City Employees Say Giuliani Demanded Blind Obedience
Rudy Giuliani has made much of his time as mayor of New York, but a growing number of his former lieutenants are speaking out about his dictatorial ways. As one former city commissioner put it: “People used to say that if Mayor Koch said, ‘Let’s kill all 12-year olds, everyone working around him would freely tell him, ‘You’re crazy,’ but if Mayor Giuliani said it, then everyone would say, ‘Brilliant, Rudy! Have you thought of killing 13-year-olds, too?’ “
Other reports suggest that the mayor was quick to deal with anyone who got in the way of his backscratching. Giuliani’s first commissioner of environmental protection says she was pushed out after she tried to fire an incompetent political appointee and refused to dismiss talented employees to make way for Giuliani loyalists.
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“It was an extremely difficult administration to work in,” said Marilyn G Gelber, who was commissioner of the city’s department of environmental protection for the first two and a half years of Giuliani’s eight-year reign. Though the mayor crafted his reputation investigating corruption and patronage under Democrats, he demanded unstinting loyalty in office, the litmus test for which was their willingness to make room for hacks, she said.
Gelber worked out a landmark agreement protecting the city’s upstate water supply, yet was forced out of her high-level post after refusing to get rid of talented staff members at the demand of Giuliani’s deputies and seeking to fire a flagrantly political appointee with no relevant experience who had worked for the mayor’s election. The “disruptive” appointee even failed to show up at a major water main break where a toxic substance was emitted into the air, though emergency response was part of his high-level charge, she recalled.
“Giuliani showed disrespect for the people in government who are competent, knew their jobs and were loyal first and foremost to the broader mission of their agency and the city,” said Gelber, who is now executive director of the Independence Community Foundation, a private community-development foundation in Brooklyn, New York. “In a civilian government, that kind of leadership, a cult of personality, is pretty dangerous. It’s scary to imagine it at the national level.”
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