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Rudy Giuliani knighted by Queen, saw poor as threatening the quality of life

by Ferganoid Thursday, Feb. 21, 2002 at 11:35 AM

Rudy Giuliani may be the toast of Britain, but his lap of honour around London last week during which he was knighted by the Queen produced few cheers among the small and ragged army of the homeless and dispossessed that lines up each day outside the Church of the Holy Apostles on Ninth Avenue for a hot meal.

error'Somebody should shoot him,' remarked Arthur Foreman, 54, one of nearly 1,000 homeless men who make their way to the church each morning. 'He may have stopped a lot of crime but he made it worse for innocent people. He was a terrible mayor for the poor. He's the devil of New York City.'

While his extraordinary leadership as the city quaked with fear and shock following the terrorist attacks of 11 September is still celebrated, whole swaths of Giuliani's achievements over eight years in office are coming under scrutiny even as his example is copied abroad.

Not only has his banner success in reducing crime come under revision - an achievement, many criminologists argue, that had more to do with demographic trends than zero tolerance - but long-standing criticism of his fiscal prudence, his commitment to the poor and minorities, his leadership style and his moral instinct, are resurfacing.

'No one can take away from him his courageous leadership, and none can take away his serious reductions in crime, but he's not the saviour of all humanity,' says Joel Berg, director of Coalition against Hunger, a volunteer group that represents 1,200 soup kitchens in the city. 'His long-term legacy will be that he left the city in worse shape than he inherited it. He squandered a real opportunity to do something about homelessness and hunger. Giuliani didn't move people to work, he moved them on to the streets. He cut them off at the knees and threw them to the wolves.'

The crisis afflicting the homeless can be seen everywhere: at night, shelters made of cardboard boxes line some of the city's wealthiest streets; homeless shelters, many of them in the outer boroughs, are filled beyond capacity.

Even before 11 September and its disastrous economic aftermath, the number of homeless people staying in New York City's shelters had surpassed 25,000 a night, the highest level seen since 1989 when the city's notorious crack epidemic was peaking. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, 40 per cent of those needing shelter are children.

In 2000, about 600,000 people a month needed emergency food, according to the Coalition against Hunger. An advocacy group, the Welfare Law Centre, estimates that 2.3 million people in the New York area were living in poverty in early 2000. Since then, with a deepening recession and the effects of 11 September, matters have only got worse.

'Leaving aside rising to the occasion of 9/11, many of his policies and programmes during his tenure as mayor have hurt the city enormously,' Marc Cohan of the Welfare Law Centre says. 'His legacy to the poor is horrible. He attempted to drive down the welfare rolls without attempting to end poverty. He slashed services for the disabled, people with HIV and the mentally ill, cut programmes for people to acquire basic literacy, and focused on replacing unionised city workers with welfare recipients working at or below the minimum wage.'

One of the major challenges to Giuliani's legacy is the problem of affordable housing. During his tenure there was almost no building of low-income housing, and much of the rent-controlled property was released to the market. In the past 10 years, New York has lost more than half a million low-rent apartments.

'He threw us out onto the streets and then gave landlords the right to raise rents,' says Willie, a 41-year-old homeless man. 'Welfare gives you $215 a-month for rent, but the rents are $2,000. What am I supposed to do? Rob a bank?'

One of Giuliani's last - and vividly symbolic - measures was to order the rousting or arrest of the homeless sleeping on the steps of city's churches.

According to Clyde Kuemmerle, director of the Ninth Avenue soup kitchen, Giuliani saw the poor as threatening the quality of life of New Yorkers: 'But whose quality of life? He viewed the poor as criminals. He didn't say it, but that's the way he treated them.'

One of the measures he used to get the homeless out of sight was to bus them to a shelter upstate from which they could not easily return to the city. 'By some people's reckoning it was a kind of internment,' Kuemmerle adds.

The criticism that Giuliani now faces as he considers a run for the vice-presidency in 2004 (or, as the popular theory goes, becomes George W. Bush's number two should Dick Cheney be brought down by the Enron scandal) goes beyond failure to uphold the social contract of mayor.

Even his crime-fighting legacy is under scrutiny. The dramatic reduction in crime statistics attributed to zero tolerance policing is comparable to other cities which did not implement similar policies, suggesting crime fell more due to shifting demographics. 'Giuliani was very successful in taking credit for things to which he is not entirely entitled,' Cohan says.

Moreover, Giuliani's style of leadership - controlling and prosecutorial - may yet to come to define him. He is attempting to determine which records can be made public by placing them in the Rudolph W. Giuliani Centre for Urban Affairs, a new organisation run by former colleagues.

'His reputation is certainly going to decline over the next few years. The big story is the drop in crime but there are a lot of things that didn't happen,' says Kenneth T. Jackson, president of the New-York Historical Society.

As the post-11 September love-fest wanes, his divisive support of the police in the wake of several shootings of unarmed black men, his failure to reform the crumbling education system, and his moralistic attacks could come to the forefront.

'He was extraordinarily divisive,' says Berg. 'The tone of vindictiveness he set was very troubling. People just didn't feel they had access to their government unless you were rich and white. And this is a city that mostly isn't.'

By contrast, Giuliani's fiercest critics are hopeful that his successor, the millionaire businessman Mike Bloomberg, will provide a different kind of leadership. He served Christmas dinner at the Ninth Avenue soup kitchen - a place Giuliani never visited - and has said that reducing poverty will be a priority of his administration even as the city faces a $4.5 billion budget deficit.

As Rudy Giuliani continues his victory parade across the capitals of Europe, there is little doubt his reputation is tarnished in his home town. Arnold Cohen, president of New York's Partnership for the Homeless says: 'Whether it was the instinct of a prosecutor, or just failing to understand that a city is a social enterprise, he has left us with a very divided city.'

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