Creating the Best Archives for the City

By Saul Cohen

However history remembers Rudolph Giuliani among New York mayors, the horrific events of September 11 have made him an international symbol of America's strength in the face of evil. Strength drawn from the grit of all New Yorkers.

That is why the Rudolph W. Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs was created -- to impart the best city management practices and to inspire young people to go into careers in municipal government. The center intends to use New York's government as an example of what cities everywhere can be.

The Giuliani archives, which have been a subject of much debate in the press recently, are intended to be an important part of the center, but only a part. As a law professor of twenty years, I know the importance of preserving both archival material and its integrity, as well as useful access to primary records. Although, the city and the center have reached an agreement regarding the records, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has approved it, the press continues to debate about who owns the documents, who decides what is private and public, and who has access to records. Therefore, there are several things that should be made clear about this contract between the city and the Giuliani Center.

First, the city will own and control the documents. Second, the city will determine which documents are official and which are private. Third, the city will have unrestricted access to the documents and any request by the public will be responded to by the city. And, if for any reason there is a dispute the city may terminate the contract entirely, as to any document.

In short, it is perfectly clear to the Giuliani Center and the Bloomberg administration that we hold the records in trust for the city.

However, because of the twisted interpretation by some with axes to grind, the new administration and the Giuliani Center have made sure in an Archival Plan that these details have been stated in even more direct terms. And the Giuliani Center will spend well over a million dollars to retain professionals to archive these materials to create lists and indexes that will make the documents useful.

In the past, it has taken many years to organize the materials of mayoral administrations and the current resources of the city archives are limited. The Daily News reported that "the condition of the mayoral records and the degree of access to them is a mixed bag." Our archivists found mayoral records stored in a sub-basement at 111 Centre Street. And the records of Mayor John Purroy Mitchel are still being organized. Mitchel was mayor in 1917.

The city archivists are top of the line professionals; their problem is obvious, made more obvious in a period of recession; a simple lack of resources. While we will work with the city's archivists, the new administration understands the value of the Giuliani Center's having taken on this project. We will have the resources to create the archive to the highest standard; file by file, annotated, and not as the city's resources allow one cubic foot box by one cubic foot box.

The Giuliani Center pledges to create the archive as expeditiously as possible, in strict compliance with the law and the highest archival standards. The archive will be an extraordinary resource for all New Yorkers.

Saul Cohen is the president of the Rudolph Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs.

Read "Municipal Neglect" by James Epstein
Read "The Damage Is Already Done" by Richard Wandel

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