When Rudolph Giuliani sought a home for thousands of boxes worth of materials amassed during his mayoralty, he hopped over the East River and took a few more steps, depositing them in a Long Island City warehouse one block from the Hunters Point waterfront.
His critics charged that the move extended the tight-lipped tone of his administration when access to information was notoriously scant beyond his term-limited departure from City Hall.
But the appropriate fate for the Giuliani archives has launched a debate that extends well beyond the political sphere and into the academic, with historians and college professors demanding that Giuliani relinquish private control of his archives and hand them over to the city, as his predecessors have done since the days of Fiorello LaGuardia.
Giulianis trove is stashed only a mile away from the archives of LaGuardia Community College, where former Mayors LaGuardia, Robert Wagner, Edward Koch and Abraham Beame have left their private papers the materials amassed before and after their administrations.
Academics from LaGuardia, Queens College and other borough institutions are among more than 1,000 people who signed an Internet petition started by historian Mike Wallace, which endorses a New York Times editorial asking Mayor Michael Bloomberg to nullify the contract Giuliani hammered out before leaving office to grant him control over the archives.
Its all about accessibility, said Suzanne Wasserman, the associate director of the Gotham Center for New York City History, where Wallace is director. If its in a private collection, its not part of the public record. I can go to the Municipal Archives today and say, I want to see 10 boxes of LaGuardias papers, and I can see them today.
To access a private collection, on the other hand, she would get bogged down with Freedom of Information requests that could take months to process, Wasserman said.
Although Giuliani will finance the archives himself thus speeding the process by which his materials are sorted and catalogued, his representatives argue critics question his ability to personally determine what people can and cannot see.
I think access is everything, said Richard Lieberman, the director of the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives in Long Island City, which is affiliated with the community college.
I would think that he should follow what other mayors have done, he continued. Leave the public papers with Municipal Archives and give us his private papers.
But in the political sphere, at least, Giuliani does have some support for his decision to assume personal control over his papers.
Bloomberg has stood by the agreement thus far, and City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village), the only Republican in the Queens delegation, endorsed the agreement with a caveat.
I respect his right to be able to categorize important documents so long as the public will have access to this material, Gallagher said Monday.
For now the records remain in Long Island City at the Fortress, a warehouse at 49-20 5th St. with beige cinder block walls that is partially enclosed by a barbed wire fence.
But if they do ultimately move back to Manhattan, Giuliani should have nothing to fear, according to Queens College history professor Leo Hershkowitz, who was involved with the creation of the Municipal Archives at 31 Chambers St.
No one will ever bother to go through them, he said. I would kind of assure the mayor that he doesnt have to worry. Put them in the archives, theyre safer than any bank that Im aware of. They just kind of sit there. They just sit there for years.
Nonetheless, he said, that is where they belong.
As principle, the city records belong with the city, he said.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2002 Community News Group
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