Peter James Powers died earlier this month at the age of 72. Powers was a Queens Irishman. His father, Thomas, was a union organizer, while his mother, the former Florence Fitzgibbon, raised Peter, as well as his two brothers. Powers went to Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn. It was there he befriended an Italian American classmate named Rudolph Giuliani. The two would go on to Manhattan College together, as well as New York University School of Law.
Powers began a flourishing career as a corporate tax lawyer. But in 1989, his childhood pal Rudy decided to run for mayor of New York City. Things weren’t initially going very well so Giuliani recruited Powers “to impose order on his chaotic novice mayoral campaign,” as The New York Times put it.
Giuliani lost the ’89 campaign, but with Powers’ help, made it to City Hall in 1993. Powers was “installed as (Giuliani’s) even-tempered alter ego to manage New York City’s government,” the Times noted.
“Peter was like Robert Duval’s Tommy Hagen (in The Godfather), the consigliore to the boss. Being the Irish guy wasn’t the only thing they had in common,” Cristyne L. Nicholas, Giuliani’s director of communications, wrote in the New York Observer. “It…was about management. Peter ran City Hall like a business.”
An “even temper” -- heck, even some plain old business-minded common sense -- is certainly something Giuliani could use these days. Lord knows that after the events of the past week -- the seemingly unprovoked shootings of two African Americans, the subsequent assassinations of five police officers in Dallas -- we could all use a breather, a pause button.
But Giuliani, who has settled into a bizarre role as the right winger who will say things that other right wingers only think, decided that now was the time to turn up the volume.
“Let’s teach everyone, including the children of the black community, that most of those police officers are the reason you’re alive,” Giuliani told Brian Williams on MSNBC.
“Because the real danger to you is that black kid who is going to shoot you on the street, because that happens many, many more times than police officers. Lets talk about it honestly.”
And Donald Trump may put this guy in his cabinet.
Look, there are serious debates to be had about violence, crime and policing. But Giuliani’s style of “honesty” is not going to contribute anything constructive.
It grossly implies that black people don’t know much about any of the dangers that might be lingering in whatever neighborhood they happen to live in. But most people, whatever color they happen to be, know all too well what they need to be wary of when they walk out the door.
The unavoidable problem here is that black males, whatever others forms of adversity they may be facing, also seem to have to worry if they will survive any given encounter with a police officer.
That does not mean all police officers are racist or corrupt. That certainly does not mean officers should face the sort of horrific retribution we saw in Dallas.
But it also does not mean that people who dare to speak out against police brutality are somehow to blame for the actions of the deranged sniper in Dallas. If Giuliani was so enamored of Powers’ ability to get down to “business,” then Giuliani should know that we need to get down to the business of finding ways to heal the terrible wounds we’ve opened in recent weeks.
Twenty years ago New York City endured its own tensions related to police brutality and racism. There were the horrible cases of Abner Louima and Patrick Dorismond, who Giuliani famously called “no altar boy” -- when it turned out Dorismond had, in fact, been an altar boy.
Back then, this seemed to be a unique product of New York City’s racial and ethnic history. Cops were generally Irish and Italian and were sent in to police high crime areas that were largely black and Hispanic. Perhaps conflict was inevitable.
But these tensions have now gone national. And there’s a lot more fueling this than ethnic history.
One thing we do know: If Giuliani is going to continue spewing his form of “honesty,” than we are all going to miss Peter Powers.