New Yorkers have something we want you to know. By New Yorkers, I mean myself, my friends and family, my physical therapist, a Pakistani cab driver, the elderly lady behind me in the supermarket line, the guy at the corner deli, my recent Amtrak seatmate, and the fashionably clad woman who sold me tinted moisturizer at Sephora. Also, the Ground Zero rescue workers I pass the time with at Bellevue Hospital, while we wait to be screened for WTC-related ailments.
We all have two things in common: we were in New York on 9/11, and we are more inclined to diagnose Rudy Guiliani than to suport him.
In the weeks after 9/11, city residents breathed the dust, smelled the smells, and heard the military helicopters overhead. But we also watched television and saw what everyone in the rest of the country saw: New York's mayor excelling in the public arena. He attended as many funerals as could be squeezed into a day and he gave press conferences that helped assuage the collective grief. I remember an occasion when reporters were pressing him hard to estimate the final number of casualties. The mayor declined to speculate, instead saying simply, “However many people it turns out to be, it will be more than any of us can bear.”
Moments like this caused many in the first weeks after the attack to compare Giuliani to Winston Churchill. Oprah called him “America's Mayor,” the equivalent of knighting him. (Later, that honor also came his way.)
Rudy has since milked his public image as an anti-terrorism leader for personal and political gain -- raking in upwards of $100,000 per speech, and now, preposterously, running for president -- and leading the pack for the Republican nomination.
Here in New York, this makes people’s eyes roll. Jimmy Breslin, the dean of New York columnists, has described the former mayor as “seriously miswired,” and also, memorably, “a small man in search of a balcony.” We New Yorkers know that the heroic, tough-on-terrorism Rudy is a fiction, even though it's one that seems to play well out of town. A few particulars:
Fiction: Giuliani is an expert in emergency preparedness.
Fact: The mayor bears some of the blame for the conflagration that took place at Ground Zero. After the 1993 bomb attack on the Twin Towers, he ignored expert advice and located the city's elaborate new emergency operations center in 7 World Trade Center. Thousands of gallons of diesel fuel the city stockpiled there contributed to a fire on 9/11 that consumed the building and rendered the emergency operations center useless.
Fiction: Guiliani championed the 9/11 rescue workers, who consequently revere him.
Fact: Rudy has few fans among NYC firefighters. Last week the head of The International Association of Fire Fighters declared Rudy “unfit to lead.” Union president Steve Cassidy told the New York Post* that his track record as a leader on terrorism “stinks.” Among the firefighters' complaints: the radios they carried were long known to be inadequate but the Giuliani administration never got around to replacing them. Also, the Mayor was well aware that the air at Ground Zero was toxic, yet within days he assured everyone that it was safe to breathe. He has since downplayed the medical problems of ground zero workers. When the WTC dust was clearly linked to serious and sometimes fatal diseases, he responded by urging Congress to limit the city's liability for “toxic torts.”
Fiction: Guiliani did a good job as mayor of New York.
Fact: His character issues got in the way. Rudy is given to “interminable, bitter, asinine hissy fits," according to a trenchant profile by Michael Wolfe in last month's Vanity Fair. A former congressman describes him as a man with "a deep mean streak." He has a “very, very powerful pathology,” according to Rudy Crew, the Schools Chancellor whom Gulilani ousted and then Swift Boated on the day of his wife's funeral.
So New York's message to the rest of the country is, don't fall for it. On a blog called “America's Madman: New Yorkers Remember Rudy Giuliani,” editorial cartoonist Ted Rall says it best: Rudy Giuliani is no "Rudy Giuliani."