The Full Rudy: The Man, the Mayor, the Myth
Education is the urban frontier that Giuliani should have dedicated himself to. He did not have national trends running in his favor here, as he did with the economy and crime. He needed to apply his leadership skills to public education, but he never did. Between 1994 and 1997 he drained more than $2 billion out of the school system. He also cut $4.7 billion from the school construction budget in 1999. While reducing resources, he raised standards for student performance on tests. This placed the kids in a no-win vise.
Even Michael Bloomberg, Giuliani's Republican successor, who was elected with the help of a powerful Giuliani TV commercial, told me: "Giuliani never got his hands around the school system. There is no question that it's gotten worse the last eight years, not better."
What is revealing is that every time Giuliani did try to get his hands around the school system, it was never about actual classroom learning issues like class size, teacher training or salvaging the middle schools before middle-class parents fled the public system. Giuliani's interventions were over side issues like vouchers, condoms, privatization and using the NYPD for school security. He supported a for-profit privatization plan by the Edison company that parents voted down overwhelmingly.
Giuliani kept bashing teachers, scapegoating their union, subverting their morale and forcing them to work without a raise or union contract during the last fifteen months of his administration.
He also played a destabilizing role by driving three well-qualified schools chancellors of color out of office. In 1993, while Giuliani was still a candidate, two school board members active in his campaign (Ninfa Segarra and Mike Petrides) cast the deciding votes to fire Chancellor Joseph Fernandez over a curriculum he recommended to foster tolerance for gays and for briefly suggesting that it be introduced in the first and second grade.
The next chancellor was Ramon Cortines, who was selected by Giuliani's supporters on the board. Cortines, Mexican-American and gay, was subjected to a brutal campaign of personal abuse by Giuliani, who called him "precious" and "the little victim." When Cortines finally resigned in June 1995, most of his compadres felt there had been a gaybaiting tone to the Mayor's constant attacks on him. All Cortines said was, "I've dealt with innuendo all my life."
Giuliani's third schools chancellor was Rudy Crew, a black Democrat to whom he was close for two years. They smoked cigars together on the porch of Gracie Mansion and became friends. People began to make jokes that the only black people Giuliani could relate to had to also be named Rudy--a reference to Crew and Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington.
Giuliani knew that Crew was strongly opposed to a voucher system for parochial schools. Giuliani himself had opposed vouchers as a candidate in 1993, calling them "unconstitutional," a violation of church-state boundaries. In a speech in 1995 Giuliani declared, "Vouchers would weaken, if not create the collapse of, the New York City public school system." He knew vouchers would siphon money out of the public schools.
In his splendid book Rudy!, Wayne Barrett quotes Crew recalling the Mayor saying to him about vouchers in January 1999, "Don't worry about it. It's just a political thing, a campaign thing. I'm not going to do anything." But a month later, Giuliani included $12 million in his financial plan for school vouchers. His budget office did not tell Crew's budget office until after this line item was in print.
In early March the New York Times reported that a Giuliani aide was "intensely" lobbying Board of Education members to ratify the voucher funding. Crew did not know this until he read it in the paper.
Crew had obeyed his conscience on an issue Giuliani decided was important to his statewide ambitions. The friendship was immediately over. Giuliani began lining up a majority of the seven-member Board of Education to drive his third chancellor out of office.
On August 3, 1999, Giuliani wrote a nasty letter to Crew and leaked it to the tabloids, together with a blind quote from an aide saying, "It seems he's got one foot out the door." This was the same day that Crew was burying his first wife, Angela, in a private ceremony in upstate Poughkeepsie. Crew had to respond to press calls before delivering his eulogy.
Later Crew told Barrett: "This is a maniac. On the day I was burying my wife, I have these people concocting this world of treachery....
"When Rudy sees a need to take someone out, he has a machine, a roomful of henchmen, nicking away at you, leaking crazy stories. He is not bound by the truth. I have studied animal life, and their predator/prey relations are more graceful than his."