The Cronyism Question
CONCORD, N.H., Nov. 25 -- After the federal government indicted Rudy Giuliani's former police commissioner, Bernie Kerik, on 16 counts earlier this month, there was a surprising quiet from Giuliani's chief rivals for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor lamented Kerik's alleged misbehavior, but did not directly attack Giuliani's role in advancing Kerik, his former chauffeur, and later recommending him as the country's homeland security adviser.
That changed today, when Romney cited Giuliani's judgment in promoting Kerik during a stop with some of his family members at a toy store here. Romney professed shock that Giuliani had started attacking him for his nomination of a Massachusetts judge who has come under fire for overly lenient treatment of a defendant who has since been accused of killing two people in Washington state. Romney said this was brazen hypocrisy coming from the man who nearly helped make Bernie Kerik a Cabinet secretary.
"I must admit that of all the people who might attack someone on the basis of an appointment he would be the last," Romney said "The idea that Mayor Giuliani should be critical of me... is a very strange development. It's a very ironic posture, for him to be talking about personal judgment."
If Romney or other Republicans do embark on a more concerted effort to use Giuliani's personnel picks against him, the next question becomes how widely they set the target. Giuliani has described his advancement of Kerik as an isolated lapse in judgment, and has made much of his ability to surround himself with "great people," as he puts it in his memoir "Leadership."
But as a Saturday article in The Post described, Giuliani's critics argue that his penchant for promoting people with thin resumes but strong personal or political ties to him goes beyond Kerik. They point, among others, to his police commissioner prior to Kerik, Howard Safir, a former U.S. Marshal who went back 20 years with Giuliani and came under criticism for his handling of fatal shootings by police and for some ethical missteps, even as he presided over a continued decline in crime; Giuliani's choice for emergency management commissioner, Richie Sheirer, who spent most of his career as a fire department dispatcher; and Thomas Von Essen, Giuliani's choice for fire commissioner, who was far down the department's hierarchy but led a firefighters' union local that gave Giuliani a key endorsement.
In an interview late last week, Joe Lhota, a deputy mayor under Giuliani, said the criticism of Safir amounted to sour grapes on the part of police department veterans whom Giuliani passed over to pick Safir.
"People may be griping that there were capable people inside the organization. Well, there may be capable people but the question is, will they feel comfortable making the radical reforms that are necessary?" Lhota said.
While most of the insinuations of cronyism revolve around Giuliani?s picks for his public safety departments, his critics in New York have questioned some of his choices in other areas as well. When his first health commissioner left for a job in the Clinton Administration, he replaced her with Dr. Neal Cohen, a psychiatrist whom he had previously named to run the city's department of mental health, and whose wife was the cousin of a top Giuliani adviser, Randy Mastro. Some health advocates questioned the choice, noting that Cohen, as a psychiatrist, had little background in public health. He won praise for launching an effort to combat asthma in children, which Chris Norwood, head of a health advocacy group in the Bronx, called a "model initiative."
But his department later came under intense fire after the Sept. 11 attacks for setting what critics said were overly lax standards for cleaning World Trade Center dust from businesses and homes in lower Manhattan. Businesses and property owners downtown had been urging Giuliani to move quickly to open the area back up, and critics charge Cohen with acceding to the mayor's wishes instead of pushing for the more intensive cleanups called for by city law.
"The New York Department of Health's implicit post 9/11 position was that government and in particular the city had no responsibility to assess or address 9/11 derived indoor contamination and the potential for health impacts. Explicitly [the department] advised residents and workers that they could clean up World Trade Center dust in their homes or workplaces," instead of putting the government in charge, said David Newman, an air quality expert with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. "The unfortunate result was that downtown residents and workers were unnecessarily and avoidably exposed to toxic contaminants and that effective indoor cleanup did not take place."
Cohen did not return calls seeking comment.
Also generating controversy was Giuliani's pick to replace his first commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, Marilyn Gelber, whom he fired after she clashed with City Hall over its demands that she hire a deputy whom she deemed unqualified. Giuliani replaced her in 1996 with the city's buildings commissioner, Joel Miele, an engineer with strong political connections, particularly with Queens Borough President Claire Schulman, a Democrat who gave a crucial endorsement to Giuliani. Miele was frequently at odds with environmental groups who charged him with lax oversight of the huge upstate reservoirs that provided the city's water supply. During his tenure, the city pleaded guilty to a violation of the Clean Water Act and paid a $50,000 fine for allowing some mercury to leak into one reservoir.
Miele "kind of personified the Giuliani crony mold," said Alex Matthiessen, head of the New York-based environmental group Riverkeeper. "In our view, he and his team were downright hostile to the department's mission. It was a culture of mismanagement and neglect of duty that was more interested in protecting the entrenched bureaucracy than the watershed."
Miele -- who attracted attention in the city for his practice of wearing a gun strapped to an ankle-holster -- was also criticized for not doing more to demand higher standards for the cleanup of World Trade Center dust. An October 2001 memo from a deputy health commissioner states that Miele had been "uncomfortable" with air levels being recorded downtown, but that he was leaving it to the health department to decide whether to reopen the area.
In an interview, Miele dismissed the charges regarding the watershed, saying he had focused more on the water delivery system in the city because he felt it was more vulnerable to deliberate contamination than the reservoirs. He also rejected the suggestion that he had given in to Giuliani's wishes to open up downtown as fast as possible after 9/11.
"I was never pressured by the mayor's office," he said. "No one ever pressured me to open an area I wasn't comfortable with."
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