The Brother and the 'Hood'

The excerpt from Wayne Barrett's biography of Mayor Rudy Giuliani ["Rudy's Secret: His Dad Was a Convict and a Thug," July 11] startled me. I responded to questions put to me by Adam Fifield, Barrett's assistant, during several phone conversations he initiated, with the understanding that the mayor was to be presented in Barrett's book as a man who accomplished remarkable feats during his public career in the very area that some of his relatives might least appreciate. I am the high school teacher referred to as Brother O'Leary. Although still a high school teacher, I am no longer a De La Salle Christian Brother.

It is very gratifying to me that Mayor Giuliani remembers me as a positive influence as his teacher at Bishop Loughlin. The impression given in Barrett's book is that Rudy was a troublesome student. He was not. (Neither, for that matter, was Alan Placa, as the book in another place would lead its readers to believe.) The students at Loughlin at that time were all scholarship students. Rudy was an above-average student in this elite milieu. While it was my impression that Rudy's academic performance as a high school sophomore did not equal his potential, he was still in the upper third of his class and a delightful student to teach. Furthermore, my choice of corporal punishment in response to Rudy's inattention on the occasion recalled in the book was the real misdemeanor in my classroom that day. Unfortunately, as a very young teacher I sought unacceptably crude, if speedy, solutions to what I considered discipline problems, being naively caught up in an atmosphere that deemed such cruelty as appropriate.

Harold and Helen Giuliani represent the kind of parents I wish all of my students had. They were loving and attentive to their high-school-age son. Like the large majority of the parents of Catholic high school students, the Giulianis considered the use of corporal punishment by teachers in the classroom as signs of care and concern as well as good education. I know that the friendship Harold and Helen offered me flowed out of their concern for Rudy. Getting to know his teachers would be an aid to their motivating him to be the best student he could be. I enjoyed the time I spent with Harold Giuliani and never observed even a modicum of roughness or meanness on his part toward anyone. I think of him as cheerful, warm, and generous. I had virtually no knowledge of what Barrett reveals about Harold's early life. I don't believe his son had any knowledge of it at all. Let the good they do live after men such as Harold. Let the rest be buried, to paraphrase the Bard.

For me, Rudy is a hero. My native city of New York is the better for his mayoralty.

Jack O'Leary
Pittsburg, California

Wayne Barrett replies: Jack O'Leary was as valued a source for this book as he was a teacher for Rudy. His letter is wholly based on the excerpt that appeared in the Voice, as he tells me he has not read the book yet. When he does, he will see that I agree with him that Rudy "accomplished remarkable feats during his public career in the very area that some of his relatives might least appreciate"—namely his prosecutions of organized crime. Clearly, as I have said in dozens of media interviews about the book, Rudy transcended his family's mob roots. O'Leary does not challenge a single quote or fact presented in the excerpt. The closest he comes is disputing the "impression" that Rudy was a "troublesome student." Rudy conceded that himself in an unpublished interview taped in 1988. "I along with Alan and a few other people were disrupting the class," he said, adding that it was Brother O'Leary who told his parents that he was "fooling around and making jokes" in class. Beyond this minor difference, O'Leary says Rudy was an "above-average student" and I wrote that Giuliani's 84 average put him 130th in a class of 378. O'Leary says Harold and Helen Giuliani were loving and attentive parents; they are both repeatedly described that way in the excerpt and many chapters of the book that O'Leary has yet to see. It is hardly surprising that the frequently volatile Harold—a description confirmed by his own wife—showed another side of himself to a Christian Brother. What is surprising is O'Leary's suggestion that he was "startled" about the tenor of the excerpt of the book. My assistant, Adam Fifield, told him specifically that this would be "a critical" account of Rudy's life. We sent him clips when Giuliani had homeless men arrested in shelters on ancient bench warrants for trivial infractions. In the course of 10 or so interviews with O'Leary that occurred during the reporting of this book, we informed him of each major new fact we uncovered about Harold, Uncle Leo, and Cousin Lewis. While the details in the excerpt were news to him, the broader picture was not. O'Leary's speculation now that Rudy didn't know about Harold's life omits his own frustrated attempt in 1989 to tell Rudy what he knew—namely about Harold's role in getting the Christian Brother to seek clemency for Lewis. Rudy told O'Leary then that he "didn't want" to hear it.  

Injections of Hope

Carla Spartos's stimulating article "Injecting Big Brother" [July 18] helped enhance the perception that addiction is both a disease and a significant public-health issue. However, her report, based partly on my article "Immunization for Prevention and Treatment of Cocaine Abuse: Legal and Ethical Implications," in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, may give premature hope to the community of cocaine-addicted individuals. Furthermore, I believe that it significantly simplified, overstated, and even misrepresented some of my views.

Spartos implied that an end to cocaine addiction "would come at the hands of pharmaceutical companies and biotech labs, which are about to unleash the ultimate weapon—the antidrug vaccine." However, it will be years before a vaccine will be available. The required FDA studies will not be completed until well into this decade. Spartos also stated that "Cohen argues everyone should get the shots." In contrast, my goal was to present a panoply of viewpoints and engage in ethical analysis. I emphasized that "while it might be more satisfying to the reader were I to provide firm 'truths,' such an absolutist approach would be inappropriate." Specifically addressing the question of universal immunization, I wrote:

"In view of the [potential benefits of universal immunization], why not institute universal mandatory immunization once a cocaine vaccine is available? There is ample legal support for the state's application of police power when necessary to act in the interests of public health. However, just because society has this power does not mean that such an approach is ethically justified. . . . In any case, there are certainly a number of persuasive reasons not to initiate mandatory immunization with a cocaine vaccine."

I hope that this communication will help those addressing the scientific and ethical problems inherent in dealing with substance abuse.

Peter J. Cohen, M.D., J.D.
Adjunct Professor of Law
Georgetown University Law Center
Washington, D.C.

TB or Not TB?

Pertinent aspects of AIDS in Africa were overlooked in the interesting article by Mark Schoofs in your July 11 issue ["Proof Positive: How Science Has Demonstrated That HIV Causes AIDS"].

According to The Sunday Times of London (May 24, 1994), scientists from Harvard University and the University of Kinshasa in Zaire found "evidence that HIV tests may be triggered by other factors, such as leprosy and tuberculosis," producing high rates of false positive results in Africa. The major confirmatory test, called the Western Blot, was determined to be "equally unreliable."

Thus, in African studies that, according to Mr. Schoofs, found "the antibody tests are accurate more than 98 percent of the time," the confirmatory tests may simply have given similarly excessive positive results.

This issue is quite significant, because if false positive results for HIV occur in those who have contracted other pathogens, such as for leprosy and TB, then such persons obviously would be prone to a higher death rate. Thus, mortality results for HIV-positive Africans in the studies described by Mr. Schoofs cannot specify or prove HIV as the cause.

Mr. Schoofs also reports that African patients who can afford HIV drugs get better. It is known, however, that HIV drug combinations have an effect against some opportunistic infections, as do less expensive antibiotics. Moreover, the socioeconomic bias imposed by drug costs means that Africans who get HIV drugs also may have better food, water, and sanitation.

Robert Houston

Mark Schoofs replies: Like tests for many diseases, the HIV test occasionally cross-reacts with other microbes. This is one reason Ugandan researchers have been continuously verifying that it is accurate in their setting. They compare the antibody test against many HIV tests, not just the Western Blot. Further corroboration comes from people in Ugandan studies who have TB but not HIV; Houston's hypothesis predicts that they would test HIV-positive, but they consistently test HIV-negative. About the HIV drugs: Except in very rare cases, they do not act directly on other pathogens. They work by blocking HIV and giving the immune system a chance to recover. Finally, there are many middle-class Africans with HIV who have decent food and water but who die of AIDS because they cannot afford the drugs or because they spend down their assets and are forced to stop taking them.  

Leaning on Lenny

Richard Goldstein's July 18 article, "Celebrity Bigots," was excellent. It pains me to hear the current crop of air personalities cite Lenny Bruce as an influence. Bruce took on the powerful, but he delivered penetrating zingers with a quality of gentleness to devastating effect. The tone of Imus and Schlessinger is viciousness and abuse.

John Navin, DJ
Jones Radio Network
Denver, Colorado

Not Easy Being Greenberg

Loved Andrew Hearst's article on Jamie Greenberg's public-access TV show, Media Shower ["One Man's Machines," July 25]. Hearst captured the essence of Greenberg's unique brand of humor. Such shows are essential to overstimulated, emotionally saturated New Yorkers. Greenberg has an underground appeal that allows our burnt-out psyches to sit back and be utterly bemused.

Lisa Piergrossi

Baby Shower

Mainlining Musto is a guilty pleasure that hurts so good! He's a Stoli martini with an absinthe chaser and a Häagen-Dazs heart. Every column is an arcane little adventure unto itself, and to read several online at once is like reading Proust on Prozac at least! If Charles Dickens and Armistead Maupin had a baby, that baby would be Musto.

David Cuthbert
New Orleans, Louisiana

Feingold Forgiven

When I received an unfavorable review from Michael Feingold in the early 1970s for my production of Tennessee Williams's The Purification, I was devastated, and I thought that I would never forgive Mr. Feingold.

He has finally won my forgiveness!

Mr. Feingold's very perceptive review of the Public Theatre production of The Winter's Tale ["What Bears Pursuing," July 18] convinced me that he is one of the most astute critics around today. Far superior to critics at the Times, the Post, and New York magazine. His only near-equal is John Lahr of The New Yorker.

In terms of what might "bear pursuing," I suggest that NYU or Juilliard hire Mr. Feingold to teach future actors and directors how to approach Shakespeare so that audiences might realize that, in Feingold's words, "Shakespeare is, in fact, exactly as good as he sounds."

Paul Kielar

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