New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is going on the air to urge Americans to come to New York and "paint the town red!"
The ad seems simple enough. It's part of the city's annual winter tourism promotion. But it has infuriated many Democrats, civic groups, and editorial boards who call it an abuse of taxpayer dollars for a self-serving political gimmick.
The mayor brushes off criticism of the $340,000 ad campaign, noting he's been doing such promos for four years. But this is the first time the upbeat ads touting New York's renaissance are running upstate - a key battleground for the coming Senate duel between the Republican mayor and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Giuliani critics say the ads represent more than just political opportunism. They charge that the mayor, who built his reputation as a hard-nosed criminal prosecutor, routinely overlooks improprieties or the appearances of improprieties within his own administration - from handing out parking permits to campaign contributors to more serious allegations that City Hall was behind the ouster of a by-the-book city building inspector who clashed with pro-Giuliani real-estate developers.
Mr. Giuliani, who bristles at suggestions that he doesn't hold his own administration to the same high standards he expects of others, defends his tenure as "one of the most honest periods" in the city's history.
In a city where hardball politics is as much a passion as Yankees baseball, impartial observers are hard to come by. But there are those who see some truth in Giuliani's assertion.
"This has been one of the most disciplined administrations we've seen in years," says Joseph Mercurio, a New York-based political consultant who works for both Democrats and Republicans. "He's been very diligent in stamping out any abuses, whether it's with building inspectors or police."
However dismissive of Democratic concerns the mayor may be, each of the issues critics have raised is nonetheless giving Mrs. Clinton fodder for her expected campaign and is heightening concerns among public-interest groups.
For instance, upon learning that Giuliani was using his New York City promotions upstate, the Clinton campaign was quick to use his own words against him.
In 1993, he condemned then-Mayor David Dinkins for engaging in the same practice. Since then, the city has passed a law forbidding the use of taxpayer-funded ads during a campaign year.
Giuliani even signed the law. But it applies only to city officials in city elections - a loophole not lost on the would-be US senator.
"This is a no-brainer," says Erik Joerss of Common Cause of New York. "It was wrong when Mayor Dinkins did it in '93, and ... it's wrong ... right now. It would be the same as if Hillary was using federal dollars to do it."
But the mayor says such concerns are nothing more than a "highly partisan" effort to "create an uneven playing field." In turn, he attacked the Clinton camp for using "soft money" from the Democratic Party to run ads upstate.
He's been even more dismissive of the parking-permit flap.
The Daily News reported that developer Joseph Spitzer, who raised more than $83,000 for the mayor's 1997 re-election campaign, had a permit that allowed him to park almost anywhere, any time, in the congested city. Such permits are supposedly for government employees only.
"Oh my God, he has a permit to park,..." said Giuliani in mock confession at a recent press briefing. "That's right, I'm a big crook."
Little has been said about it since, but the Clinton campaign did fire off an open letter asking the mayor how an average citizen could get such a permit.
The stir over the city's Building Department, however, has not been so quick to fade.
After a building under construction in Brooklyn collapsed in November, killing one worker and injuring 11, a former city inspector came forward with allegations of political meddling by city hall.
The inspector said he had earlier been forced to resign under pressure from the mayor's office, for refusing to overlook violations at other projects in the same neighborhood.
The Brooklyn district attorney, a Democrat, is now investigating the collapse and the impact of political influence at the Building Department.
Giuliani, who dismisses the probe as politically motivated, says the building inspector was fired for performance only.
The result "will be that everything here was done absolutely, 100 percent honestly, 100 percent ethically," he said last month, "and I am absolutely certain of that."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society