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Rudy Giuliani: America's Mayor

In the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center, Mayor Rudy Giuliani showed New Yorkers and the world what great leadership is about.
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Rudy Giuliani, Nov/Dec 01

September 11 dawned a perfect day. Mayor Rudy Giuliani was finishing a private breakfast meeting at the Peninsula Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Outside, the clear blue skies and mild seasonal temperature promised a big turnout for the mayoral primary election, the first concrete step in ending the mayor's two terms in office. A phone rang, and an aide notified him that a two-engine plane had struck One World Trade Center. He dashed out of the hotel, and jumped into a tan van for the four-mile drive to the World Trade Center.

As the vehicle headed south past the twin spires of St. Patrick's Cathedral and the concrete facade of Rockefeller Center toward the Empire State Building on 34th Street, a phone rang again. It was Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik confirming that the North Tower was on fire. Inside the van, the mayor and his aides speculated about how big a plane it was, and whether or not it could have been an accident.

The mayor's caravan raced toward the scene. As it passed St. Vincent's Hospital just below 14th street on Seventh Avenue, Giuliani saw the nurses and doctors lining up stretchers out on the sidewalk, and he suspected the disaster was already unlike any other in the city's history. Then, for the first time, the World Trade Center tower came into view, smoke billowing from it. As he watched, Two World Trade Center, the South Tower, exploded from the impact of a second jetliner. "I realized at that point it was a terrorist attack," he said.

But he didn't turn back, ignoring any surge of fear to plunge headlong into the disaster zone. He found Commissioner Kerik already manning a command post at West Broadway just south of Barclay Street, where both towers were visible. They walked quickly to West Street, which fronted the Twin Towers, and found top Fire Department officers -- Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, First Deputy Fire Commissioner Bill Feehan, Chief of Department Peter Ganci and Deputy Chief Ray Downey -- and a chaplain, Rev. Mychal Judge. It was there, the mayor remembered in a Newsweek interview, where he saw a sight that he will never forget -- a man jumping from the 100th or 102nd floor: "I could see a man just dive out of the window, like he was diving into a pool. He came down the full hundred [stories] and then his fall was broken by the plaza…that was the first time I realized that this was beyond anything that we had ever faced before."

The falling debris and bodies forced the mayor to seek a more secure command center to begin coordinating the rescue efforts. Giuliani and Kerik left the fire department officials and the priest below the doomed buildings; it was the last time they would see them alive, except for Von Essen, who the Mayor summoned by radio to join him. Giuliani headed to a police command center at 75 Barclay Street, a building just two blocks from the burning towers. The mayor was on the phone with the White House. He wanted air cover for his city, wondering aloud if the third or fourth or fifth flying bomb was on its way, when he learned that a plane had struck the Pentagon. He was waiting to speak with Vice President Cheney when an earthquake-like rumble shook the building -- the South Tower was collapsing with an avalanche of debris. A detective ran in shouting, "Hit the deck." His words barely got out his mouth before the windows of the building began popping out and smoke and dust burst in through the door. The mayor's life was suddenly in grave danger. "I didn't realize until later just how dangerous it was," said the mayor. "And, virtually the entire leadership of New York City was in that room."

Giuliani and the officials, including Kerik, Von Essen and three of the city's four deputy mayors, couldn't leave by the front door where the streets were darkened by the billowing clouds of ash and dust. They ran into the basement, the mayor donning a gas mask, while being led through the maze of tunnels; both exits they tried were locked. They returned to the ground floor, where a janitor led them toward an underground exit into an adjoining building. They followed him, and on the second try they found an open door and scrambled to safety, emerging on Church Street where Giulani described the scene as if "a nuclear attack had occurred." He walked north, a walk that turned into a mad dash when the second tower collapsed. Finally, he found a fire station nearly 20 blocks from Ground Zero, where he spent the rest of the morning.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani's date with destiny had begun.

History's ledgers are filled with the names of men who in moments of crisis rise above themselves to achieve greatness. Men like Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy are some of those great leaders. It is among those names that Rudolph Giuliani will take his place.

At a time when the world's greatest city reeled in shock and horror from a devastating terrorist attack, Mayor Giuliani stepped into the searing void of grief and took upon himself the weight of millions of New Yorkers' pain. He did it without regard for his own safety, and then, without regard for his own needs, sought out all who suffered in all parts of the city for 20 hours a day or more. He visited Ground Zero two to three times a day, picking his way through the rubble of both World Trade Center towers and half a dozen other collapsed buildings. He trekked to hospitals and relief centers. He consoled widows, widowers and survivors, and anyone suffering from anxiety and fear. He spent every day like a true New Yorker, jumping out of his official van to grab a slice of pizza for lunch or dinner, or a cup of coffee for breakfast, all while keeping up a whirlwind pace, all day, every day.

Giuliani stood steadfast, unequivocally in command, showing a daily mastery of the details of rescue and recovery, while keeping a worried citizenry informed about the pace of the work, and the rising toll of victims. In the days that followed, he became a ubiquitous presence at funerals, wakes and memorial services, not only in the five boroughs but in communities up and down the Hudson River and across Long Island. Some days, he attended as many as eight or nine services, trying ultimately in vain to do what he had always done, attend every funeral for a fallen New York City firefighter or policeman. He even appeared on "Saturday Night Live," the New York-based comedy television program, to issue a declaration that the city was back in operation. He also spoke to the U.N. General Assembly's meeting on terrorism, calling the attack a "direct assault on the founding principles of the United Nations itself." A New Yorker by birth and blood, he became the voice and the soul for all New Yorkers, and for all Americans, and for all those citizens of the world who love the city as he does.

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