Giuliani-Hostile Reporter Michael Powell Delivers Backhanded Praise to the 'Savonarola' of NYC

Giuliani-hostile reporter Michael Powell delivers some backhanded praise to New York's former mayor upon his retirement: "If he was caricatured as a Savonarola for the 1980s, one could argue that the times required a harsh taskmaster." Among those doing the caricatures: Times reporters like Powell.

Veteran New York-based reporter Michael Powell, who suggested Rudy Giuliani played the race card as mayor in a Sunday front-page story in July 2007, abruptly admitted that many of the attacks on the former New York mayor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate were "caricatures."

Powell's admission and other bits of backhanded praise came, conveniently enough, in a December 23 story on Giuliani's evident retirement from seeking office:

If this was goodbye, an air of the desultory clung to it, as a man once seen as destined for high office stood in the basement of a Midtown hotel and endorsed another politician for another office - governor - once in his sight.

From president to governor to senator, the list of powerful offices that the man, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, once dreamed of capturing is long, and his longing now seems likely to go unrequited. In the past month he has forsworn interest in running for governor and for United States senator. After he endorsed Rick Lazio for governor, even the honorific shouted by reporters at the press conference on Tuesday - Mr. Mayor! Mr. Mayor! - had an antiquated sound to it.


As a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, he broke up cartels and took on the Mob, smashed corrupt politicians and threw a shudder into the insider-trading precincts of Wall Street (even if federal judges questioned his judgments and overturned some verdicts). If he was caricatured as a Savonarola for the 1980s, one could argue that the times required a harsh taskmaster.

Who better than an Italian-American Catholic prosecutor to grind the Mafia chieftains to dust?

He took to the task of running for mayor with a fervor that seemed woven into his being.

He tutored himself in the ways of a wounded city, enlisting academics and community leaders as tutors.

His political style lacked elegance; he preferred the scathing to the subtle, the head butt to the rapier. Yet for a few years he held this liberal city spellbound, doubling down, successfully, on his fight against crime and notching victories over a sclerotic bureaucracy. He lopped the welfare rolls nearly in half.

And yet his foibles were as operatic as his strengths. He could bend departments and politicians to his will, but he could not play diplomat. He hounded schools chancellors out of town and pulled at the scab of race relations to little obvious end.

Powell was much more direct in his racial accusations in his 2007 profile, even connecting them to the big drop in crime in the city:

Still, Mr. Giuliani took a fateful step that would for years prompt questions about his racial sensitivities. In September 1992, he spoke to a rally of police officers protesting Mr. Dinkins's proposal for a civilian board to review police misconduct.

It was a rowdy, often threatening, crowd. Hundreds of white off-duty officers drank heavily, and a few waved signs like "Dump the Washroom Attendant," a reference to Mr. Dinkins. A block away from City Hall, Mr. Giuliani gave a fiery address, twice calling Mr. Dinkins's proposal "bullshit." The crowd cheered. Mr. Giuliani was jubilant.


But within these victories lay the seed of a problem. Even as crime dropped by 60 percent, officers with the street crime unit stopped and frisked 16 black males for every one who was arrested, according to a report by the state attorney general. Then came three terrible episodes that raised a pointed question for black New Yorkers: Was crime reduction worth any cost?