It Ain't Easy Feeling Sorry For Rudy

One New Yorker Remembers How the Mayor Responded to His Illness

Don't count John Hynes among the throng of New Yorkers who dislike Mayor Rudy Giuliani, yet are rallying to his side in the wake of the disclosure that he is battling prostate cancer and that his marriage is in shambles. Some of them, oddly, would like the prospective U.S. Senate candidate to remain in their political lives. Not Hynes, a livery cab industry activist who suffers from Parkinson's disease and was scornfully depicted as a Neanderthal by the mayor on his call-in show. Hynes, who uses a wheelchair to get around, has been waging a one-man campaign to expose Giuliani's alleged insensitivity to the disabled.

"I regret that the mayor has cancer," says Hynes, a 44-year-old Queens resident and devout Catholic, who is married and the father of two young boys. "I hope that his children will suffer as little as possible as a result of the current turmoil in their lives. I sincerely wish the mayor a speedy recovery, but an equally speedy retirement and disappearance from public life."

Giuliani, he adds, is a pitiless politician. To those who have watched the mayor's tough-as-nails exterior through the years, it was stunning to hear his public admission last week that he too is subject to common human frailties.

The politics of compassion? John Hynes, a Parkinson's sufferer, says Giuliani didn’t feel sorry for him.
The politics of compassion? John Hynes, a Parkinson's sufferer, says Giuliani didn’t feel sorry for him.

"Do you cry sometimes?" a reporter asked.

"Yeah, of course," Giuliani replied. "Of course I cry."

But to John Hynes, the pugnacious mayor might just as well choke on his tears. "I have never despised an elected official as much as I despise Rudolph Giuliani," he confesses. "My family and others ask, 'Why do you hate Giuliani? Forget about him.' I say, it's bad enough that he does what he does to other people. That's enough for me to hate him. I would have to do something even if he left me alone. But when my disease is already robbing me of several hours a day and taking its toll on my family—when the mayor, through his underlings, robs me of more minutes of time I could be spending in the park or relaxing or doing whatever I want—then it's personal."

Their clash seemed almost inevitable. It can be traced to Hynes's encounter with unfeeling bureaucrats in the city's Human Resources Administration (HRA). After Hynes was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1994, he quit his job as an MTA bus driver and enrolled in CUNY Law School. But the debilitating effect of his disease slurred his speech and left him crippled. No one would hire Hynes. He depends on a monthly $1220 disability check and $300 in food stamps. "If I try to work, HRA takes every dollar," charges Hynes, who devotes his time to advising the widows of slain livery cabbies that they are entitled to up to $30,000 in crime-victim's compensation plus $6000 for funeral expenses.

Last November, the city agency launched an investigation of Hynes, alleging food-stamp fraud. Hynes, in turn, accused HRA of harassment. "Every time I have an issue with HRA they close my case, and I threaten civil disobedience; they always back down and reopen the case."

HRA investigators notified Hynes that they had discovered in his 1993 tax return that Citibank had sent him a check for $7000. "They had been asking me about this for several years in a row at recertification," Hynes recalls. "I said, 'Yes, I am guilty. I had money in the bank before I got sick, before I ever thought I'd be in the welfare office.' " He summed up the attitude of his tormentors: "Why ask Mr. Hynes to explain what this piece of paper is? Just open up a fraud investigation. Scare the shit out of him and maybe he won't answer, and we can close his case."

The agency initiated a fraud probe. "So I get this letter telling me that I am the subject of a fraud investigation," Hynes explains. "I call and 'Agent S' tells me I must come in. I tell him I can't travel easily; everything is explainable, right here and now, in 10 seconds, on the phone. No problem. If I can't come in, they will come to see me. Plus there is other stuff, which Agent S cannot reveal to me on the phone. 'But, uh, Agent S, I am the accused.' "

According to Hynes, Agent S also sought proof that Hynes's wife did not have a bank account in Florida. When Hynes himself began to interrogate Agent S, the investigator allegedly said he'd already revealed too much to Hynes, and Hynes could have a lawyer present if he wanted.

"Turns out the $7000 payment was a return of my pension contributions to the federal Thrift Savings Plan when I worked as an IRS officer," Hynes told the Voice. "Then Agent S wanted proof that the $7000 was not a yearly pension. I gave him proof by fax and he never called back." In December, Hynes says he called Agent S and was told "he believed" that the case against him was closed.

"I am not a paranoid individual, but the investigation made me seriously think that they were harassing me even though I used to truly believe that the agency did not have it together enough to harass anyone, at least not deliberately," he adds. "I confess that, for a moment, I was nervous. Not about being arrested—because I am innocent—but about being pushed too far. Parkinson's disease is not helped by stress. I have always managed to pay the rent and buy the food and pay the utilities. The thought of being unable to do that is not a pleasant one."

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