quality-of-life laws threaten 1st Amendment, say challengers FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 13 Jun 1998 16:15:26 -0700 (PDT)

See also CCI, a key advocate of "quality of life" laws
Center for the Community Interest http://www.communityinterest.org/

=46WD  http://www.freedomforum.org/speech/1998/6/4giuliani.asp


     By Phillip Taylor - First Amendment Center - 6.4.98

While New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani claims his policies to polish the Big
Apple are merely "quality of life" efforts, free-speech advocates say the
leader of the nation's largest city has been sweeping the First Amendment
off the streets as well.

Six months into his second term, Giuliani's administration is marked by
routine claims of First Amendment violations. These include:

Street artists and pushcart vendors who claim city permit policies have
banned them from public sidewalks.

Taxi cab drivers who are suing Giuliani, claiming the mayor used threats
and intimidation in breaking up a planned protest last month. A federal
judge forced the city to allow the protest last week.

Advertisers who say a city ban on tobacco billboards violates their
free-speech rights.

Sex shop owners who say city zoning laws effectively ban them from New
York's Times Square and shove them out to industrial areas on the outskirts
of the city.

Only days after Giuliani's re-election victory last November, New York
magazine identified itself in ads on city buses as "possibly the only good
thing in New York Rudy hasn=EDt taken credit for." Giuliani banned the ads
until advised by a district court that his actions violated the First

Giuliani's anti-ad efforts earned him a "Muzzle" award from the Thomas
Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression in April.

Robert O'Neil, the center's founding director, said he thought it "rather
unusual" that a city like New York has been the continual focal point of
=46irst Amendment debates this year.

"It's a city where the political leadership and the courts and the populace
by and large have been fairly lenient, fairly tolerant of a wider range of
views and expression," O'Neil told free! "It's just an amazing number of
different situations and contexts in which these issues have arisen."

But Giuliani dismisses the criticism as being "like an opera that plays
itself out over and over again. The excessive ideologies try to paint it in
a certain direction, but these policies are reasonable, sensible things."

"Three and four years from now, people will appreciate it," he said.

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert disagrees. In his column last week,
Herbert described New York City as a place where "the curtain is being
lowered on civil rights and civil liberties. Giuliani rules by fear."

Ron Kuby, a civil rights lawyer and activist said: "Increasingly, you see
Mayor Giuliani handling dissent in a mean-spirited, bullying, autocratic
fashion, and increasingly using police as a private mayoral army to target
those who disagree with him."

On Wednesday about 800 street vendors marched near City Hall to protest
Giuliani's proposal to bar food vendors from 144 blocks of Manhattan and
several streets in the financial district, Brooklyn and Queens.

Critics say the ban would hurt small businessmen and deprive workers and
tourists of a quick and inexpensive way to eat. Because the ban extends to
artists and book vendors, some raise First Amendment concerns.

Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union said he expects to sue
the city because "there's practically  no streets available for vendors."

Giuliani defended the plan, saying, "Nobody will be out of business,
presuming they follow the law. They cannot all vend exactly where they want
to. That's basically the only way in which you are going to have a
sensible, decent environment."

Andrew Miltenberg, an attorney representing street artists in a $200
million civil lawsuit against the mayor and the city, said Giuliani
disguises civil rights violations as quality of life initiatives.

"The guy is sweeping people off the streets, whatever he decides the
offense of the day is," he said.

This authoritarian image is one that Giuliani, intentionally or not, has
helped to foster.

"Freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want,"
Giuliani said in a 1994 speech. "Freedom is about authority. Freedom is
about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful
authority a great deal of discretion about what you do and how you do it."

Columnist Herbert claims that discontent over Giuliani's heavy hand is
growing. "Not all New Yorkers revel in the trampling of the underdog.
Despite the Mayor's best efforts, it's still not that kind of town."

But statistics seem to show something else. A city of mostly Democrats, New
York gave Giuliani, a Republican, a second term of office with an
overwhelming majority of the vote. His job-approval rating hovers in the
60s in most polls.

New York is basking in the news that crime has dropped to 1960s levels,
tourism is soaring again and at least one national poll listed it as the
"most livable" city in the country.

Although a cartoonist has recently depicted Giuliani as a rampaging
Godzilla crushing taxi cabs, street artists have displayed paintings of the
mayor as Hitler and protesters have carried signs reading "Giuliani: Poster
Boy for Repression," the New York public seems largely unperturbed.

O'Neil admits that Giuliani's loose handling of the First Amendment seems,
at best, to be "a vague concern" to New York citizens.

"New Yorkers would rather not read such things in the national media," he
said. "But it doesn't seem to have any political consequence. If it has had
that consequence, it has been overshadowed by many other things."

--The Associated Press contributed to this report.--


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