By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Twas the night before Christmas four years ago when outgoing mayor Rudolph Giuliani cut an unusual agreement with his own government. Instead of handing his official City Hall papers to the municipal archives, as most mayors do when they leave office, he wanted to transfer the files to his 18-day-old Rudolph W. Giuliani Center for Urban Leadership.
Citing the papers' "great historical significance," the agreement said the Giuliani Center was supposed to "arrange, describe, conserve and create a guide" for the documents, which "will ultimately be permanently maintained at a site to be determined." But as the Voice's Wayne Barrett exposed in early 2002, the deal also appeared to give Giuliani broad powers to block public disclosure of any document in which he had a "personal interest." The deal touched off a furor, with archivists and the state's freedom of information watchdog crying foul. City Hall and Giuliani ended up agreeing to a plan where the city was supposed to get all the papers back within three years.
Now, almost a full mayoral term later, the papers are back in the city's hands. Well, about 90 percent of them are, with the rest expected in six months to a year, according to Department of Records deputy commissioner Kenneth Cobb. They're in hundreds of microfilm rolls occupying five sliding vertical cabinets in the municipal archives located in the Surrogate's Court building on Chambers Street, in a room where the documents of William O'Dwyer, Abe Beame, and other chief executives have also gone to their eternal rest.
The difference between Rudy and his neighbors in the microfilm racks is that while America's Mayor is out of office, Giuliani is not yet history. For one thing, Giuliani's political career might merely be at halftime, with a shot at the White House still to come. For another, questions about his actions as mayor are still immediate. Some 9-11 family members want answers about the city's emergency preparedness that day. The city is defending several federal lawsuits concerning Giuliani's actions on children's services, arrests of artists, a police shooting, and other topics.
And a state court hearing on a freedom of information request concerning both Bloomberg- and Giuliani-era files was due to occur this week, but got delayed pending a possible settlement.
According to the municipal archives' guidebook to the Giuliani files, they include things like general correspondence from the mayor's tenure: Box 34, folder 767, holds a letter "from Gene Spence, Republican candidate for governor in Nebraska, asking RWG to appear on his behalf." There are also press digests, press releases, greeting cards, and get-well cardsin particular, a lot of material related to Giuliani's bout with prostate cancer. Listings under "mayoral research department" cover stuff like CompStat, the threatened transit strike in 1999, "Dinkins Campaign Crime," and TWA Flight 800; one roll is devoted just to Joerg Haiderthe controversial right-wing Austrian poland Al Sharpton.
The mayor's daily schedule is there, including both his public events and appointments. The level of detail, however, is uneven. We know that Jack Welch joined the mayor at a performance by Paul Anka in Florida on March 10, 2001, hosted by Donald Trump. We also know that on January 14 of that year the mayor stopped by Engine 92 in the Bronx to offer condolences for a firefighter lost on duty. But then there are lots of listings of other "meetings" with no indication of who was there or what was discussed.
Most of the files are labeled according to which deputy mayor produced them, and there are surprising differences in volume. Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington's files from 1996 to 2001 comprise 43 rolls. Peter Powers, deputy mayor from 1994 to 1996, has 53. But Tony Carbonetti, chief of staff from 1999 through 2001, only has three rolls so far. Richard Lieberman, head of the archives at LaGuardia Community College, says those sorts of disparities are common. "What you're dealing with," he notes, "is the guy who uses the phone versus the guy who loves the pen."
Plus, size isn't everything. In Carbonetti's files, there are gems like:
The results of a poll Giuliani apparently commissioned about a bid to change the city charter. The date and author of the poll aren't revealed, but the advice is clear: The mayor couldn't win if he tried to change mayoral succession rules without proposing other reforms. "In plain English," it read, "if Mark Green and The New York Times rip you every day, you need the package to survive."
A May 22, 2001, memo to Donna Han-over and the city's protocol commissioner, Irene Halligan, in which Carbonetti writes, "In light of the quite public parting of the ways between Donna Hanover and the mayor, it is obviously disingenuous and inappropriate for Donna Hanover to continue to act as First Lady or in any other way as a representative of the mayor."
The file on council Intro. 879, which the mayor hoped to defeat. One sheet counts votes: likely yeas or nays and leaners. Next to one councilperson's name is the notation, "husband's job opportunity." A second page lists all the great things that the mayor had done for another councilmember whose vote Carbonetti was hoping to swing.
Back in early 2002, suspicion was that Rudy Giuliani was trying to bury some skeletons. Not that he'd be the only one to try it: Howard Dean sealed his gubernatorial records before he ran for president. But Giuliani had a reputation for secrecy. Amid the uproar, the City Council considered trying to wrest the files back, but Bloomberg's law department said it couldn't. Eventually, the council approved a measure preventing future mayors from doing what Giuliani did.