By Pam Martens: August 17, 2023 ~
American democracy is in a slow death gurgle from the repetition of Orwellian reverse-speak slogans: “Make America Great Again,” “Save America,” “Drain the Swamp,” and “America’s Mayor.”
Most Americans have forgotten that Rudy Giuliani was under serious consideration to be nominated by Donald Trump as his Attorney General. As “America’s Mayor,” Giuliani would have likely sailed through his Senate confirmation.
Allowing public relations and branding agents to create the brand of “America’s Mayor” as the country reeled in shock after 9/11, launched the power-hungry Giuliani that today is facing a 13-count indictment that includes charges of racketeering and conspiracy.
The new media buzz is how did America’s Mayor get caught up in this mess. The hard truth is that Giuliani was always a wannabe authoritarian dressed up by handlers as an American hero.
During Giuliani’s two terms as Mayor of New York City, from 1993 through 2001, he was sued 30 times by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the state affiliate of the ACLU. Of those 30 lawsuits, the NYCLU won 27 of the cases.
I was one of those cases.
In the spring of 2001, a small group of protestors, including myself, paced peacefully up and down the sidewalk outside of Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, carrying signs protesting the serial corruption by Wall Street behemoth, Citigroup, which had grabbed a taxpayer-funded building that day for its annual shareholders’ meeting. For reasons that are still unclear, only I was snatched from the sidewalk by police and placed in a jail cell with the threat of being held for three days, instead of the customary practice of being given a desk appearance ticket and released. (After I hired an attorney, I was held for just that day.)
As the time of my arrest, Giuliani’s Police Commissioner was Bernie Kerik. He was subsequently sentenced to a prison term in 2010 for corruption and is now reported to be an unindicted co-conspirator in the state of Georgia indictment against Trump and 18 others.
During the course of the case that the NYCLU brought on my behalf, we learned through an internal police memorandum that the Giuliani administration had instituted a policy of jailing protesters if they appeared in a group of 20 or more, an egregious assault on the Bill of Rights guarantee of freedom to assemble.
The city settled my case with a small monetary sum and the agreement to stop arresting peaceful protestors. Giuliani’s NYPD had previously even outlawed protests on the steps of City Hall, a traditional venue for protests in New York City, leading City Council Members to charge Giuliani with functioning like a dictator.
Removing peaceful protesters from the sidewalks in front of taxpayer-supported public buildings in New York City and herding people like cattle into metal pens on the sidewalk in less visible areas became a standard practice during the Giuliani administration. In its 60th Anniversary Annual Report, the NYCLU characterized Giuliani’s reign as Mayor as follows:
“Defending civil rights is always a priority for the NYCLU, but some eras—and elected officials—demand greater vigilance. Over the eight-year term of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani…NYCLU, under the leadership of Executive Director Norman Siegel, filed more than 30 lawsuits and amicus briefs directed at Giuliani administration policies and practices. We won over 90 percent of them.
“Many focused on Giuliani’s disregard for the First Amendment as he sought to silence his critics. The NYCLU successfully challenged the Giuliani administration for NYPD retaliation against black and Latino police officers who spoke out about racial profiling, and opposed gag rules that tried to ban city employees from speaking with the press on their own time. The NYCLU successfully challenged Giuliani administration efforts in 1998 to limit protest on the steps of City Hall.
“When the mayor tried to censor a bus ad that satirized him, courts agreed with the NYCLU and rejected his attempt at censorship as unconstitutional. The NYCLU also vindicated the First Amendment rights of city cab drivers when the Giuliani administration ordered a blockade of East River crossings in a failed effort to stop them from conducting a taxicab caravan protest across the bridges.
“And in 2001, we defended the right of housing advocates to protest by sleeping on the sidewalk across the street from Gracie Mansion—and we defended the right of a church to allow homeless people to sleep on its own church steps. That same year, an NYCLU lawsuit forced the NYPD to abandon its policy of arresting and holding protesters overnight, for next-day arraignments, in favor of issuing them desk appearance tickets…
“Throughout the Giuliani administration, the NYCLU kept close watch on the NYPD and its oversight body, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, publishing seven separate reports that criticized the agency for failing to provide meaningful oversight of the police. The NYCLU’s 1998 report Deflecting Blame critiqued Giuliani administration failures to reform police practices in the wake of several notorious cases of police brutality—the brutal torture of Abner Louima and the killing of Anthony Baez, Michael Stewart, Amadou Diallo and far too many others.”
Also unknown to most Americans, Giuliani was a law partner at Greenberg, Traurig from 2016 to 2018, at which time he stepped down and joined the Trump legal defense team. Greenberg, Traurig had a long-tenured relationship as a lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has sought to restrict the rights of average citizens to hold corporations accountable through class action lawsuits.
The Chamber was also an active player in the 2010 Citizens United decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision has allowed corporations to spend unlimited sums on elections while giving groups like the Chamber the ability to use massive contributions from anonymous donors to preordain the outcome of elections. As a 501(c) entity, the Chamber does not have to disclose the sources of its funding while it simultaneously engages in dark money electioneering.
Greenberg Traurig is also a major player in contributions to federal political campaigns, with donations of $17.19 million since 1990 according to OpenSecrets.org.
In 2006, Public Citizen, a nonprofit watchdog, filed a complaint with the IRS against the Chamber, charging that it and “its affiliated Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) failed to report millions in taxable spending from 2000 to 2004 intended to influence state-level attorney general and state supreme court races and federal races around the country.”
On the day the complaint was filed, Public Citizen’s President, Joan Claybrook, stated: “The Chamber is playing an elaborate shell game to conceal its gambit to stack the courts with hand-picked pro-corporate judges. The IRS should promptly investigate its dubious tax reports and address any abuses that it finds.”
According to the complaint, in 2000 the Chamber claimed it had succeeded in winning 15 out of 17 state supreme court races after spending $6 million. In 2002, it announced that it would spend $40 million on political races in Congress and state-level races for attorney general. According to Public Citizen’s complaint, the Chamber failed to report this activity on its tax returns from 2000 to 2003.
Increasingly, we hear concerns being raised by leaders, both here and abroad, that democracy is slipping away from the American people. My epiphany of that sad reality came at the hands of the Giuliani administration 22 years ago on a beautiful spring day on a sidewalk in New York.