The Record 
(Bergen County, New Jersey)
October 5, 1998    DATELINE: NEW YORK  /  LENGTH: 862 words

BY: DEVON SPURGEON, Washington Post News Service



Maybe it was the foot-long rat that scampered across his porch at

Gracie Mansion. Maybe it was the upcoming November election.

	Whatever his motivation, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has declared war

on the 28 million long-tailed vermin who outnumber New Yorkers 4-to-1.

	The city recently established what it trumpets as the largest city

extermination campaign ever, led by the Interagency Rodent Extermination

Task Force, with an annual budget of $ 8 million. In Boston, which has

the only federally funded urban rodent control program, that would buy

16 years of rat killing. New York's program will hire up to 200 new

members for the city's rat patrol and pay for a public relations

campaign recruiting city residents into battle.

	Giuliani's political foes were skeptical of the timing and noted

that the rat situation in New York is actually getting better than it

has been in at least a decade.

	Before the creation of the Extermination Task Force, the city had

made dramatic gains in reducing the number of rat complaints. They are

at a 10-year low, down from 29,400 in 1994 to 18,045 through the first

eight months of this year. The number of reported rat bites has been cut

in half over the past 10 years and has dropped from 245 in 1994 to 184

in 1996.

	But many community leaders in poorer parts of New York say rats are

as bad as ever. They said a well-funded, anti-rat crusade campaign is

long overdue.

	In the past four years, Giuliani's administration has distinguished

itself by focusing on quality-of-life issues, everything from a record

reduction in the murder rate to ridding the city of the squeegee men who

used to wash car windows at stoplights. The assault on rats, however,

shifts the quality-of-life programs into poorer neighborhoods where the

mayor did not do well among voters in the last election.

	"No one should have to live in an apartment building where they are

regularly scared by the presence of rats," said Deputy Mayor Randy

Mastro, who is overseeing the program.

	The mayor's anti-rat campaign began after five months of crusading

by Harlem Initiative Together, a coalition of clergy and community

activists. The alliance includes the staff of Public School 165, a

middle and elementary school with almost 1,000 students.

	The rat problem in the neighborhood around the school has gotten so

bad that children regularly show up in class with rat bites, according

to Principal Ruth Swinney."In the morning we can see the rats running

outside the building as kids come to school,"she said."They are huge,

almost like small dogs."

	Vacant lots, particularly in the South Bronx, are ground zero for

the mayor's task force. Rats live there by the tens of thousands amid

great, stinking mounds of Pop-Tart wrappers and grease-stained fast food

containers. From these breeding areas, they infest the basements of

surrounding buildings, squeezing through half-inch cracks in foundations

or under doors.

	Elsa Cheffena of the New York City Rat Patrol says the creatures

thrive because New Yorkers provide them with a steady food source:

garbage. She canvasses the South Bronx basement by basement searching

for rats and trying to change the behavior of residents who unwittingly

allow the rodents to flourish.

	"The rats are everywhere,"she declared, turning on a flashlight

that hangs around her neck and sweeping light across a concrete floor in

a damp and smelly South Bronx basement. The floor was littered with rat

droppings, electrical cords were chewed and there was a four-inch hole

in the wall leading to the rats den.

	Defeating rats is no small task. It takes two seconds for them to

successfully mate and, with a gestation period of 21 to 23 days, female

rats can have between 38 and 285 offspring a year.

	Rats also are a reservoir of infections."The problem is that the

rats get so close to the human beings they can transmit disease, which

in densely populated areas can cause an epidemic,"said Alfonso Rui,

regional director for the World Health Organization."It's what happened

in the past with the bubonic plague that originated with rats and their


	The city's weapons of choice in killing rats are two types of poison

pellets. One results in instantaneous death upon consumption. The other

is a blood thinner that causes the rats to bleed to death over a few

days. City officials said both are"state-of-the-art"and pose no harm

to the surrounding community.

	Cheffena, like the rest of the city's rat inspectors, acknowledged

that poison alone cannot reduce the large rat populations that flourish

here unless New Yorkers work together to eliminate the conditions that

allow rats to flourish. She encourages residents to tightly bag their

garbage, fill in cracks on floors or ceilings and not leave food out. A

city pamphlet instructs New Yorkers to show that"we are smarter"than


	"It is the people that cause these problems, it is not the rat's

fault,"said Wanda Jackson, 42, a resident of a rat-infested city-owned

building in the South Bronx.