Template for Trump? Allegations of Voter Intimidation Carried Out by Rudy Giuliani and the Republicans in 1993 NYC Mayoral Election

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While watching a September 30th Democracy Now! interview with Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi who now seeks to disengage people from violent extremism, at one point during the discussion, which centered Trump’s encouragement of voter intimidation and perhaps election related violence, co-host Juan Gonzalez made the following statement:

Well, Christian, you mentioned the issue of calling people to be, in essence, vigilantes at the polls. I recall, clearly, back in 1993 in a mayoral election in New York City, when Rudy Giuliani was attempting to unseat David Dinkins, who was then the first African American mayor in the city, and there were literally hundreds of off-duty police officers and off-duty correction officers who Giuliani mobilized to go into the Black and Latino neighborhoods of New York to intimidate the voters. And I remember, the night of the election, asking the campaign manager of David Dinkins, Bill Lynch — I said, “Bill, why aren’t you protesting this? We’re getting all these reports.” And it was a very close election, but Lynch and the Democratic machinery at that time basically accepted the result, even though they knew that there was massive intimidation occurring.

That immediately caused my ears to perk up. I’d never heard this before. You mean, one of Donald J Trump’s closest allies may have orchestrated a voter intimidation campaign to insure he prevailed in a close election? If we remember anything about the 1993 NYC mayoral race now, it’s probably gleaned from watching re-runs of Seinfeld’s “Non- Fat Yogurt Shop” episode, which helped to celebritize Giuliani. Of course, 9/11 also transformed him into “America’s Mayor” for a time. More recently, Giuliani has begun to come off as increasingly unhinged and up to his ears in political corruption. But I felt this story demanded further inquiry.

You can try Google searching, “Giuliani voter intimidation 1993 NYC mayoral election” or various permutations til the cows come home and you won’t find much. I finally came across a 2005 blog on the subject written by a Benjamin T Greenberg. There’s precious little info on Greenberg himself, aside from the bio he provided on his blog, which he called, Hungry Blues (for the Langston Hughes, James P Johnson song). It looks like he stopped posting there in 2014 in favor his new Benblog, which has posts as recent as 2018. Greenberg describes himself as, “a writer, researcher and activist,” heavily influenced by both his father’s direct involvement in many of the political struggles that shaped the American left,” as well as his “close relationships with some of the finest jazz musicians of the swing era.” Greenberg’s blog entry, dated 1/23/2005 is entitled, David Dinkins Called Him a Ronald Reagan Republican Or Why My Father Despised Rudolph Giuliani.

Greenberg begins by citing an 11/1/1993 New York Times article, 2 Sides Seek More Police to Stymie Intimidation and Fraud at Polls (You’ll need to subscribe to access the Time’s archive to read article in its original form), which notes the following:

The Dinkins campaign expressed concern that off-duty police officers supporting Giuliani might intimidate Democratic voters, while the Giuliani campaign demanded extra police officers to make sure no fraud occurred in polling places where the Mayor’s supporters outnumber the challenger’s.

The article continues by telling us that Giuliani’s representatives earlier had sent a letter to the New York City Police Commissioner, Raymond Kelly, asking for at least 2,700 police officers to be assigned to the polls, in addition to the “thousands of poll watchers provided by the Republican Party. Kelly responded by assigning 3,500 officers and creating 52 “captains” to supervise poll watching. This decision was ostensibly a compromise designed to please both sides: the 3,500 poll-watchers were assigned to watch for voter fraud, and the 52 captains were assigned to ensure the poll-watchers did not intimidate voters. Mayor Dinkins warned that it was improper for poll-watchers (especially officers who supported Giuliani) to “exert their influence and intimidate people” and “to throw their weight around.”

Meanwhile, New York State Republican Party Chairman William Powers made it clear that his party’s volunteer poll-watchers would be out in force in majority- Democratic precincts: “We will be manning polls that have never seen a Republican before,” he announced. The Giuliani campaign had been worried for months by rumors that many Democratic voters registered more than once or were illegal immigrants.

Greenberg cites a number of other sources , including the Boston Globe, The New Jersey Record, The Buffalo News, The Albany Times-Union and additional New York Times articles (all of which are cited in Greenberg’s footnotes) for the following information: On Election Day morning, Mayor Dinkins held a news conference stating that “we appear to be seeing an outrageous campaign of voter intimidation and political dirty tricks afoot in today’s election.” This allegation was based on three initially unsubstantiated reports by Dinkin’s poll-watchers, and Giuliani responded, “I can assure you this has nothing to do with my campaign and it is precisely what we expected of them.” The reports were that off-duty police officers physically threatened a Dinkins volunteer and that intimidating posters had been placed in black and Latino neighborhoods. The second report was later confirmed. Posters had been placed at several polling places, and read: “Federal authorities and immigration officials will be at all election sites. . . . Immigration officials will be at locations to arrest and deport undocumented illegal voters.” Dinkins called on the Department of Justice to investigate, and a statement issued by the department advised voters to disregard the posters and pledged “to protect the rights of minority voters.” It also announced that “the Department of Justice and the FBI are conducting an investigation to determine who prepared and posted these notices.”

In addition to the threatening posters, reports emerged that ten homeless men showed up at a predominantly black and Hispanic voting site in Bedford-Stuyvesant and tried to disturb the voting process; one of the men admitted to having been paid $60 for the purpose but did not identify the source.152 Others among the ten told a Democratic poll-watcher they had been promised $70 and a hot meal by an organization called Together We Stand. Another person not connected with the homeless men reported that Republican poll-watchers asked for the green cards of prospective voters in East Harlem.

Giuliani defeated Dinkins by almost the same margin Dinkins had won in their first contest: 51–48%. On November 29 Al Gordon, New York State Democratic Party chairman, claimed he had evidence of over seventy-five instances in which voter intimidation and minority vote suppression had occurred on Election Day, and promised to forward his evidence to the Justice Department in hopes of preventing future Republican ballot security programs. His evidence, he said, revealed a pattern of harassment that seemed to him to be orchestrated not by the Giuliani campaign but by the Republican Party at the state level. “We are not calling for an overturning of the election,” he said. “We are saying that there was a pattern of thought-out harassment by the Republican Party and that they have to stop.”

Gordon cited instances in which homeless men disturbed voters by asking for their identity and instances in which poll-watchers tried to slow down the voting process by asking for several forms of identification. He also cited the testimony of Denise Ryan, a Dinkins poll-watcher who reported that in her precinct “four large white men came into the gymnasium and proceeded to stand in the doorway, blocking the door. . . . An elderly gentleman trying to get in couldn’t even see past them.”Gordon concluded, “I think it was an effort to delay, harass and intimidate voters just in the minority communities.” However, Republicans retorted that the same kind of behavior was taking place in predominantly Republican precincts. “There was voter intimidation by them — not by us,” said John Sweeny, a lawyer for the New York Republican Party. State party chairman Powers called Gordon’s accusations “a cheap political stunt.” There were no definitive resolutions of these allegations. Charges and countercharges regarding the same issues — vote fraud and vote intimidation — would continue with a vengeance in New York City five years later.

Of course, as Greenberg himself points out, since there was never any definitive resolution of of these allegations and counter-allegations, we can’t be certain, based solely on the recollection of Democracy Now’s Juan Gonzales and some newspaper articles from almost three decades ago, exactly what happened with regard to voter intimidation in the 1993 NYC mayoral election. However, if it did happen the way it’s described, it does at least appear that Trump and the Republicans might be operating from the same playbook Giuliani, one of Trump’s closest associates, and New York State Republicans may have employed to win a close election 27 years ago.

Al Ronzoni is a writer, historian and political activist based in New York City

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