By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Out in Long Island City, near the Queensboro Bridge and just off the East River, is a block-like, two-story, concrete structure called the Fortress. Located in an industrial area peppered with abandoned factories, the Fortress describes itself as "the leading museum quality storage and service company in the world," chosen by "personal collectors and corporations as a guardian for their precious objects."
Customers pay to store antiques, fine arts, and other collectibles in 100- to 4000-square-foot vaults that are both climate-controlled and protected by "state-of-the-art" electronic security systems, including motion sensors in every wall. With facilities in three cities and an 18-year history, Fortress's packing, transport, storage, and management have earned it, according to the company's brochures, "the coveted Highly Protected Risk (HPR) rating from the worldwide insurance industry."
Inside the Fortress are the records of the eight years of Rudy Giuliani's City Hall, transferred there at the end of December. Included are the ex-mayor's appointment books, cabinet meeting audiotapes, e-mails, telephone logs, advance and briefing memos, correspondence, transition materials, and private schedules, as well as his departmental, travel, event, subject, and Gracie Mansion files. In addition to the mayor's records, those of his chief of staff and every deputy mayor, together with their chiefs of staff, have all been secured at the warehouse, which charges $3430 per month for the use of 1000 square feet.
Even Giuliani's "World Trade Center files" and "Millennium Project files," together with 6000 files of photographs, 1000 audiotapes, and 15,000 videotapes, are stored there. So are "200-250 feet of gifts such as plaques, awards, personalized clothing, and other items presented to the mayor and deputy mayors, as well as World Trade Center-related materials."
Virtually everything at the Fortress is public property, hijacked by the mayor in a secret agreement signed by George Rios, the city records commissioner he appointed. The agreement was executed amid a flourish of stadium and movie studio transactions for friendson December 24, one of the final, busy days of an administration that departed with just as little regard for the law as when it governed. The 12-page contract was also signed by lawyer Saul Cohen, a longtime friend of Giuliani's, who lists himself as the president of the Rudolph W. Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs Inc., the institute incorporated on December 6 that now controls these records. The Voiceobtained a copy of the agreement under the freedom-of-information laws after the Daily News reported the records transfer early this month.
Calling the "official papers" of Giuliani a matter of "great historical significance" and "unique value," the agreement acknowledges that "the documents are the property of the City" and that "under the City Charter," the Department of Records "is ultimately responsible for the preservation and organization" of these materials. Yet the contract conveys the records to a Giuliani nonprofit so new it has no board, no director, no site, and no identifiable archivist, permitting the center to catalog, organize, and "permanently" maintain them.
The purpose of the arrangement, according to the preamble of the contract, is to "properly archive the Documents" so they "may be conveniently available for scholarly research and general public access," a goal the city records department managed to achieve on its own for every other mayor. Indeed, Chapter 49 of the City Charter requires that "records retained for historical or research purposes be transferred, upon the request of the commissioner of records, to the municipal archives for permanent custody."
Citing that and other provisions, Idilio Gracia-Peña, who was the agency's archive director for 12 years before serving as commissioner from 1990 to 1994, said he found the Giuliani actions "disturbing" and inconsistent with the charter. "Commissioners have to take orders from the mayor," said Gracia-Peña, a professor at Hunter College. "But I wouldn't have done that one myself. I would say it's time for me to go. Rios didn't, and I don't understand that."
Ann Phillips, the head of the New York Archival Society, said she was "very distressed" about the Giuliani deal. "Who's to say he won't censor the papers, that he won't destroy some of them?" she asked. The contract provides that the city's "prior written approval" is necessary before the center destroys any documents, but Phillips and Gracia-Peña point out that without any on-site records-department supervision of the screening of the documents, shredding "is a possibility."
"Rios should've said no," echoes Phillips, who once chaired the city's 15-member Archives, Reference, and Research Advisory Board. "He obviously was appointed by the fellow and wanted to please him." Vowing to "make every effort possible to get the papers back," Phillips said her organization would petition Mayor Michael Bloomberg and possibly "test the issue through legal means."
Even John Manbeck, who was appointed by Giuliani to chair the same board, said his group planned a February 13 meeting to discuss what he said was a "totally unprecedented" deal that "disturbed" them. A former Brooklyn borough historian and college professor, Manbeck said the arrangement "came as a complete surprise to me, the advisory staff, the municipal archives, and the new commissioner," adding that the records were "probably moved in the middle of the night." Manbeck said that Brian Andersson, the assistant commissioner under Rios who was named by Bloomberg to take over the agency, was contacted around January 2 about the moveafter it occurred. Andersson, who refused to talk to the Voice, then notified the Advisory Board.