Giuliani’s Garden District

To make it to the Republican presidential caucuses, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani has been flip flopping the cosmopolitan stances he used to take on gay, women’s and immigrant rights. Once he supported them; now he’s against. And lately, he’s adopted another opportunistic tad out on the campaign trail: implying that Staten Island is a center for rustic values.

Reporting from the presidential campaign trail in Iowa yesterday, the New York Times described how the Rudy repeatedly exploited misperceptions about New York City’s least populated borough while responding to heartlanders who asked if he understands life in the boonies.

“You’ve been out here in the country where there are no roads,” said one Iowa farmer. “When you get back to the big city, are you going to forget the little guys out here who are farming to feed you?”

Rudy responded that when he was mayor, “I didn’t forget anybody,” because, “The place that kind of won the election for me was Staten Island. It’s the closest thing that New York City has to – I wouldn’t call it rural, but suburbs.”

When asked if he’d ever worked on a farm, he sheepishly said no, then again went into his Big-Apple Mayberry routine. The people in Staten Island, he said, “feel like they are part of their own community. You get the same feeling you get in smaller-town America.”

Staten Island may have more houses and more Republicans than the other boroughs, but casting it as a C&W song is as silly as Rudy’s recent claims that he dwelled for weeks at Ground Zero after 9/11 (in fact he spent only a few hours). Staten Island has probably never been “smaller-town America” in terms of multi-culti demographics. And though it used to have farms, they were hardly enclaves of social conservatism, even decades ago.

True to New York City form, I discovered all this last year while poking through mountains of shlock at an estate sale in Brooklyn.

It took place in a rambling old house that was bursting with price-tagged memorabilia, including schoolwork done by a young woman who attended Brooklyn College after World War II. I found one of her semester papers, done for Sociology 12 with Professor Waterman. It is neatly handwritten, on lined composition paper, and was submitted on December 23, 1947. Its title is “Visit to a Staten Island Garden Farm.”

For her research, the student interviewed several farmers, including Gus Thanasoulis, a Greek. He raised beets, carrots and other vegetables, and sold them at his roadside stand on Richmond Avenue.

The sociology student noted that ­ just like Mexicans crossing the border illegally today — Thanasoulis and his wife were immigrants from a rural region, with no education. They’d started farming in Staten Island in 1919, and almost 20 years later, Thanasoulis still wasn’t so good with his English. He got news from a Greek paper, and his second-language grammar glitches were duly recorded in the research paper. (“We grow small stuffs, such as spinach.”)

And like farmers today who resort to hiring undocumented labor, the Staten Islanders had difficulty finding cheap workers. Of late, the student remarks, farm wages have not been attractive to men who drifted off the land after noticing they “could easily earn more in a war plant.” The bracero program must not have made it to the East Coast by then, because “to solve the problem,” children “as young as fourteen years of age” were employed in the Staten Island fields.

The term paper also describes a visit with a farmer who was a prominent activist in the Staten Island Growers’ Association. The researcher was weirded out to find this elderly man living with an unmarried daughter who ­ unlike other farm women, she notes ­ is dressed in “men’s sneakers” and “overalls,” and looked “most unfeminine.”

Shades of the Greenwich Village dyke scene a free ferry ride away. In fact, the student concludes in her 1947 paper, it’s wrong to think of Staten Island farmers as rural people. “They live in New York City,” she writes. They are “definitely urban in thoughts.” They act “no differently from the real urban dweller.”

“Interesting,” Professor Waterman writes on the paper’s cover page.

(Editors’ Note: New York Greens vividly recall that it was Farmer Rudy who personally directed the uprooting and eviction of dozens of community gardens across Brooklyn and the Bronx in the late 1990s. The mayor replaced these organic green spaces with condos, office towers and, perhaps, a Whole Foods outlet or two. AC/JSC)

DEBBIE NATHAN is a contributor to “America’s Mayor, America’s President? The Strange Career of Rudy Giuliani” (ed. Robert Polner with preface by Jimmy Breslin, Soft Skull Press). She can be reached at naess2@gmail.com


More articles by:
Weekend Edition
December 06, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Eat an Impeachment
Matthew Hoh
Authorizations for Madness; The Effects and Consequences of Congress’ Endless Permissions for War
Jefferson Morley
Why the Douma Chemical Attack Wasn’t a ‘Managed Massacre’
Andrew Levine
Whatever Happened to the Obama Coalition?
Paul Street
The Dismal Dollar Dems and the Subversion of Democracy
Dave Lindorff
Conviction and Removal Aren’t the Issue; It’s Impeachment of Trump That is Essential
Ron Jacobs
Law Seminar in the Hearing Room: Impeachment Day Six
Linda Pentz Gunter
Why Do We Punish the Peacemakers?
Louis Proyect
Michael Bloomberg and Me
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Hits a Grim Threshold
Joseph Natoli
What We Must Do
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Global Poison Spring
Robert Fantina
Is Kashmir India’s Palestine?
Charles McKelvey
A Theory of Truth From the South
Walden Bello
How the Battle of Seattle Made the Truth About Globalization True
Evan Jones
BNP Before a French Court
Norman Solomon
Kerry’s Endorsement of Biden Fits: Two Deceptive Supporters of the Iraq War
Torsten Bewernitz – Gabriel Kuhn
Syndicalism for the Twenty-First Century: From Unionism to Class-Struggle Militancy
Matthew Stevenson
Across the Balkans: From Banja Luka to Sarajevo
Thomas Knapp
NATO is a Brain Dead, Obsolete, Rabid Dog. Euthanize It.
Forrest Hylton
Bolivia’s Coup Government: a Far-Right Horror Show
M. G. Piety
A Lesson From the Danes on Immigration
Ellen Isaacs
The Audacity of Hypocrisy
Monika Zgustova
Chernobyl, Lies and Messianism in Russia
Manuel García, Jr.
From Caesar’s Last Breath to Ours
Binoy Kampmark
Going to the ICJ: Myanmar, Genocide and Aung San Suu Kyi’s Gamble
Jill Richardson
Marijuana and the Myth of the “Gateway Drug”
Muzamil Bhat
Srinagar’s Shikaras: Still Waters Run Deep Losses
Gaither Stewart
War and Betrayal: Change and Transformation
Farzana Versey
What Religion is Your Nationalism?
Clark T. Scott
The Focus on Trump Reveals the Democrat Model
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Do Bernie’s Supporters Know What “Not Me, Us” Means? Does Bernie?
Peter Harley
Aldo Leopold, Revisited
Winslow Myers
A Presidential Speech the World Needs to Hear
Christopher Brauchli
The Chosen One
Jim Britell
Misconceptions About Lobbying Representatives and Agencies
Ted Rall
Trump Gets Away with Stuff Because He Does
Mel Gurtov
Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and the Insecurity of China’s Leadership
Nicky Reid
Dennis Kucinich, Tulsi Gabbard and the Slow Death of the Democratic Delusion
Tom H. Hastings
Cross-Generational Power to Change
John Kendall Hawkins
1619: The Mighty Whitey Arrives
Julian Rose
Why I Don’t Have a Mobile Phone
David Yearsley
Parasitic Sounds
Elliot Sperber
Class War is Chemical War
December 05, 2019
Colin Todhunter
Don’t Look, Don’t See: Time for Honest Media Reporting on Impacts of Pesticides