In speaking about his responsibility throughout David Dinkins's mayoralty for putting together the Mayor's Management Report, former Director of the Mayor's Office of Operations Harvey Robins told us Nov. 25 that he produced "the last honest book that was ever written" regarding municipal-service delivery.
He wasn't trying to be funny. After Rudy Giuliani succeeded Mr. Dinkins as Mayor in 1994, the MMR, while continuing to offer nuggets of useful statistics, brought to mind "Accentuate the Positive," the song that played over the opening credits of "L.A. Confidential" featuring the lyric, "You've got to accentuate the positive/Eliminate the negative."
The song was used for irony: the movie, based on James Ellroy's novel, was about a police force brimming with corruption beneath its surface, and an attempt by two cops who originally had gone along with the program to expose the rot made them targets to be murdered by their colleagues.
Mayor Giuliani's decision to stop offering a warts-and-all look at city agencies' strengths and weaknesses was never viewed in such a sinister light; he was just regarded as a control freak who didn't want flaws in his administration exposed.
Mr. Dinkins wasn't nearly as controlling, and Mr. Robins said, "One of my beliefs was that you had to tell the good, the bad and the ugly. It was truly a report card."
That wasn't the only area where the styles of the two Mayors differed. A municipal-corruption scandal exploded in 1986 that showed that several city agencies had become patronage tools that were controlled by Democratic Party bosses who supported Mayor Ed Koch. The biggest thievery involved the Parking Violations Bureau and the award of a $22-million contract for a hand-held computer to assist enforcement agents.
The computer didn't exist at the time, but a large block of stock in the company that was being paid to produce it was held by Bronx Democratic Leader Stanley Friedman. After his partner in that enterprise, Queens Borough President Donald Manes, committed suicide, the scheme unraveled.
The then-Mayor, who said he had no idea what had been going on, ordered a radical reorganization of his Department of Investigation to prevent a repeat of this kind of takeover. He brought in a new DOI Commissioner, Kenneth Conboy, and instructed him that the office should no longer confine its activities to catching low-level employees taking long lunch hours.
When Mr. Dinkins became Mayor in 1990, he tapped Susan Shepard as his Investigation Commissioner. She did her job so scrupulously that on a couple of occasions she embarrassed her boss.
Mr. Giuliani had personally prosecuted Mr. Friedman in the PVB case, but his moral rectitude had its limits, and he made sure he wouldn't have any of his administration's dirty laundry hung on the line. He tapped Howard Wilson, who had headed both the Civil and Criminal divisions of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan when Rudy ran it, for the job, but his lack of independence became clear when he regularly attended Mr. Giuliani's staff meetings, where the Mayor plotted political strategies and revenge against his enemies of the moment, along with more-mundane discussions of city business.
A bit more than two years later, Mr. Wilson had enough and moved on. He was replaced by Ed Kuriansky, who had compiled a strong reputation as the state's Special Prosecutor for Medicaid Fraud, but it wasn't until after he and the Mayor had left city government that he revealed evidence he'd had that Bernie Kerik while Correction Commissioner had met with two mob-connected brothers seeking his help in obtaining a waste-transfer license. His dealings with the two brothers eventually sent Mr. Kerik to prison, but they didn't stop Mr. Giuliani from promoting him to Police Commissioner despite being informed by Mr. Kuriansky of the meeting.
You might say: look at how covering up embarrassing details helped Mr. Giuliani prosper when it came to power and wealth, compared to Mr. Dinkins's more straightforward approach.
But then ask whose reputation you would rather have.
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