Giuliani Time

Kevin Keating’s Giuliani Time (IMDB) seeks to deconstruct the popular post-September 11 depiction of Rudolph Giuliani as “America’s Mayor,” the compassionate public figure that became a symbol of resiliance in the face of tragedy. Keating pursues this goal by looking at Giuliani’s early career as a federal prosecutor appointed by Ronald Reagan (Giuliani helped support the decision to turn away boatloads of Haitain immigrants who were escaping Baby Doc Duvalier’s oppressive regime) and, more crucially, Giuliani’s divisive record as mayor, in which he is credited with making the city safer in part through his “borken windows” policy, which argued that by focusing on petty crimes (graffiti, squeegee guys, panhandling), more harmful crimes would also decrease. At the same time, Keating reminds us that Giuliani’s police force also had a reputaion for racial profiling and for using unecessary force in subduing suspected criminals, symbolized most powerfully in the Amadou Diallo case. This behavior by the police became associated with the slogan, “Giuliani time,” which was shorthand for the mayor’s often draconian, and often hugely unpopular methods for running the city.

The documentary traces Giuliani’s emergence as a public figure, starting with his Brooklyn childhood and focusing specifically on allegations that members of his family may have been connected to organized crime. I have to admit that I didn’t find this evidence terribly convincing, and the documentary doesn’t really work through the significance of these connections. The film picks up steam when it traces Giuliani’s history as a federal prosecutor under Reagan, particularly his participation in preventing the Haitian immigrants from entering the United States, and from there Keating focuses primarily on Giuliani’s record as mayor and his implementation of the “broken windows” philosophy espoused by the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank.

Keating offers a number of counter-arguments to the “broken windows” thesis. While proponents of Giuliani are correct to state that crime rates decreased dramatically while Giuliani was mayor, Keating points out that violent crime rates were lower throughout the US, whether due to improved economic conditions nationally or other factors. He also notes that crime rates were already decreasing significantly under the previous mayor, David Dinkins, but that Giuliani managed to depict Dinkins as unfriendly to the police and weak on crime (in one segment we see Giuliani arguing that Dinkins cannot be tough on crime if he’s against the death penalty). Keating also documents the ways in which Giuliani’s “workfare” programs paid low wages and failed to offer the necessary job training that would allow workfare recipients to move on to more productive and satisfying work. The film also traces Giuliani’s attempts to defund the Brooklyn Museum of Art for displaying art that didn’t conform to his tastes before finally moving into the high-profile cases of police brutality and racial profiling symbolized by the Amadou Diallo case.

While Keating spends much energy deconstructing Giuliani’s reputation as “America’s mayor” and as an all-around nice guy, the film works best as an exploration of urban life, and I wish the film had taken that focus rather than seeking to discredit Giuliani as an individual. It seems likely that Giuliani Time serves as a pre-emptive strike against a potential run for the Presidency by America’s Mayor, but I found myself most intrigued when Keating interviewed the homeless and poor people whose lives were most deeply effected by Giuliani’s principles of workfare or the sidewalk artists whose work was destroyed under the auspices of the “broken windows” philosophy.

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