Giuliani Defends Decision to Cut Funding for Brooklyn Museum

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Meet the Press
Tim Russert
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NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
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New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani defends his decision to cut city funding for Brooklyn Museum, after he calls the controversial "Sensation" exhibit 'anti-Catholic.' He confirms that he is against legal limitations on late-term abortions in New York.



"Giuliani Defends Decision to Cut Funding for Brooklyn Museum." Tim Russert, correspondent. Meet the Press. NBCUniversal Media. 3 Oct. 1999. NBC Learn. Web. 18 May 2015.


Russert, T. (Reporter). (1999, October 3). Giuliani Defends Decision to Cut Funding for Brooklyn Museum. [Television series episode]. Meet the Press. Retrieved from


"Giuliani Defends Decision to Cut Funding for Brooklyn Museum" Meet the Press, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 10/03/1999. Accessed Mon May 18 2015 from NBC Learn:


Giuliani Defends Decision to Cut Funding for Brooklyn Museum

TIM RUSSERT, moderator: 

Mayor Giuliani, welcome.

This was the scene yesterday, the Brooklyn Museum, the exhibit Sensation opening to huge crowds, lined up for blocks, trying to see this exhibit of the blessed Virgin Mary, which is splattered with elephant dung in the eye of the artist. New York City is the art capital of the world. Why are you trying to censor free expression?

MAYOR GIULIANI: I'm not. Actually, the museum and the exhibit would have every right to do what they're doing if they did it in one of the many, many private museums that exist in the city and would pay for it themselves. The problem with this is this is a publicly subsidized museum that receives $7 million, $8 million, $9 million a year from the city of New York, with the hard-earned dollars of the taxpayers of this city.

It's also a museum, Tim, in which there is a specific lease in which—if you're going to close down access to the museum and you're going to charge people money--they're charging, I think, $9 a person, or something like that—you have to specifically get the permission of the mayor, and of the commissioner. So this is not one of the hundreds and hundreds of private museums supported by private dollars. This is a museum on property that is owned by the city of New York, where the city of New York gives them hard-earned taxpayers' dollars. And then, very unusually, you know, the lease says the mayor has to approve cutting down access and the mayor has to approve taking a free museum and turning it into a commercialized museum for profit. And, you know, for better or worse, I'm the mayor right now and I had to make that decision.

MR. RUSSERT: I was reading Newsweek magazine last week. And let me share with you and our viewers what it said. "In fact, the Whitney Museum's just opened The American Century, Part 2, features Andres Serrano's infamous `Piss Christ' photograph"...


MR. RUSSERT: ..."plus a sculpture of a nude woman trailing a long strand of excrement. A Giuliani envoy at the preview extolled the mayor's efforts to bus school kids to the show."

Why would you pay for schoolchildren on buses paid for the city to go see an exhibit that had these kinds of features?

MAYOR GIULIANI: Well, first of all, that isn't true. I didn't pay for schoolchildren to go. And I said that personally I was very, very opposed to that particular exhibit. But that's in a museum that is not owned by the city of New York. That is a private museum. It's in a museum in which the mayor does not have to approve or disapprove the use of public funds. It doesn't have public funds.

So that's really the point that I'm trying to make, Tim, that the First Amendment hysterics try to avoid the people who attack you unfairly. And that is if this was done on private property with private money, I could personally oppose it because it not only includes dung being thrown at the Virgin Mary, it also has the private parts of women displayed all over that painting, which is conveniently left out of the description by the press. It also--there's also in this particular exhibit, two dead pigs that are dissected in formaldehyde. There's a cow whose head is cut off. There's a pedophile who is glorified in a painting with the fingerprints of the children that the pedophile attacked.

So--I mean, this is something which, if you privately want to pay for it and do it, fine. But if you're asking me as the mayor of the city of New York: "Am I going to approve the hard-earned dollars of the people of this city supporting this?" then I have to say no. And for standing up for that principle, I'm being attacked by the First Amendment hysterics.

MR. RUSSERT: Where do you draw the line, Mr. Mayor? The New York City

grants franchises for cable TV?


MR. RUSSERT: Can you demand that the people who put cable TV on the air not put pornography on the air?

MAYOR GIULIANI: Tim, that's what the hysterics are trying to do. I think I drew the line very clearly. The line is if it says in a lease on property owned by the city of New York that I have to approve your closing down that property in order to put pedophiles on parade, to desecrate a very important religious or national symbol of the people of America, the people of the city of New York, then I'm going to disapprove it. Why is the provision there other than the fact that I have some right to have some discretion about this in exchange for the $8 million worth of funding?

I think the fact that we don't interfere with private museums and private exhibits actually makes the case for us and against the people who try to misuse the First Amendment.

MR. RUSSERT: As you know...

MAYOR GIULIANI: Nobody is trying to suppress this exhibit. I'm very much opposed to it. But what I'm saying is hard earned public tax dollars should not be used for what I consider to be, and I think many people in the city, a desecration of religion and then, also, some other very, very sick things. The animals, the pedophiles. So don't use public tax dollars. Believe me, there are plenty of private museums in this city, for better or worse, that would exhibit it. Just use your own money.

MR. RUSSERT: The Daily News went out and talked to New Yorkers, interviewed them for a poll. This is what they found: that 30 percent of New Yorkers agree with you; 60 percent agree with the museum, the exhibit should be open. And even amongst Catholics, only 42 percent agree with you; 48 percent agree with the museum.

Some have suggested, Mr. Mayor, that you're using this as an issue to pander to the Conservative Party of New York, to secure their nomination for the Senate? Have you spoken to anyone in the Conservative Party?

MAYOR GIULIANI: No. Tim, Tim, Tim, Tim...

MR. RUSSERT: Has anyone in your administration spoken to the Conservative Party?



MAYOR GIULIANI: And the poll you just put up there makes the opposite point, doesn't it? It says that most people are against me on this. So maybe, maybe--this is hard to really deal with--maybe there's a matter of principle, and it isn't something that has to do with political calculation. And, you know, 30 percent represent a sizable minority within any city.

But look, maybe it would be easier for you and others to understand if this were another racial, religious or ethnic group, but 30 percent of the people that are highly offended about their religion, their national symbols, their sensibilities being attacked is a very large percentage of people that the mayor has a right to defend. And what I'm saying is very simple: Nobody wants to suppress it. Put it in a private museum. Pay for it yourself. Do not take money out of the pockets of that 30 percent of the people where you're doing tremendous damage to their sensibilities, their views, their ideas. In America, you know, what it means is we have to all respect each other. And that 30 percent is also entitled to respect.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think that your opposition will help you with the

Conservative Party or...

MAYOR GIULIANI: I have no idea. That poll, you know, is something that was taken publicly. So I haven't been able to look at the internal parts of it. I'll worry and think about the political effect of it or be happy about the political effect of it--Who knows?--you know, weeks from now. Before I took this position, I didn't do what some politicians do. You know, we tried to do this on principle, and people can agree or disagree with the principle but stop all the kind of nasty personal attacks.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about a couple of other issues that may affect your potential Senate run. The Conservative Party is very much opposed to late-term or partial-birth abortion. You have supported that, have opposed any limitations placed on late-term abortion. Is that still your position?

MAYOR GIULIANI: Well, within the state of New York, the legislation that was proposed was legislation that I believe was not necessary. And that is still my position. That position was taken two years ago. I have no reason to review it at this point.