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Giuliani's Mayoralty Shrouded In Secrecy

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani at the 18th Annual Crystal Apple Awards at Gracie Mansion in New York City on June 28, 2001.
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When a mayor of New York leaves office, little goes out the door but memories - unless he's Rudy Giuliani.

Government rules discourage the city's most powerful officeholder from departing with more than token gifts collected on the job. Ed Koch, mayor from 1978 to 1989, recalls keeping some neckties. His successor, David Dinkins, walked away with knickknacks from his desk, including a crystal tennis ball and a collection of photographs documenting his meetings with celebrities and business icons.

When Giuliani stepped down, he needed a warehouse.

Under an unprecedented agreement that didn't become public until after he left office, Giuliani secreted out of City Hall the written, photographic and electronic record of his eight years in office - more than 2,000 boxes.

Along with his own files, the trove included the official records of Giuliani's deputy mayors, his chief of staff, his travel office and Gracie Mansion - the mayor's residence that became a legal battlefront during his caustic divorce.

The mayor made famous - and very wealthy - in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has long described his City Hall as an open book.

In a Republican presidential candidates' debate last week, Giuliani asserted: "My government in New York City was so transparent that they knew every single thing I did almost every time I did it. ... I can't think of a public figure that's had a more transparent life than I've had."

But the public record, as reviewed by The Associated Press, shows a City Hall that had a reputation of resistance - even hostility - toward open government, the First Amendment and the public's access to simple facts and figures.

"He ran a government as closed as he could make it," said attorney Floyd Abrams, a widely recognized First Amendment authority who faced off against city lawyers when Giuliani sought to shut the Brooklyn Museum of Art because the mayor considered a painting sacrilegious.

Giuliani's decision to commandeer his historical records in late 2001, as he prepared to leave office, was just one of many episodes during his term, both in and out of the courtroom, that demonstrate his efforts to control, withhold or massage information to advance his agenda and hobble critics.

The litany of questions Giuliani has faced in recent weeks about undisclosed business clients and furtive billing practices for police security during trysts with then-girlfriend Judith Nathan are reminiscent of the dozens of lawsuits filed by news organizations to obtain public records, of the numerous state Freedom of Information Law requests that nonprofits like the Coalition for the Homeless were forced to file, of access to City Hall steps denied to protesters.

At times, the number of working water fountains in city parks was hard to ascertain without making a formal request. Under Giuliani, it became more difficult to determine the number of complaints filed against the city's home care program, the number of firearms discharged by police and the number of inspectors in the housing and buildings departments. Even details about the city's recycling program were hard to come by.

In a statement issued through the campaign, former Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro said Giuliani "ran an open and transparent administration," made himself available to the press daily, frequently participated in town hall meetings and released information about city services and the budget on a regular basis.

"Indeed, there was probably no elected official in this country who made himself as available to the press and public as Rudy Giuliani did when he was mayor of New York City," Mastro said. "Nitpicking aside, Rudy Giuliani ran a government based on the need for openness and transparency. These are basic principles Rudy will govern by and enforce from the top down as president of the United States."

Since 9/11, Giuliani has frequently cited security concerns as a rationale for secrecy. But history shows that he operated a secretive administration long before the jetliners knifed into the World Trade Center towers.

"Mayor Giuliani was in many respects a good mayor, but in regard to First Amendment-related matters, he is surely the worst in living memory," Abrams said in an interview.

More than two dozen lawsuits were filed during Giuliani's mayoralty accusing his administration of stifling free speech or blocking access to public records. The city lost most of the lawsuits, including fights against the state comptroller, the city public advocate and the city's Independent Budget Office. Giuliani often blamed such battles on political enemies.

In his time in office, determining how many police were on the beat became more difficult to ascertain. Critics of the mayor were sometimes denied use of public property to hold events.

Advocacy and oversight groups long accustomed to easily obtaining information about city services and finances - the Citizens Budget Commission and the Women's City Club among them - were required to file freedom of information requests for documents, often resulting in months of delays and added legal costs.

In a slap at Giuliani's City Hall, a judge in one such case wrote bluntly, "The law provides for maximum access, not maximum withholding."