Like a lot of people who lived in New York under Giuliani, I was always astonished that his campaign didn’t melt down a lot sooner, like in the first week or two. A piece in the Times this morning revisits the good times:
In August 1997, James Schillaci, a rough-hewn chauffeur from the Bronx, dialed Mayor Giulianiâ€™s radio program on WABC-AM to complain about a red-light sting run by the police near the Bronx Zoo. When the call yielded no results, Mr. Schillaci turned to The Daily News, which then ran a photo of the red light and this front page headline: â€œGOTCHA!â€
That morning, police officers appeared on Mr. Schillaciâ€™s doorstep. What are you going to do, Mr. Schillaci asked, arrest me? He was joking, but the officers were not.
They slapped on handcuffs and took him to court on a 13-year-old traffic warrant. A judge threw out the charge. A police spokeswoman later read Mr. Schillaciâ€™s decades-old criminal rap sheet to a reporter for The Daily News, a move of questionable legality because the state restricts how such information is released. She said, falsely, that he had been convicted of sodomy.
Then Mr. Giuliani took up the cudgel.
â€œMr. Schillaci was posing as an altruistic whistle-blower,â€ the mayor told reporters at the time. â€œMaybe heâ€™s dishonest enough to lie about police officers.â€
Mr. Schillaci suffered an emotional breakdown, was briefly hospitalized and later received a $290,000 legal settlement from the city. â€œIt really damaged me,â€ said Mr. Schillaci, now 60, massaging his face with thick hands. â€œI thought I was doing something good for once, my civic duty and all. Then he steps on me.â€
Mr. Giuliani was a pugilist in a city of political brawlers. But far more than his predecessors, historians and politicians say, his toughness edged toward ruthlessnessand became a defining aspect of his mayoralty. One result: New York City spent at least $7 million in settling civil rights lawsuits and paying retaliatory damages during the Giuliani years.
… related: a page I did for the Voice when Giuliani declared war on an art museum in Brooklyn in 1999.