Giuliani's mayoral archive remains an enigma

David Saltonstall
New York Daily News (MCT)

NEW YORK - Rudy Giuliani's political rivals are digging through his mayoral archives in a search for political dirt - but they may have a hard time finding anything.

More than five years after Giuliani spirited his papers out of City Hall in his last days in office - saying he would pay to have them privately archived - virtually all of the 2,118 boxes he took have been microfilmed and returned to the city, aides say.

But the index offers little detail on specific files, and Giuliani's archivists have yet to deliver a more comprehensive road map to the voluminous collection, now housed in an old court building behind City Hall.

"You would have better luck finding a picture of Rudy wearing a Red Sox cap than locating a meaningful accounting or record of his tenure as mayor of New York," griped one operative from a rival presidential campaign.

At the same time, files that would seem to pose a hazard to Giuliani as he now seeks the GOP nomination for President - those on abortion, gun control or his personal life, for instance - offer little insight into the once-moderate mayor, according to a review by the New York Daily News.

A file labeled "Private Life/Divorce" offers nothing more than a few old press clippings about his breakup with Donna Hanover, as well as a transcript from the May 2000 press conference where he described his then-girlfriend and now-wife, Judith Nathan, as "a very good friend."

Meanwhile, Hanover's papers as First Lady have been all but erased. "This subgroup was not filmed," is all the archive says.

Documents from the historic weeks after Sept. 11 seem similarly scant. Instead of memos detailing concerns about air quality or coordination among agencies, the record consists of a few dry reports that sketch efforts to restore the city bureaucracy.

Like most mayors of the modern era, city archivists say, Giuliani kept no files of his own and instead delegated almost everything to his deputies - leaving few internal documents that reflect his personal thinking.

On the other hand, there are scores of form letters from Giuliani responding to celebrities who commended his leadership after Sept. 11. Recipients of the mayoral thank-yous included everyone from Donald Trump and Barbra Streisand to the Dalai Lama and Henry Kissinger.

Giuliani aides defended the archive as the most thoroughly microfilmed and accessible of any mayor. Indeed, only a portion of previous mayors' papers have ever made it out of their boxes, largely because no other mayor has paid to catalogue his materials privately.

"We are thrilled that former Mayor Giuliani's historic papers were made available to the public so quickly," said Giuliani spokeswoman Sunny Mindel.

The dearth of many post-Sept. 11 documents, Giuliani aides added, is an issue of timing: Because Sept. 11 happened at the end of his tenure, many of those documents were left for the new administration and will be catalogued later.

As for the lack of a detailed index, they said a fuller version would be delivered soon.

The bigger question, historians say, is whether Team Giuliani sanitized its own files after they were carted away from City Hall - a charge Giuliani aides vehemently deny.

It's a question city archivists concede may never be answered. No other mayor has taken possession of his papers before returning them to the city, creating what city Controller William Thompson in 2003 called "an apparent lapse in the chain of accountability" for the records.

"We are fairly confident we got back everything," said Kenneth Cobb, director of the city's Municipal Archives. "But we can't be 100 percent sure."

What's clear is that the archives cast Giuliani in a most positive light, and often in ways that seem aimed at a national audience.

A 12-page biographical note at the beginning reads like an expanded press release. "Under Rudy Giuliani's leadership, New York City became the best-known example of resurgence of urban America," it concludes.

Anyone who pokes below the surface, however, will be reminded of the turbulent, often racially divided tenor that defined much of Giuliani's two terms.

In a file related to Patrick Dorismond, an African-American security guard killed by police, there is a copy of an earlier police report that Giuliani released to suggest the unarmed Dorismond may have been at fault - a move that infuriated many African Americans.

Giuliani's war with the Brooklyn Museum over its exhibit of a controversial image of the Virgin Mary drew reams of mail - and some humorous notes by City Hall aides.

One Giuliani staffer wrote "Umm . . . hypocrite?" in the margins of a constituent letter that reminded the mayor of the right to free speech, then advised him to "SHUT UP!"

A seemingly rare note written by Giuliani after Sept. 11 indicates he was pondering his next career move five weeks after the attacks. The Nov. 16 memo orders his staff to recuse him from dealings with Ernst & Young, "a company with which I am exploring possible future opportunities."

Two weeks after he left office, Giuliani announced he was establishing Giuliani Partners, a private consulting firm - with "strategic partner" Ernst & Young.

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