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During a discussion of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's strengths in the Republican presidential primaries, on the March 5 edition of NBC's Today, Chris Matthews listed among Giuliani's strengths that he "cleaned up the streets of New York so you could walk in the subways without smelling urine" and "made the city safe and clean and smell better."
Media Matters for America has noted previous examples (here and here) of Matthews, host of MSNBC's Hardball, touting the alleged progress Giuliani made in improving olfactory conditions in New York subways when he was mayor, saying that "[y]ou don't smell the urine in the subways when he was mayor" and asking, "How did he get the pee smell out of the subway?" Matthews also previously claimed that Giuliani "got the pee smell out of the phone booths" in New York.
But Matthews' apparent fascination with the "pee smell" in New York's transit system started even before speculation about Giuliani's presumptive run for president in 2008. Eight years ago, on the February 9, 1999, edition of Hardball, then on CNBC, Matthews said to Michael Tomasky, then of New York Magazine and now of The American Prospect, "The smell that you always got on the subway of urine seems to be gone for some reason," and added, "Even the phone booths smell better." Matthews and Tomasky were discussing whether Giuliani could beat then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in a U.S. Senate race in New York. In an interview with Giuliani on the March 3, 1999, edition of Hardball, Matthews said that "[t]he subway doesn't smell of urine anymore for some reason," and asked, "How did you stop that smell?"
However, in a July 30, 1999, interview, actress and comedian Janeane Garofalo strongly disagreed with Matthews. Matthews asked, "How come that pee smell is gone from the subway that used to be there for the last century?" and added, "He must have done something to clean -- it doesn't smell like that." Garofalo responded by noting that "the urine stench is in full effect in this city," and added that "in the heat wave, it has -- it seems to be exacerbated." When Matthews, a resident of the Washington, D.C., area, insisted that the urine smell was gone, Garofalo, who lives in New York, flatly stated: "You're living in a dream world. It's all over the place."
From the March 5 edition of NBC's Today:
MATTHEWS: I've been saying for years now, "Rudy is the toughest guy to beat," because Republicans are a John Wayne party. They're different than the Democrats. They want a strong, tough, sometimes a pushy, offensive leader. They want a guy who's so strong, you're afraid of him. Rudy makes that standard.
MEREDITH VIEIRA (co-host): But Chris --
MATTHEWS: Rudy is a very strong candidate because the Republicans want a leader to replace George W. Bush very soon. In fact, they really need a leader now.
VIEIRA: Most people, when they think of Rudy Giuliani, think of his performance on 9-11. What else does he bring to the table that the other candidates cannot match?
MATTHEWS: He cleaned up the streets of New York so you could walk in the subways without smelling urine. He cleaned it up so you could bring your kids around the streets at night. He made the city safe and clean and smell better. It was extraordinary what he did in that city.
People are going to remember Rudy was never a nice guy. He's had a messy social life and private life and marital life. All those things -- he's pro-choice.
But the Republican Party is -- Democrats have got to understand this about Republicans. Republicans like leaders. They don't like chaos. Democrats love a little bit of chaos. Republicans want very strong rule, and compared to the other guys running against him, Rudy is the guy with street cred because he was there on the front lines on 9-11, and he's been -- by the way, the crime rate's growing in the big cities now.
MATTHEWS: We have a country under danger of another attack from terrorism. It could come any time. It could come three months from now, three years from now, three decades from now. But people want a guy in the street corner. You know, when you're riding the subway in the middle of the night, you want a tough cop on that train. That's Rudy's strength. He has a lot of weaknesses, but that's his strength.
From the February 9, 1999, edition of CNBC's Hardball:
MATTHEWS: Well -- well, the plus of the Giuliani administration, like the plus of the Clinton administration, has been manifested. I mean, you could go to New York City today and go to -- and lucky enough to get -- go to see a Broadway play or just walk around the streets to a movie theater at night, and you can tell the city has a whole new tenor. There's a sense of safety. You can walk in the streets late at night with your teenage kids. You have a sense that the city's cleaner. The smell that you always got on the subway of urine seems to be gone for some reason.
TOMASKY: Yeah. All that's true.
MATTHEWS: Even the phone booths smell better.
From the March 3, 1999, edition of CNBC's Hardball:
MATTHEWS: Let's talk about that state of New York, 'cause a lot of people think of New York -- and I think it's a nice way to think of it now, thanks to you, and I'll give you your salutes in the next segment, because when you go to the theater district or you hang around the -- part of New York, downtown or midtown, or even uptown, when you go up there for a few days like I'm lucky to do once in a while with my family, it's great. The subway doesn't smell of urine anymore for some reason. I don't know how you sto -- how did you stop that smell?
GIULIANI: Enforcement. I mean, making sure that we -- we just remind people what they're supposed to do --
MATTHEWS: Where the bathroom is.
GIULIANI: -- and not do it and when they don't do it, we give them a summons. And when they continue to do it, unfortunately, they have to be arrested. And then we have big public education campaigns.
From the July 30, 1999, edition of CNBC's Hardball:
MATTHEWS: Now tell us now what Rudy Giuliani is really like. Take a couple minutes.
GAROFALO: Having never met him?
MATTHEWS: What's he like as your mayor? We all know our mayors.
GAROFALO: You know, I actually don't know. I guess I like the Disneyfication of Times Square. I appreciate the fact that when I walk through Times Square now at 3 in the morning that I feel a lot better than I did in 1985 when I walked through Times Square.
MATTHEWS: Well, probably the people that bump into you feel a lot better, too.
GAROFALO: I guess. Yeah, I -- I don't know what that means, but I'm going to say, "Yes, I agree with you."
MATTHEWS: That means you're a very pretty woman to be walking around at 3:00 in the morning in New York.
GAROFALO: Oh, thank you.
MATTHEWS: OK. That's what I was --
GAROFALO: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: --thinking. Am I allowed to say that? But anyway, let me ask you this.
GAROFALO: You just harassed me.
MATTHEWS: I -- I d --
GAROFALO: You just totally harassed me.
MATTHEWS: I know. I broke the rules here. Let me ask you this: How come that pee smell is gone from the subway that used to be there for the last century? He must have done something to clean -- it doesn't smell like that.
GAROFALO: You're saying it's gone?
MATTHEWS: It's gone. The urine smell is gone from the subways now.
GAROFALO: Well, apparently you are in Washington --
MATTHEWS: It used to be in every phone booth and every subway in New York -- and I don't know how it got there but it's -- well, I know how it got there.
GAROFALO: Excuse me. Mr. Matthews --
MATTHEWS: Yes, dear.
GAROFALO: The urine stench is in full effect in the -- in this city. I -- and in the heat wave, it has -- it seems to be exacerbated. I haven't --
MATTHEWS: Well, maybe at 3:00 in the morning --
GAROFALO: -- not passed an area corner without being insulted.
MATTHEWS: --but when I passed through the city streets, I passed around 11:30 at night at the latest, and it's not there yet. Maybe if you wait till 3:00, you pick it up, but I didn't wait that long --
GAROFALO: You're living in a dream world. It's all over the place.