Commentary: A Distorted View of Giuliani's Leadership

A Republican candidate for mayor of New York City remembers Rudolph Giuliani in a way that is counter to the recollections of many Black New Yorkers.

Posted: 05/02/2013 12:41 PM EDT

There has long been a pronounced disconnect between the views of African-American and white New Yorkers when it comes to Rudolph W. Giuliani, the 107th mayor of New York City.

To many white New Yorkers — and those elsewhere — Giuliani is viewed as “America’s Mayor,” dubbed by Time Magazine as its Person of the Year. He is seen as the leader who improved the quality of life in New York and led a reduction in crime. He received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.

To many Black New Yorkers, however, the Giuliani administration represented something of a horror story. This was the mayor who would not meet with the city’s Black and Latino borough presidents. He was the man whose knee-jerk defense of the police caused a blind spot to the city’s role in the arrests and deaths of Black people, like the late Amadou Diallo, an unarmed immigrant who was shot 41 times by police.

Giuliani once said that, by not meeting with Black elected officials, he could "accomplish more for the Black community."

Calvin O. Butts III, the esteemed pastor of the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, made the case succinctly some years ago: "I don't believe he likes black people. And I believe there's something fundamentally wrong in the way we are disregarded, the way we are mistreated, and the way our communities are being devastated. I had some hope that he was the kind of person you could deal with. I've just about lost that hope.” Giuliani responded by diverting funds from projects connected with the church.

Giuliani’s very own schools chancellor, Rudy Crew, an African-American, spoke about his former boss when he was out of office. "I find his policies to be so racist and class-biased. I don't even know how I lasted three years.... He was barren, completely emotionally barren, on the issue of race.”

Just this week, Joe Lhota, a Republican candidate for mayor and a former deputy in the Giuliani administration, shared his perspective of his former boss with the veteran journalist Dominic Carter.

"You got to understand that, during Rudy Giuliani's administration — more African-American men are alive today because he reduced murder by almost 60 percent. He needs to — he deserves to get the credit for that,” Lhota said.

He would likely have little success making that argument to the family of Diallo or the relatives of Patrick Dorismond, a security guard and father of two children who was killed by an undercover New York Police Department officer. Would that argument hold water with the legions of homeless New Yorkers, whose services were drastically cut by the Giuliani administration? It is furthermore unlikely to be the perspective of the hundreds of thousands of young Black and Latino New Yorkers who were the victims of racial profiling under the former mayor’s police department.

Lhota remembers Giuliani as the champion of the everyman. Many Black New Yorkers remember him as the mayor who presided over a period of percolating racial tensions, civil-rights abuses and unchecked police brutality.

If nothing else, Lhota’s comments make clear that the huge divide regarding “America’s Mayor” remains as vivid as ever and is not likely to be bridged any time soon.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Allan Tannenbaum-Pool/Getty Images)

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