Many conservatives, including myself, continue to be surprised and impressed by Rudy Giuliani’s poll numbers. To be sure, he’s a very likable candidate, but conventional wisdom insisted that, once he entered the race, his liberal social stances would doom GOP Primary chances.
In fact, a new poll shows Rudy Giuliani doing surprisingly well among Evangelical voters.
Still, it's early, and fair to say that most conservatives don’t know the extent of Giuliani’s positions. Most conservative voters probably don’t know, for example, that, as Mayor, Giuliani supported -- not just abortion rights -- but partial-birth abortion. (So far, when it has come up on the trail, Rudy has adeptly parried the questions by changing the subject to “safety and security,” or by pledging to appoint judges who will be “strict constructionists”.)
But while many conservatives continue to believe his past positions on social issues will eventually catch up to him, it is much more likely that his past associations will do him far more harm.
His support of Bernard Kerik to be head of Homeland Security was one such instance.
Kerik, of course, had two mistresses, an illegal nanny, and had ignored past arrest warrants (and those are, perhaps, the nicest things you could say about him). Still, Rudy Giuliani had no problem appointing him to be New York’s top cop – and (even worse) recommending him to head the Department of Homeland Security,
After embarrassing President Bush, Kerik was given a job with Giuliani Partners. (Last year, Kerik was fined over $200,000 for two misdemeanor corruption charges.)
So why is Rudy still so revered? As it turns out, Giuliani got out of office at the right time. His term expired in 2002 (although, as you might recall, he did attempt to stay on longer, for the sake of New York). By virtue of his term expiring in 2002, Rudy left on a very high note. As such, his 9-11 image as “America’s Mayor” has covered a multitude of sins. Whether you’re Jerry Seinfeld (who, by choice, ended his TV show on a high note) or James Dean (who died young), leaving the public wanting more is a good way to ensure a positive legacy. I’ve made the point before that if George W. Bush’s term ended in 2002, he would have been regarded as a great president, (but that’s another story).
While the Bernard Kerik incident was embarrassing to both Bush and Giuliani, the Kerik faux-pas wouldn't be so alarming if it were a single instance of bad judgment. It is not. Giuliani’s pattern of continued questionable associations may ultimately be what disrupts his progress with Evangelicals, and undermines his credibility on safety and security issues, too (as they relate to personal appointments).
The story centers around a man you’ve probably never heard of: Alan Placa, another Giuliani associate, who, as a Priest, was accused of “groping” a student in high school in the mid-1970s.
As you will read, Placa is an extremely close Giuliani associate, who also just happens to be accused of molesting a child and, perhaps worse, using the system to cover it up. The story goes back to a 2002 Newsday article about a January day in 1975, when a teenager volunteered to help make banners for the annual Right to Life march in Washington.
According to the story, the student claims:
“(Monsignor Alan Placa) pulled out some posters in the deserted administrative area as if to show him something, and then began fondling him – all the while making conversation about the posters. Tollner said the incidents repeated every month or so for the next year and a half.”
First, let me explicitly state that Placa denies any wrongdoing – and he has never been charged with a crime.
But it is also true that the Diocese of Rockville Centre has removed him from wearing the collar and performing any official duties.
It should also be noted that a Grand Jury report paints a devastating picture of sexual deviancy and molestation in his Diocese -- the Rockville Centre Diocese. According to the National Catholic Reporter:
“The report documents allegations of the rape of cheerleaders and altar boys, of acts of molestation and seductions in churches, rectories, on camping trips, and in the homes of the minors who were abused. It tells of instances in which priests provided minors with pornography and alcohol, and of cases in which the diocese received allegations and didn’t report them to police, but instead transferred the accused priests to other parishes.”
While this report does not mention Placa, it is possible he was one of the 58 “abusive Priests” alluded to. This is particularly concerning, because, as head of the so-called “Intervention Team,” he was tasked with handling the sexual abuse allegations and protecting the diocese from liability, The grand jury found that Placa may have been involved in an attempt to sweep the allegations under the rug. Again, according to the National Catholic Reporter:
“ … The grand jury has charged that while the team tried to appear sympathetic to victims, its goal was actually protecting the diocese through discouraging lawsuits, persuading victims to not go public with accusations and assisting abusive priests in efforts to remain in ministry. Though the grand jury report didn’t name the team, according to Newsday, one of the members was, in all likelihood, Msgr. Alan Placa, the diocese’s former vice chancellor …”
IN THE SUFFOLK COUNTY SUPREME COURT GRAND JURY REPORT, Placa (by his own admission) is referred to as “Priest F,” a Priest who engaged in pedophilia. Even after the grand jury testimony Rudy stood by him. And in another 2003 New York Times article, Placa described the zero tolerance policy on priests as “immoral and unchristian.”
That same year, the New York Times also reported that, “Placa was the architect of the diocese’s legal strategy, a national expert in the field and the crucial member of the intervention team. Several months after the panel was ended in April, he was suspended from the ministry after being accused of abusing children.”
Additionally, the 2002 Newsday story included a quote from Kevin Waldron, a fellow high school friend who corroborates Tollner’s story, saying Tollner told him of the events after they happened. The Newsday story goes on to say:
“A second former student, who asked that his name be withheld, said he described to Suffolk prosecutors what he called ‘the newspaper drill.’ ‘He always had a New York Times in his office. And he’d sit down next to you on the couch in his office and open it wide and, inevitably, his hand would brush your crotch,’ the man said. ‘He did it over and over again, I can’t tell you how many times.’ That man said he felt so violated that he wrote Placa an unsigned letter 20 years later, blaming him for his loss of interest in pursuing the priesthood.”
Despite the allegations, Giuliani hired Placa right after all this went down, and he remains with him today (based on news reports and my call to the Giuliani Partners office). And as the New York Times reported in 2002, amid allegations, Giuliani jumped to Placa’s defense, saying: “He’s one of the people I admire most in the world, and if most people did half the good that Alan’s done, the world would be a wonderful place.”
Considering Giuliani’s relationship with the guy (he annulled his wedding to his 2nd cousin and was best man in his first wedding) it is not surprising that he has a certain amount of loyalty to him. According to last week’s Newsday story:
“... despite the controversy, Giuliani gave his old friend Placa a job at Giuliani Partners, and Michael Hess, a partner at the firm and the ex-mayor's corporation counsel, handled Placa's legal matters.”
If Placa is, in fact, innocent, this may be one of the most heroic lines I’ve read; if he’s guilty, it’s one of the most disturbing.
So how does this play into the 2008 race? Leaders are entrusted to make decisions. In essence, leaders are often in the business of saying to the public: “trust me on this one.” But this is a dangerous business to be in. If President Bush was wrong about Russian President Vladmir Putin’s character (even after looking at his soul), it is plausible that Mayor Giuliani made an honest mistake about Placa.
During the Clinton Presidency, Rush Limbaugh often made the point that an unusual number of Bill Clinton’s friends were either dead or in jail. If a man is truly known by the company he keeps, then Rudy Giuliani’s associations may imply something about his character. At the very least, they may imply something about his judgment.
One of the most important things a President does is appoint people to perform various important jobs.
It is entirely possible for a leader to be a very good and trustworthy person, yet still lack judgment in other people. Now, if you’re a middle-manager at a retail store, this could be written off as a “quirk.” But at the presidential level, where your appointee’s wield so much power over the lives of others, this lack of perspicacity is both damning and disqualifying. Rudy Giuliani – whom I like and admire – has teetered dangerously close to this line.
Whether or not Kerik or Placa are innocent or guilty, it is still interesting that Giuliani has surrounded himself by so many people who have, at least, questionable backgrounds. What is more, he has invited both of them to be part of his business -- in spite of the evidence and allegations. It’s one thing to stay friends with someone with a past, and it’s quite another thing to do business with them.