Streams

Private Archive Breaking Public Trust?

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

During his tenure critics often accused former Mayor Giuliani of being a control freak. But it seems that he not only wanted to control the present,now he wants to control the past as well. The deal he quietly worked out with the City Records Commissioner is unprecedented and throughly inconsistant, if not totally in violation, of city and state laws. Giuliani has defended the deal as an effort that will help the city by financing and speeding up the archiving process. This should help the former Mayor get what he needs quickly for the 3 million dollar book contract he's got. On the other hand,it may also hinder the scholarly work now underway to tell the full andaccurate story of what took place during his 8 years in office.

The former mayor's effort to control his legacy recalls former President Nixon's exodus from the White House with truckloads of documents and recordings. Of course, unlike Nixon, Mr. Giuliani left office with a public approval rating most politicians only dream of. Why then spoil it with a deal that suggests he's got something to hide? Other former Mayors had no problem leaving their papers to the Municipal Archives. The archive professionals at this institution have been and continue to be quite up to the task.

While, it's true, the contract says these documents cannot be destroyed or discarded without city approval, Mr. Giuliani's track record for making the city papers available to the public and news media has been a dismal affair. Remember all those Freedom of Information Act challenges brought by news media and public interest groups? Given that, it seems unlikely that an archivist, who in-effect works for Mr. Giuliani through his non-profit Center for Urban Affairs, will be unbiased sifting through the boxes of paper and tapes. More troubling is that the contract includes a clause that gives Mr. Giuliani the right to restrict access to any document in which he has a, quote, "personal interest."

There's still time for Mayor Bloomberg to make some history by safeguarding history and getting rid of this deal. These documents are not the personal property of Rudolph Giuliani, they belong to the people of the City of New York, who have every right to unfiltered and unemcumbered access to them.

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