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City Papers Belong
to the Public
New York Times Editorial, January 26, 2002
A week before he left
office, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani quietly worked out a deal with New York
City's records commissioner to move his papers to a private storage facility
in Queens, where they now reside. This unprecedented and self-serving
contract gives him the right to choose an archivist to catalog a roomful
of city documents and to initially determine what is public and what is
not. Mr. Giuliani's people have described this as an effort to help the
city by financing and thus speeding up the archiving process. Not coincidentally,
it will help Mr. Giuliani maintain control of his image and get quick
access to material he needs to fulfill a $3 million book contract to write
about his days as the city's mayor.
The idea of a high
elected official controlling his own documents troubles many historians,
archivists and journalists, harking back to the days when Richard Nixon
left the White House with truckloads of papers and tapes. Mr. Giuliani
left office under far different circumstances, but the former mayor has
a long record of refusing to allow access to public documents concerning
his administration. While the contract makes it clear that Mr. Giuliani
cannot legally shred or delete documents without city approval, his own
history does not breed confidence that his hand-picked archivists would
err on the side of openness.
As it stands, most
of the work will take place out of the city's reach, overseen by Mr. Giuliani's
new nonprofit Center for Urban Affairs Inc. The city is supposed to have
a say on how matters work at the Queens warehouse and what documents get
shared with the public. But in reality, the overworked city archivists
and the busy corporation counsel are not going to be able to spare the
time to oversee the Giuliani staff's day-to-day activities.
While speed in organizing
the papers may be important to Mr. Giuliani and his publishers, the top
priority for the city is keeping all the material secure so that a complete
record will eventually be available to historians. The Giuliani forces
are supposed to come up with an archiving proposal by the end of next
week, and the city's advisory board on archives plans to discuss this
hijacking of documents at a meeting next month. Both occasions offer opportunities
to make certain these papers are catalogued and controlled by someone
whose first responsibility is to history, not to Mr. Giuliani.
If speed is Mr. Giuliani's
concern, then he should be allowed to help underwrite the cataloguing
so that archivists can do the job more quickly. But the original documents
should be returned to the city's direct control first. Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
who has defended the contract, must rethink his position. The mayor has
the right to cancel the agreement within 90 days. He should do so unless
Mr. Giuliani is willing to renegotiate.
The New York Times Company
For more information, see:
Giuliani: The Quintessential Control Freak", The New York Observer,
February 1, 2002.
Papers Go to Private Group, Not City" New York Times,
January 25, 2002.
History: Rudy Heists City Archives to Shape His Own Legend,"
Village Voice, January 23 - 29, 2002.
Troubled by Rudy Locking Up His Papers," New York Daily
News, January 25, 2002.