By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
He's the Man
Survey of black leaders nails mayor
Only six of 35 black leaders interviewed by the Voice said Rudy Giuliani had reached out to them to discuss any issue in the past five years, and just three described his administration as "open" to their concerns.
Five of the survey respondents who included all but a handful of the city's black congressional, councilmanic, and legislative officials, as well as Comptroller Carl McCall, Borough President Virginia Fields, Brooklyn Republican leader Arthur Bramwell, and prominent ministers said they believed Giuliani "cared about the problems that black New Yorkers confront." Eight said he "knows enough" about what those problems are. In both responses, 20 of the leaders said he either doesn't know or care, while the rest declined to answer.
Not a single one of the leaders had a supportive word to say about the mayor's handling of last year's so-called Million Youth March in Harlem. All but two, who chose not to comment, denounced the Giuliani-orchestrated police presence and forceful shutdown of the rally as "reckless," "overkill," and even "juvenile."
What was perhaps most surprising about the survey which included all but nine of the city's black elected officials is that even leaders who have endorsed or otherwise supported the mayor, like Floyd Flake, State Senator Ada Smith, Urban League president Dennis Walcott, and Assemblyman Darryl Towns, were critical of him. So were Brooklyn council members Lloyd Henry and Una Clarke, who remained neutral in the 1997 election.
Flake said the mayor had not reached out to him "in a major way," that Giuliani's administration was not as open as others have been, and that the mayor's police tactics at the Harlem march "went well beyond necessity." Praising Giuliani for being "responsive on economic-type issues," Flake said he does not have "the instinct to be responsive on others," especially police brutality. Another 1997 endorser, Ada Smith, said that "Rudy's relationship with the black community is nonexistent," adding: "He knows nothing about our community and hasn't made an effort to learn."
Walcott, a mayoral appointee to a police/community commission, saluted the mayor's anticrime record and 125th Street development initiatives, yet ranked the Giuliani administration behind both Dinkins's and Koch's in its openness. He opposed the mayor's use of police helicopters at the Million Youth March and had to be asked four times if he thought the mayor understood the problems facing blacks before finally answering: "I don't know."
Assemblyman Darryl Towns, the son of Congressman Ed Towns, who endorsed the mayor, said the mayor had reached out to him years ago to help with the upgrade of a park in his district, but added: "When a crisis arises, Giuliani is nowhere around." Highly critical of the mayor's actions at the Harlem march, Towns said he couldn't answer the question of whether the mayor "cares" about the problems of black neighborhoods: "I don't know how he prioritizes them."
Councilwoman Clarke was one of the few to say that Giuliani personally, as well as others at the top of his administration, had reached out to her often. Yet she assailed the administration's policies on CUNY, the "demeaning" workfare program, and police, saying: "There will be those black people, including myself, who will ask what price we have to pay to have a safe community." Saying that "everyone knows the mayor supports those who have helped him to get into office," Clarke added: "I am not any different from the mayor in that sense. I can plot and count where my votes come from. Politics is as politics is."
Councilman Henry, who speaks warmly of a top Giuliani aide caught on videotape threatening him over a council vote, recalled how the mayor invited him to ride back to Manhattan on his boat after a 1997 Ellis Island event. Noting that they "didn't talk politics" and "established a personal rapport," Henry said: "I like him. He's personally engaging. But you have to separate him as a person and as mayor. Dinkins was unassuming and it carried over into his office as mayor. Rudy is almost a split personality. As mayor, he's in the realm of a cutthroat type. It's been to his detriment that many people haven't seen the other side of him."
An Episcopal minister, Henry "gets the impression" Giuliani is "a lonely person" who was "bashful" in their boat and other brief conversations. "He was uncomfortable. I don't know if that's how he relates to people of his own pigmentation. I'm certainly not saying he's prejudiced. But he's not compassionate enough about our problems. I think he's fearful of being too identified with the black community. I don't know where that fear comes from."
In addition to the nine listed above, the survey included congressmen Charlie Rangel, Gregory Meeks, and Major Owens; council members Priscilla Wooten, Lawrence Warden, Bill Perkins, Phil Reed, Juanita Watkins, Annette Robinson, Helen Marshall, Tracey Boyland, and Archie Spigner; state senators Alton Waldon, Velmanette Montgomery, Larry Seabrook, and David Paterson; assemblymen Keith Wright, Jeffrion Aubry, Al Vann, Bill Scarborough, Clarence Norman, Nick Perry, Frank Boyland, and Sam Bea; and ministers Calvin Butts and Al Sharpton.