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Giuliani's Critics Point to Cronyism
Appointments While Mayor Are Said to Tarnish His Leadership Credentials

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 24, 2007

"Surround Yourself With Great People" was the title of a chapter in "Leadership," Rudolph W. Giuliani's best-selling celebration of his management style, but to critics of his performance in two terms as mayor of New York, it was an admonition he too often ignored.

While some of his original appointments to high-level city jobs were well regarded, these critics describe a pattern in which capable appointees either quit or were pushed out, leaving the top levels of the Giuliani administration increasingly populated by friends and close associates. Some of the later appointees became shrouded in scandal, including Bernard B. Kerik, the former police commissioner indicted this month on 16 counts of corruption, mail and tax fraud, obstruction of justice, and lying to the government.

"As he became more confident in his ability, he didn't need anything from others other than to be loyal to him," said Marilyn Gelber, who was ousted as Giuliani's environment commissioner in 1996. "The management style grew harder as time went on and as he grew more comfortable with the level of control he wanted."

Giuliani's close association with Kerik, especially his lobbying of the Bush administration three years ago to make his former associate the secretary of homeland security, threatens to undermine one of the central arguments of his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination: that he is a superior leader who would bring to the White House high standards and a level of managerial acumen that many, including Republicans, say is missing under President Bush.

Giuliani's critics say that while he is justifiably praised for his leadership in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, his advancement of Kerik, his former chauffeur, was part of a pattern of rewarding loyalty over competence in personnel decisions. "It's pretty clear that his judgment on political appointments was weighted more heavily to cronies and friends than to quality," said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which has endorsed Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) for president and has turned sharply against Giuliani after supporting him early in his mayoralty. "Are we going to have a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who's a private first class but who happens to be a friend? Are we going to have a law clerk who becomes attorney general?"

The Giuliani campaign dismisses such criticisms, saying that Giuliani's judgment as a manager was vindicated by his administration's overall success in reducing crime and welfare and improving the city's quality of life and economy.

"You've got to look at the results," said Joe Lhota, a deputy mayor under Giuliani, speaking for his presidential campaign. "The results are emblematic of his philosophy and the people he hired to implement that philosophy."

Hiring political allies for top jobs has a long history in city government, and Giuliani was hardly the first mayor of New York to bring along loyalists to be his advisers inside City Hall. What set him apart, observers say, was the extent to which he also emphasized loyalty in looking for people beyond those City Hall aides to run city agencies. And, given that he was taking over after years of Democratic rule, he was faced with a smaller pool of candidates who were both experienced and politically sympathetic. This became apparent as time wore on, said Dick Dadey, director of Citizens Union, a city watchdog group.

"When you start a new administration, you generally draw from a pool of extremely interested and well-qualified people who are eager to bring change," Dadey said. "As the first wave starts to move on, those who have been with you from the beginning and remain loyal to you start to move up, but they do not necessarily move up because they're the most qualified."

The police department exemplifies the shift. Giuliani hired as his first commissioner William J. Bratton, who made his reputation leading the Boston police and New York transit police but was also known for his self-promotion. After forcing Bratton out in 1996, when they clashed over claiming credit for the drop in crime, Giuliani passed over several department veterans and instead turned to his more strait-laced fire commissioner, Howard Safir, whom he knew from their days pursuing drug traffickers in the early 1980s. Safir was then with the U.S. Marshals Service, and Giuliani was with the Justice Department. "Howard and I go back 20 years," Giuliani said in announcing the move.

Safir presided over a continuation of the drop in crime. But he came under intense criticism after the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man, for failing to provide adequate oversight of the police unit involved in the shootings and for his detached response. He also came under scrutiny for, among other things, taking a corporate jet to the Academy Awards shortly after the shootings, for assigning eight detectives to his daughter's wedding, and for sending officers to investigate a woman who rear-ended his wife's car.

When Safir left four years later, Giuliani pronounced him the "city's greatest police commissioner." Fred Siegel, the author of a flattering biography of Giuliani, disagrees, calling the switch from Bratton to Safir the "worst policy decision" Giuliani made. Safir, Siegel said, lacked the instincts needed in the city and contributed to the worsening racial tensions in Giuliani's second term. "This was [Giuliani's] biggest failure," said Siegel, "not being big enough to keep Bratton. . . . Many of the failures [of his second term] flowed from that decision."

To replace Safir as fire commissioner in 1996, Giuliani chose Thomas Von Essen, a rank-and-file firefighter who was far down the department's chain of command but headed the firefighters union local that backed Giuliani in 1993. Also in 1996, Giuliani selected a nationally known bioterrorism expert, Jerome Hauer, to head his new office of emergency management. But Hauer left in 2000, partly out of frustration with Giuliani's inability to get the police and fire departments to cooperate more.

Giuliani replaced Hauer with Richie Sheirer, an early supporter of the mayor's and an aide to Safir who spent most of his career as a fire department dispatcher. Sheirer and Von Essen both met with tough questioning by the Sept. 11 commission over the failure of the fire department's radios and the lack of coordination among public safety agencies the day of the attacks. They now both work for Giuliani's security consulting firm and did not return a call seeking comment. Safir also did not return calls.

Hauer said the limits of Giuliani's leadership team became clear to him after he returned at City Hall's request to help out after the Sept. 11 attacks and was startled to discover that neither Kerik nor Von Essen nor Sheirer had ever obtained federal security clearance, which made it hard for Hauer to discuss information he was receiving from Washington. Shortly afterward, Giuliani banished Hauer from Ground Zero after Hauer endorsed a Democrat to succeed the mayor.

Giuliani "had a blind spot when it came to people he knew well" and "very little respect for the vetting process," Hauer said. "The competent people in the administration all tended to leave because they got tired of the borderline-incompetent people who got in. He ran off the professionals because they were difficult to work with. If they didn't do things the way he wanted or overshadowed him, he got furious."

Fran Reiter, a deputy mayor under Giuliani, said most initial Cabinet hires came via a "very extensive search process," but the mayor was more likely to emphasize personal ties when it came to public safety jobs. Giuliani wanted ownership over that realm because of his law enforcement background, she said. And he worried that department veterans who he did not have ties with would have more allegiance to the departments than to him.

"These were areas where he just really wanted people whom he trusted and who were not going to do anything other than what he wanted them to do," she said.

Giuliani's most ill-fated promotion, other than Kerik's, was his 1998 choice to run the city's Housing Development Corp.: Russell Harding, the son of the former head of New York's Liberal Party, whose backing of Giuliani was crucial in his election. Harding had no college degree or background in housing and finance, and was eventually convicted of stealing more than $300,000 from the agency and sentenced to more than five years in prison for the embezzlement and for possessing child pornography. In "Leadership," Giuliani wrote that there is nothing wrong with hiring supporters if they are qualified. "Patronage does not mean giving a job to someone who supported you politically," he writes. "It means giving a job to someone only because he supported you politically."

Gelber, for one, argues that the latter definition applied to the Giuliani administration. She freely admits she got her job for political reasons -- she was chief of staff to the Brooklyn borough president, and to curry favor with him, a Democrat, Giuliani hired her as his first environment commissioner. At first, she was impressed with Giuliani's zeal to "look for new ideas and new ways of doing things," which included organizing thoughtful seminars on governance for Cabinet members.

But she grew disillusioned when she started getting pressure from City Hall to hire political supporters and fire those from the previous administration, including a secretary, as well as criticism for receiving too much praise in the newspapers for her work. Things came to a head, she said, when City Hall told her to hire an applicant for a key deputy post overseeing air quality who presented as his qualification some materials on his work for the Giuliani campaign, including a thank-you letter from the mayor.

Gelber eventually gave in but blew up at the deputy in 1996 after two asbestos incidents in which she says he failed to take charge. Giuliani fired her shortly afterward.

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