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."

The investigation infuriated Hynes, who unleashed his ire on Giuliani this January 7 on the mayor's morning radio show, Live From City Hall With Rudy Giuliani. Hynes began with a hyperbolic attack, portraying the ex-prosecutor—who has set himself up as a tough-guy moralist—as a hypocrite.

" . . . the biggest thing you could do to reduce crime would be to resign, sir," Hynes said. "Crime would drop like a rock if you resigned. You're the biggest criminal in the city."

Giuliani laughed. But his trademark insult was not far behind.

"Hey, John!" Giuliani said. "What kind of little hole are you in there, John? It sounds like you are in a little hole. JOHN!"

It seemed like Hynes might miss the chance to confront Giuliani about the alleged harassment by HRA investigators when he suddenly jumped on Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, who was stealing headlines for his racist, homophobic, and anti-New York remarks.

"Why don't you accuse Mr. Rocker of being a convicted sodomite like you do your other opponents?" Hynes asked.

"Are you okay there? You're breathing funny," Giuliani teased.

"No, I'm not okay," Hynes replied. "I'm sick, and you cut me off my food stamps and Medicaid several times; but I suppose you don't give a damn about that either."

Giuliani ignored Hynes's complaint, preferring to engage the caller in more vexing rhetoric. "There's something really wrong with you there, John. I can hear it in your voice. Tell me a few of your other things you'd like to say."

"I'd like to say that my hero is [sidewalk artist activist] Robert Lederman, who paints you as Hitler. He should be mayor. He's the man!"

"Robert Lederman for mayor? You gonna be his campaign manager, John?"

"I don't use words like fascist and racistloosely, sir, but I use them when I refer to you," Hynes shot back. "You're the worst mayor this city has ever known."

Giuliani took the condemnation as a compliment. "Now, why don't you stay on the line," he urged Hynes. "We'll take your name and your number and we'll send you psychiatric help, 'cause you seriously need it. Sounds like you need it more than John Rocker."

After screeners cut off Hynes, the mayor continued: "Man! Look, it's a big city, and you get some real weirdos who hang out in this city, and that's what I was worried about on, uh, New Year's Eve. I wasn't, you know—I figured, the terrorist groups and all that we could keep under control—worried, but who knows what, what's living in some cave somewhere. So, uh, and John called up. John calls up from Queens, but who knows where he's from."

Giuliani then took a call from a woman who identified herself as Victoria and said she was calling from Westchester.

"Hi, I'm so glad that I followed that jerk," Victoria said.

"He's not a jerk," Giuliani said, giggling. "Victoria, I spent a lot of years being a lawyer, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney. I've dealt with a lot of disturbed people; sometimes you can just hear it in their voice. . . . "

"Boy, you had him tagged. . . . "

"That's a seriously disturbed guy and I hope he takes up our offer of giving us his name and number so we can get him some psychiatric help 'cause, even more than John Rocker, he needs it."

John Hynes says he openly baited the mayor because he felt Giuliani had declared war on poor and disabled people. "Mr. Giuliani showed a total lack of respect for all disabled people when he mocked me after I revealed that I was sick," he contends. "He could have had a field day laughing at my tremors and inability to walk or even speak at times had we met in person."

Hynes concedes that he provoked Giuliani's harsh comments, "but that does not make such remarks by an elected official tolerable." Giuliani, he says, should have been aware of his illness. "I did not make it personal," he insists. "I called him 'sir' and 'Mr. Mayor,' yet he referred to me as a 'weirdo' in need of psychological help. Perhaps the most bizarre part of the conversation was when Mr. Giuliani stated that he was more worried about people like me coming to Times Square on New Year's Eve than he was about terrorism. That statement speaks for itself. I cannot make the point of the mayor's unfitness to serve any better than he made it himself."

Hynes maintains that Giuliani was too wrapped up in defending his ego to acknowledge the serious aspects of his fight with the HRA."At no point [on the program] did the mayor express concern for a constituent who was on the line alleging victimization by a mayoral agency under his direct control," Hynes argues. "He did promise, interestingly, to attempt to help a recently arrived student who had overstayed his visa—that he would help him secure a green card. While I wish the best for the student, the fact is that Mr. Giuliani ridiculed a person he had the power to help and gave false hope to someone who probably stands a snowball's chance in hell of success in a federal jurisdiction over which the mayor has no influence."

Since their on-air battle, Hynes has extended his war with Giuliani onto the Internet and TV. In a lengthy complaint he left on the viewer's mailbox for NY1's Inside City Hall, Hynes began by asserting that Giuliani tried to dismiss him as a nobody. "Look, uh, you know, man, I am indeed from Queens, and my name is indeed John. I don't know where the mayor received his medical degree, but he misdiagnosed my condition. What he heard in my voice was one of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, the occasional inability to speak. He mocked me after I told him I was sick."

While some speculate that Giuliani secretly does not really want to run and is sabotaging himself so he can drop out, Hynes envisions Giuliani self-destructing in an absurd political trap he has set for his nemesis. "I [would] call the mayor for a photo op for his senatorial campaign," he offers. "Rudy laugh[s] at me as I stride down a Manhattan street looking well and suddenly freeze and need my wheelchair.

"We could do an ad showing me falling in front of a subway train while the mayor rolls on the platform in uncontrollable laughter. I need not be the star in this ad. How about a three-part ad? In Part One, city attorneys whoop it up in court after winning the right to take home health attendants out of the homes of people with Alzheimer's. In Part Two, an elderly woman dies of a heart attack, or maybe in a fire, because she is unaware of the 911 alert button that was hung around her neck in place of the aide. Part Three shows a smiling Mayor Giuliani the next day leading and chairing the annual Alzheimer's Walk. The possibilities are endless."


Additional reporting: Danielle Douglas

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