By FRANK LOMBARDI
Daily News Staff Writer
Mayor Giuliani said out-numbered cops were
"playing catchup" at yesterday's huge construction workers'
rally but denied the raucous protest that left 20 cops injured
ever got "out of control."
The mayor and Police Commissioner Howard
Safir said authorities were prepared for a crowd of 10,000 but
had to scramble after the protesters' ranks swelled to four times
"Although the Police Department was
playing catchup, they always kept it within some degree of bounds,"
The Building & Construction Trades Council
and Local 79 had told police last week to expect about 10,000
demonstrators, according to the mayor. Union officials said they
warned the city to expect up to 40,000.
The NYPD initially assigned about 550 officers
to the protest, which Giuliani said would have been enough to
handle up to 17,000 demonstrators. "I think we were operating
on the best information available," Safir said.
Giuliani, meanwhile, defended leaving the
city on an aborted campaign tour with state Attorney General Dennis
Vacco in the late morning as disturbances continued.
After endorsing Vacco at City Hall about
11 a.m., he accompanied his fellow Republican to a campaign event
in Garden City, L.I.
The two were then to fly to Albany for a
final event at 3 p.m. But the mayor abandoned the Albany lap of
the trip and started back to the city about 1:30 p.m., by van.
"I decided to come back when I heard
that there were police officers in the hospital," the mayor
Still, Giuliani defended leaving the city
to go to Long Island "because the whole situation was under
He and Safir said they had talked a dozen
times about the status of the demonstration, starting with a phone
conversation about 8 a.m. and continuing throughout the morning
and early afternoon.
But Giuliani's trip brought criticism from
former Mayor Ed Koch, who, in an interview on New York 1, likened
the move to then-Mayor David Dinkins "staying in Gracie Mansion
when there was a riot in Crown Heights."
Giuliani dismissed Koch as a "a bitter
The mayor's rhetoric on the demonstration
sharpened as the day went on. Talking with reporters shortly after
his City Hall endorsement of Vacco, Giuliani mildly rebuked the
construction workers, saying, "This was wrong. They shouldn't
have done it."
The mayor clashed with reporters who asked
if he had been more permissive with the construction workers than
when he cracked down on a threatened cabby motorcade protest in
May. "You can do what you want in falsely trying to force
comparisons," he said.
At a second news conference, about 3 p.m.,
the mayor sharply rebuked the construction workers and urged the
district attorney to prosecute them on "maximum" charges.
He also said he would sue the Building & Construction Trades Council for damages. The union endorsed Giuliani for reelection last year.