Rudy’s Milky Way: An Administration “Of, for, and by White People” Has No Time or Room for Blacks
January 26, 1999
With special reporting by Nicole White
HIS WORLD IS AS White as Seinfeld’s, a slice of the city so comfortably one-dimensional that even the popular star of the ongoing Giuliani serial cannot see his own, peculiarly un-New York, isolation.
Not since the days of Vincent Impelliteri nearly half a century ago — through the tenures of Robert Wagner, John Lindsay, Abe Beame, Ed Koch, and David Dinkins — have there been so few black faces in high places in a city administration. Never before has 80 percent of any ethnic group rejected the reelection campaign of an incumbent mayor, as exit polls said blacks did in 1997, preferring a white woman they barely knew who had no chance to win.
And never before have more of a mayor’s targets — squeegees, cabbies, street vendors, public hospital workers, welfare recipients, police-brutality victims, CUNY students, and the dispersed elderly ill from Neponsit nursing home — been so consistently of one hue while his beneficiaries — cops, firefighters, hotel operators, express-bus riders, tax-break developers, Staten Islanders, and Yankees and Jets owners — been so consistently another.
All his life Rudy Giuliani has occupied a milky universe — raised in a blanched Nassau suburb, educated at insular Bishop Loughlin High School and Manhattan College, shuttling twice between the colorless cubicles of the Justice Department in Washington and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, practicing law at three mainline firms where not just the shoes were white.
As a kid born in Brooklyn, he rooted for the all-white Yankees while Jackie Robinson crossed the color line at Ebbets Field, just a couple of miles away from his home. He so craves the familiar he married his own cousin. He quarantined Haitians in Florida camps for the Justice Department. The first home he ever bought was an apartment in the East 80s, and he has never lived, like so many white New Yorkers, on a block alive with human diversity. The only two blacks he regularly talks to at City Hall today are both named Rudy, but neither Crew nor Washington has been able to help him past his racial wall.
Now focused on a Senate race just a year or so away, he knows every button to push to reach white voters but did not, even with a bottomless campaign treasury in 1997, buy a millisecond of advertising in any black medium. One of four mayors who replaced black incumbents in recent years — including those in L.A., Chicago, and Philadelphia — he is a national emblem of urban reassurance, a tamer of the tribe. He always has his defeat of the city’s first black mayor as a ready excuse for black hostility to him five years later, an alibi that saps any obligation to bridge what has become a gulf of fearful proportions.
Blacks are a grand abstraction to him. He rarely hosts town meetings in their neighborhoods. He frequently lectures them about everything from their child-rearing habits — attacking a mother for allowing her teenage son to be out bicycling at 2:30 a.m. when a cop gunned him down — to their work ethic. He’s spent the year riding the sky from one Republican capital to the next, engulfed by a party so fair it cannot be fair, telling Arizonans in April that Phoenix feels “like home” and that “the issues” in that 5 percent black town “are very much the same” as in 25 percent black New York. He is never heard discussing racism or poverty as if they are real facts that a mayor could actually combat.
He is too busy crediting himself for crime reductions to ever mention that the communities ravaged a decade ago by crack and guns might have had something to do with the decline, helping to deliver themselves from a culture of death. He is certain that work resurrects the dependent even when it takes good mothers away from their children to push brooms on city streets without any promise of a genuine job. Not only is he ready with a knee-jerk benefit of the doubt virtually anytime a cop goes head-to-head with an African American, he does not appear to have a doubt.
In his first weeks in office in 1994, Giuliani refused to meet with Al Sharpton and others over a police raid at a Harlem mosque. It worked so well he’s been rejecting black guests or invitations ever since. He said no when David Dinkins asked him to his home for dinner after a war of words over Crown Heights. The new borough president of Manhattan, Virginia Fields, who ran on the Liberal line with him last year and is known for her warmth and equanimity, begged for a meeting during the recent Million Youth March controversy and was instead denounced as a “coward,” along with the rest of the African American leadership.
Carl McCall, the highest ranking black official in state history, takes trips to Israel with a Republican governor, but was stood-up when he tried to arrange a sit-down with the mayor. Neither did Rudy have time for the cabbies, who are now mostly African and South Asian, even when they believed by the thousands that his new taxi rules threatened their livelihoods. A Voice survey of 35 black leaders, 30 of them elected, identified many who’d reached out to the mayor on issues ranging from AIDS funding to the Harlem march, usually without so much as a callback.
The city’s Equal Employment Practices Commission, a quasi-independent body that is supposed to monitor minority hiring, said in its annual report in 1996 that it “looked forward to a meeting with Rudy Giuliani” to discuss the draft of a new equal opportunity plan. Even though the city charter requires both a plan and a mayoral consultation with the EEPC, according to Abe May, the commission’s executive director, “none ever occurred.” Jointly appointed by the mayor and the council, the mildly critical commission Rudy would not meet with is, to this day, chaired by Charlie Hughes, the scandal-scarred D.C. 37 union president who appeared in Giuliani television ads in 1997.
Yet Priscilla Wooten, the city councilwoman who endorsed Giuliani last year and was the only leader surveyed by the Voice to praise him without caveat, tells the story of how her husband was recently awakened from a daytime nap on the porch of their East New York home by a tap on the shoulder. Wooten’s husband “though he was dreaming when he saw Rudy smiling in his face,” the councilwoman said. All it takes is a lot of amens, and Rudy is, after all, willing to minister to a select black flock.
As painfully apparent as this chasm is, the Times’s endorsement of Giuliani last year did not make a single cautionary mention of race. When Reverend Calvin Butts, a prominent Harlem minister, branded the mayor a racist this May, a Times editorial characterized Giuliani’s relationship with minorities merely as one “marked by clumsiness and needless tension.”
While the Times has acknowledged that blacks “feel bruised and excluded” by the administration, the paper of record has yet to examine Giuliani’s anti-black underside in any comprehensive or ongoing fashion. Remarkably, black management drew far more attention in the less-polarized Koch era, and David Dinkins absorbed three nonstop years of media body blows as a supposed anti-Semite. Yet the whiteout of the Giuliani — in the Times and elsewhere — has marginalized blacks, misinformed whites, and allowed Rudy to continue to portray himself like he did in his now laughable 1993 campaign slogan, as the mayor of “one standard, one city.”
The Times has brilliantly dissected Giuliani’s welfare agenda, for example, but it hasn’t connected these policies to his overall impact on blacks, thereby contributing to the color-blind camouflage concealing the administration’s seemingly irresistible targets. The paper’s excellent coverage of Giuliani’s overnight evacuation of the Neponsit nursing home in Queens last year, resulting in daily $3050 fines by federal health authorities for violations of commonsense safety regulations, did not mention that most of the evicted residents who appeared at a City Council hearing were elderly blacks living with every kind of affliction.
When the Council of Black Elected Officials convened in Harlem shortly after the Million Youth March to assail Giuliani as “unconscionable” and to claim he’d given their request for a meeting “the back of his hand,” no city daily wrote a word. The Council includes officials representing 2.5 million people.
Black voices of outrage are seldom aired. Distilled facts are presented again and again in story after story. All that’s missing is the context of continuous attack that most black New Yorkers now understand instinctively.
Indeed, Rudy has managed to so bury the race question — converting anyone who raises it into a proverbial arsonist — that even his liberal opponent last year, Ruth Messinger, seldom dared. Only the brutality issue is regularly presented in unavoidably racial terms.
But even there, Giuliani’s incident-by-incident indifference, the sacking of his own post–Abner Louima task force, his resistance to a twice-passed council bill for an independent commission, and his police commissioner’s rejection of abuse cases substantiated by the Civilian Complaint Review Board have hardly become a media censure of him. White editorial boards forget black agony over this five-year mountain of CCRB complaints, which increased again in the data that was released last week, when they write their periodic paeans to the mayor.
Rudy kept at his side a deputy mayor whose “watermelon” reference to a black-owned financial company and “two-white-men-have-run-New-York-for-200-years” comments were called “racist” by the Times. He said nothing during an on-air appearance with his then-friend Bob Grant when Grant called Congressman Charlie Rangel a “pygmy.” Asked by The Washington Post to defend his record on minorities, he said: “They’re alive, how about we start with that,” which he later explained as a reference to plunging homicide rates. He was once quoted as saying that it would be “a good thing” if poor people “left the city,” conceding that driving them out of town through welfare cuts was “not an unspoken part of our strategy; it is our strategy.”
In his first months in office, he eliminated the special assistants who acted as liaisons to particular ethnic groups, including blacks, but the worst-kept secret at City Hall was that one of his top aides continued to perform that function with the Jewish community for years. He also wiped out Dinkins’s set-aside program for women and minority contractors, promising to increase minority contracting without any formal preference program. He has never offered a scintilla of evidence since then that he’s done that.
Giuliani has hired 1500 investigators to scrutinize the desperate claims of the welfare poor even while he’s cut the inspectors and attorneys who insure housing code compliance to a mere 243. He’s created a test for homelessness that requires shelter seekers to prove they aren’t warehousing castles.
These are the barely noticed racial anomalies of life in Rudyland. They flit on and off our pages and our screens. But they are, in a city where blacks have long since transcended Ralph Ellison’s telling title, a constant challenge and concern.
We are a better city than Rudy will let us be. Municipal governments are not corporations judged only by bottom-line stats of tax and welfare cuts. There is a love here he can’t feel, one that is not just tough.
Research: David Kihara, Will Johnson, Coco McPherson, Soo-Min Oh, and David Shaftel
The Hit List: Five of Rudy’s Worst Shots at Blacks
Here are highlights of Rudy Giuliani’s record with blacks, minus the familiar issue of police brutality:
Reversing a Historic Tide
The black share of city jobs, as well as the raw number of city workers who are black, has declined continuously since Giuliani became mayor in 1994, reversing a steady trend of upward black employment since the fiscal crisis of the mid ’70s. As quiet as it is kept, the city payroll route up the cross-generational career ladder, straddled by black families since the Great Depression, has been pulled out from under thousands of workers in the Giuliani years.
The percentage of blacks in the city workforce has declined from 36.6 percent under Dinkins to 33 percent under Giuliani. This dramatic reduction occurred between December 31, 1993, Dinkins’s final day, and June 30, 1997, the date of the most recent data available from the Department of Personnel. While the city mayoral workforce declined by 17,933 positions in that period, black employment dropped a disproportionate 11,267. Though whites account for nearly half the workforce, white employment only dipped by 2802. These figures do not include either the Health & Hospitals Corporation, where layoffs and buyouts decimated a largely black workforce, or other non-mayoral agencies like the Board of Education.
Giuliani’s sharply tailored cuts, boosting police and fire while slashing every social service, produced this largely unnoticed interruption of a historical trend. The Department of Social Services alone, the unit within the Human Resources Administration that administers all public assistance, witnessed a loss of 8245 black jobs, with administrators and officials plummeting from 478 to 162 and black professionals dropping by almost 7000 (some of this was attributable to a shift in functions to another agency). The predominantly minority DSS lost 12,722 positions over these four years, while the police department not only gained jobs, but employs 5293 more whites than it did in 1993.
Two and a half years into his first term, Giuliani named his first black deputy mayor, Rudy Washington, ending the longest stint in the modem history of the city when there was no black deputy in the government. No observer of the administration believes that Washington, a onetime hanger-on in Queens Democratic clubs who hitched his star to Giuliani in the 1989 mayoral campaign, has significant policy influence. Blacks hired to fill official or administrative titles in the mayor’s office hit 30 percent in 1993, 5 percent in 1995, and 9 percent in 1997; the percentage of professionals dropped from 29 percent to 9 percent over the same four years.
While blacks headed behemoths like HHC, HRA, the Health Department, and Housing Preservation and Development early in Giuliani’s reign, housing is now the only unit particularly impacting minorities that is run by a black commissioner. Blacks have lost, however, 348 positions at HPD since Giuliani took office. HRA commissioner Jason Turner routinely appears at City Council hearings without a single black aide among the 10 or so who accompany him — a picture so out of whack it has a ’50s air to it. The new black head of the transportation department sits atop an agency that had 234 blacks with administrative and professional titles in 1993 and 38 in 1997.
Color-Blind Name Change
The new city charter drafted under Ed Koch in 1989 attempted to guard against precisely the sort of discriminatory employment practices implicit in these numbers. It created the Equal Employment Practices Commission to monitor city employment. It required every administration to adhere to an Affirmative Employment Plan. But, though no city daily has reported on it, Giuliani refused from the beginning to abide by the plan installed by Dinkins, delayed the introduction of a replacement for more than two years, and then even refused to call his new program by the name spelled out in the charter.
Giuliani calls his version — stripped of all goals and timetables — an Equal Opportunity Employment Plan. EEPC’s Abe May, who testified at hearings urging a renaming and other revisions in the plan, said he “can’t respond” to the question of whether the plan complies with the charter. Reduced to level-playing-field platitudes, the Giuliani plan does not even require advertising any vacancies in minority newspapers, as Dinkins’s did. As vague and unenforceable as the plan is, the administration did not even require agencies to develop their own programs to implement it until July 1997, meaning that no apparatus at all existed for almost the entire Giuliani first term.
Even the EEPC, whose scant budget is wholly dependent on Giuliani largesse, concluded in its annual report that the “extensive delay” had “negatively impacted on the administration of equal employment opportunity programs in city government.”
Cutting the Bootstraps
Flying in the face of bootstrap Republican ideology and a state law cosponsored by Staten Island Republican John Marchi, the mayor has insisted on forcing thousands of minority students at the City University to choose between retaining their meager public assistance and dropping out of college. The administration began in the spring of 1995 to require home relief recipients — single adults without children — to do 20 workfare hours a week, and it assigned those who were then CUNY students to job sites regardless of their college schedules or locations. A year later, it did the same for women with dependents on welfare. Even after Marchi’s bill pushing on-campus assignments became law, the administration stonewalled.
The Voice has learned that since 1995, the number of CUNY students on home relief has plummeted 86 percent, from 10,512 to 1459. Since 1996, when workfare was extended to AFDC recipients, their CUNY ranks dropped 46.3 percent, from 17,108 to 8836. No one knows how many recipients left school as opposed to how many students left the rolls. But Giuliani’s stubborn suspicion, as expressed by aide Tony Coles, that these students were “using welfare as a scholarship program” has led the mayor to literally change the lives of thousands. He apparently preferred punishing those trying to lift themselves out of poverty by learning, to running the risk of rewarding those few who might be scamming the city.
While there are certainly many welfare recipients, unlike those at CUNY, who have benefited from Giuliani’s workfare demands, his refusal, as City Council welfare chair Steve DiBrienza puts it, “to do any linear tracking of what happens to those who leave the rolls” has allowed the mayor to tour the country making “wildly unsubstantiated claims.” HRA’s Turner has tried to suggest that as many as 54 percent got full- or part-time jobs based on what DiBrienza says is a skewed sample of a mere 126 participants, most of whom were better educated and more stable than the typical recipient. But Turner’s predecessor once conceded in a meeting with advocates that only 4 percent got jobs.
For the 40 percent of workfare participants who are “sanctioned” by Giuliani supervisors — meaning knocked off the rolls, or cut in benefits, for missing an hour of work or other violations of what the mayor calls a “social contract” — the program appears to be more intent on reducing caseloads than introducing “ennobling” work.
Likewise, the more recent Giuliani initiative of “inventing hoops” for welfare applicants “to jump through” before qualifying for benefits, including even food stamps and medicaid, is, according to DiBrienza, denying entitlements to those in legitimate need. Seventy-five percent of welfare applicants at Giuliani’s new “job centers” are rejected, triple the turndown rate in 1994. The number of fair hearings of DSS rejections and cutoffs has grown by 70 percent — to 130,000 in 1997 — and the city loses 87 percent of those cases.
The sanctions and rejection rate feed the mayor’s hunger for an ever bigger number on the national, and now Senate, tour, where New York’s “disappeared” — the 400,000 who’ve left welfare for nowhere — are celebrated as a personal triumph.
The searing budget cuts under Giuliani that have hit blacks hardest include: the virtual end of city subsidies to HHC, three years of slashes at the Board of Ed before an election-year boost, the decimation of city capital funding for housing, the near-elimination of new units for the homeless, the youth agency shutdown, and the gutting of HRA. Nothing comparable happened in an agency that did not disproportionately serve blacks.
CUNY’s Language Exemption
John Morning, a black Republican appointee of Governor Pataki to the CUNY board who also was named by Giuliani to a cultural commission, blamed the mayor in a Voice interview for the new remediation policy that he fears “will significantly impact on minority access” to the university. Describing the policy that ends remediation at senior colleges and requires applicants to pass three tests for admission “punishing,” Morning has recently begun saying that the CUNY board would not consider doing it but for the “interference” of politicians, namely Giuliani.
Some studies indicate the new policy could cut the student population by half. But few have noticed — besides Morning and CUNY vice chair Herman Badillo — that an exemption to the resolution may result in an even more focused impact on blacks than on other minorities. This exception allows English-as-a-second-language students born “abroad” to still enter senior colleges, and get remediation, meaning many Russian, Asian, and Hispanic immigrants may be less affected.