When aides to Rudolph W. Giuliani, in his last days as mayor, inked an unusual deal in which all his mayoral records were sent to an outside firm rather than straight to the Municipal Archives, Rudy foes smelled a rat. Was the habitually secretive mayor—and, after 9-11, putative presidential contender—trying to bury some skeletons?
Now, four years after Giuliani left office, most of his documents—like many of his predecessors’—have been put on display in the Municipal Archives on Chambers Street (last month the Archives told the Voice that about 90 percent of the Giuliani records are back in the city’s possession, with the rest expected soon). Of course, it would be hard to prove that something that was supposed to be there wasn’t there unless one knew of its existence. However, the Archives seems confident it got everything it was supposed to get, and applauds the Giuliani people for doing in a few years what would have taken the city far longer to do on its own.
But placing something in the archives and opening it to public access might not be one in the same.
A Freedom of Information Law request filed by a private citizen who shared its fruits with the Voice reveals that the agreement between the City and the nonprofit Giuliani group that oversaw the processing—an agreement updated as recently as November—says that some documents “may need to be restricted,” including those dealing with “city security or law enforcement,” those of a “private nature,” and those relevant to “current or anticipated litigation.” Those aren’t unusual exemptions for documents. But in Giuliani’s case, they could go to the heart of the public interest in his mayoralty. If America’s Mayor does run for higher office, his actions on and before 9-11—all dealing with “security or law enforcement” will loom large. And “current or anticipated legislation” covers a broad range of 9-11 issues, including FDNY radios and Seven World Trade Center.
The city’s Law Department, which had final say on which documents to restrict, tells the Voice in a statement: “To our knowledge . . . all documents processed by the Rudolph W. Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs have been transmitted to, and are in the possession, of the Municipal Archives. None of the documents have been withheld from the Municipal Archives. Public access to these documents has been, and will be, granted in accordance with the same standards generally applicable to other public documents; that is, access will be granted unless the documents are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law, which permits the withholding of documents if they fall within certain categories, such as law enforcement and attorney-client privilege.”
So Rudy-philes or -phobes might still be disappointed by what they find in the archives, not because of a nefarious plot but because of the limitations of the FOI law. Besides, as one archivist told me last month: The really juicy stuff, these guys don’t write it down.