Everyone in New York has an opinion about everything, so it's no surprise that everyone in the city has something to say about Mayor Rudy Giuliani. "He made this city great again." "He's turning New York City into Singapore." "I voted for him, but it was a mistake." "I feel safe walking around because of him." And on and on and on. The contradictions seem to get at both the spirit of New York and the essence of Rudolph Giuliani.
He is all energy and angles and New York style in-your-face. There is nothing soft and cuddly about this man.
I first met him in Washington during the Reagan years, when he held the number three post at the U.S. Department of Justice. He was one of the first federal officials to start talking about the increasing drug problem that would sweep the nation. I covered him when he became U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and listened as his rhetoric sometimes got ahead of his cases. And I watched with a combination of awe and amusement as he transformed himself from prosecutor to politician and swept into the New York mayor's job.
These days it's hard to read about Giuliani without learning that he's in a fight - over moving Yankee stadium, over cracking down on dog walkers, over anything that Governor Pataki says.
This week, in the aftermath of the Littleton, Colorado shootings, he's in trouble for using a bad metaphor for calling for the restructuring of New York's schools. The system should be "blown up," he commented, and then dismissed any criticism about his use of that term. But perhaps the biggest fight of all is over his refusal to condemn the shooting by New York City Police of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant. Many New Yorkers understand that the officers could have mistaken Diallo for a rape suspect in the area. What they are having trouble with is the fact that the cops pumped 41 bullets into Diallo. There have been protests and marches.
In an interview this week, the mayor called the death a "tragedy" but insisted that all the questions being raised about whether he has been insensitive to concerns of minority groups are part of "a real attempt to politicize this. And a real attempt of people to try to pander." Giuliani says that trying to be fair sometimes "makes me unpopular. But you know, I don't really care. My ultimate job as the mayor of New York City is to do what I think was the right thing to do." Giuliani also says that "the use of gun is down 62 percent since I've been mayor."
But New York columnist Jimmy Breslin, a constant Giuliani critic, insists that Giuliani was "elected on color fear," and that he has created an atmosphere of "take your best shot against the blacks."
Whether that is true or not, the Diallo shooting has crystallized opposition here, because it comes after another incident in which police allegedly beat a black man senseless, and after a controversial police shutdown of a black youth rally.
Now some political pundits are saying that being under attack may help Giuliani politically. They say that if he runs for the Senate, especially against First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, white suburban and rural "upstate voters" may see his battles with the minority community as a badge of honor. How Giuliani handles the issue will say a lot, not only about what kind of a politician he is, but also about what kind of a man.
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