For a fellow who is so enamored of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani seems shockingly indifferent to the first commandment in the playbook of American campaign politics: Thou shalt not pelt unto others what they could so easily pelt right back unto you.
Three days after sandblasting Hillary Rodham Clinton for supposedly promoting drug use and masturbation for the incidental playing of BillyJoel’s1973song “Captain Jack” at the official announcement of her candidacy for the U.S. Senate, the Mayor and at least four members of his entourage spent the night of Thursday, Feb. 10, at the Buffalo franchise of a hotel chain being sued by the U.S. Department of Justice. The complaint accuses the chain of “engaging in a pattern of discrimination against minorities in their hotels and their hotels’ restaurants, bars, lounges and clubs,” according to a Dec. 16 press release issued by the Justice Department.
The Federal lawsuit is separate from, but clearly supportive of, a suit brought in May against the Adam’s Mark hotel chain by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Though both actions center upon alleged discrimination against African-American patrons in the chain’s Daytona, Fla., location, their effect has been felt in other places, among other people.
Those include some who, unlike the majority of African-Americans, fall squarely in the prized category of voters who can be considered truly up for grabs between Mr. Giuliani and Mrs. Clinton.
As the New York Blade reported on Jan. 28, the Human Rights Campaign, the major and moderate gay rights organization that endorsed former Senator Alfonse D’Amato for re-election in 1998, withdrew plans to hold its annual dinner, slated for Feb. 26, at the Adam’s Mark in Denver out of solidarity with the complainants in the Federal suit. The New York Times reported on Feb. 9, the day before Mr. Giuliani’s stay, that the Episcopal Church of America chose to lose a possible $1.2 million rather than honor its contract to host its convention at the same venue in July, and the Organization of American Historians may follow suit. Likewise, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America recently reneged on its contract to take 700 rooms at the Adam’s Mark in St. Louis, where it will convene some 45,000 youths this summer.
And, unlike the moral and political ramifications of 27-year-old Billy Joel lyrics, those of pending Federal civil rights litigation would appear to be leaving Team Hillary, by luck or by design, comparatively unscathed: On a listening-tour swing through western New York last August, before the suit, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign did select the Adam’s Mark as its Buffalo base for three nights, and recommended that members of the traveling press do so as well.
But on each of Mrs. Clinton’s visits to the Buffalo area since the Department of Justice lawsuit was announced, including a post-announcement visit, the campaign camped (and reporters were directed) elsewhere.
“I am not aware of any lawsuit, so I can’t comment on it,” said Giuliani campaign manager Bruce Teitelbaum, who was among those who stayed at the Adam’s Mark. “But this is the same hotel that hosted the Buffalo Urban League’s dinner dance and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.”
Fair enough-or perhaps not fair enough, depending upon whom you ask.
“We would look quite negatively on the Mayor’s decision to stay there,” said David Smith, communications director of the 350,000-member, Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign. “The charges against this hotel chain have been very well publicized, and while we believe that people are innocent until proven guilty, our view is that this hotel chain should not be patronized until these charges are resolved.” Mr. Smith went on to say, “There are serious allegations raised by credible institutions against this hotel chain. The Justice Department’s investigation uncovered allegations of a pattern of discrimination throughout the chain.”
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign spokesman, Howard Wolfson, declined comment. It should be noted, by way of full disclosure, that The Observer also stayed at the Adam’s Mark on Feb. 10, out of a practice of bunking, when possible, wherever a campaign does. It should also be noted that the Adam’s Mark has yet to be found guilty of anything. “We believe that, when the [Justice] Department’s investigations are finally concluded, Adam’s Mark and its parent, HBE Corporation, will be completely exonerated from the allegations in the complaint,” stated Fred S. Kummer, the president and chief executive of both entities, in a Dec. 16 press release. “In fact, our data will clearly show, among other things, that Adam’s Mark hotels and our property in Daytona Beach are absolutely committed to diversity.”
Further, even if the chain loses big-time, it would be unfair to impute to Mr. Giuliani; Mr. Teitelbaum; his media consultant, Adam Goodman; or his deputy campaign press secretary, Kim Serafin, any degree of actual racism for staying at a hotel under the kind of cloud hanging over the Adam’s Mark. (It’s nowhere near the caliber, for example, of George W. Bush’s recent speech to the racist Bob Jones University in South Carolina-a political misfire that the Mayor was right to seize upon.)
On the other hand, such an inference would be no more unfair-and arguably less so-than imputing to Mrs. Clinton and her staff any degree of actual depravity on the strength of “Captain Jack.” Or a missing restaurant tip.
Then again, jihads are always weird, and never more so than when launched by people who so clearly are-and so clearly know they are-total infidels. “All Clinton outrage is fake,” mused one of the Mayor’s most fervent, and certainly more lucid, supporters. “All Giuliani outrage is really fake.”
Fake or not, the Clinton outrage last week was, on the merits, understandable: It takes a hell of a nerve to cite anyone for “hostility to America’s religious traditions,” as the line goes in Mr. Giuliani’s now-infamous fund-raising letter to social conservatives, exposed in an article in The Village Voice of Feb. 8. To so cite Mrs. Clinton based on a comment, given in a New York Times interview, that voiced reservations about the flow of Government money to faith-based institutions, as advocated by Mr. Bush, is plainly ludicrous.
Still, early on the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 9, at the quick but grave “press availability” in an elevator bank at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rochester, it was hard to tell exactly how outraged the First Lady really was. It’s not that one doubts her religious faith, or her right to call the Mayor on his sliming her thusly. It is just that this was another of the many instances in which Mrs. Clinton’s politically invaluable gift for making an instant plaster mask of her face can transpose into her politically problematic penchant for closing off her emotions when it would behoove her most to open up. For all the talk in recent days of her mixing it up and letting folks in, she still seems, at times, a literal prisoner of her own poise. Even after months of seeing her, up close and from a distance, it is impossible to tell exactly how genuinely consumed by any emotion she ever really is.
As for Mr. Giuliani, the idea of him as some kind of Christian avenger gets more hilarious by the minute, and not at all because he seems less than obsessed with getting to mass on Sunday. It is, of course, the very opposite of the Mayor’s job to calibrate his public agenda to his personal faith-and the very opposite of the journalist’s job to gauge his fealty to that faith.
But while he’s raking it in by blasting the Brooklyn Museum on behalf of the mother of God, one can’t help but note that his pro-choice, pro-death-penalty, crackdown-on-the-homeless menu of views is not one that would, doctrinally speaking, have the Virgin Mother waving a pompom with glee. Any more than mentioning the courageously counterintuitive pro-immigrant, antigun items on his Republican résumé will get him a right-wing dime.
In retrospect, though, the oddest fact about the weeklong holy war was that, in direct defiance of the rules of post-gotcha political thrust-and-parry, both sides so clearly wanted to keep it going.
For someone so upset that religion had been injected into the race, Mrs. Clinton certainly seemed eager to keep it around as long as possible. After confiding how appalled she was to the press that morning, she confided it again, to students at Syracuse University. The next day, after a diner drop-in in the Herkimer County town of Little Falls (Herkimer-County No. 44; only 18 to go!), she was appalled again, this time calling for the Mayor to release all his fund-raising letters.
For his part, Mr. Giuliani not only declined to downplay the letter, but he embraced it and expressed his desire that it be read by all New Yorkers. That was, of course, classic Rudy: When attacked, even-no, especially-when attacked legitimately, you don’t retreat, you strike back, and strike harder.
But Mr. Giuliani went even further, citing his support for allowing public school teachers to post the Ten Commandments on the wall. Given one’s instant assumption that Mrs. Clinton’s outrage was lasting so long partly because moderate suburban Jewish voters, who are widely considered to be uncomfortable with the church-state coziness bespoken in the letter, is one of those groups up for grabs in this race-one would therefore assume that the statement about the Ten Commandments is the sort of thing the Mayor would express on a one-time-only basis. By week’s end, though, those crazy tablets had become his favorite punch line. At the press conference held before a dinner with Erie County Republicans at the Italian Village Restaurant on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 10, no one asked Mayor Gun Control why actor and firearms firebrand Charlton Heston would support him. But he offered up a theory anyway: “The Ten Commandments!”
Oh, and by the way, there are real, relevant issues at stake in all this rhetorical redrawing of the dividing line between church and state, although none of them are nearly as much fun as the irrelevancies being hurled. If it is vile to impugn the First Lady’s respect for religious institutions, it is valid to ask her-and her opponent-how that respect should properly manifest itself in the Senate. Take tuition tax credits for the parents of children in religious schools. Unlike the posting of the Ten Commandments on public school classroom walls, the Supreme Court has found these to be constitutional, and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan strongly supports them.
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign said she is opposed, but did not specify why. “In principle, the Mayor would be supportive,” said Mr. Teitelbaum.
Neither campaign offered an opinion on the issue of choice in charity, which also arises before a legislator. “If Floyd Flake’s Allen A.M.E. Church wants to get Government grants to perform social services,” said Nathan Diament, spokesman for the Orthodox Union, “should it have to form a separate, corporate, secular shell?” Good question. Someone should answer it sometime.
But let’s face it, in the next nine months, these two won’t have to answer much except the outlandish charges they will throw at each other. Indeed, the single strongest theme that has emerged in this campaign is so simple, Calvin Klein could have come up with it, and it’s here to stay: “Tell me who you walk with,” Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer intoned to a group of “Hill-a-ree!” chanters crammed into the Bronx County Democratic Headquarters on the afternoon of Saturday, Feb. 12, “and I will tell you who you are!” In other words, Mr. Giuliani walks with rabid right-wing Republicans; ergo, for purposes of the average New Yorker, he might as well be a rabid right-wing Republican. By the same token, Mrs. Clinton walks with crazy left-wing Democrats-Democratic socialists, for that matter. Ergo, for purposes of the average New Yorker, she might as well be a wacko left-wing Democrat.
So there it is, the “It’s the economy, stupid” of this election: “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.”
Not that both of our heroes aren’t extravagantly hated on their own. “Go the #@** home, witch” was a sentiment spraypainted on a sheet, “before someone drops a house on you.” The sheet hung between two trees across the street from RH Tug’s, the Staten Island restaurant that was the last of Mrs. Clinton’s five stops, one for each of the five boroughs, on Feb. 12.
Not that the common man is always so nice about Mr. Giuliani, either. After serving a table of reporters recently in a Syracuse restaurant, a waiter was asked what he thought. First he voiced suspicion of the Clintons. But then he sighed: “I just can’t see Daniel Patrick Moynihan being replaced by a Nazi.”