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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Mayor

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I hope some YouTuber on Wednesday night's CNN/YouTube Republican Presidential Debate, moderated by the ever-glamorous Anderson Cooper, will ask where front-runner Rudy Giuliani stands, or sits, on the First Amendment.

The air in New Hampshire over the Thanksgiving Weekend was filled with turkey feathers and commercials for the Giuliani campaign, bragging about his achievements as New York's mayor. Unmentioned was the candidate's past record on the First Amendment. Nor has it been addressed in any of the eleven previous entertaining TV gatherings of GOP presidential candidates. It's food for thought about "America's Mayor," or indigestion.

Rudy may be first in number of wives. First in informing the media he was separating from his second wife (TV anchorwoman Donna Hanover) before bothering to inform soon-to-be-former wife. First in calling said wife "an uncaring mother" on Mothers Day! Not to mention being first in ridding the streets of New York of windshield wipers. But I seem to remember New York's Mayor was not always on the sunny side of the street on civil liberties. In fact, most of the time he was in the sewers on the issue.

Living through his two administrations (1994-2001) that he cites as qualifications for higher office, I seem to recall he was a little to the right of Mussolini.

I was reminded of his spotty record on First Amendment issues reading Jack Newfield's "The Full Rudy: The Man, the Myth, The Mania" (Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002).

Oddly, the early Giuliani-as a Democrat and Independent -- was a strong civil rights advocate. His specialty as a lawyer in private practice (1977 to 1980) was First Amendment cases. So it wasn't as if he was unfamiliar with those immortal words, the Sacred Text, the equivalent of the Ten Commandments. As a mayor, though, he appeared to have considered all of that verbiage ancient history.

As New York's mayor Giuliani had a tendency of making pronuncimentos on the balcony like Il Duce, which played well on our local TV news shows. It was as if it was news to him that you couldn't abridge the rights of citizens regarding freedom of speech and press, the right of people peacefully to assemble and petition the government for redresses of grievances.

As far as Rudy was concerned, it was okay for him to limit the size of demonstrations at City Hall or banning them entirely, banning ads that satirized him in the New York subways, allowing police to enter churches to roust the homeless. It was okay for him to launch a series of unconstitutional attacks on museums, artists, activists, racial minorities, city employees, taxi drivers, advocate groups, Socialist Workers Party meetings in public parks, the homeless. He was an equal opportunity offender.

Giuliani made a name for himself as an intolerant, authoritarian who violated the First Amendment and was successfully sued 27 times, according to scorekeeper prize-winning journalist Newfield, for violating freedom of speech and assembly issues. Apparently more than another mayor in the history of New York! Still 0- for-27 is not an impressive record for a man who some day may swear to uphold the Constitution. Even for a man who made an unconstitutional grab for power after 9/11, trying to circumvent both Term Limits law and The City Charter.

The most fascinating Giuliani achievement as a man who had sung the praises of himself from his balcony of his "respect for the rule of law" was his campaign against the Brooklyn Museum of Art and its "Sensation" exhibit of September 1999. The exhibit may have been trashy, in bad taste, and smacked of meretricious huckstering by selling tickets using shock and controversy, an old trick in New York, but Giuliani used it to portray himself as the defender of the Virgin Mary.

As an art critic, Rudy was especially offended by African artist Chris Ofili depicting the Virgin Mary as an African woman with smear of elephant dung near her left breast. Floating around her were vaginas and anuses.

"This is fucking outrageous," the Mayor of New York roared at six of his aides, according to Newfield's account. "This is not art. I'm not going to fucking pay for this."

At the time the Brooklyn Museum housed the second largest art collection in the nation. But that didn't faze Rudy. He warned the museum to cancel the show or else he would defund the museum, cancel its lease, and oust its trustees.

At his point in Il Rudy's reign, he already lost 17 lawsuits, mostly brought by the ACLU. His 18th attempt to have his way or the highway in the courts gave him national exposure as a champion of intolerance, successor to the other leading art lover of the period, Jesse Helms.

On November 1, 1999, U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon ruled in favor of the Brooklyn Museum on every issue in dispute, ordering Giuliani to stop withholding funding for the museum and to end its eviction proceeding.

By February 2001, stung by a series of setbacks, Il Rudy began his final slouching down the road to censorship. With a pronuncimento from the balcony, he announced the good news he was appointing a "decency commission" to review art in publicly financed institutions. Among the commission members empowered to sniff out objectionable materials was his personal divorce lawyer, Raoul Felder.

I remember his concern for decency was a joke in New York. Here was a married mayor openly committing adultery with his girl friend Judith Nathan and at the same time setting himself up as the arbiter of purity and decency for a whole city. "A moralist with a new mistress," Newfield said in awe, "trying to censor the arts."

It's a small thing perhaps, being on the wrong side of 27 cases. I don't know about you but I would tremble at the prospect of Giuliani becoming attorney general or director of the FBI, or czar of homeland security, no less President. All things considered, I might want someone who had a deeper commitment to upholding the Constitution, especially following in the seat of America's Civil Libertarian, George W. Bush.