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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.
| By Gordon Mott | From 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.

September 11 was just the beginning.

Wednesday, September 12, arrived much too soon for most New Yorkers. A previous day glued to television sets, a short night and a fitful sleep had left everyone on edge. Each and every New Yorker, and every American, secretly wished that the horrible images were just nightmares and not reality. But against another pristine blue sky, the billowing clouds of smoke and dust filling the gap in the once-familiar skyline, gave the lie to that hope.

Mayor Giuliani had already found his footing, and his voice, managing to restore some of that hope in the early hours after the tragedy. As one pundit said, he managed to keep a "perfect pitch," in the words he chose and the things he chose to talk about in those first few days. In a news conference that day, he stared intently into the cameras and said, "We're going to come out of this stronger than we were before. Emotionally stronger. Politically stronger. Economically stronger." By then the tally of dead firefighters and police officers and Emergency Medical Technicians was a fact; 343 firefighters, 23 police officers and 2 EMTs were missing, either confirmed dead or presumed dead in the collapse. But Giuliani kept trying to reassure New Yorkers. "We must show we are not afraid. It shows our confidence."

By Thursday morning, the news was getting grimmer, and the dread was melting into despair. No one had been pulled out alive from the burning and smoldering rubble in nearly 24 hours. Amid the dark reports, people were rallying behind the mayor. "There's no question," Sgt. Michael Hanrahan was quoted as saying. "Giuliani is the man you want in charge of this situation." The mayor established a calm control over the rescue operation, and the fledgling efforts to get the city working again. "Do not overreact," he told New Yorkers. "People have to understand we are living with a great deal of faith here. Remain calm." He spoke with President Bush, and laid the groundwork for the president's visit the following day. During the day, he also revealed one of the horrific statistics that everyone had been waiting to hear: 4,733 people reported missing.

On Friday, Mayor Giuliani took President Bush on an aerial tour of Ground Zero, and reported later that the president had merely said, "Oh my." As they later walked into the site, the rescue workers stood on the mountains of debris, grimy from nonstop digging and removal of the heavy chunks and pieces of building debris and body fragments, and chanted: "U.S.A., U.S.A." But there were also cheers of "Rudy, Rudy, Rudy" as he guided the president through the hellish scene, wearing a Fire Department of New York windbreaker and baseball hat.

Saturday was a day for funerals in New York and the surrounding boroughs and suburban communities. While New Yorkers had found solace in their tears over those first four pain-filled days, the beginning of the rituals brought a measure of peace. Mayor Giuliani attended the funerals for Chief of Department Ganci and First Deputy Commissioner Feehan, the two firemen that Giuliani had parted with on West Street Tuesday as he searched for a command center. Rev. Mychal Judge, who died in the same group, was also laid to rest that day.

The mayor eulogized Ganci this way: "When the tower came down, he got his men out. He sent them north, and he went south, right into danger to get more of them out…You have to pay a big price for democracy. And now we're learning what that means. It means we have to sustain these losses; we have to have the strength to get through it."

During the day, the mayor also went to Ground Zero, and walked around alone, talking to the rescue workers and surveying the scene. He told Newsweek, "I'd taken so many people down there with cameras, I just wanted to walk by myself through there and see it and feel it and talk to people. While I was there, they found a firefighter and took him out. It was an unbelievable experience. The firefighters will not allow anyone else to extricate the bodies of their fallen brothers. They brought him down in between about 40 firefighters who stood there saluting and then a priest came and gave a blessing. They carried him off. If you watch that and you don't cry, then you have to question whether you're human."


Turning points are hard to pinpoint in times of crisis, but if one came, it took place amid the events of that first Sunday. Instead of just funerals and victim reports and updates on the tonnage removed from the site, Mayor Giuliani attended two events that held promises for the future: a promotion ceremony for fire department officials and a wedding.

At the promotion ceremony, the mayor was overwhelmed by the reality of the past week's event, and sitting on the dais, he folded his hands and rested his chin on them. He spoke for all New Yorkers. "I want you to know that the prayers of every single New Yorker, I believe every single American, is with you. Your willingness to go on forward undaunted in the most difficult of circumstances is an inspiration to all of us… Winston Churchill, the leader of war-torn England who saw his country through the Battle of Britain with bombings every day, once said, ëCourage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it's the quality that guarantees all others.' Without courage, nothing else can really happen. And there is no better example, none, no better example of courage than the Fire Department of the City of New York." He went on, saying that everyone in the world wants to live in a country where human life is valued the way New York firefighters value human life. "That's the future we want for our children. That's the future we want for the rest of the world. It's what America has always wanted. And, it's something that you embody in a way that can be an example to America."

Later, Giuliani attended the wedding of Diane Gorumba, whom he had met at the funeral of her brother, Michael, a firefigher who died on the job in August. Her father and grandfather also had died recently, and Diane's mother, Gail, wondered who would give her away. At that funeral, the mayor promised Diane's mother that he would walk her daughter down the aisle. Giuliani showed up in a tuxedo, and kissed her on the cheek and presented her to her new husband, 31-year-old police officer Michael Ferrito. "It felt wonderful to be part of this," the mayor said. "This is what life is all about. You have to go on and take advantage of the good things in life."

In a profoundly moving testament to the human spirit, by Monday morning, September 17, New York and New Yorkers started edging back toward normalcy. The New York Stock Exchange opened. The Mercantile Exchange opened. Mayor Giuliani told the traders at the latter that, "Somehow for some reason, God decided who was going to survive. You are all survivors, and I believe that's for a reason. Somehow, God wants us all to feel the obligation we have." His speech was greeted with chants of "Four More Years."

It was the seventh day, a week of hell on earth, but also a week when the spirit of New York and New Yorkers began to counter the evil that had been visited upon it. Mayor Giuliani uncannily, and repeatedly, found just the right mix of hard-nosed administrator, protector and sympathetic father confessor bearing the pain of his flock. Without fail, he presented an image of a man in control, while letting the world know his emotions were strong. "I've been able to mourn intermittently," he said a week later. "But no, I really haven't had time to mourn."

On Tuesday, Sept. 18, more than a week after the attack, he lifted the veil on another horrible fact: "We have to prepare people for the overwhelming reality that the chance of recovering anyone alive is very, very small." On Wednesday, he exhorted people to be more optimistic: "We're hurt, and we're going to hurt for the next day, for a month, maybe forever. I think we are going to hurt forever. But we have to be optimistic." Finally, on Thursday, he had to reveal another depressing statistic. The tally of the missing was raised from 5,422 to 6,333. A few days later it was revised to more than 6,400, and then later, mercifully, back down to 5,680 due to some double-counting of people.

The mayor's most compelling moment may have taken place Sunday, September 23, in Yankee Stadium, an interfaith memorial service for the city's firefighters, police officers and EMT workers. Giuliani was joined not only by friends and allies, and the leadership of the city's firefighters and police and rescue workers, but also by some of his political rivals. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Former mayors David Dinkins and Ed Koch. Gov. George Pataki. It was a public demonstration of something he had told a televised news conference. "There are no politics here. It's about being an American. Not a Democrat. Not a Republican. All those little ideologies. All those little fights we have. They don't mean anything. We're all together. We need to rely on each other. We need to help each other. We need to fight back. We need to prevail."

In the memorial service at the stadium, he built on that theme with a story of St. Paul's Chapel, which was located literally in the shadows of the World Trade Center towers. On an inside wall at the chapel is one of the earliest known renditions of the Great Seal of the United States of America. "It's the majestic eagle, holding in one talon an olive branch, and in the other, a cluster of arrows, a forewarning of our determination to defend our liberty," he said. "On a banner above the eagle, it is written E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one." He described how a dozen modern buildings near the chapel, which was built in 1766, had collapsed or were heavily damaged but the chapel didn't sustain a single broken window. The mayor said: "The presence of that chapel standing defiant and serene amid the ruins of war sends an eloquent message about the strength and resilience of the people of New York City and the people of America. We unite under the banner of E Pluribus Unum."

Facing the people of the city he loved and standing in front of some his staunchest allies and most bitter foes, the Yankee Stadium service can only be seen as unequivocal evidence of a man transformed. One of his best friends, and cigar-smoking buddies, Elliot Cukor, dismisses talk that somehow the days since September 11, and his bout with prostate cancer last year, have fundamentally changed the mayor. Instead, Cukor explains they have let him show his true, inner self. "From day one, I was aware of the compassion that Rudy had. These times are only bringing to the surface what has always been there. In times of trouble, people's real inner self comes out and that's when you find out what the person really is. He hasn't changed. It's always there."


Rudolph William Louis Giuliani was born on May 28, 1944 in Brooklyn, New York, to Helen and Harold Giuliani. The Giulianis' extended family included police officers, firefighters and some members who were convicted of criminal acts. Rudy's immediate family moved to Garden City, Long Island, in 1951, where he attended a local Catholic school, St. Anne's, and then he commuted back to Brooklyn to attend Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. His love of the New York Yankees began in those years, and today, he's a good friend of Yankees manager Joe Torre. He graduated in 1961, and attended Manhattan College, graduating from there in 1965 magna cum laude. He decided to go to New York University Law School, from which he received a magna cum laude degree in 1968. He clerked for Judge Lloyd MacMahon in the Southern District of New York. In 1970, he joined the office of the the U.S. Attorney, and then, he became chief of the narcotics unit at the U.S. Department of Justice. After working in a private law firm for several years, Giuliani returned to public service when President Ronald Reagan named him associate attorney general. In May 1981, at the age of 36, he was sworn in as the youngest associate attorney general in history.

His legal standing rose quickly at the Justice Department, as did his political connections in New York. By 1983, when an opening came for the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, New York Sen. Al D'Amato pushed his nomination for the job. On June 3, 1983, he was sworn in. Giuliani had arrived in the legal big leagues, and he wasn't about to squander the opportunity.

Giuliani's convictions read like a lawyer's dream come true. He successfully prosecuted and won 100-year sentences against the heads of the major Mafia crime families in New York, including "Fat Tony" Salerno, of the Genovese family, "Tony Ducks" Corallo, of the Luchese family, and Carmine "The Snake" Persico, of the Colombo organization; the Bonnano family boss, Rusty Rastelli, was indicted but actually sentenced for another crime and Paul Castellano, of the Gambino family, was assassinated before the sentencing hearing. Giuliani also helped break up the Pizza Connection, a $1 billion heroin drug smuggling ring. The investigation led to the arrests of more than a dozen people around the country. He prosecuted very-high profile corruption charges against top politicians in New York. He sent Stanley Friedman, a former deputy mayor and head of the Bronx Democratic Party, to prison for 12 years for acting as a middleman in a bribery scheme. And, he convicted Mario Biaggi, a U.S. congressman from the Bronx, on bribery charges.

Some of his notorious cases involved white collar crime on Wall Street. He spearheaded the effort against Ivan Boesky, one of the most well-known financiers on Wall Street in the mid-1980s. Boesky paid a $100 million fine and served federal prison time. He also started the investigations of other Wall Street financiers, including Michael Milken, of Drexel Burnham Lambert. Although Milken's guilty plea and the $650 million fine paid by the firm took place after Giuliani left office, he was credited with launching the probe that brought Milken to justice for insider trading. In a rare instance of enemies commiserating, Milken and Giuliani reached out to each other in the wake of the Mayor's prostate cancer diagnosis. Milken, a prostate cancer survivor, offered up the resources of his research foundation, CaPCURE, which is dedicated to finding a cure for the cancer. They have now become friends.

Throughout his years in the U.S. prosecutor's job, speculation swirled around Giuliani that he wanted an elected job, either senator or perhaps mayor of New York. In 1988, he publicly ruled out a run for the Senate, and within five months of his resignation as U.S. attorney in January 1989, he announced his candidacy for mayor. He ended up losing by three percentage points to David Dinkins in one of the most tightly contested elections in New York City history.

Giuliani wasn't done. He bided his time, watching as New York declined in the recession of the early 1990s. In 1993, he announced his candidacy for a second run at the mayor's office. His campaign was driven by a widespread feeling that the city was hurting and needed someone to restore its luster. But Giuliani won by a fairly narrow margin of 45,000 votes.

From the outset, Giuliani's mayoral reign generated opposing views. On one side, the city's black leadership deeply mistrusted the mayor, and felt as if he simply refused to reach out to them. The rest of the city saw his "quality of life" campaign, which targeted panhandlers and car window washers at stoplights, as returning a degree of civility to the city. He launched an aggressive, and frequently controversial, police campaign to get guns off the streets. It undoubtedly helped reduce crime, but warrantless frisks and searches of young males, often black or Hispanic, on city streets were greeted with outrage. By the end of his first term, New York had become a safer, more pleasant place to live and work.

He won a second term in 1997, easily defeating Ruth Messinger even though the police department had been sullied just weeks before the election by the brutal beating in a station house of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant. Another wave of protests occurred in 1999 when undercover officers gunned down an unarmed man, Amadou Diallo. Giuliani's unwavering defense of the police was viewed as insensitive. A second shooting of a black man in March 2000, Patrick Dorismond, provoked more protests, but again, Giuliani refused to back down from his defense of the police department. He also triggered more outrage when he tried to end public funding for an art exhibition at the Brooklyn Art Museum, objecting to what he called its profane images of the Virgin Mary. To him, it was a matter of principle and belief. In the end, the city was forced to retreat, but not until Giuliani had been portrayed as an advocate of censorship. Even against the backdrop of those controversies, many New Yorkers supported the mayor, believing his anticrime drives and quality-of-life projects had saved the city.

Faced with a two-term limit on his job, Giuliani decided in 2000 to run for senator, to replace Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. His opponent would be First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. His campaign never really got off the ground. Throughout the early months of 2000, he campaigned reluctantly. Then, in April, he announced he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. About a week later, New York's tabloid newspapers ran pictures of him out and about with a female companion, Judith Nathan. By early May, the mayor announced he was separating from his wife of 17 years, Donna Hanover Giuliani, a television newscaster and the mother of his two teenage children. Nine days later, on May 19, he dropped out of the Senate race, saying he needed to focus on his prostate cancer treatment.

In the 16 months between his withdrawal from the race and the World Trade Center attacks, the Giuliani Administration enjoyed relative tranquility. During his eight years in office he had presided over a turnaround in New York's fortune, including an unprecedented boom that began in the late 1990s. As he neared the end of his second term in 2001, he was basking in the glory of some of his accomplishments, such as a 57 percent decline in felony crimes since 1993 and a 68 percent decline in the murder rate in that period. While some critics dispute whether he should be given credit for the reduced crime rates, the reality seemed rather simple -- it happened on his watch.

But given the ambivalence many New Yorkers had felt toward Giuliani, the widespread praise for him in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and building sentiment that he should stay on for another term, came as a surprise. Liz, a resident of Battery Park City who ran for her life the day the adjacent World Trade Center towers fell, admitted recently that she hadn't voted for him. Although not wanting to give her last name, she said, "He has to stay. He's done such a great job. The city needs him now." A firefighter, who was injured in the collapse of one building adjacent to the towers, said, "I saw him at a funeral, and I walked up and just hugged him and said ëthank you' to him. We need some continuity right now. He should stay on."

As a champion of the term limit law, the issue is complicated for Giuliani. Speaking at press time, the mayor said he was looking for an agreement with the remaining mayoral candidates to create "an extended transition period." Whichever candidate is elected, the mayor argued, the winner will have more time to name his own team and study the situation in regard to the cleanup and reconstruction, while having the full expertise of the mayor and his team. Giuliani said he didn't want a third term, but he wanted to do what was right for the city.

All the controversies have been put aside for now. In truth, they may remain as mere footnotes to his tenure for all time.

History will remember Mayor Rudy Giuliani for his stalwart presence during the worst crisis faced by any American city in modern history. All Americans will remember his dust-stained face, his soot-covered suit and dirty boots, his soothing words, and his raw emotion as he tried to guide a city and its inhabitants through an overwhelming mixture of grief, anger and fear. History also will record his words, a shorthand philosophy about the lives we must lead, even in the wake of tragedy of unimaginable proportions.

"Life is risky," the mayor said as the last seven to 10 stories of the outer shell of Two World Trade Center were being lowered two weeks after the attack. "You can decide to live your life afraid of that happening, or you can decide to live your life the way Americans live their lives, which is unafraid."

Spoken like a true man of courage.


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