Joke on Giuliani Just Keeps on Rolling Along


To Mayor Rudy Giuliani, “the bus ads” are serious business. His civil rights have been violated, he says. New York magazine illegally used his name, he complains, made fun of Hizzoner to sell more subscriptions.

But to most New Yorkers, this is crazy stuff, even for New York City.

Giuliani doesn’t want his name on a city bus? Excuse me? Is this the same Giuliani who appeared in grandmotherly drag recently as host of NBC-TV’s “Saturday Night Live?” Is this the same Giuliani who’s a regular on David Letterman and Don Imus?

Is this the guy who perched atop a theater marquee recently to do an interview with a network crew? The same person who is at every city event, it seems, every parade, every funeral, every ribbon that’s cut in the city’s five boroughs, every award given?

“You can’t do that,” Giuliani was trying to explain to the city’s press corps on Tuesday. It’s illegal, Giuliani says, to use a person’s name or face in a commercial without their written permission. And Giuliani certainly didn’t give New York magazine permission to run the ads, because he says such an endorsement would be illegal as well.


So Giuliani’s lawyers have been in court over the question of whether the city can keep 75 buses in its fleet from wearing the now-famous commercial. The strip with Manhattan’s skyline in the background features the New York magazine logo and notes mischievously, “Possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn’t taken credit for.”

The mayor reportedly saw one of the ads before Thanksgiving and, not finding the humor in it, immediately ordered transit officials to strip the banners from the buses. Shortly afterward, magazine attorneys filed suit, saying that their ad was protected by the 1st Amendment’s free-speech provision.

In the first legal round, a federal judge in Manhattan agreed on Monday and ordered the ads returned to the city’s buses.

“Who would have dreamed that the mayor would object to more publicity?” U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin said in chiding Giuliani over his many appearances in the media.

“He staunchly asserts, through his designated officials, that he has a ‘right to publicity,’ namely the right to control the use of his name when it is used for advertising or trade purposes,” she wrote. “However, one who has chosen to be mayor, and therefore to be the subject of daily commentary and controversy, cannot avoid the limelight of publicity--good and bad.”

By Tuesday afternoon, the mayor and his lawyers had convinced a federal appeals judge to delay a rapid return of the ads to the city streets. Another hearing is set for this morning on the case.

Meanwhile, the mayor, has argued daily that the real problem is that New York magazine’s commercial is advertising, which he says does not have the same constitutional protection as news coverage.

“The decision is wrong,” Giuliani said of Monday’s court action. “It leaves Hustler magazine in the position of doing the same thing. . . . I think everybody would understand if it was Hustler magazine misusing the name or the likeness of the mayor or the governor either to endorse or promote their products.”

For New York magazine (and some of their lawyers), this debate is like a Christmas bonus.

The ad, which was launched as an $85,000 campaign by the magazine and might have been noticed by a few hundred thousand New Yorkers, is the envy of Madison Avenue. With the ad appearing on network and local TV and the front pages of New York’s daily newspapers, this commercial has won advertising’s version of the lottery.

The ad, New York magazine Editor in Chief Caroline Miller said, was supposed to be a joke, just like another ad in the same bus campaign that makes fun of Los Angeles.

The L.A. ad, now appearing on many New York buses, has the same background and magazine logo, but it says, “What people in L.A. read for a little culture and intellectual stimulation.”

“It’s a joke of the same kind as the Rudy one” Miller said. “It is a gentle tweaking that people in L.A. look to us to get these things, . . . that life is more stimulating here in addition to being more difficult.

“Several people have asked me lately whether the mayor of L.A. is going to sue,” she said, adding quickly, “Of course, they were joking.”