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Rudy's problem with the truth

October 28, 2002

This column has called former mayor Rudolph Giuliani many things, but never a liar.

Until today.

Reading in his best-selling book "Leadership" how he rid New York City of "squeegeemen," One Police Plaza Confidential can only conclude that after winning worldwide adulation for his post-Sept. 11 heroism, he believes he can now get away with anything.

In "Leadership," Giuliani says that upon becoming mayor, he was told by then-Police Commissioner William Bratton that ridding the city of the once-ubiquitous car window-washers "couldn't be done."

"So long as they were not physically threatening drivers or 'demanding' money," he writes, "we lacked a legal basis to ... arrest them."

So what did America's favorite mayor do?

"I said, 'How about the fact that they're jaywalking?' ... You could give everyone of them a ticket immediately. Then ... you could investigate ... whether there were outstanding warrants and so on. If they became intimidating, you could arrest them."

Bratton, he said, then conducted a survey and discovered there were only 180 squeegeemen in the entire city.

"So we started writing summonses for these guys ... In under a month we were able to reduce the problem dramatically."

Now, the truth.

The squeegee crackdown began in 1993 under Bratton's predecessor, Ray Kelly, and Giuliani's predecessor, David Dinkins. It began after a squeegeeman spit on a car in which Kelly and his wife, Veronica, were riding.

According to a former top police official who worked under both Kelly and Bratton, the department first identified 70 squeegeemen and six squeegee hot spots: the Holland, Lincoln and Midtown tunnels, the George Washington Bridge, 96th Street and the FDR Drive, and 12th Avenue and 56th Street just off the West Side Highway.

That summer, the department videotaped the squeegeemen and analyzed the dates of their appearances. They learned that half had prior drug arrests and half other priors. Virtually all had criminal records.

The department began chasing and warning them. When that failed, they tried summonses. None of them responded. So in October, the department began arresting them. By November, the squeegeemen had disappeared.

During all this, Giuliani hadn't even been elected.

In his book, "Turnaround," published after he resigned as police commissioner, Bratton credits Kelly with solving the squeegee problem. As commissioner, however, he made no such acknowledgment, infuriating Kelly.

Giuliani's spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel, did not return a phone call.

Another Star for Hollywood.
Bill Bratton's relocation from New York to Los Angeles, as chronicled in the city's gossip pages, makes it clear that the concept of the celebrity police commissioner has gone national.

And no police commissioner is as full of celebrity (or of himself) as New York's own Boston Billy.

Two gossip columns described Bratton's fete last week at the home of Tina Brown and Harry Evans, whose guests included Henry Kissinger, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Mario Cuomo, as well as Tom Brokaw and Mike Wallace.

There was a time not too long ago - circa 1993 - that the police commissioner avoided the limelight. Bratton changed all that, holding court at Elaine's literary joint, his every utterance, via his spokesman John Miller, appearing in the next day's newspapers.

Tom Reppetto, whose book, "The Blue Parade" is a history of policing, attributes the surge in police celebrity to the last 20 years, when crime has become a political issue.

Not only Bratton but all sorts of cops have become celebrities.

The ex-NYPD detective Bo Dietl, now going under the name of "Beau," appears on Don Imus' radio show. The perjuring former Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman was interviewed on Fox during last week's sniper hunt.

Former police commissioner Bernard Kerik makes the best-seller list with his "The Lost Son," about his mother as a prostitute.

His predecessor, Howard Safir, played himself on "NYPD Blue." He then almost avoided a city council hearing the week after Amadou Diallo's fatal shooting by attending the Oscars. Now even Safir is having his book published after about a dozen houses turned it down!

Bratton is now trying to lure Miller from his million-dollar television job at ABC-TV to serve again as his spokesman, a move not as far-fetched as it may seem when one considers Miller gave up half a million in '94 to serve Bratton in New York.

But to prove Your Humble Servant can dish with the best of them, Miller won't rejoin Bratton. The longtime bachelor is - if you can believe it - getting married.

There is more, which we leave for another day.

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.