Rudy's Air Time a Hot Issue in New York ; Tourism Ads for N.Y.C. Feature the Mayor. but Are They Selling The

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New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is going on the air to urge Americans to come to New York and "paint the town red!"

The ad seems simple enough. It's part of the city's annual winter tourism promotion. But it has infuriated many Democrats, civic groups, and editorial boards who call it an abuse of taxpayer dollars for a self-serving political gimmick.

The mayor brushes off criticism of the $340,000 ad campaign, noting he's been doing such promos for four years. But this is the first time the upbeat ads touting New York's renaissance are running upstate - a key battleground for the coming Senate duel between the Republican mayor and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Giuliani critics say the ads represent more than just political opportunism. They charge that the mayor, who built his reputation as a hard-nosed criminal prosecutor, routinely overlooks improprieties or the appearances of improprieties within his own administration - from handing out parking permits to campaign contributors to more serious allegations that City Hall was behind the ouster of a by- the-book city building inspector who clashed with pro-Giuliani real- estate developers.

Mr. Giuliani, who bristles at suggestions that he doesn't hold his own administration to the same high standards he expects of others, defends his tenure as "one of the most honest periods" in the city's history.

In a city where hardball politics is as much a passion as Yankees baseball, impartial observers are hard to come by. But there are those who see some truth in Giuliani's assertion.

"This has been one of the most disciplined administrations we've seen in years," says Joseph Mercurio, a New York-based political consultant who works for both Democrats and Republicans. "He's been very diligent in stamping out any abuses, whether it's with building inspectors or police."

However dismissive of Democratic concerns the mayor may be, each of the issues critics have raised is nonetheless giving Mrs. Clinton fodder for her expected campaign and is heightening concerns among public-interest groups.

For instance, upon learning that Giuliani was using his New York City promotions upstate, the Clinton campaign was quick to use his own words against him.

In 1993, he condemned then-Mayor David Dinkins for engaging in the same practice. Since then, the city has passed a law forbidding the use of taxpayer-funded ads during a campaign year. …