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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.

© 2002 The New York Times Company

For more information, see:
•  "Rudy Giuliani: The Quintessential Control Freak", The New York Observer, February 1, 2002.
•  David Herszenhorn, "Giuliani's Papers Go to Private Group, Not City" New York Times, January 25, 2002.
•  Wayne Barrett, "Hijacking History: Rudy Heists City Archives to Shape His Own Legend," Village Voice, January 23 - 29, 2002.
•  JoAnne Wasserman, "Mike Troubled by Rudy Locking Up His Papers," New York Daily News, January 25, 2002.

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Defending the archives contract: Saul Cohen, President, Rudy Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs