Published December 27, 2005
NEW YORK – Four days after the city's transit strike ended, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was still coming under fire for his use of the word "thuggishly" to describe the actions of the leaders of a union that is mostly minority.
"Michael Bloomberg, don't be nasty and mean," attorney Norman Siegel said Monday, standing on the steps of City Hall. "Be positive. Together, we can improve race relations in New York."
The civil rights attorney noted that more than 70 percent of the Transport Workers Union's 33,000 members are "of color." And while he didn't believe Bloomberg's use of the word was in itself racist, Siegel said, "The perception out there is that it is racist. And the reaction has enormous racial overtones."
Bloomberg used the word Dec. 20 during a briefing on the first day of the three-day strike that forced millions of riders to spend extra hours commuting. The mayor complained that union leaders had "thuggishly turned their backs on New York City and disgraced the noble concept of public service."
Some criticized him for using the word, saying it was racist in the context of a mostly minority union. A Bloomberg spokesman said it was wrong to bring race into the situation.
Siegel challenged the mayor to use the dispute over the one word as a "springboard" to focus attention on racial issues in the city — especially the fact that the mayor is surrounded by top advisers who are mostly white, and that the top managers of the Metropolitan Transit Authority that runs subways and buses also are mostly white.
Siegel was joined by activist Eric Adams, leader of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care.
"Those who operate our transportation system are not thugs," Adams said. "They're men and women who are the heart of our transportation system."
Last week, when addressing the controversy, union leader Roger Toussaint did not touch on the issue of race.
But he chastised the mayor for "some offensive and insulting language such as referring to our union members and our leadership as thugs, selfish, and essentially characterizing us as being overpaid and greedy."
Bloomberg said he stood by his characterization of the union leadership's actions. A spokesman for Bloomberg, Paul Elliot, said Monday: "It is astonishing that some insist on continuing to divisively inject the subject of race four days after the strike has ended. One has to wonder what their motivations are."