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‘Giuliani Time’ paints ugly picture of the man

Documentary on former NYC mayor tries to undo post-Sept. 11 image
/ Source: The Associated Press

With Rudy Giuliani considering a run for president in 2008, a documentary aimed at tearing down his Churchillian image since Sept. 11 is about to be released.

Premiering next month, "Giuliani Time" turns a critical lens on the former mayor's controversial tenure in New York before his reassuring leadership in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks elevated his reputation.

"I'm not claiming there's anything approaching objectivity about this film," director Kevin Keating said in an interview. "It's a corrective to the perception of Rudy and the miracle of crime reduction in New York, Rudy and the miracle of 9/11."

The film, made for about $1.5 million, is set to run at just one New York City theater for two weeks beginning May 12. But Keating said he hopes the reception, and Giuliani's rising political profile, will help it make its way onto screens around the country. A DVD version is set for release next fall.

Giuliani, who served two terms as mayor from 1994 to 2002, is depicted in a Machiavellian hothead who allowed police to trample civil liberties — particularly those of blacks, artists and welfare recipients — in the name of maintaining public order.

Among other things, the film suggests Giuliani was obsessed with ridding the city of "squeegee men" — homeless people who wash drivers' windshields and demand payment — but cared little about reducing poverty or creating jobs.

He is also painted as a moral hypocrite, one who threatened to pull public funding from a controversial art exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum but had no qualms about parading a mistress before the public.

The film gets its title from the case of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant sodomized with a broken broomstick by police in 1997. A police officer was said to have uttered, "It's Giuliani time" during the attack. The claim turned out to be false, but the phrase lived on, becoming shorthand for the heavy hand of the police department during Giuliani's tenure.

Giuliani spokeswoman Sunny Mindel defended the former mayor.

"He is recognized as the mayor who led the city from being described as ungovernable to being an international symbol of urban renaissance," Mindel said. "Why? Because of the unprecedented record reductions in taxes, homicides and welfare numbers and the improvement in the quality of life for all New Yorkers."

Some analysts say the criticisms might actually help Giuliani among Republicans, many of whom are skeptical of his moderate views on abortion, gay rights and gun control.

"It'll make people realize he's not a liberal," said Fred Siegel, a Giuliani biographer and professor at Cooper Union. "And they'll ask, `So when is reducing crime, getting rid of squeegee guys and getting people off welfare a bad thing?'"

But Keating hopes his film changes the minds of voters who might be inclined to support Giuliani for president.

"Republicans see Giuliani on a white horse, the Napoleon in the corner, the hero of 9/11," Keating said. "But it's the biggest delusional lie ever put forward. The guy's a demagogue."

The film renders a harsh judgment of Giuliani through video footage and numerous interviews, some with former allies of the mayor.

Among the most startling comments come from Rudy Crew, a former New York City schools chancellor. "There's something very deeply pathological about Rudy's humanity," Crew says. "He was barren, completely emotionally barren, on the issue of race."

Siegel, for one, said the perception of the Giuliani administration as hostile to blacks and the disadvantaged is unfair.

"The biggest beneficiaries of Giuliani's policies were residents of the poorest neighborhoods," Siegel said. "Under Giuliani, crime in those neighborhoods went down and property values went up. Why isn't that an accomplishment?"