What America Needs To Know About Rudy Giuliani

Word is that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is now the front runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. This far out from the ac

Word is that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is now the front runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

This far out from the actual nomination the polls don’t mean much, and I am reasonably certain that Rudy’s candidacy will self-destruct long before the Republican National Convention. There are reasons the people who know him best — New Yorkers — prefer their polarizing Senator, Hillary Clinton, over Rudy Giuliani. There are also reasons why the thought of a President Giuliani scares the daylights out of me.

Here are a few things America really needs to know about Rudy Giuliani:

Had Rudy Giuliani been mayor of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, no one would be talking about what a great leader Giuliani is today.

I was in lower Manhattan on 9/11, and as I was working in Manhattan I spent most of my time there in the days and weeks after. So you can take my word on this: Rudy’s post-9/11 “leadership” amounted almost entirely of the mayor appearing on television. He did a fine job of appearing on television, and he managed to set the right tone and say the right things — abilities Hizzoner did not always draw upon in the past. I give him credit for his performance. But that performance did not constitute “leadership.” It was all public relations. It was all about Rudy.

Jimmy Breslin wrote,

He was a nobody as a mayor and in one day he became a hero. This sudden career, this door opening to a room of gold, all started for Rudolph Giuliani when his indestructible bunker in World Trade Center building blew up. He had personally selected it, high in the sky, and with tons of diesel fuel to give emergency power.

And Giuliani walks on. He walks from his bunker, up Barclay Street and went on television. Went on and announced his heroism and then came back every hour or so until he became a star, a great figure, a national hero, the mayor who saved New York.


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Most of this comes from these dazed Pekingese of the Press. … Giuliani was a hero with these news people. He did not pick up a piece of steel or help carry one of the injured off. [Jimmy Breslin, “He Molests the Dead,” New York Newsday, March 7, 2004]

The fact is that Giuliani did little to “lead” rescue or recovery efforts. While Rudy was prancing around on television, a hodge-podge of city agencies loosely — very loosely — coordinated by the Office of Emergency Management went to work deconstructing the remains of the World Trade Center with little input or direction from the Mayor.

Consider also that the World Trade Center was yards away from Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. Unlike Mayor Nagin of New Orleans, Mayor Giuliani did not have to beg for help getting the debris cleared and electricity hooked up so that the financial district was up and running again as quickly as possible. New York’s business leadership saw to that.

This pro-Giuliani TCS article comparing New York and New Orleans is nothing short of absurd. Conditions in New York after 9/11 and New Orleans after Katrina cannot be compared, because these are entirely different cities and entirely different disasters. There were not, alas, thousands of New Yorkers waiting to be rescued after 9/11, for example. As terrible as it was, the tragedy of 9/11 did not exhaust New York’s resources to deal with it. New York is a rich city, and most of it was untouched.

On that day the survivors of the tragedy simply walked away from it; I remember seeing them, covered in white dust and walking silently as ghosts up 8th Avenue. They had only a few blocks to walk before the air was clear and the infrastructure (and civilization) was intact, and all the food and medical assistance and other help they could possibly want was theirs for the asking.

For those who couldn’t walk, New York’s several state-of-the-art hospitals took it upon themselves to besiege lower Manhattan with ambulances and paramedics and world-class triage units to care for the injured. These medical professionals lingered most of the day with little to do. Those survivors who did need first aid got it very promptly.

In New York, residents who were unable to return to their apartments for the most part had the means to find other shelter on their own without waiting for FEMA to assign them a trailer. They did not have to resort to looting abandoned grocery stores for food or wait for days in unsanitary shelters for buses to take them elsewhere.

To be fair, the mayor did threaten to arrest anyone caught south of 14th Street without permission. That threat, and the solid wall of armed law enforcement officers and New York National Guard who populated 14th Street intersections for several days, no doubt discouraged looting. Manhattan’s geography — the damage was on the tip of an island — made securing the area easier. More important, large numbers of increasingly desperate people were not trapped inside the secured area with no help and no way out.

So exactly what did Mayor Giuliani do to exhibit “leadership”? The fact is that post-Katrina New Orleans was a much bigger mess than post-9/11 New York, and Rudy Giuliani did nothing after 9/11 that would indicate his “leadership” would have made much difference in New Orleans. As Michael Atkinson wrote in the Village Voice last year, “After 9-11, a sick, scandalized lame-duck mayor became a national hero for simply keeping his composure on TV.”

Which takes us to the next item:

Rudy Giuliani’s shoddy “leadership” made the 9/11 tragedy worse.

You might recall that several New York firefighters died when the towers collapsed. Giuliani testified to the 9/11 Commission that firefighters had been given an evacuation order, but they chose to stay because they were rescuing civilians. This testimony was not exactly, um, true.

For all the power of his voice and stature, however, Mr. Giuliani’s account must compete with a substantial and diverse body of evidence that flatly contradicts much of what he and his aides say happened that day, particularly on matters that could be seen as reflecting on the performance of his administration.

On perhaps the most painful of these, the loss of at least 121 firefighters in the north tower, Mr. Giuliani suggested that they stayed inside the trade center because they were busy rescuing civilians — never mentioning that they could not hear warnings from police helicopters, that many of them never learned the south tower had collapsed or that they were having serious problems staying in touch with their own commanders.

Witnesses who escaped from the tower tell a vastly different story than Mr. Giuliani. They say that in the north tower’s final 15 minutes, only a handful of civilian office workers were still in the bottom 44 floors of the building, perhaps no more than two or three dozen. Many of the firefighters who remained in the towers were between the 19th and 37th floors, having made slow progress up the stairs in their heavy gear.

It is clear, witnesses said, that even after the south tower collapsed, many, if not most, of the firefighters had no idea that they were in dire peril, or that it was time for them to leave. In contrast, police officers received strong guidance from their commanders to get out of the building, the commission reported, thanks in large part to the information sent to the ground by police helicopters.

The police could not talk to the firefighters, however, because the two NY departments used different types of radios set on different frequencies. Giuliani offered the 9/11 commission a lame excuse about the limits of technology, which is absurd on its face. In fact, there had been many complaints about the radios before 9/11, and the Mayor had done nothing.

Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins wrote in The Village Voice (”Rudy’s Grand Illusion,” August 29, 1006):

Everyone agrees that a critical problem that day was that the police and fire departments could not communicate; that’s one of the reasons the lack of inter- operable radios became such a focus of fury. If the top brass of the two departments were at each other’s sides, they could have told each other whatever they learned from their separate radio systems. Many of the command and control issues that might have saved lives could clearly have been better dealt with had Giuliani stopped, taken a deep breath, and pushed Kerik and Ganci to fully and effectively join forces. Insisting that Kerik, McCarthy, Esposito, or Dunne stay at the incident post would have established a joint operation.

Wayne Barrett (author of Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 and Kevin Keating (director of the documentary “Giuliani Time” were interviewed by Amy Goodman recently; see the transcript here. Wayne Barrett said,

The firefighters were using the same radios that they used at the ’93 bombing, even though we found a report that was written in 1990 that said that they were already obsolete and that they were a danger to the life of firefighters. And the firefighters are still carrying those same radios eight years after the 1993 bombing.

Kevin Keating made another point:

Here, our own local channel in New York, New York 1, had the head of the police union, the head of the firefighters union. Both of them were condemning Giuliani. They don’t have to negotiate any more contracts with him. This is not union leaders blustering about a contract. They had to be embodying and representing the vast majority of their membership. They pointed to our book and said our book told the truth about how Giuliani responded. And they denounced him, not just for the lead-up to 9/11, but for what you raise, which is, we have two chapters in the book that point out Giuliani’s terrible responsibility for — look, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 you can understand the chaos. You can understand why firefighters and police officers are out there without respirators. They’re still trying to do rescues. But once it was clear that nobody could be rescued, why there were thousands of construction workers, as well as these first responders, working there without respirators and with no plan to get them respirators, and why they were exposed to these toxins and why we now have thousands of them who have respiratory and even cancer signs right now, severe respiratory difficulties, why that was allowed —

You know, Giuliani, we quote the head of — his own commissioner from the Department of Design and Construction, who ran the ground zero cleanup. He said he dealt with Giuliani every day, that Giuliani only asked him one question: how much debris did you remove yesterday? Are we on schedule? Are we ahead of schedule? All he cared about, even though the fires were still burning and spewing toxins in the air, all he cared about was the public relations. I mean, obviously, it’s five years later. Nothing’s been built there. What was the rush? The public relations question of making it look like they were efficiently cleaning up the site. And the consequences have been dire.

In fact, many of the 9/11 families were so outraged at the gentle treatment Giuliani received at the hands of the 9/11 Commission that hundreds of them refused to go to the final hearings as scheduled. Today, some are threatening to campaign hard against Giuliani’s presidential bid.

Before 9/11: The Real Rudy?

Bob Herbert should be persuaded to publish a collection of his many New York Times columns about Rudy Giuliani. There’s a wealth of juicy bits in them that people really ought to know before they consider making him President.

For example, if you want to know what America would look like under President Giuliani, this Bob Herbert column from March 2000 provides a clue:

The police intercepted the two teenaged boys who were running up Broadway, near 138th Street, and opened fire. This was on the night of Feb. 13, 1997. Robert Reynoso, 18, collapsed to the ground with a bullet in his chest. Juval Green, 17, fell with a leg wound.

The police would later say they thought the boys had a gun. There was no gun. And the boys, who survived the shooting, had not been involved in a crime. Nevertheless, the police arrested them. The charge — incredibly — was criminal possession of a firearm.

This is not a joke.

The Police Department tried to keep the shooting under wraps but I got a tip and wrote about it. When I visited Mr. Reynoso at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, he was handcuffed to his bed. Breathing and swallowing were so difficult for him, and he was in so much pain, that he would at times whisper to relatives, ‘’I just want to die.'’

This shooting typified the over-the-top, overly aggressive behavior that has become the hallmark of policing under Rudolph Giuliani. The cops were responding to a report of shots fired at Broadway and 135th Street, three blocks away. Not only were Mr. Reynoso and Mr. Green shot, but four other innocent people were arrested.

The police were shooting and rounding up people without the slightest clue as to what was happening. Afterward, the department tried to conceal the extent of the madness. Top officials would not even confirm the four additional arrests until I let them know I had obtained a copy of a confidential memo from a police captain, Robert T. Varieur, to the chief of the department, Louis Anemone.

The memo said: ‘’During the confrontation in front of 3395 Broadway, four (4) individuals who were initially thought to be involved in the incident at West 135th Street were taken into custody. Upon investigation it was determined that there was no evidence to link them to that incident and these arrests were subsequently voided. All four (4) individuals were visiting from Baltimore, Maryland.'’

Rudy’s just the guy you want at the head of the nation’s law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies, huh? Just wait; it gets better. Here’s another Bob Herbert column, from February 25, 1999:

It may be that Rudolph Giuliani never has a reflective moment. He just likes to push people around. He’s pretty indiscriminate about it. One day it’s an indisputably worthy target, like violent criminals, the next day it’s jaywalkers. One moment it’s the organized thugs at the Fulton Fish Market, the next it’s cab drivers and food vendors.

Mark Green, Carl McCall, New York magazine — they’ve all been targets. Mr. Giuliani shut down an entire neighborhood in Harlem and buzzed its residents with police helicopters because he didn’t like Khallid Muhammad. Solid citizens trying to exercise their right to protest peacefully have been fought at every conceivable turn. Many gave up, their protests succumbing to fear or exhaustion.

Civil rights? Civil liberties? Forget about it. When the Mayor gets it in his head to give somebody a hard time — frequently through his enforcers in the Police Department — the niceties of the First Amendment and other constitutional protections get very short shrift.

The latest targets are people suspected of driving drunk. The cops have been given the power to seize their vehicles on the spot. Why not? Why wait for a more sober mind — say, a judge — to assess the merits of the case? Why even bother with an annoyance like due process? Hizzoner — who would like to be known as His Majesty — makes the rules. And he says even if the drivers are acquitted they may not get their cars back.

Listen to him: ‘’Let’s say somebody is acquitted, and it’s one of those acquittals in which the person was guilty but there is just not quite enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. That might be a situation in which the car would still be forfeited.'’

Bring on the royal robes and the crown. And get rid of those pesky legislators and judges.

Rudy Giuliani is a man with many facades. The Rudy who spoke to TV cameras after 9/11 wasn’t a complete stranger, but over the years New Yorkers had seen a whole lot less of that Rudy than of the Rudy who usually hosted his weekly call-in radio show, “Live from City Hall.” Amy Goodnough described the mayor’s on-air persona for the New York Times (August 1, 1999):

When Tony from the Bronx called to question the Mayor’s handling of the Amadou Diallo shooting, Mr. Giuliani told him, ‘’Either you don’t read the newspapers carefully enough or you’re so prejudiced and biased that you block out the truth.'’ When Bill in Manhattan asked why it was illegal to hang a flag from city property, Mr. Giuliani shot back, ‘’Isn’t there something more important that you want to ask me?'’

And when David in Oceanside called last month to complain about the ban on pet ferrets, the Mayor of New York City leaned into the microphone on his desk and intoned, ‘’There is something deranged about you.'’

A three-minute diatribe against the ferret advocate ensued, with Mr. Giuliani saying things like, ‘’You should go consult a psychologist or a psychiatrist with this excessive concern — how you are devoting your life to weasels.'’

Not exactly the transcendent figure the nation thought it saw after 9/11.

Two of his most startling tirades recently came in response to calls from David Guthartz, the ferret advocate — whom Mr. Giuliani said has made repeated phone calls to his aides — and Margarita Rosario, whose son Anthony, an 18-year-old robbery suspect, was shot dead by two police detectives in 1995. Mrs. Rosario called last month, identifying herself only as Margarita from the Bronx, and said that she wanted to discuss Con Edison. But instead she started protesting the shooting, and Mr. Giuliani barely let her speak.

‘’Maybe you should ask yourself some questions about the way he was brought up and the things that happened to him,'’ the Mayor told Mrs. Rosario, whose nephew, also a suspect, died in the shooting. ‘’Trying to displace the responsibility for the criminal acts of your son onto these police officers is really unfair.'’

Yep, that’s our Rudy.

If you want a a textbook case of how a public official should not handle a crisis, study Giuliani after the Amidou Diallo shooting. Diallo, a black immigrant from Guinea, was cornered in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building by four New York City plain clothes cops. The cops fired 41 shots at Diallo, killing him. Diallo was unarmed and not the suspect in any crime; he was just trying to go home.

After the shooting, America’s Mayor failed to soothe the city’s frayed nerves. In fact, his every public utterance made public anger grow. At first he asked the public not to jump to conclusions about what happened, which was reasonable, but over the next several days the man who sounded just the right notes after 9/11 was out of tune with the city. The Mayor seemed more defensive than conciliatory. He recited statistics comparing fatal police shootings in New York with those in other cities, as if to claim the NYPD didn’t shoot as many people as other cops do, so what’s the problem?

Most inexcusable after such a racially charged incident, for weeks Giuliani failed to reach out to the city’s African Americans. Dan Barry wrote for the New York Times (February 11, 1999):

That was the clear message at a news conference convened yesterday by C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan Borough President, and attended by, among others, former Mayor Edward I. Koch, who had troubles of his own with many black political and civic leaders. But rather than score the Mayor, most of the speakers pleaded with him to open the lines of communication.

Being Mayor ‘’requires a willingness to hear,'’ Mr. Koch said.

‘’So we’re saying to the Mayor: ‘Listen.’ ‘’

Ms. Fields agreed. ‘’I certainly am not blaming Mayor Giuliani or Commissioner Safir for the tragedy that took place,'’ she said, referring to Police Commissioner Howard Safir. Nevertheless, she said that the city ‘’must change the tone and move in a different direction.'’

Mr. Giuliani responded last night by impeaching the event’s credibility, noting that Mr. Koch is a persistent critic and saying that Ms. Fields failed to acknowledge the Police Department’s accomplishments, including reduced crime in black neighborhoods.

Six weeks later, the Mayor finally made a gesture toward his critics. Dan Barry wrote March 28, 1999:

Time and again, the Giuliani administration has demonstrated the ability to make the routine seem unusual and the bizarre seem mundane. How else could a meeting between the Mayor and the city’s highest-elected black official take on the significance of a Botha-Mandela sitdown? How else could a mayor have refused to meet that leader for more than a year?

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s session last week with C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan Borough President, was viewed as so extraordinary that the City Council Speaker, Peter F. Vallone, who arranged the meeting, somehow emerged as the great healer of City Hall. Then came word that the Mayor had agreed to meet with State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, another black leader he had rebuffed for years, and would soon be inviting other people of color to Gracie Mansion for face-to-face chats.

Nearly seven weeks after the Amadou Diallo shooting began roiling race relations in the city, the administration decided that the time had come to, as one aide put it, ‘’build bridges'’ and let the ‘’healing process'’ continue. And so Mr. Giuliani was poised to be congratulated for meeting elected city and state officials — activities that used to be normal conduct for any mayor, an expected duty of the office.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from these examples, but I assure you that they are not atypical examples.

Here’s another example, provided by Jimmy Breslin in New York Newsday:

As the mayor, he had a detective driving one of his girl friends out of the Gracie Mansion driveway while another detective was arriving with another girl friend and was waved off to prevent a domestic riot.

All the while upstairs there were his wife. and children.

Giuliani then showed appropriate behavior by walking in a parade on Fifth Avenue with his girl friend and all the while his children could sit and watch him on television.

If Giuliani is the nominee, I swear to you I will hunt down every rightie who wanted Bill Clinton impeached because of Monica and shove this column in his/her/its face.

I can’t diagnose Rudy Giuliani, but there’s no question he is seriously miswired. He is autocratic, intolerant of criticism, and as mayor used the NYPD as his private praetorian guard. In fact, he combines many of the worst qualities of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. And he’s a lot smarter than Bush, which makes him more dangerous.

Just thought you ought to know.

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