Who's sorry now?
After another police killing, Giuliani offers no apologies. That
gives Hillary Clinton an opening--and sparks the hottest week
yet in their Senate race
Last week Hillary Clinton was a better mayor of New York City
than the man who holds the job. Commenting on the most recent
killing of an unarmed man, Patrick Dorismond, by an undercover
narcotics cop, Clinton told a congregation at the Bethel A.M.E.
Church, "I do not believe that bad relations with the police is
a necessary cost of doing the business of keeping our cities
safe." She went on to criticize Mayor Rudy Giuliani directly:
"If he is leading the rush to judgment in New York, how can we
trust him to exercise good judgment in Washington?"
Winning the Senate race in New York may not come from Clinton or
Giuliani doing well but from one of them doing badly. By that
measure, Giuliani's reaction to the latest police killing, the
fourth of an unarmed black man in 13 months, gave Clinton her
best campaign week yet. Giuliani typically springs to the cops'
defense. But this time he wouldn't even express sympathy to the
victim's mother, because it "might imply that the shooting was
unjustified." He had no compunctions about implying that the
shooting was justified. Dorismond was "no altar boy," Giuliani
reported, as if all non-altar boys are subject to summary
execution on the sidewalks of New York. The slain security guard
had behaved in a way that was "very aggressive toward the
police," he added, though there was no proof that Dorismond did
anything except perhaps annoy the plainclothes narcotics cop by
rebuffing his attempt to buy marijuana. Giuliani also asserted
that Dorismond had spent a "good deal of his adult life punching
people," a reference to a domestic complaint filed by
Dorismond's girlfriend, which resulted in no charge against him.
Though Giuliani released Dorismond's adult and juvenile records
(the latter are supposed to remain sealed), they revealed that
he had never been convicted of anything more serious than
disorderly conduct. At the same time, Giuliani praised Anthony
Vasquez, the officer who shot Dorismond, as a "very, very
distinguished undercover officer," leaving out information
suggesting that he was no altar boy himself; he once shot a
neighbor's dog and pulled out his revolver during a personal
altercation at a bar.
As his weeklong campaign against Dorismond aroused criticism
rather than quieted it, Giuliani stopped holding his daily press
briefings at city hall and refused to meet with the black
community, saying the killing of Dorismond, a Haitian, had
"nothing to do with race." By Thursday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson
had chimed in, claiming that the New York City mayor is "not
only mean; he is becoming mental... His reaction to the killing
of unarmed people is irresponsible." Giuliani said he expected
such carping from "the political pile-on team captained by Al
Sharpton for Hillary Clinton."
But what he may not have expected was criticism from his own
ranks. Long Island Republican Congressman Peter King, the son of
a cop who will eventually endorse Giuliani, said, "Rudy is a
great wartime mayor. But once he got rid of murderers and
squeegee men, he kept going--jaywalkers, vendors; he couldn't
stop himself. Obviously, the cop made a mistake here, but the
mayor can't acknowledge it." Former Giuliani aide and Republican
National Committee chairman Rich Bond worried out loud that
Giuliani's strong defense in this particular case could turn
what has been a huge positive for the mayor--his record on
crime--into a negative.
Why can't Giuliani just say he's sorry? He surely doesn't need
to shore up his law-and-order credentials, and by defending
virtually every cop no matter how hideous the episode, he does
no favor for the 99% of cops who don't shoot first and ask
questions later. Giuliani does know how to behave better. When
Haitian immigrant Abner Louima was sodomized by a police officer
with the handle of a toilet plunger in 1997, Giuliani expressed
shock at the brutality and called for a task force to review
police-community issues. But that was in the midst of his
re-election campaign, and since then his reaction to charges of
police brutality has grown more strident. The irony is that
police killings of civilians are down dramatically from what
they were during the administration of his Democratic
predecessor, David Dinkins. But Dinkins would go around with a
long, sorrowful face that deflected blame, while Giuliani lashes
out and invites it. Fred Siegel, a history professor at Cooper
Union, says Giuliani needs a strong person who could stand up to
him and say, "You're right, police killings are at a record low.
But shut up--and express sympathy."
Does Hillary finally have an opening in her race to overtake
Giuliani? Her challenge now is to resist her own impulse to
become self-righteous, to let Giuliani be his own worst enemy
and hope that more of those voters who think Rudy has saved the
city will start being worried that he's too intemperate for a
collegial body like the Senate. So far, the campaign has been an
uphill struggle for her. For months she "listened" to New
Yorkers as if she were Margaret Mead collecting stories from the
natives in Samoa, and blundered every time she opened her mouth,
from claiming too many sports-team allegiances to praising Mrs.
Arafat, who had just dissed the U.S. The most recent Quinnipiac
College poll, conducted in late February, shows her running
behind Giuliani, 48% to 41% statewide. With the mayor leading
upstate and Clinton ahead in New York City, the key battleground
may be in the suburbs. Giuliani holds a commanding 59%-to-31%
lead there, but his popularity among suburbanites--happy he has
made the city safe for a Saturday-night visit--could erode if he
becomes too strident. Says King: "Even the moderate suburban
housewife who gives him the benefit of the doubt, because they
want to visit a safe city, is beginning to get squeamish."
But Clinton may have her own problems. Last week, after a
complaint by Giuliani, Congress launched an inquiry into whether
Clinton is violating campaign rules by paying only first-class
fare rather than the full cost of the military charters the
Secret Service insists she take. In the absence of any precedent
for a sitting First Lady, she is following the usual practice of
The battle-scarred Clinton didn't lose a New York minute over
the House inquiry--after all, she's survived the mother of all
investigations with Ken Starr. The New York legislature,
meanwhile, is looking into whether Giuliani broke the law by
unsealing Dorismond's records. The last time a sitting New York
City mayor was investigated was in 1932, and Mayor Jimmy Walker
was dismissed from his job. Giuliani may want to consider saying
he's sorry and letting Patrick Dorismond rest in peace.
--With reporting by Eric Pooley/New York
I do not believe that bad relations with the police is a
necessary cost of...keeping our cities safe.
That Mr. Dorismond spent a good deal of his public life punching
people is a fact.