The Full Rudy: The Man, the Mayor, the Myth | The Nation


The Full Rudy: The Man, the Mayor, the Myth

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The King of Fresh Kills

About the Author

Jack Newfield
Jack Newfield is a veteran New York political reporter and a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He is the author of...

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Bob Dylan probably had no idea how much the times really were a' changin'.

On the rise of the "New Left" movement represented by organizations like Students for a Democratic Society, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Northern Student Movement, organizations whose ideologies could not be pinned to liberal sects of the past.

Garbage disposal is another area where Giuliani played short-run politics, leaving the city with a difficult long-term problem. Mayor Bloomberg says he won't have a garbage-disposal plan till August.

New York's residents generate 11,000 tons of garbage every day. For years most of this trash was trucked to a dump on Staten Island called the Fresh Kills landfill. But during his last year in office, Giuliani closed Fresh Kills, even though it had enough space for another twenty years of use. This decision was purely political. Giuliani owed his election to the residents of Staten Island. They gave him an 88,000-vote plurality in the 1993 election, when his margin of victory in the whole city was just 50,000 votes.

This landfill was definitely an assault on the senses of the people who lived near it. It made the nostrils burn and the eyes water. If I lived on Staten Island, I would want it closed too.

Giuliani's blunder was closing it before he had an alternative plan for garbage disposal in place. There was no combination of state-of-the-art incineration or recycling or any new landfills to fill the void. As a consequence, Mayor Bloomberg is compelled to budget more than $400 million a year to export New York's trash by barge to landfills in Virginia and Ohio. Bloomberg's communications director, William Cunningham, told me that almost half the sanitation department's budget is now for solid-waste disposal.

This is $400 million that doesn't go to keep libraries open or provide hot meals at senior centers or hire a new class of firefighters. Meanwhile, out-of-state landfills are not an efficient, cheap or reliable long-term receptacle for the city's gargantuan garbage production. Other states could say "no more" at any time, or raise their already exorbitant fees. Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty (an able manager who also held the job under Giuliani) has acknowledged, "Fresh Kills was closed without an awful lot of thought, if the story be told."

Recently both the Times and the New York Daily News have editorialized in favor of reopening the Fresh Kills landfill. Trash disposal is a complex, scientific, managerial issue. Giuliani disposed of it through politics, and left a malodorous dilemma on Bloomberg's desk.

The Opportunist

During the 1960s Giuliani was a self-described "Robert Kennedy Democrat." He identified with RFK as a liberal Catholic prosecutor. He volunteered for RKF's 1968 presidential campaign while he was a student at NYU Law School. Giuliani also voted for George McGovern in 1972. During the liberal 1960s, he was a liberal.

But in 1975 Giuliani switched his party registration from Democrat to Independent when he got a job in Gerald Ford's Justice Department, according to his mentor Harold "Ace" Tyler. (Tyler is the former federal judge who hired Giuliani as a deputy to help him run the criminal division of the Justice Department in 1975. In 1977 Giuliani worked under Tyler in the Manhattan law firm Patterson, Belknap & Webb, functioning as Tyler's chief of staff.)

Tyler later became disillusioned by some of Giuliani's excesses as US Attorney, criticizing several of his prosecutions and accusing him of "overkill." Tyler also complained that Giuliani stopped seeking his advice, saying, "Rudy's a very insecure person in a way, and it takes security to seek advice."

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