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The Tin Man Who Would Be Mayor
October 24, 1989
His eyes are hot and his mouth is cold.
—Murray Kempton on Rudolph Giuliani, Newsday, September 14
While he was at the crest of his glowing tenure as United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, Rudolph Giuliani came to the Voice. I’ve never seen the conference room packed so tightly with reporters and editors. And Giuliani — always appreciative of a star-struck audience of journalists — gave a memorable performance. Indeed, I have not attended its like before or since.
Giuliani agreed to play a game that could be called “A Journalist’s Dream.” He was given a list of names of public officials and public figures. One at a time. After each name was intoned, Giuliani was asked whether this person was about to be indicted, whether he might be indicted somewhere down the line, or whether the United States attorney had no interest in him.
Giuliani obligingly placed each name in one of those categories. There was a stillness of anticipation, a frisson of impending doom in the room that gave me a sense of what it might have been like to be in Robespierre’s office as he and his colleagues decided who would be riding in the tumbrils to the guillotine.
I listened with very mixed feelings. On the one hand, it was titillating to have a box seat at the impending decapitation of certain unsuspecting, prominent New Yorkers — as dark clouds hovered over the heads of others. (When a prosecutor says that a certain citizen is not about to be indicted but has a ticket in his file that may well be punched later, it’s fair to assume that the target’s obituary, whenever it comes, will include a stay in a federal meditation center.)
On the other hand, I was stunned as the presumption of innocence kept crumbling. Here was the United States attorney for the Southern District inviting us delighted journalists to go on a fox hunt. And he provided the foxes.
No grand jury had heard any testimony on any of those targeted by him; nobody had been indicted; and yet Giuliani — with all the authority of his office and his own aura of holding Excalibur in his mighty grip — was signaling us that the persons in the first two categories would sooner or later be posing for mug shots.`
Surely he had the goods on these decayed souls, or he wouldn’t be giving us these succulent leads. That’s the impression he gave. But the goods, at least on those in the second category — possible indictments later on — were not credible enough to present to a grand jury. So he was letting a pack of journalists sniff them. Maybe we could dig up evidence that would strengthen his cases.
In any event, Giuliani was demonstrating again that he was the best friend the New York press ever had in any prosecutor’s office.
It was the coldness with which Giuliani dismantled sections of the Bill of Rights during the session at the Voice that still chills me when I think of that day. I have described the event to various people in the criminal justice system in various places, and without exception, they have been astonished that a prosecutor would preside over a Star Chamber session for reporters.
But for some of those who have followed Giuliani’s career, his behavior that day was not surprising. I would recommend a book called The Prosecutors (Touchstone) to anyone who wants convincing detail on the essence of Giuliani. The author is James Stewart, a lawyer and a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist. Formerly with American Lawyer, he is now front-page editor of The Wall Street Journal.
There is detailed reporting on how Giuliani, as United States attorney, gobbled credit for work his associates had done, and there is a telling comment by a former Justice Department colleague that Giuliani “would never admit publicly to being wrong, no matter what steps he had to take to maintain his position; and that nothing made him angrier than to be confronted with evidence that he made a mistake.”
The Justice Department colleague, Michael Lubin, “thought it a dangerous trait in a prosecutor, whose mistakes, if unacknowledged, risk sending innocent people to prison.”
The same characteristics in a mayor could do considerable damage to a city and its inhabitants, who would have to suffer the consequences of having a mayor whose ego is so weak that he can’t admit to ever having made a mistake.
At the end of The Prosecutors, Stewart mentions that an assistant United States attorney used to try “to draw Giuliani’s attention” to a credo for prosecutors that had been written by one of Giuliani’s predecessors, Whitney North Seymour. It says that being a prosecutor:
“…requires commitment to absolute integrity and fair play; to candor and fairness in dealing with adversaries and the courts; to careful preparation, not making any assumptions or leaving anything to chance; and to never proceeding in any case until convinced of the guilt of the accused or the correctness of one’s position.”
Now why do you suppose this assistant U.S. Attorney, who worked with Giuliani every day, felt the need to urge him to look hard at that credo?
Giuliani, however, must be given credit for the array of convictions he orchestrated. Said Pete Hamill in the September 21 New York Post: “Giuliani was one of the best prosecutors ever to work this town.”
To some extent, that’s true; but for those who have a lingering fondness for civil liberties, Giuliani often resembled the King of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland:
“ ‘Consider your verdict,’ [the King] said to the jury.”
“ ‘There’s more evidence to come yet, please your majesty,’ said the White Rabbit.”
The rush to judgment habitually began with the Giuliani-style indictment. This hangman’s contribution to the lore of prosecutorial fair play amused some lawyers and enraged many others in New York and elsewhere. The indictments read like a judge delivering a heavy sentence after conviction. The neon-lit prose made the defendants sound like a combination of Professor Moriarty and Jack the Ripper gone into insider trading.
With its highly suggestive wording, a Giuliani-designed indictment was all the more intriguing to the press. And it was not impossible that some of the jurors at the trials would have read and remembered what despicable people they were about to dispassionately assess.
There was one day when Giuliani, a lover of opera, was declaiming an indictment with cadences that were so musically sinister that you could almost hear the bass trombones as the alleged crimes of the defendants were underlined. (It was difficult, however, to get a sense that any of the crimes were only alleged.)
A defense attorney said to Giuliani on that occasion, “The theme music from The Godfather kept coming into my head as you were speaking.”
By contrast, Charles “Joe” Hynes, the soon-to-be district attorney of Brooklyn, saw no reason why the Constitution had to be put in a holding cell when — in his previous roles as a prosecutor — he used to announce indictments. Said Hynes then:
“The only public disclosure concerning an accused person will be the name, age, and borough residence of such person, his or her occupation, and the text or substance of the charges contained in the publicly filed indictment or other accusatory instrument.”
I also remember an indictment that came out of Hynes’s office in which it was noted that an indictment is only a document that starts a criminal proceeding. It is not, Hynes emphasized, evidence of guilt.
But why does it matter, now that Giuliani is running for mayor, that when he was a prosecutor, he contributed zealously to prejudicial pretrial publicity? It matters because the mayor of New York City gets constant press attention, and if he does not have a concern for fairness, he can do immeasurable harm to all kinds of people — in his press conferences and impromptu remarks — whether they’ve been indicted or not.
Also, a mayor, like a prosecutor [illegible] and effective in what he does and how he does it. Part of the Giuliani reputation as a brilliantly effective prosecutor is myth. In March of this year, for example, Federal District Court judge John Sprizzo dismissed charges against seven defendants who had been brought to trial by Giuliani’s office. Said Judge Sprizzo to Giuliani’s people:
“There is in your office — and I notice it not only in this case but in other cases — a kind of overkill, a kind of overzealousness, which is not even — from my viewpoint as a person who has been a prosecutor — rationally related to any legitimate prosecutive objectives.”
Giuliani, his eyes on a larger spotlight, had resigned by then, but he had been involved in this case. As The New York Times reported (July 11, 1989), Judge Sprizzo “ridiculed the caliber of the office Mr. Giuliani had recently left, calling the prosecutors incompetent and improperly trained.”
Just what the city needs: a mayor unmindful of individual rights and reputations and otherwise careless as to the conduct of his office.
But he’s “tough.” One of the ways in which Giuliani has been showing how much tougher he is than David Dinkins involves his pushing the death penalty. “I would lobby and fight very, very hard for a death penalty,” Giuliani says. “You would see me up there in Albany.”
Giuliani may not know what’s in the Fourth Amendment — as he revealed to me one day in his U.S. attorney’s office — but he surely knows that the mayor of New York City does not have any decision-making power concerning the death penalty. His hope, however, is that he can capitalize on the pervasive fear of crime by giving the impression that somehow, if he were elected, there would be — even if Mario Cuomo keeps blocking capital punishment everywhere else in the state — an electric chair in the basement of City Hall.
And unlike many advocates of murder by the state, Giuliani, I expect, would be willing to pull the switch himself. After all, this is a man who approves of the Supreme Court’s ruling that it is constitutional to execute 16- and 17-year-olds.
This is some cold piece of metal. The perfect client for Roger Ailes and Raymond Harding.