Islam Karimov is the autocratic leader of Uzbekistan and a man routinely described as one of the worst dictators on earth by the likes of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. (The group Common Dreams once suggested he's so bad that he made Saddam "look good.") Since taking over the oil and gas-rich country in 1989, he's plundered billions, held fake elections to keep himself in power, censored the media, and tortured those who dare to challenge him, often using some of the most barbarian methods to do so, like submerging them in boiling water. And now he's coming to visit New York! Not really. But we wondered: What would happen if one of the most evil tyrants did decide to come to New York. Would he receive a warm welcome from the local political establishment? We wanted to know. So we did what you'd probably do in such a situation: We printed up some official-looking letterhead and sent out letters to various City Council members and local congressmen to see if they'd take the meeting. And guess what? Lots of influential politicos have no objection to sitting down with one of the worst men on earth. Details on the people we duped—with audio of their calls to Karimov's "office"—after the jump.
To make the letters realistic, we sent them under the name of Alishar Vohidov, Uzbekistan's consul general to the United Nations. And to make a meeting with President Karimov extra enticing, we also mentioned that Karimov was coming along with a war chest of $1 billion to invest in the city's economy. Hey, it's an election year: Who cares if the money is coming from an evil dictator? (If you're interested, you can see one of the letters we sent here.) All we asked was that they call the Ambassador's trusty attaché, Furkat, if they had an interest in setting up a meeting.
And call they did. We sent out about 15 letters in total. Seven of the 15 followed up to schedule a meeting. Who responded exactly? A rep from City Councilman John Liu's office was so excited that she left both her office and cell phone numbers and promised that our "delegation" would be treated to a tour of City Hall. A rep from Alan Gerson's office was equally enthusiastic, calling three times in three days to leave increasingly insistent messages about locking in a date. We heard from State Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver's office in Albany, who said Silver would be happy to meet with us, but then left another message a few days later to explain that, unfortunately, Silver would be out of town the days we proposed. Councilmember Daniel Garodnick gave us a yes. So did State Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Councilmember David Yassky. Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's deputy chief-of-staff replied by email and said Gotbaum would be "honored" to meet with the President. (You can listen to some audio from the calls above.)