Last week Rudolph Giuliani, former Mayor of the City of New York and hero of September 11 went to London to be knighted. Not bad for a boy from New York.
Actually, the knighthood was honorary. There was no tapping of sword on shoulder. Since Mayor Giuliani is not a British citizen, he will not be allowed to be Sir Rudy, but he joins quite select company as a Knight of the British Empire. And the knighthood and other honors, such as being named Time magazine's Person of the Year, serve to ratify his central place in many of our memories of September 11.
He had stood there amid the chaos of the World Trade Center destruction, giving directions and making decisions. He spoke to us in our living rooms from the rubble and devastation of ground zero, radiating competence and compassion--the best of New York and the best of America.
Before he left office at the turn of the New Year, Mayor Giuliani's approval rating in New York was hovering, levitating even, at around 85%. That and the power of our September 11 memories make it hard to remember that on September 10 his approval rating had been less that half that for the City of New York as a whole, and under ten percent in African-American communities.
On September 10, New Yorkers were a bit tired of Rudy. They were ready for him to go and ready for an end to his soap opera divorce. On September 10, New Yorkers were willing to give credit to the Mayor for a great first term, but were very glad that his second term was almost over and that there was no chance for a third.
Was Rudy Giuliani transformed by September 11? Or was it just his image that changed? It was probably a little bit of both. The rise and dip and rise of Rudy Giuliani in the public eye is a good lesson in leadership, if only we take the long view.
The long view begins in Brooklyn in 1944, where Rudy was born to Harold and Helen Giuliani. He was their only child, but his parents came from large families and so there were multiple uncles. There was Uncle Rudy, his father's brother who was a cop for 24 years. There was Uncle Edward, his mother's brother who was a Fire Captain, and her four other brothers who were police officers.
Then there was Uncle Leo. Uncle Leo was Helen's younger brother, and he owned a bar named Vincent's. He also ran gambling and loan-sharking operations out of the bar. He wasn't the only criminal in this mixed bag of families. Another was Rudy's dad.
Harold Giuliani had seemed to have trouble holding jobs. He'd worked as a plumber's helper and several other jobs for short stretches. One reason he had trouble getting work was his criminal record. Harold had been convicted of a robbery and sent off to Sing Sing. In 1948, with a young son, he needed something steady. So he went to work for Leo. These facts came back to haunt the Mayor over fifty years later, but we'll get to that part in a minute.
For right now, think about how the world he grew up in must have shaped the Mayor. There were bound to be tales, tall ones and true ones, of heroism from those cops and fire fighters. There was his father, trying to make sure the son wouldn't follow in his footsteps, always admonishing, "Never take anything. Never lie."
What do you get from that? Values, for sure, and a sense of the reality of heroism, and street smarts. One interviewer commented to Rudy that we were "living in a different world" after September 11. Rudy's reply is telling. "We're not in a different world. It's the same world as before, except now we understand it better."
Rudy's went to law school and clerked for federal judge Lloyd McMahon, who suggested that Giuliani join the US Attorney's Office. He did, and wound up being put in charge of the police corruption cases that grew out of the Knapp Commission in the early 1970s. There was a stretch in private practice and one in the US Justice Department. Then, in 1983, Giuliani was named US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Maybe it was his aunt, who told him over and over and over again not to be like Uncle Leo. Maybe Rudy looked at prosecuting the mob and saw it as a great opportunity to make a reputation. Whatever it was, Rudy surely didn't listen to the folks who said that you could never beat the mob, and he started making cases.
He proved that you could take out the mob bosses. He took out three or four of the most important ones. He prosecuted the bad guys in something that came to be called "The Pizza Connection" case, where the mob was using pizza parlors as a way to sell heroin.
Then he ran for Mayor. He lost the first time, but he came back to run again. And he became the first Republican Mayor of the City of New York since John Lindsay. When he took over from David Dinkens in 1994, the common wisdom was that the city was simply ungovernable.
Giuliani simply didn't believe that. He believed that the city wasn't ungovernable so much as ungoverned. He set out to prove he was right, that the Mayor could govern and could make a difference. He decided to start with making the city safer. The results are pretty astounding.
In David Dinkens' last year in office there were 2085 murders in New York. In Giuliani's first year that number dropped to 1561, then to 1177, and on down until 1998 when the number fell below 700 where it's stayed ever since. There are also about 75% fewer grand larcenies than in 1994.
There was an effort to reform welfare. Result: 50 percent fewer welfare claimants in 2001 compared with 1993. He simplified the budgeting process. He dealt strongly with unions and other interest groups. By the end of the first term things were looking pretty good. Then they started to unravel.
First off, the results in the areas that Giuliani promised to work on in the second term simply weren't as good. Education was supposed to be a major focus, but by the time the Mayor left office it was pretty much in the same state it had been eight years before.
Two well-publicized police incidents, one involving raw brutality and the other involving a fatal shooting fueled a common belief that safer streets were being bought at the cost of increased police brutality. Even though the statistics don't support that belief, it was trumpeted by media and opportunists alike and found it's most fertile soil in New York's non-White communities.
Rudy ran for the US Senate. He withdrew after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, the disease that had taken his father. And his father's criminal past was dragged out into the open.
In 2000, a Village Voice reporter, Wayne Barrett went public with details of Harold Giuliani's criminal past. They were part of an investigative biography of Giuliani and ran in the Voice. Barrett didn't just bring up the prison time. He also says that Harold was an enforcer for Uncle Leo's loan sharking and gambling operations. Giuliani claims he never knew details of his father's past.
I'm sure he knew something, but it's likely that wasn't much. It probably wasn't something the family talked about. Friends who knew Giuliani from his youth don't think he knew much, if anything, about his father's prison record or alleged enforcer activities. True or not the allegations added to an already stressful time.
And then there was the divorce. Oh my yes. It was a feast for the tabloids. There was Rudy's "good friend," Judi Nathan, who surfaced in the public prints and began showing up with the Mayor at official events.
Meanwhile, his wife, Donna Hanover and two children were living in the Mayor's official residence. Rudy announced that he was getting a divorce. Ms Hanover called a press conference to say it was the first she'd heard of it. Ultimately, Giuliani moved out of the official Mayor's residence, leaving that to his wife, and moved in with a friend. That's where he was living on September 11.
Was Rudy Giuliani transformed by September 11? The answer seems to be both yes and no. He, himself, says that facing his prostate cancer had a greater impact on him. Essentially, though, both the prostate cancer and the events of September 11 seem to have modified his personal style toward more openness.
An interesting bit of research supports that conclusion. James Pennebaker and Thomas Lay of the University of Texas have conducted a linguistic analysis of Giuliani's off-the-cuff remarks at press conferences throughout his mayoralty.
They find that his language changed during his tenure, most after his personal crisis and the Trade Center attack. But Pennebaker points out that "He's not two people." The underlying Rudy stayed pretty much the same.
On September 11, Rudy Giuliani didn't become a new person. Instead, he rose to a challenge. He brought certain skills and attitude to that challenge that he'd developed over a lifetime. We can learn several things from that.
We can learn that achievement is a habit. Rudy was an effective prosecutor before he was an effective mayor.
We can learn that we all are human and fallible. Rudy did wonders in his first term and following September 11. But if he had left office on September 10, it would have been with awful approval ratings and a reputation for have done a few great things and then exploded into farce.
We can learn that you spend your whole life preparing so you can rise to great challenges that cross your path. His uncles' stories of heroism and service were part of his preparation. So was his choice of heroes, like Fiorello LaGuardia, another Italian Republican Mayor of New York. So was his reading, like Profiles in Courage and the Roy Jenkins biography of Winston Churchill that he had been reading right before September 11.
And we can learn that fate takes a hand. Without prostate cancer, Rudy Giuliani might have been the junior Senator from New York on September 11, and all that preparation and those skills and that heart wouldn't have been there on our TV screens.
Most of all, what we can learn from Rudy Giuliani, before and after September 11, is that values matter and, more important that leaders matter. When he was a prosecutor and people told him you couldn't beat the mob, he didn't listen. When he became mayor and folks said that New York was ungovernable, he didn't listen. And when the voices around him and in his own head rose up on September 11, he didn't listen either.
Instead he did what leaders do. He accomplished the mission and he cared for the people.
This feature appeared on 18 February 2002