Sometimes the New York City tabloids get a story which is perfectly suited to their style and format; they regale themselves in it. And right now we have one of those tabloid glory moments. It’s called “Shag Fund-Gate.” And it’s about Rudy’s lavish spending from the public purse in connection with his Long Island trysts with his then-mistress. Not that it matters much to New Yorkers, but Rudy was then married, and he was a bit concerned about his affair getting into the papers. So the story details security detachments and limousine service for his mistress, all at public expense, as well as extraordinary expenses for Rudy associated with his conjugal visits.
Rudy has now advanced a series of contradictory explanations for all of this, and the forensic accountants and public finance experts who have looked at the papers detect an unmistakable pattern: the expenses were being buried in the budgets of other agencies, where they were unlikely to be detected.
What folks outside of New York don’t know is that the state just went through an enormous, drawn-out and painful political scandal involving a highly regarded state official, Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who had a state car and driver pick up and transport his wife. She had been seriously ill for years and melancholia had led her to attempt suicide. Hevesi acknowledged the error and offered to pay back the cost, but the scandal forced him from office.
The disclosures surrounding Giuliani sound at first blush—and even as conceded by him in several interviews—vastly more serious than those which erupted surrounding Hevesi. And there is nothing in Giuliani’s explanations that evokes sympathy. His attempts to brush the matter off with a seigneurial back of the hand and a series of contradictory statements which seem clearly at odds with the facts have only raised more eyebrows.
But throughout this, I kept thinking back to Bernard Kerik. In fact the first scandal surrounding Kerik, though not by any means the one that brought him down, was the disclosure that he had used a city asset—an apartment provided for firemen and policement working near Ground Zero to rest—as a secret love nest, and had rolled up city expenses in connection with it as well. Kerik and Giuliani have a surprisingly strong personal bond, and part of it is, I think, that they share many of the same weaknesses of character.
But today the New York Times gives us the word of the nation’s ultimate ethics expert. It seems there’s nothing wrong with what Giuliani did in billing the city for expenses connected to his visits with his mistress:
Bernard B. Kerik, who was Mr. Giuliani’s police commissioner when some of the charges were billed, said in an interview yesterday that the security detail’s travel expenses would normally come out of the Police Department’s budget.
“There would be no need for anyone to conceal his detail’s travel expenses,” said Mr. Kerik, who was indicted earlier this month on unrelated federal tax fraud and corruption charges. “And I think It’s ridiculous for anyone to suggest that the mayor or his staff attempted to do so.”