Giuliani = La Guardia? NOT!

How Rudy Stacks Up Against His Hero

His very last cuts, just before Christmas, to close the projected budget gap, were aimed at all these same targets.

He had homeless men with outstanding warrants arrested in shelters at night during one Christmas season, and when it was pointed out by reporters that some of the warrants were for no more than public urination, he said with a smirk that we wouldn't want that to go unpunished—raising the question of whether the city had done anything to provide public toilets. His homeless-services commissioner said about the rise in numbers of shelter seekers: "I can't screw the front door any tighter."

His Human Resources Administration team, imported from Wisconsin, specialized in reducing the welfare rolls, and tried to award a lucrative welfare-to-work contract to a company employing a friend of the commissioner.

At any number of discussions among not-for-profit social service providers during the last few years, one could hear many tales of how the Giuliani administration was making life miserable for their clients. Most of this traveled below the radar of mainstream pundits, who generally praised Giuliani for the drop in crime and cleaning up the city.

At a forum on Giuliani's legacy sponsored by the Citizens' Union not long ago, New York Times columnist John Tierney said that La Guardia was one of the two worst mayors of the century because "he left us too many programs to pay for."

The main subjects debated during the forum were how much credit Giuliani deserved for the crime decrease, and for getting rid of squeegee men. Unmentioned at this forum, and in so many other evaluations of his tenure, was the question of what the measure of a mayor's legacy shouldbe. How much does the transformation, or nontransformation, of the physical landscape count? How much does the delivery or non-delivery of government services (other than crime-fighting and prevention) to those most in need weigh?

To paraphrase the punch line of Lloyd Bentsen's famous retort to Dan Quayle in the vice presidential debate of 1988, we know who Fiorello La Guardia was, and Mayor Giuliani, you are no Fiorello La Guardia.

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