I have an unique perspective about Giuliani, one that you wouldn't hear from the usual political commentators. I can write about him from the point of view of a taxi driver who was directly affected by him for the eight years he was in office, from 1994 - 2001. When you're a taxi driver in New York, although you're deemed an "independent contractor", in reality the conditions of your working life are very strongly influenced by the government agency called the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which is headed by its own Chairman. This person is appointed by the mayor and, if the mayor is a strong-willed, hands-on guy like Giuliani, he pretty much does whatever the mayor says he should do.
So in a sense a taxi driver is only two steps down from having the mayor as his boss. Therefore, to that extent, I know Giuliani.
For the first four years, I liked him. The changes I noticed about New York were that the "squeegee" guys disappeared and the numbers of hustlers and destitute on the streets were greatly reduced. This was attributed to his policies. But then, from the moment he was re-elected in 1997 (and could not be elected again due to the term limit law), it was as if an acorn had dropped on his head and he just went wild in taking New York from being not merely a safer place than it had been before, but to what many were saying was a similarity to a police state.
The first sign of trouble I noticed was this: only a couple of weeks into his new term in 1998, a man got in my cab who was in a state of agitation and apparently needed to tell anyone who would listen what had happened to his brother the previous night. His brother, he said, owned a bar on the Upper East Side. A man and a woman whom he'd never seen before entered the bar, put a quarter in the juke box, and started to dance. This dancing was witnessed by two people sitting at the bar who turned out to be undercover cops. They promptly got up and wrote his brother a summons for $2,000 for allowing dancing in his bar when he does not possess a cabaret license.
It turned out this was a law that had been sitting on the books for a hundred years and up until then had rarely, if ever, been enforced. And it was not an isolated incident. I heard numerous similar stories as time went on and concluded that this was part of a citywide sweep that could only have come from the mayor himself, as no police commissioner in his right mind would ever dream of sending his cops out to do such mean-spirited and absurd enforcement. It has been conjectured, and I believe it, that the two "dancers" were themselves cops, which would have made this operation nothing better than a set-up.
One thing is not conjecture, however. If you go into any bar in New York City today and look around at the walls, you will find a sign that states quite clearly for all to read: NO DANCING PERMITTED.
It turned out this no-dancing-in-bars action was a harbinger of things to come, particularly for taxi drivers. Within weeks we were hit with a bolt from the blue. The mayor announced new rules for taxi drivers and taxi owners. Using statistics about increasing traffic accidents (which turned out to be false) as his justification, these were some of the conditions we suddenly had to contend with:
1) If a taxi driver was being ticketed for a moving violation, he would receive not one, but two summonses. One from NY State, like always, and an additional one from the Taxi and Limousine Commission. One offense, two tickets. (Many months later, this was struck down by the courts.)
2) If a taxi driver accumulated six points on his driver's license within 18 months he would automatically have his hack license suspended for one month. Six points is normally the equivalent of two moving violations. This rule applied not only if you were ticketed while you were driving your taxi, but also if you were driving your own personal car. Thus a taxi driver could make an illegal turn in Wyoming and lose his job for a month in New York City. (This rule still stands, except it's been reduced to 15 months.)
3) Owners of taxi medallions were required to submit a list of all their personal assets to the government.
Following this decree from Giuliani, resistance, previously non-existent, began to build. A group formed calling itself the Taxi Workers Alliance and made attempts to protect the rights of taxi drivers. Using nothing but word of mouth and flyers distributed by hand, they called for a one-day strike in May, 1998. Amazingly, the word spread like fire and on that particular day it was impossible to find a yellow cab in the city.
I considered this to be a labor miracle. I had been saying for 20 years that the biggest problem of the taxi industry in New York was that there was no union. Drivers were powerless to stand up to the whims and injustices perpetuated against them by the powers-that-be and yet here, at last, was at least a real attempt to correct that situation. I was exhilarated.
Giuliani went on television that night and with a crooked smile on his face made this sarcastic comment: "You know, the streets were nice and empty today. It was nice. They should do it more often."
He then stonewalled the people who were trying to represent the drivers. He wouldn't even speak with them.
However, he did do this: he sent his police force out to ticket taxi drivers for any imaginable offense for the next two years. There was no question, if you were a taxi driver from 1998 through 2000, that "the heat" was always on. Even if you were not pulled over yourself, on any given day you could observe in disturbing numbers the other cabbies who had been. Plus there were the endless stories you heard from these drivers and even from passengers about the harrassment taxi drivers were being subjected to.
I heard stories of drivers being ticketed because the receipt paper sticking out of the meter from the previous ride had not been torn off. Or an entry was missing from their trip sheets. Or a driver was wearing a shirt with no collar. Or he was wearing sandals. A friend of mine who had been a taxi driver for 25 years was pulled over by one of the TLC patrol cars and written up for several such tickets. Rather than sacrifice his own sense of dignity by paying them, he instead mailed his hack license in to the TLC, quitting the business.
It was abundantly clear to me that taxi drivers as a group had been singled out by Giuliani as targets for punishment. But whenever the subject came up in my cab (and it was a daily topic of conversation), the question I always heard was, "Why?"
What did Giuliani have against taxi drivers, anyway?
I never had an answer for that question.
Not until a passenger in my cab volunteered some information in the year 2000 that made sense to me. He was a middle-aged man going on a long ride up to the North Bronx and in the course of conversation mentioned that he was a police officer who worked "in the mayor's office". This interesting statement of course led to an in-depth conversation about Giuliani and eventually this man asked me a rhetorical question: "Why do you suppose," he asked, "the mayor has been so tough on three groups - the taxi drivers, the food vendors, and the video store operators?"
I didn't know the answer yet but I did know that aside from my own group, these other two industries, particularly the food vendors, had often been under attack during Giuliani's reign. The answer then given to me by my passenger was this: "These groups currently all have within them large numbers of Muslims. The mayor sees Muslims as being terrorists."
I don't repeat this comment as if it were a matter of fact or anything that Giuliani ever said in public. It can easily be dismissed as hearsay. I'm just saying that, given everything I knew about how Giuliani conducted himself, this statement was the only explanation I ever heard that made sense to me. It fit, in my opinion.
Of course, this conversation took place well before 9-11 and in hindsight some people might say Giuliani was right. But obviously it is fundamentally wrong - and dangerous - to lump entire groups of people together and make them targets for attacks from government agencies because some of them may be criminals. That's how genocides get started.
So I was deeply concerned that this man could possibly get his hands on the United States military and the nuclear arsenal. And even more concerned when he was actually leading in the polls. I had serious questions about the ability of the voters to see through a person like this.
But I was wrong. Rudy put all his resources into the Florida primary and came away with only 13 percent of the vote and one delegate to the convention. And then he quit. The voters had more sense than I had given them credit for, and it has rehabilitated my confidence in the democratic process.
So in that sense, now that he's lost, I'm actually glad he ran.
The "streets" of political thugs are much emptier now.
Maybe he should do it more often.
Then again, maybe not.
But one thing anyone should seriously consider doing more often is clicking here for Pictures From A Taxi.