Is Rudy Giuliani racially challenged?
Veteran reporter Michael Powell's Sunday front-page story, "In a Volatile City, a Stern Line On Race and Politics," is the first article in what the Times promises is "a series on the lives and careers of the 2008 presidential contenders." (Powell covered Giuliani for another paper during his early days as New York City mayor in 1993-94.)
"Those were grim days for race relations in New York City, the early 1990s. There were nearly 2,000 murders each year, blacks and whites died in high-profile racial killings, and a riot held a divided Brooklyn neighborhood in thrall for three dangerous nights.
"On Jan. 9, 1994, another match landed in this tinderbox: a caller reported a burglary at a Harlem mosque. The police ran in, and Nation of Islam guards threw punches and broke an officer's nose.
"The mosque's minister, accompanied by the Rev. Al Sharpton, drove downtown to register their outrage with the police commissioner, a street theater ritual grudgingly tolerated by past mayors.
"Except the new mayor - Rudolph W. Giuliani, fresh off his November victory over the city's first black mayor, David N. Dinkins - decreed that no one would meet with Mr. Sharpton. No more antics, no more provocations.
"'I've taken a golden opportunity to act like a sensible mayor rather than a mayor who will be moved in any direction,' he said. 'I'm an observer of the last 10 years of this city, and I hope to God we don't continue in that direction.'
"More than any other Republican running for president, Mr. Giuliani has confronted the question of race, that most torturous of American legacies.
"His 1993 mayoral campaign slogan, often repeated, of 'one city, one standard,' emphasized his view that no ethnic or racial group should expect special treatment. And he spoke with a stunning bluntness about what he saw as the failings of the city's black leadership."
One of the critics of Giuliani quoted by Powell is race-baiting hatemonger (and Times favorite) Al Sharpton, which makes one wonder how committed the Times itself is to racial harmony. Reporter Powell let other black leaders suggest Rudy made racial appeals.
"Certainly he knew such words resonated with white voters who formed the backbone of his electoral coalition. What is less certain is whether a man raised and schooled in a white world understood the force with which his harshest words rained down on black New Yorkers.
"New York City is 45 percent white and 27 percent black, according to 2000 Census figures.
"'He was not patronizing, he was not naïve and I admired that,' said Michael Meyers, president of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, who once advised him. 'But he could play on the edge of old racial antipathies.'
"Mr. Giuliani's policies, too, stirred anger. His decision to drive down the welfare rolls by cutting benefits and tightening eligibility standards and his deep cuts in social agencies infuriated many. Black voters applauded the drop in crime, but rough police tactics often inflamed tensions."
On his successful campaign against Mayor David Dinkins, Powell wrote: "Most of that good will evaporated in the heat of the campaign. Mr. Dinkins became the Democratic nominee; his candidacy was laden with black aspiration and the promise of racial peace. Mr. Giuliani steered right and attacked hard.
"When Mr. Dinkins called Mr. Giuliani, who served in the Justice Department, a 'Reagan Republican,' he fired back. His campaign ran an ad in a Jewish newspaper with a photo of Mr. Dinkins and Mr. Jackson, a year after Mr. Jackson made a comment widely seen as anti-Semitic. Mr. Giuliani began calling Mr. Dinkins 'a Jesse Jackson Democrat.'"
Sounds more like a "counterattack" than an attack.
"Still, Mr. Giuliani took a fateful step that would for years prompt questions about his racial sensitivities. In September 1992, he spoke to a rally of police officers protesting Mr. Dinkins's proposal for a civilian board to review police misconduct.
"It was a rowdy, often threatening, crowd. Hundreds of white off-duty officers drank heavily, and a few waved signs like 'Dump the Washroom Attendant,' a reference to Mr. Dinkins. A block away from City Hall, Mr. Giuliani gave a fiery address, twice calling Mr. Dinkins's proposal 'bullshit.' The crowd cheered. Mr. Giuliani was jubilant."
Powell briefly acknowledged the undeniable positives of Giuliani's mayoralty:
"A record plunge in homicides earned the mayor a larger measure of good will. Black New Yorkers appreciated safer neighborhoods and applauded that thousands more of their young men remained alive.
"'Rudy's gift is that he could identify with people who felt trapped by crime,' Mr. Meyers said.
"By 1997, Mr. Giuliani's job approval rating in the black community stood at 42 percent, according to a New York Times poll.
"But within these victories lay the seed of a problem. Even as crime dropped by 60 percent, officers with the street crime unit stopped and frisked 16 black males for every one who was arrested, according to a report by the state attorney general. Then came three terrible episodes that raised a pointed question for black New Yorkers: Was crime reduction worth any cost?"
Powell dug into the cases of Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, and Patrick Dorismond. Louima survived his assault, a genuine victim of possibly racist police brutality. Diallo and Dorismond both died of gunfire, two victims of improper (but not racist) police procedure.
Reading those paragraphs, one would think police problems in New York City began and ended under Rudy Giuliani. But what about police shootings under black mayor David Dinkins?
As David Horowitz wrote in 2000 in Salon Magazine: "In 1993, the last year that David Dinkins was mayor of New York, there were 212 intentional police shootings of civilians (many of them African-Americans). This compares to only 73 shootings by the Giuliani police force in the past year. In 1991, during Dinkins' reign, there were 41 fatalities resulting from police shootings. In 1999, under Giuliani there were only 11."
The last subhead of the story, "A Damaged Agenda," summed things up.
"The question lingers in conversation with black officials: Did Mr. Giuliani have a black problem, or did blacks just not get him?
"He dueled with no end of white officials. Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, a fellow Republican? He's 'running a protection racket.' Gov. George E. Pataki? 'Needs his head examined.' The Manhattan borough president, Ruth W. Messinger? She has 'really jerky' ideas.
"But Ms. Reiter, the former deputy mayor, said a mayor could not assume words register the same for every group. 'One city, one standard is fine but unrealistic,' she said. 'There are groups, for reasons of history, treated differently, and it happens every day.' Ignore that, she says, and a leader risks tone-deafness."
So the Times wanted Giuliani to apply a double standard to whites and blacks?
"The city did not boil over on Mr. Giuliani's watch; neither did it unite behind him.
"But Mr. Sharpton, whose hand was behind most anti-Giuliani demonstrations, boycotts and attempted embarrassments, said Mr. Giuliani damaged his own agenda by failing to cultivate black allies."
Greg Pollowitz has more of what the Times has forgotten about Giuliani and New York City's black leadership at National Review's Media Blog.