Rudy’s Wild Bunch Goes After Mayor, Roiling the Waters

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has breached his deal with Mayor Michael Bloomberg just once.

It was the evening of Monday, Dec. 8, at a fund-raiser for the Rudolph W. Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs. A former deputy mayor, Anthony Coles, introduced Mr. Giuliani by detailing the former Mayor’s accomplishments but complained that the current Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was endangering one of them: the tax cuts. Mr. Giuliani said he agreed with Mr. Coles on that point. He echoed a line from his favorite movie, The Godfather .

“After all, we are Republicans,” he said, according to people who were at the fund-raiser.

Alert observers’ eyebrows shot up.

“It’s about the only time in which I’ve seen a public display of mockery [of the Bloomberg administration],” said one senior Giuliani administration official, who added that there was “no upside” in criticizing Mr. Bloomberg on the record. But, the former official continued, “for anybody who was part of the Giuliani administration, there’s an enormous level of frustration at what appears to be day-to-day inertia” at City Hall.

That frustration is widespread and rising in Mr. Giuliani’s circle, according to former officials and people who have spoken to them. Against it is this simple, apparently unspoken arrangement: Mr. Bloomberg doesn’t criticize Mr. Giuliani’s legacy, and Mr. Giuliani doesn’t criticize Mr. Bloomberg’s decisions.

“It does neither of them any good to be perceived attacking one another,” said Doug Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College. And adding to the silence are the city’s Democrats, whose rationale to challenge Mr. Bloomberg depends on his being a real Republican.

But as Mr. Bloomberg’s term wears on, the non-aggression pact is developing chinks. Behind the scenes, Mr. Giuliani’s former aides express sentiments ranging from disappointment to contempt. Two former top officials who declined to comment on Mr. Bloomberg, Richard Schwartz and Mr. Coles, have expressed polite but serious concern about fiscal and educational policy on tabloid op-ed pages. Lower-ranking policy-makers have complained in harsher terms about Mr. Bloomberg’s stances on welfare and emergency management. And while Mr. Giuliani offers public praise for Mr. Bloomberg on occasion, his spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel, declined to comment on the incumbent Mayor or to provide comment from the former aides who now work for Giuliani Partners. Randy Mastro, who was a deputy mayor under Mr. Giuliani, simply demurred when asked to compare Mr. Bloomberg with his predecessor.

“Obviously Mayor Bloomberg had a tough act to follow-and came into office at a particularly difficult time,” Mr. Mastro said. “Rudolph Giuliani was the best Mayor in city history, in my opinion. It’s not the kind of comparison that’s necessarily constructive.”

The behind-the-scenes sniping isn’t limited to the Giuliani camp. Some of Mr. Bloomberg’s aides told The Observer they think their administration has taken the blame for the previous regime’s errors.

“Rudy came at a price-you tend to be more accommodating toward some of his [errors],” said one administration official. Many in the current administration quietly blame Mr. Giuliani for running up a budget deficit that has dominated Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure, though Mr. Bloomberg has not publicly made that connection. Publicly, Mr. Bloomberg has positioned himself as Mr. Giuliani’s acolyte.

“The Mayor has maintained since the campaign that we were going to build on the accomplishments of the Giuliani administration, and in fact that’s what we have done,” said Mr. Bloomberg’s communications director, William Cunningham. He argued that Mr. Bloomberg has extended some of Mr. Giuliani’s successes-like the computer analysis of crime patterns-to other areas of government.

“It’s the difference between having tanks and having cavalry,” he said. “These are refinements, but it’s still mobile warfare.”

Tanks versus cavalry. Hmm.

Technology is one change Mr. Bloomberg has brought to city government, notably by introducing a single telephone number, 311, for previously scattered city services. But that’s not what has former Giuliani aides exercised. The grumbling started almost immediately upon Mr. Bloomberg taking office, when one of the new Mayor’s first acts was to reverse a deal to build a new Yankee Stadium.

Some of the friction between the current and former administrations is the natural fallout of any political transition. Some is the consequence of narrow slights, like the stadium decision. Some is the result of style differences between a combative former prosecutor and an anodyne deal-maker. And there’s no doubt that in some key areas-crime control, for example, and the fight for Mayoral control of schools-Mr. Bloomberg is truly Mr. Giuliani’s inheritor. But the tacit agreement that neither side will criticize the other has also glossed over some key departures from Mr. Giuliani’s management of the city. The most notable is welfare policy, a controversial centerpiece of Mr. Giuliani’s administration which has been nearly invisible since Mr. Bloomberg took office.

Mr. Giuliani’s “work-first” welfare-reform project was part of the national trend toward work requirements. Critics accused the administration of callousness and of putting up bureaucratic obstacles to receiving public assistance. City officials, by contrast, insisted that most welfare recipients would find jobs if pushed. Under Mr. Giuliani, the welfare rolls fell by more than half from a peak of 1.2 million recipients.

Last year the numbers started climbing again.

The first deputy commissioner of the Human Resources Administration, Patricia Smith, said that despite the modest increase, “there is no trend.” Ms. Smith also said the city’s welfare recipients include a higher proportion of hard-core partially or fully “unengageable” people than was the case in the late 1990′s, making it harder to send recipients directly into the work force.

“So many of the able-bodied people have moved off the roles,” she said.

That’s a rationale that troubles Mark Hoover, the former first deputy commissioner at H.R.A. and a key policy hand in Mr. Giuliani’s welfare bureaucracy.

“There’s been a slide back in terms of exempting people [from work requirements],” he said. “If you start perceiving these people as not able to work, you don’t have welfare reform. You’ve lost it.”

Ms. Smith responded that the proportion of “unengageable” recipients broke 50 percent even before Mr. Bloomberg took office, and has risen little since then.

Another area of controversy is emergency management. Mr. Giuliani’s Office of Emergency Management was a centerpiece of his public-safety apparatus. Mr. Bloomberg has downgraded the agency and given the Police Department more control over emergencies and potential terror attacks. His move drew fire from Mr. Giuliani’s first emergency-management director, Jerome Hauer, who wrote in The New York Times : “Not only do these steps ignore the lessons of recent history, they promise to set back public safety in New York City for years.”

Some dismissed Mr. Hauer’s criticism because he had supported Mark Green against Mr. Bloomberg in the 2001 general election. But other former Giuliani aides echoed his concerns. “What’s going on at O.E.M. is a complete, 180-degree disaster,” said one former city official.

Dispute Over Taxes

The most fraught dispute between the Giuliani and Bloomberg camps, however, remains taxes, which are a proxy for fiscal policy and the size of government more generally. Mr. Giuliani’s apparent national ambitions depend on his reputation as a tax-cutter. Mr. Bloomberg took a beating when, after promising not to raise taxes, he pushed through a record-setting property-tax increase. Mr. Giuliani’s aides made their disapproval clear, and it has extended to Mr. Bloomberg’s most recent budget, in which he blamed spending increases on “non-discretionary” factors outside local control, like state-mandated Medicaid costs.

“The message behind his visionless, idea-starved budget documents is depressingly defeatist,” Mr. Schwartz, the former deputy mayor, wrote in the Daily News.

Said another former senior official: “No executive should ever, ever, ever say things are non-discretionary. It’s like putting your hands in your pockets.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s aides, meanwhile, note that Mr. Bloomberg arrived in office facing budget gaps that Mr. Giuliani opened by allowing spending to swell during the boom years of the late 1990′s.

“If Mark Green was there, who would Mark Green be blaming for the current fiscal scenario?” a Bloomberg aide asked.

Mr. Giuliani’s defenders argue that it’s as much a matter of principle as of the details of governance.

“Giuliani was a guy whose whole point was to change things,” said E.J. McMahon, a fiscal-policy analyst at the conservative Manhattan Institute, who praised Mr. Giuliani for declaring that city government was simply too big. “Bloomberg, while he’s a very unusual and unprecedented Mayor in some ways, is pretty much a guardian of the status quo. He’s a guy who’s going to make the status quo work better.”

With about 16 months to go before the 2005 Mayoral election, Mr. Bloomberg is looking stronger than ever. But the dissatisfaction among Mr. Giuliani’s aides suggests an opening for a Democrat on Mr. Bloomberg’s right-though it’s not clear that any of the challengers is capable of taking advantage of it. The best positioned is Representative Anthony Weiner, a Queens Democrat who has only just begun his campaign in earnest. Even the most disgruntled of Mr. Giuliani’s former aides, however, conceded that they’d probably vote for Mr. Bloomberg.

Fred Siegel, a Cooper Union professor who has praised Mr. Giuliani’s policies and criticized Mr. Bloomberg’s, took a similar position.

“I’d give Bloomberg a C-minus for overall performance, but if the alternatives were [former Bronx Borough President Fernando] Ferrer or [City Council Speaker Gifford] Miller, I’d vote for him anyway,” he said.