Giuliani in Albany? Prepare For a Shock!

ALBANY-Should a citizen of New York, or of any other state for that matter, choose to examine personally the hallowed confines in which the Empire State’s laws are debated, passed and signed, there are few obstacles other than the near-certainty that his or her taste in fashion and personal ethics is likely to be severely challenged.

One of the astonishing charms of this truly underrated state capital is the ease with which civilian, lobbyist and politician mingle, occasionally to the general public’s benefit. It is enough to remind a visitor that we do, after all, live in a republic, battered though it may be by the siege guns of the meritocratic elite. There are no snarling civic guards to check credentials or take blood samples at the entrances to the State Capitol. No hideous concrete barricades protect the deputy commissioners for wildlife preservation from the roiling masses. Everybody here knows Jack, the fellow who sells state legislators their newspapers and breath mints. The imperial style lately brought to City Hall and its environs is utterly, wonderfully absent here.

And yet, there are commentators, from Pulitzer Prize winners to television gasbags, who seem to think that Rudolph Giuliani’s personality and temperament somehow will find more fruitful expression in the capital to the north, as opposed to the capital to the south. Senators, they say, have to be collegial and all that, and since the Mayor is thought of as an orders-giving executive rather than a legislator, surely his ambitions, not to mention his health and personal life, would be better served by skipping the Senate this year and running for Governor two years hence. Writing in the Wall Street Journal , Paul A. Gigot asserts that Mr. Giuliani is “better suited to the New York governorship, which he could still seek once he stabilizes his personal life.” William Safire suggested the same scenario in The New York Times . And others of considerably less repute have been yammering such thoughts on talk shows.

This sort of thinking assumes that the institutional New York governorship is suited to Mr. Giuliani’s temperament, and that Mr. Giuliani’s rather dramatic style of governance can be transferred from City Hall to the world’s biggest Red Roof Inn, the State Capitol. These are the sorts of assumptions that can get one into trouble.

Unlike the city, where the Mayor really can rule in the manner of Yul Brynner presiding over the Egyptians in The Ten Commandments (“So it shall be written, so it shall be done. Oh, and screw you, pal.” Or something like that.), Albany’s chief executives must share power with two annoying little legislative leaders, whose antics Mr. Giuliani might soon come to equate with panhandlers, speeders, spitters and other obstacles to public order. The Majority Leader of the State Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly actually regard themselves as checks on the Governor’s power, which, wouldn’t you know, is exactly the role the Founders had in mind when they devised their governmental trinity and advised localities to go and do likewise. No Governor can pass a budget without extensive negotiations with the state Legislature’s leaders. Top gubernatorial appointments must pass muster with the State Senate, which can be embarrassing for a man accustomed to ruling by dictate. And the locals seem to appreciate the lack of pretension that survived Nelson Rockefeller’s attempt to eradicate humility, along with an entire downtown neighborhood, when he built the monstrous mall that now bears his name.

Perhaps when the sages of op-ed pages suggest that Mr. Giuliani and Albany would be perfect together, they have in mind the in-your-face architecture of the Empire State Plaza, and not the more-intimate corridors of the State Capitol, not to mention the quiet corners of the capital’s watering holes, where business really gets done. Mr. Giuliani, with his dictates and his barricades, would soon find in Albany an institutional opponent the likes of which he has not seen in some time. No self-respecting Assembly Speaker will be treated like the Mayor treats Public Advocate Mark Green; unlike Mr. Green, an Assembly Speaker has ways of visiting retribution upon an offending party, even one so glorified as a governor. And it will take just one session with a hard-nosed Senate Majority Leader for Mr. Giuliani to realize that he’s not negotiating with the City Council anymore.

Albany is a town where power is shared, not always equally and not always fairly, but shared nevertheless. Mr. Giuliani’s career as an elected official has been spent in City Hall, where he has been able to treat his partners in government like so many municipal cockroaches. His rivals and enemies are so little-known that they stand a chance of getting patted down next time they stroll through City Hall Park.

Albany, be assured, would not suffer Rudy Giuliani gladly.