NEW YORK -- The Rev. Calvin Butts III, a prominent Baptist minister from Harlem, stunned city officials and black leaders alike yesterday, calling Mayor Rudolph Giuliani a racist who is on the verge of creating a fascist state in New York City.
Word of the minister's comments ran through the city like an electric charge. Some prominent black figures said they thought that Butts' language was outrageous and wrong; others agreed that Giuliani's policies have hit the minority communities the hardest but stopped short of echoing the charge that he is a racist. However, the mayor suddenly found himself in one of the most awkward situations a public official can face: how to respond to such a broad, damning assessment.
Giuliani did not directly address the racism charge, choosing instead to say that such "name-calling" reflects poorly on Butts, who has mused about seeking elective office for more than a decade and says he is considering running for mayor in 2001.
But Giuliani's aides countered with what they said were examples of how the administration's policies had helped minorities, and suggested that the minister's comments were provoked by the city's decision to block one of his church's development projects.
Butts, whose political alliances include Gov. George Pataki but exclude more outspoken black leaders such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, delivered the first blow to Giuliani during an interview Tuesday night on the New York 1 television station. When asked whether he was calling the mayor a racist, Butts answered:
"Yes. I don't believe that he likes black people, and I believe that there's something fundamentally wrong in the way we are disregarded, the way we are mistreated, and the way our communities are being devastated."
Butts expanded on his assertions during press conference yesterday at his Harlem church, the Abyssinian Baptist Church. He cited a series of examples that he asserted reflected racist policies of the Giuliani administration, from the recent layoff of 600 low-level workers at the city-owned Harlem Hospital to incidents in which the police mistakenly burst into the homes of innocent people in search of drug dealing.
"If these policies are not checked, and if the people who enjoy democratic liberties do not speak up and out, we could see ourselves moving toward a fascist state in New York," Butts said.
Pub Date: 5/21/98