Giuliani's Spin City

As he runs for the Republican nomination for president based on his record as mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani loves to go by the numbers.

To hear Giuliani tell it, the number of adoptions in New York jumped nearly 70 percent during his time as mayor -- the result, he claims, of new policies he enacted to reduce the number of abortions.

Calling himself the most fiscally conservative candidate in the race, he has bragged repeatedly about his management of the city budget, saying he turned a $2.3 billion deficit into a "multi-billion-dollar surplus," all while cutting taxes by $9 billion.

And he cut crime so much that New York went from being "the crime capital of America" to "the safest large city in America" by the time he left office in 2002, he said on "Fox News Sunday."

But a close review of Giuliani's statistical claims reveals that spin is interfering with some of his substance.

Giuliani's Spin City

Giuliani's claim on the number of adoptions, for instance, is based on a highly selective reading of the data, according to the independent watchdog group Annenberg Political Fact Check, which runs the Web site Factcheck.org.

Read another way, the same figures could even suggest that Giuliani actually presided over a decline in the number of annual adoptions in New York during his second term as mayor, the group concluded in a report released last week.

"This is a classic case of using statistical data in a misleading way," Brooks Jackson, the organization's director, said in an interview. "He's used the data selectively to create an exaggerated impression."

The Giuliani campaign cites city statistics that show the total number of adoptions in New York was 66.5 percent higher in the last six fiscal years he was mayor -- 1996 through 2002 -- than in the preceding six years, from 1990 through 1995.

That comparison is valid, Giuliani aides argue, because he created a new office to protect children and encourage adoption in 1996, meaning the former mayor can claim credit for the uptick.

But by delving inside the numbers, Factcheck.org found that the number of adoptions increased 257 percent before the new agency was created.

The number of annual adoptions in the city hit a peak of 4,009 in fiscal 1997 -- roughly midway through Giuliani's eight years in office -- and then declined steadily through his second term, with only 2,694 adoptions tallied in fiscal 2002.

"It's a much more complicated picture than he portrays," Jackson said.

Giuliani by the Numbers

Regarding his fiscal record, Giuliani is justified in pointing out that he helped New York City emerge from a budgetary mess to produce large surpluses by the mid-1990s.

An economic boom allowed him to cut taxes while still building up a rainy day fund, all while gaining praise from conservative groups for keeping city spending from growing as quickly as the jump in revenues.

But he hardly left overflowing city coffers to his successor.

When he took office in January 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg faced an expected budget gap of $3.6 billion, a shortfall it took him two years -- and an unpopular property-tax hike -- to overcome.

While much of the shortfall was directly attributed to the economic impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Wall Street slowdown had the city headed for a likely recession before then. Indeed, some budget experts were predicting a multi-billion-dollar budget gap as early as April 2001.

Steven Malanga, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, said Giuliani would probably have left a shortfall to his successor even if the terrorist attacks never took place.

"Given what was happening with technology stocks, and what was happening on Wall Street, we wouldn't have seen continued surpluses in 2002," he said.

On balance, Malanga said, Giuliani can claim to be a true fiscal conservative who left New York in far better financial shape than it was when he came to office.

But many conservatives wanted him to dedicate more excess revenue into tax cuts rather than new projects, and Giuliani could not resist expensive "pet projects" such as his dream of a publicly funded Manhattan stadium for his beloved New York Yankees, he said.

"Certainly he's a conservative for New York City," Malanga said. "He's moderate-to-conservative if you look at him nationally."

NYPD Blues?

Regarding Giuliani's claims on public safety, New York -- like much of the nation -- saw a precipitous drop in violent crime during the 1990s, and many of Giuliani's get-tough policies were widely credited with the reduced number of homicides and assaults.

The Giuliani camp cites FBI statistics showing the number of major crimes reported per week in New York, dropping from 11,545 in 1993, when Giuliani was first elected, to 5,072 in 2001, when his second term expired.

But as for whether New York is the nation's safest large city, it depends on how you define "safe" and "large." New York is the nation's largest city with a population of 8.1 million.

The FBI doesn't rank cities' safety when compiling crime data, though press reports on the figures found New York to be the safest big city in the country in 1997.

The Associated Press in 2005 called New York the safest of the nation's 10 largest cities, with about one crime reported for every 37 residents.

But No. 2 on the AP's list -- San Jose, Calif., with a population about one-eighth that of New York's -- claims to be safer than the Big Apple, based on a calculation that takes into account the severity of the crimes.