April 20, 2000 Washington Post column, George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen concluded that by 1997, Giuliani's “broken windows” law enforcement strategy had transformed into a “zero-tolerance” approach -- a change that contributed to the deaths of Diallo and Dorismond. According to Rosen:

William Bratton, then New York's transit police chief, cracked down in 1990 on low-level disorder in the subways, such as turnstile jumping. Subway felonies dropped 75 percent, and robberies dropped 64 percent. When Giuliani made Bratton police commissioner in 1994, Bratton brought his approach to the entire city. Between 1990 and 1997, misdemeanor arrests increased by more than 80 percent. And the initial reviews were positive, even in minority communities. In a New York Times poll conducted in 1997, at the end of Giuliani's first term, 44 percent of African Americans said the NYPD was doing a good or excellent job.

But, around that time, the broken windows approach morphed into zero tolerance, and a crucial opportunity to win minority support evaporated. The police began seeing the arrests of fare beaters as a tool of criminal investigation rather than an end in themselves. Stopping and frisking numerous ordinary citizens, Giuliani, Bratton and Howard Safir (Bratton's successor) reasoned, would make the people carrying illegal guns fear that their weapons would be discovered during an arrest for a more minor offense. And this would deter them from carrying guns in the first place.

It was this approach that led to undercover operations such as Operation Condor, under which officers shot Dorismond last month after approaching him to buy drugs he didn't possess, and to the formation of the infamous Street Crimes Unit, four of whose officers shot the unarmed Diallo.

The Brooklyn Museum of Art

In response to a controversial Brooklyn Museum of Art exhibition titled “Sensation” -- which featured artist Chris Offili's “The Holy Virgin Mary,” a portrait of Mary that incorporated elephant dung -- Giuliani cut off the museum's public funding and attempted to have the museum evicted, describing the exhibit as “aggressively anti-religious,” and claiming, according to the September 27, 1999, Chicago Tribune: “There is nothing in the 1st Amendment that supports horrible and disgusting projects.” The museum filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Giuliani, and a federal judge ordered that the museum's funding be immediately restored. Giuliani appealed the decision, and in March 2000, a settlement was reached whereby the museum's funding was restored, and both the First Amendment suit and Giuliani's appeal were dropped.

The bus ads

In November 1997, Giuliani pressured the New York City Metro Transit Authority to remove from certain city buses advertisements for New York magazine promoting the publication as: “Possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for.” The magazine took Giuliani to court, claiming that Giuliani's action had violated its First Amendment rights. The Washington Post reported on December 2, 1997, that a U.S. District Court judge “summarily slapped down Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's attempt to ban from city buses an advertisement that makes gentle fun of him.” The ruling was confirmed on December 4, 1997, by three-judge federal appeals court panel, which officially lifted the ban on the advertisements.

In its December 31, 2001, retrospective of Giuliani's mayoral term, The New York Times highlighted the Brooklyn Museum of Art incident and the bus-advertisement fiasco in noting that "[t]he suppression of dissent, or of anything that irked the mayor, became a familiar theme" in Giuliani's administration. According to the Times:

The administration delayed and blocked permits for various organized protests. It sought to cut off money to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and tried to block bus advertisements saying that New York magazine was “possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for.” The administration also blocked access to the steps of City Hall for what it maintained were security concerns, until a federal court ruled that the city was violating the constitutional right of assembly. The steps, historically, have been a “democratic bazaar,” Mr. Russianoff said.

Blaming the troops

Following The New York Times' October 25, 2004, revelation that nearly 380 tons of high-powered explosives had been looted from Iraq's Al Qaqaa military installation following the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, Giuliani and a number of conservatives in the media attempted to deflect blame for the looting from the Bush administration by shifting it to U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. Giuliani, on the October 28, 2004, broadcast of NBC's Today said: “The president was cautious. The president was prudent. The president did what a commander in chief should do. And no matter how much you try to blame it on the president, the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough? Didn't they search carefully enough?”

Various media figures, however, have appeared unconcerned with Giuliani's political missteps, and have even taken great pains to explain them away. Chief among them has been MSNBC's Chris Matthews. During a discussion on the prospects of Giuliani and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination on the April 30 edition of NBC's The Chris Matthews Show, Matthews and his guests focused on Giuliani's failed marriages as the only aspect of his background that might hurt his standing with religious conservatives. Matthews, however, saw little to be concerned with and explained that Giuliani's “grittiness” and “Catholic school education may trump all that.” From the April 30 Chris Matthews Show:

DAVID BROOKS (New York Times columnist): But there is a difference in their constituencies. When you look at who's backing Giuliani, oddly it's the people to the right of the people backing McCain, because they like the tough guy. And the crucial question for Giuliani is when those people learn about the divorces and the other things in his background, do they react or not? And I don't think that's a clear issue that they immediately push him away. They might, you know, they're pretty broad-minded and practical-minded. And they might say, OK, “We'll accept all that, if he sends us a message on judges.”

MATTHEWS: I'm not so sure that the people on the Catholic side who are usually pretty cautious about issues or negative about issues like gay marriage, abortion rights, don't find a kinship with this guy that may trump all that. A familiarity coming up in ethnic neighborhoods in the big city, being a big-city mayor, that grittiness, that Catholic school education may trump all that. People say, “I know he's had some mistakes in his life, but he seems like us, you know, he's tough -- tough on crime.” You know, the whole thing.

On the May 2 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Matthews tried to spin the failed Kerik nomination as evidence of Giuliani's political strength, said Giuliani “looks like a president to me,” and compared him to Winston Churchill, as Media Matters for America documented. From the May 2 Hardball, with Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of the National Journal's weblog The Hotline:

GIULIANI [video clip]: I've got a lot of places to go and a lot of people to talk to, and, you know, a long process of figuring out whether, you know, it makes sense to run for president in 2008. I don't know the answer to that yet.

MATTHEWS: He looks like president to me, Chuck.


TODD: I've got two words: Bernie Kerik. How many Bernie Keriks does Rudy Giuliani have to go through?

MATTHEWS: That's the guy he put up for the Homeland Security, it turns out they had a little love nest going on near the World Trade Center. But, you know, that's proof of how enduring he is, because that didn't hurt him.


MATTHEWS: Remember the great Churchill speech, “We will fight them in the air. We will fight them in the streets.” You can do it with McCain in the air and Giuliani in the streets.

On the May 4 edition of Hardball, Matthews returned to heaping praise on Giuliani and compared him to President Franking Delano Roosevelt. From the May 4 Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Will we ever have a president, whether it's Bush or another brother of Bush's, or another wife of a current -- a recent president, Hillary -- will we ever have a president who can instill that kind of instant total confidence that FDR could do, where everybody believed that he could do it?

JONATHAN ALTER (senior editor, Newsweek): We might not get that far. Of course FDR had a lot of enemies pretty quickly also. But we can find more leadership. The subtitle is “the defining moment and the triumph of hope.” FDR believed in hope. And I think he would say you've got to say that leaders, sometimes it's buried within them. They didn't see it in FDR, and we might not see it in a lot of other people who could be president.

MATTHEWS: I wonder about Giuliani sometimes, with all his flaws, I just wonder.

On the May 2 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley reported on Giuliani's trip to Iowa the previous day and found nothing critical to say about “America's mayor”:

CROWLEY: Can a big-city mayor find happiness in the byways and burbs of Middle America? That is what he is trying to find out.

GIULIANI: My effort this year will be to help Republicans get elected. And, then, you know, quite honestly, also, as part of it, saying to myself, does it look like I have a chance in 2008, and make that decision after the 2006 election.

CROWLEY: It has been almost five years since Rudy Giuliani plowed his way through the dust and chaos of 9-11 to become a national hero, America's mayor.

REP. JIM NUSSLE (R-IA) (IOWA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE): He's, as what they say now, a superstar within our party.

CROWLEY: He is quite the draw in Iowa in places like Des Moines and Davenport, turning out the crowds, talking up the candidates, courting the faithful for future reference.

GIULIANI: George W. Bush will be considered historically a great president. And it doesn't -- I mean, I -- and I think a lot of things are going to happen in the next couple of years that help to support that.

CROWLEY: If you could run for president on buzz, His Honor would be printing up bumper stickers.

RAY HOFFMAN, IOWA GOP CHAIRMAN: Initially, the first few visits, I'm sure 9-11 is the reason they come, and they see him, they meet him. And if -- then they are going to want to find out. They're going to ask him questions. And they will probably be some hard questions.

CROWLEY: Like, can a pro-abortion-rights, pro-gay-rights, pro-gun-licensing, twice-divorced candidate survive the party's conservative primary voters? Perhaps a change of subject.

GIULIANI: The major thing that we organize around as Republicans is a government that puts more reliance on people than government.

CROWLEY: The signal could not be more clear. If Giuliani runs, he will have to fundamentally change the dialogue within the Republican Party. He will be a tough sell in '08, but Giuliani is a tough customer, who, as mayor, cut crime and taxes and stared into the face of terrorism. Many a presidential campaign has begun on less.

The New York Times' May 2 article on Giuliani's Iowa trip mentioned his “brand of politics,” but offered no indication that Giuliani's “brand of politics” caused him trouble in the past. From the May 2 Times article:

For the most part, Mr. Giuliani said, his views were in the mainstream with the party faithful in Iowa and nationally, noting that he favored lower taxes, free trade, smaller government programs and a strong military.

''We then have a party that has disagreements on issues that have to do with religion and what you call social issues,'' he said. ''But it's a party that has room for [California Gov.] Arnold Schwarzenegger and me, and a party that has room for people who have different views on that. The more we grow like that, the more of a chance we're going to have to be a majority party.''

Mr. Giuliani also acknowledged that his personal popularity -- burnished by his leadership of New York City during and after the Sept. 11 terror attack -- did not guarantee that Iowa voters would support him in the January 2008 caucuses.


While many traditional caucusgoers are more hard-core conservatives and may oppose Mr. Giuliani over social issues, Mr. [David M.] Roederer [state chairman of the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign] said, other more moderate Republicans might come out of the woodwork and attend the caucuses for the first time to support him because of his brand of politics and his leadership during the 9/11 crisis. More than 610,000 Iowans are registered Republicans, Mr. Roederer said, but only about 110,000 typically vote in the caucuses.

By contrast, the Los Angeles Times reported on April 30:

If Giuliani runs, his tenure as New York mayor from 1994 through 2001 -- not just the part that came after Sept. 11 -- would get new attention from supporters and detractors.

“He would run on his record,” said Anthony V. Carbonetti, a business partner and political advisor to Giuliani. “Here's a guy who governed the largest city in America for eight years, brought down crime, brought welfare rolls down dramatically and reduced taxes. Are there better conservative principles than that?”

A less flattering view of his mayoralty is portrayed in “Giuliani Time,” a documentary that opens in New York on May 12. Directed by Kevin Keating, it seeks to undercut what the film's website terms Giuiliani's “secular sainthood” -- the view of him as a supermayor who turned New York from a crime-ridden, welfare-dependent city into a model of urban renaissance.

The film's title comes from the notorious 1997 case of a Haitian immigrant who was beaten and sodomized by police with a broomstick. At the time, a police officer was reported to have said during the attack, “It's Giuliani time”; that claim later turned out to be false.

Giuliani's stormy private life also may come under renewed scrutiny. His divorce from his second wife, Donna Hanover, was especially bitter. And as their marriage fell apart, Giuliani moved out of the mayor's mansion and stayed for a time with a gay couple in their Manhattan apartment.