When a Mayor and the Constitution Collide

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It seems the framers of the U.S. Constitution aren't pushed around as easily as the New York City Council. At least that's what New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, often criticized as the authoritarian bully of Big Apple politics, is quickly finding out. Twice in the past two weeks federal judges have ruled that hizzoner's attempts to quash dissenting voices within his fiefdom violated the Bill of Rights. First, the mayor wasn't allowed to block the KKK from rallying in lower Manhattan; then on Monday Federal Court Judge Nina Gershon ruled that the mayor trampled all over the First Amendment in his attempts to remove funding from the Brooklyn Museum of Art because of an exhibit he deemed offensive. "It should have come as no surprise," says TIME arts writer Steven Madoff. "There's no end to the gall that Giuliani has."

And in somewhat more measured legal language, Judge Gershon concurs: "There is no federal constitutional issue more grave than the effort by government officials to censor works of expression and to threaten the vitality of a major cultural institution as punishment for failing to abide by government demands for orthodoxy." Ouch! While the mayor's defenders say these sorts of confrontations paint Giuliani as a leader who's not ashamed to fight the good fight — even in a losing effort — pundits foresee his outspokenness as a potential liability in his probable U.S. Senate runoff with Hillary Clinton. They say that his my-way-or-the-highway brand of leadership, which may work in a citywide executive post, will cause animosity and discord in a legislative position that requires constant coalition-building with leaders from across the country.

"As a strategy, this whole museum ordeal was odd," says Madoff, noting that the incident did not help Giuliani woo potential Democratic swing voters. "If he was trying to bring in the conservative upstate vote, well, he already has that. But while fighting the museum, he stepped on the toes of every liberal in the state." Prediction: The mayor's next object of censorship — "Hillary for Senate" bumper stickers.