“He told me he wanted to become the first Italian-Catholic President of the United States,” she said. “He liked to say, ‘Rudolph William Louis Giuliani 3d, the first Italian-Catholic President of the United States.’
“We’d joke about it, ‘Oh there’s Rudolph William Louis Giuliani 3d, the first Italian-Catholic President of the United States.’ He said it enough that it was part of him. He didn’t say things lightly.”
—Kathy Livermore, Giuliani’s college girlfriend, quoted in the New York Daily News, May 13, 1997
Chances are, you don’t really know Rudolph William Louis Giuliani 3d. Despite the immense amount of coverage he has received and the books written about him, his real story has remained a local one, while his national reputation has been blown all out of proportion. To get a complete understanding of the man, a figure around whom one of contemporary American history’s biggest cults of personality has flourished, you’ve got to dig deep. You have to burrow down under the myths, the steaming pile of post-9/11 hero-worship, the reputation-girding propaganda (like, for instance, his recent book, Leadership), the hyperventilating overstatements of his enemies—and they are legion—the obfuscation and secrecy of his administration, and, finally, the thick mulch of memory, which has its ways of being selective and making amorphous the rough bits. And there, through all the distorting barriers to comprehension, you can glimpse the real Rudy: a willful force, driven by good intentions but eager to compromise for power, blinded by the drama of his own story, often dishonest despite his posturing to the contrary, always calculating, always at war, willing to be brutal for political ends, and equally willing to be generous and compassionate toward friends and loyalists.
His is the appetite shared by the hungriest of politicians, and he’s always been bold enough to set the grandest of goals for himself. Even when he first ran for mayor of New York City in 1989, he was keeping an eye on a higher office. And unlike some whose presidential ambitions have prevented them from speaking in public too bluntly or independently, Giuliani rarely misses a chance to take a stage and say exactly what he thinks (unless there are too many black people around). But if he’s a glory hound, he’s also an earnest politician, and he’s rightly admired for his capacity to make unpopular decisions on principle and then stick to his guns. He believes, ostensibly, in peoples’ ability to take control of their lives and make them better by doing, not complaining, and that’s a powerful American idea.
His two terms in City Hall, spanning 1994 through 2001, have become as synonymous as they are synchronous with the revitalization of a once-rotting Big Apple. More importantly, he has become “America’s mayor,” the leader the country wishes it had, and did for a short while, a Republican Party fundraising powerhouse, and a mythical giant who has outgrown his accomplishments. He was Time’s 2001 Person of the Year,1 “for having more faith in us than we had in ourselves, for being brave when required and rude where appropriate and tender without being trite, for not sleeping and not quitting and not shrinking from the pain all around him.” That’s true enough, and it’s proper that he be remembered for those times. But that portrait of him was a snapshot from a long career, and it captured an act of extraordinary leadership under extraordinary circumstances. Even then, he had started to tarnish his shining image by seizing the opportunity to push for an extra-legal extension of his time in office, and it confirmed fears that he felt democracy was expendable under the right circumstances.
So he’s a tragic figure: a would-be hero, constantly running around looking for someone or something to save, often failing in those attempts, but redeemed at the eleventh hour by a burst of uncharacteristic charisma. He tells us that we can do better, and he tries to lead by example, often unaware of the other examples he sets. He is credited with single-handedly saving New York City, although he did no such thing. He deserves only some of the credit for its turnaround from darker days.
But that’s not the version of the story most of the country gets. The majority of the national news media, abhorring complexity, and loving a well-crafted drama, has spun a tale of a stout leader dragging an indulgent and crime-ruined city out of the mire of its own excesses and setting it on the right path. He’s seen as a two-fisted do-gooder, half Fiorello LaGuardia, half Eliot Ness, a man of strong convictions prone to fighting for them, a sometimes vulnerable lothario, and, since September 11, 2001, a caring, supportive, even loving father figure. Newsweek’s Marc Peyser on March 24, in evaluating the USA Network’s biopic Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story (snappy!), wasn’t having it when the story turned to Giuliani’s failures and “nasty temper”: “How do you turn a certified hero into a heel?” he wondered. “Will viewers want to rummage through his dirty laundry now?” What he meant was, of course they won’t; Giuliani’s “a certified hero.”
It’s not just that the press is more interested in the redeemed Rudy (and who doesn’t love a good redemption tale?), but that it seems to actively resist portrayals of him that don’t fit the script. It’s a terrifying experience to watch such a potentially dangerous tall tale grow and float free from its factual moorings. A Giuliani campaign for the presidency in 2008 is all but expected, and if that happens, it’s doubtful that the full story of his life, accomplishments, and failures will be told.
A thorough look at his history would provide a good idea of what the country is in for should that happen, but unfortunately there is no one place to go, no one source to rely on for a full sense of what a Giuliani presidency would be like. Sure, from the widely reported stories and the more dramatic episodes, we can, for instance, imagine a future where international diplomacy is reduced to a New York–style street fight. He’s already provoked international incidents by doing things like tossing Yasser Arafat out of an opera held during the United Nations’ fiftieth anniversary in an effort to pander to his conservative Jewish constituency (although he says it was because he had Leon Klinghoffer’s back, and did it in memory of Arafat’s role in the Achille Lauro hijacking). And a Giuliani-era Justice Department, while possibly devoid of the nutbag religiosity of the Ashcroft version, is almost too scary a prospect to consider.
His is too big a story to be fully encapsulated in one newspaper or magazine piece—this one included. So, somewhat fortunately considering that he’s basically a local politician, a surprising number of books22 have been written about Giuliani and his time as mayor. As a testament to his popularity, many of them were published before his rock-ribbed guidance in the weeks and months following the destruction of the Twin Towers. Undeniably, his is a great tale, full of sex, death, love lost and found, racial unrest, hypocrisy, rebirth, and political war at its bloodiest, with the occasional shit-dappled Madonna painting and the not-so-occasional baseball analogy tossed in for extra flavor.
A truly great biography of Giuliani is out there, waiting to be written—a Robert Caro–like work of outsized proportions. There’s just so much ground to cover, and so much yet to uncover.3 The attempts that have been made—namely, Wayne Barrett’s Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani (2000), Andrew Kirtzman’s Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City (2000), and, to a lesser extent, Giuliani’s own Leadership (2002), written with former punk-rocker Ken Kurson4—are all incomplete to varying degrees and in different ways, and none leaves us with the accurate understanding of the man that is needed. Obviously, no biography of an incomplete life can be comprehensive, but that doesn’t preclude a thorough accounting of what he has done so far.
That’s not merely a lament for journalistic accuracy, nor is it an abstract concern for the inherent unreliability of history—it portends a dangerous future. Should his probable 2008 campaign commence, most voters, especially those who don’t read the New York print press regularly, will go to the polls with a media-crafted mental image (more of a sketch, really) of the post-9/11 superhero, covered with the dust of lower Manhattan and the people that died there, soothing a terrified nation’s fears and displaying the sort of decisive leadership on which he made his reputation. Oh, they might well remember the marital infidelities (which, ironically, and due to the lack of a cash-fueled scandal machine aimed at him, lent him a much-needed musk of humanity, and not the skank-stank of immoral deviancy slathered on Bill Clinton for his own extracurricular pokings), the battles over art both “blasphemous” and street-sold, or what was billed as his mishandling of the racially explosive aftermaths of the Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo tragedies. But in hindsight, these events do little to sully his cape.
There is much that voters will likely not be aware of. They’ll probably not grasp his hypocrisy about patronage, or his loyalty to, and vocal support of, some of the more racist members of his administration (or, for that matter, his own racist tendencies). They won’t connect his illegal tactics, which were all the more notable for his background as a U.S. Attorney, and his disregard for the First Amendment; in fact, his record on the First Amendment (his lawyers have lost twenty-one of twenty-three cases), along with the illegal actions his administration took on housing, denying benefits to the poor and infirm, and altering workfare statistics, among others, have combined to make his the most aggressively law-breaking administration (with the legal bills to prove it) in recent city history—not that many will likely recall that in five years. And his willingness to bring the powers of government to bear on his opponents, whether it’s a political adversary like former public advocate and longtime Rudy critic Mark Green, or the mother of unarmed 16-year-old Kevin Cedeño, who was shot in the back by police (Giuliani subsequently said he was out past his bedtime, and blamed the killing on bad parenting), will be ignored.
There are at least four years until he’d announce his run for the presidency, but Rudolph W. Giuliani has a huge head start in the competition for America’s heart. And we know that the coverage that even presidential candidates receive adheres strictly to the script, and the occasional negative detail (say, for instance, a presidential candidate’s cover-up of a drunk driving incident) will usually float by undetected. If the whole sordid story doesn’t get told, and he wins, Americans will have elected a president about whom they are largely ignorant.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
Of the two proper Giuliani biographies written so far, Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett’s Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani is undeniably the better, and, though slightly hindered by a certain Javert-ish zeal, comes much closer to telling the full tale than anything yet attempted. True to its subtitle, the book is more investigative in approach, unsparing in its rhetoric, and dizzyingly damning in its systematic refutation of Giuliani’s statistical claims to fame. Barrett follows the former prosecutor from his not-so-humble beginnings in Brooklyn and the then–lily-white enclave of Garden City, Long Island, pausing to air his familial dirty laundry, into his years prosecuting for the Reagan Justice Department, his first failed attempt at taking City Hall, and, finally, beginning on page 265 (of 500), his two terms as mayor. As such, it provides a look at his whole life, including the best portrait available of the bullshit artist as a young man, and it proves invaluable to understanding the attitudes he later displayed regarding work, the Mafia, loyalty, the women in his life, and people with more melanin than he has.
Barrett introduces us to Harold Giuliani, the father whose inspirational example Rudy continually invoked during his career. But not unexpectedly, Barrett’s portrait (“At 5’11”, with a solid frame and big-knuckled hands, Harold was a thickset ruffian, who squinted at the world through cumbersome, Coke-bottle-thick glasses”) is strikingly different than the former official’s version. Giuliani often uses words like loyalty, respect, and responsibility when referring to his late father, and, though in 1999 he made his first public statements alluding to the fact that “no father is perfect,” he never discussed Harold Giuliani’s criminal history, his time in Sing Sing (two to five for armed robbery), or his mob ties—not even with the FBI investigators who screened him for work at the Justice Department. Barrett does, in lurid and sometimes breathless detail, and while all of it gives a much more complete picture of what drives Giuliani, it seems at points gratuitous. Too much is made of a description of Giuliani’s mother, Helen, as a Mussolini fan, and however accurate it may be, it seems forced and gleefully malicious—Giuliani was never so, well, Italian as when he discussed his beloved mother,5 and, in light of all the unfair comparisons of the ham-fisted mayor to Il Duce, it seems petty, and geared to sting. Biographies lose strength when they contain unnecessary personal attacks, and the book’s numerous cheap digs ultimately weaken it.
Yet personal attacks were—and, mark these words, will be again—Giuliani’s stock-in-trade. Those whom Giuliani smeared because they were on the other end of a disagreement include former schools chancellors Ramon Cortines and Rudy Crew and a not-yet-cold Patrick Dorismond, a security guard who was shot by cops in March 2000 after they propositioned him for crack, and whose reputation Giuliani heartlessly assaulted. If there’s no need to sink to his level, the temptation is often hard to resist. Barrett explains in his preface that he first met the future mayor in 1979 and came to know him well, often sharing meals and conversations during his prosecutorial years. He even cast Giuliani as the hero of his first book, City for Sale (1989),6 about the corruption scandals of the Ed Koch mayoral years. There’s a special kind of vitriol that’s borne of betrayal, and for many New Yorkers who saw much to idealize in the crime- and corruption-battling early-career Giuliani, the subsequent turnarounds in rhetoric, ideology, and lawfulness inspire a unique antagonism similar to that of a scorned lover.
Actually, this display of seemingly unwarranted animosity is one of the most illuminating, though unwitting, aspects of Barrett’s book. Having covered his hero-cum-quarry for decades, the longtime Voice reporter is among the most informed of his observers, so when a one-time Rudy fan writes a book that, to reference Giuliani’s favorite movie, The Godfather, is the rhetorical equivalent of Michael Corleone’s score-settling “two shots in the head,” you know Giuliani must’ve done something to deserve such anger. He betrayed Barrett’s hopes, and while that’s not quite gunning down Pop in front of the fruit stand, it earns a response nonetheless. Giuliani lovers and would-be supporters take note: never trust a Sollozzo—he’ll promise one thing and do another.
I suspect that some of the Giuliani critics’ anger stems from this sense of betrayed promises (not that his actions alone aren’t inspiration enough). Rudy Giuliani was sold to New Yorkers as an incorruptible savior who was beyond such petty stuff as patronage, dirty politics, illegality, and brutality. We expected so much more from him. Taken as a whole, his eight-year mayoralty was one big coyote morning for a good portion of his former supporters (only 32 percent of New Yorkers approved of his job in early 2000). For someone like Barrett, who had gone around telling all his friends and readers what a great guy this up-and-comer Giuliani was, the mayor’s metamorphosis must have been unbearably galling.
But personal issues aside, the real strength of Rudy! lies in the chapters that deal with his mayoralty. Barrett chronicles Giuliani’s 1989 campaign statements and compares them to his 1993 tactics and subsequent policies, and he finds flip-flopping aplenty. Where once Giuliani supported the rights of gays to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, recognized the need for better services for the homeless, or mouthed platitudes about inclusiveness and his desire for a diverse and culturally responsive city government, these positions all changed after Giuliani triangulated the “right” messages necessary to draw the needed votes.
Some of Barrett’s most damaging reporting is based on a vulnerability study the Giuliani campaign commissioned (and then tried to bury) for the 1993 race. It detailed his political weaknesses—the “weirdness” of his first marriage in 1968 to his second cousin, his “ruthlessness,” his propensity as a federal prosecutor to push “the envelope of the permissible”—and ended with this too-honest-for-public-eyes assessment: “Taken together, the negative issues presented in this study offer a compelling argument against electing Giuliani mayor.” When an investigative reporter can unearth such a report, then use Giuliani’s own agents’ words to damn him, props must be given.
But there’s so much more: Barrett calls Giuliani out on his voting history, showing that he registered to vote for the first time in 1984, missed the 1984 and 1988 presidential elections (while working for Reagan, no less), as well as the 1986 gubernatorial and 1985 mayoral races—hardly a record that reflects a love and respect of democracy. Barrett relays quotes from executives at WNYC, a local public radio station, who said Giuliani told them “that it would be ‘a good thing’ for the city if the poor left. ‘That’s not an unspoken part of our strategy… that is our strategy.’” He also focuses on Giuliani’s claims to have revolutionized welfare, and makes a seemingly obvious but usually ignored connection between declining welfare rolls and the skyrocketing homeless population, which continued unabated even through the boom years. When, in 1995, Giuliani began to implement his welfare cuts, he concomitantly cut the budget for homeless services by 22 percent, and the average number of homeless families rose from 23,337 in 1994 to 24,609 just two years later (a one-third cut in funding for housing construction exacerbated the problem). By February 2001, the number of homeless people seeking shelter in New York City had hit a high not seen since the early 1980s, reported Nina Bernstein of The New York Times—this despite the city’s inability to “screw the front door any tighter,” according to then–commissioner of homeless services Martin Oesterreich. Judges repeatedly fined the city millions of dollars for illegally maintaining overcrowded homeless family shelters, and despite years of demands by the courts to correct the violations, Giuliani ignored both the law and the thousands of families who were forced to sleep on floors and in plastic seats at the intake center. Instead of boosting funding or rectifying the problem, he ordered that admission to shelters for families be made much more difficult (365 families were rejected in 1995, but by 2000, 14,041 families were refused shelter—and 80 percent of those rejections were subsequently overturned on appeal by the courts). According to Barrett, then–police commissioner Howard Safir became the city’s de facto homeless commissioner by drawing up a list of “a dozen infractions useful against the homeless” and sending the cops out to arrest them and “empty the streets.”
In touting his record on cutting the welfare rolls, Giuliani is very selective in the statistics he recites. During his doomed race for the Senate, his campaign website boasted that “more than 460,000 have moved off the welfare rolls,” without saying whether they went to jail, left New York, or wound up in homeless shelters, and without noting that they hadn’t moved but were pushed, or even if they got jobs. In fact, as Barrett points out, Giuliani blocked attempts to count the numbers of people who left welfare for work, citing “privacy concerns”—this from a man who released sealed childhood arrest records at whim.
Barrett also smashes Giuliani’s crown jewel of self-aggrandizement: his much-ballyhooed crime statistics. While crime undeniably plummeted during Giuliani’s stewardship, it’s far from certain just which factors are responsible for the drops in the various crime indices, how reliable Giuliani’s numbers were (he repeatedly blocked attempts by state comptroller Carl McCall and the press to audit the raw data), or whether New York’s remarkable turnaround was really all that different from that in other large cities. Barrett begins his refutation with a 1993 quote from candidate Giuliani, who said, “If you believe crime has been reduced, you are living in never-never land.” The mayoral contender, who would later become known for his statistics-laden policy reports, then went on to ridicule FBI stats showing New York’s crime drop began under Mayor David Dinkins. Far from being birthed in the Compstat (for Computer Statistics—hyped as a Giuliani/Bratton innovation) belly of the New York Police Department headquarters, the turnaround in crime-fighting began under Giuliani’s predecessor, who oversaw a 16 percent drop in overall crime during his last three years as mayor. But Barrett exposes Rudy’s credit-hogging posturing for what it is, and adds: “Between Dinkins’s first year (1990) and his last year (1993), murder fell 13.7 percent, robbery 14.6 percent, burglary 17.6 percent and auto theft 23.8 percent.”
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Barrett’s book is the unflinching honesty with which he addresses the Giuliani administration’s racial and cultural intolerance. Make no mistake: Rudy Giuliani is a racist. While there are many different kinds of racism, some more blatant, others more plausibly deniable, any thorough examination of his mostly white administration will reveal a striking pattern of budget cuts, aggressive police actions, exclusion of minority input from municipal government, and even statements by Giuliani and some of his aides that, taken as a whole, points irrefutably to the fact that minority concerns were, at best, ignored during his tenure, and, at worst, actively undercut. Included in Barrett’s litany of Giuliani’s racist and racially insensitive acts are: a 1992 rally-turned-riot by 10,000 cops in front of City Hall who chanted “Rudy, Rudy” in support of the chief speaker—where some held signs that said “Dump the Washroom Attendant” (referring to Dinkins, who is black) and where one off-duty police officer prevented a black city councilwoman from entering the building and called her a “nigger”—a riot which Giuliani immediately defended, before blaming the whole thing on Dinkins, “who invites riots”; details of a campaign strategy that hinged on maximizing white voter turnout (exit polls showed that of his supporters, 85 percent were white and 3 percent were black); a tally of his administration’s new hires (on the executive staff, three blacks in a crew of thirty); a recounting of Giuliani’s support and defense of deputy mayor John Dyson, who, in a City Hall memo defending the nearly monochromatic makeup of the new city government said, “Two white guys have been running this city of immigrants for over 200 years,” and who then four months later attacked the city comptroller, who retained a black-owned management firm, by saying he “ought to know a bid from a watermelon”; a deconstruction of Giuliani’s 1995 budget cuts showing that while the majority-white police, fire, and sanitation departments received only a 1 percent cut, city services that employed and benefited “overwhelmingly minority” city residents were slashed by 17 to 28 percent; a look at the slow but steady bleaching of City Hall employees (the number of blacks dropped 28.5 percent from 1993 to 1999); a quote from a Washington Post story in which Giuliani defended his record on minorities by saying, “They’re alive, how about we start with that?”; descriptions of his repeated refusals to even meet with black city and state officials, including a five-year freeze-out of McCall, the state’s highest ranking black politician; descriptions of the people who protested the shooting of Amadou Diallo as “the worst elements of society”; a recounting of broken campaign promises to “heal divisions”; multiple quotes from all sorts of black officials who, having been fortunate enough to have met and worked with him, all expressed opinions that were variations on “I don’t think he has any empathy for blacks”;7 and numerous statements by Giuliani equating the anti-cop sentiment fueled by the Louima and Diallo incidents with racism, among many others. The evidence is overwhelming, and while it may not point to a malicious, hate-fueled brand of racism, it is clear that Giuliani repeatedly acted and spoke in ways that hurt blacks and favored whites.
Barrett’s biography remains the best single source for the skinny on the real Rudy, though it is plagued by his cheap shots, and there’s no real explanation of Giuliani’s pre-9/11 appeal, which is essential to any complete understanding of the man and his legacy. But where Barrett falls short, Andrew Kirtzman’s competing Emperor of the City does a better job of balancing an analysis of Giuliani’s appeal with an accounting of his acts as mayor. Kirtzman, who was a City Hall reporter for NY1,8 a local all-news channel, before joining the New York CBS affiliate, covered the Giuliani administration for seven years and was with the mayor on the morning of September 11. Two months later, the paperback version of Emperor was published, complete with a new chapter detailing that fateful day, and packaged along with a new cover. Gone is the hardcover jacket, with its vaguely Stalinesque photo of Giuliani as a statue with broom in hand, and its lack of color—a subtle nod to the polarizing effects of his administration. In its paperback stead is a cover for what at first seems like a different book: In all bright, warm colors, it features a tight shot of Giuliani tossing a thumbs-up to someone off-camera. And in an effort to adhere to the new national aesthetic, nestled snug in his protective arm is a folded American flag, and resting proudly on his lapel is another American flag, and anchoring the whole image is a blurry background consisting of what looks like… yet another flag!9 Where before Giuliani was the cold and stony “Emperor of the City,” an accurate and threatening moniker, to be sure, even the old subtitle makes room for Kirtzman’s subtle revisionism, advertising, reverently, the inside “Story of ‘America’s Mayor,’” set in a typeface larger than the original subtitle’s.
Judge this edition of the book by its cover. In an interview with CNN two months after the attacks, Kirtzman, in explaining the new chapter on September 11, claims to have “experienced that whole ordeal with him, and felt a major need to write about it.”
September 11 looms so large in Giuliani’s history that it’s understandable to want to update a bio to include the events from that day, but the rushed-to-print, changed edition adds the unmistakable aura of misery profiteering to an otherwise decent and well-written biography of Giuliani as mayor. That’s unfortunate, because Kirtzman, while at times overly cautious and prone to viewing his subject’s actions through a political prism, does an admirable job of telling Giuliani’s mayoral story in a compulsively readable fashion. He doesn’t flinch from looking at many of the worst aspects of Giuliani’s reign—the racial difficulties, the often symbiotic relationship between the mayor and Al Sharpton (in Kirtzman’s construction, a blow-dried activist Joker to Rudy’s Batman), the details of the extensive patronage appointments with which Giuliani choked city government—while at the same time managing to convey a grudging respect for the principled approach he is credited with bringing to his job. In telling the story of a 1986 reunion Giuliani held with an old friend when he was still a U.S. Attorney, Kirtzman describes how the would-be mayor thanked his friend Lou Carbonetti for the gift of a photo of Harold Giuliani that he had never seen, right before “Giuliani slipped the photo out of the $69 frame and set it aside. ‘Lou, I can’t take the frame,’ he said.”
That’s the Giuliani that people fall in love with. It’s almost inconceivably ethical for a U.S. Attorney to refuse the gift of a picture frame containing a long-lost photo of his adored father, and it’s the sort of tale that, once people hear it, convinces them that no matter his brusque nature or the details of his aggressive tactics, Rudy Giuliani is a man to be trusted. Then, on the very same page, Kirtzman deftly follows up the touching scene with a recitation of a promise candidate Rudy made to the New York Times in 1989 that “there will be no jobs or patronage—only decisions made on merit”—right before pointing out how Mayor Giuliani, in 1993, chose Lou Carbonetti’s son, Tony, whose only work experience was as a bar manager in Boston, to dispense all of the administration’s patronage appointments. Loyalty, explains Kirtzman, is paramount to Giuliani, and the book is great at delineating the ways in which the new mayor’s insistence on a municipal omerta influenced the structure and course of city government.
Emperor, or if you prefer, America’s Mayor, occasionally goes limp with caution and equivocation. City Hall’s biggest open secret—the affair Giuliani conducted with his youngish press aide, Cristyne Lategano—is described in a series of wink, wink, nudge, nudge allusions. At an August 2001 panel talk hosted by the New York Press Club, Kirtzman joined Barrett for a discussion of their competing Rudy volumes and explained that there were certain things about Lategano that he wanted to include but couldn’t because he held himself to a strict “two-source standard.” His journalistic ethics are to be lauded, but it’s hard to believe that there weren’t two staffers in City Hall—where Lategano had no shortage of enemies—who wouldn’t confirm, even on a not-for-attribution basis, that the two were involved. On page 202, when he finally does come out with it and say that they were sleeping together, he attributes the assertion to Vanity Fair writer Jennet Conant, who “slammed the New York media for covering up the story of Giuliani’s crumbling marriage and his affair with Lategano.”
Kirtzman is similarly over-cautious in his estimation of the racist Giuliani-era aggressive policing methods, crafting noncommittal phrases like, “Black leaders resented the seemingly racist policies” or, when referring to one of Giuliani’s bigot-aides, characterizing the John Dyson “bid and a watermelon” comment as “bizarre.” When discussing the shooting of Amadou Diallo, he fobs off the blame for some of the city’s outrage on the media, which “seemed primed to treat the Diallo case as a watershed incident.” Far from being ratings-driven instigators of racial unrest, the media were, if not targets of community anger, then definitely not cooperative agitators. Young black and Hispanic New Yorkers had, by 1999, faced more than five years of mostly white police officers (the infamous Street Crimes Unit, for which the four white cops who shot Diallo worked, was only 3 percent black) throwing them up against walls for no reason, frisking them, insulting them, often slapping or punching them, and then underreporting the encounters. If anything, these plentiful incidents weren’t covered enough. To blame the media, however tangentially, for the righteous fury that erupted when a huge portion of New Yorkers took to the streets and screamed “Enough!” is an act of professional self-denigration, but moreover, it’s simply untrue. State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer issued a report in 1999 that revealed the Street Crime Unit to be disproportionately focusing its efforts on black and Hispanic city residents. That report in turn prompted a federal investigation that found that the unit engaged in illegal profiling, and that the imbalance could not be explained away by the increased crime rates in those residents’ neighborhoods. It was, plainly enough, and to borrow a phrase, a watershed incident.
But if Kirtzman misstates the depth of—and justification for—fury at the police, he rightly places some blame for the city’s anger, and for the confrontational racial environment, on Giuliani himself. He reflexively defended the police’s actions, even going so far as to illegally release Patrick Dorismond’s childhood arrest record (he did a lot of that), and blaming the twenty-six-year-old security guard’s killing on his supposed love of fistfighting. And while Kirtzman might have relied a bit too much on Giuliani’s interpretation of the NYPD’s brutality record—Barrett’s thorough statistical examination and deconstruction of Rudy’s brutality, welfare, and crime claims is unparalleled—he does a good job of connecting the mayor’s aggressive police policies to the racial climate. Abner Louima lied when he told reporters that the cop who raped him with a plunger taunted him by saying, “It’s Giuliani time,” but the connection between the mayor and an oppressive police environment was no plot spun by his political adversaries—the politician who builds his career on law and order gets justifiably dragged down by its collapsing foundations, and community-police relations is definitely one of those foundations.
Ultimately, Kirtzman’s book isn’t the place to go for the whole story of “America’s mayor,” because he writes only about Giuliani’s eight years in office. We get little about his youth and his career as a prosecutor and private-practice attorney, not enough detail about his impact on the city, and too much of an unexamined recitation of City Hall–provided statistics. There’s none of the ballast that would come from laying out the administration’s history of attempting—and succeeding—in twisting and hiding the raw data about city government necessary to make an accurate evaluation of its stewards. If unsatisfying, it’s also understandable—Kirtzman was under a lot of pressure from his publisher to write the book in time to maximize the profits from what was shaping up to be the most-watched Senate race in history. He also admits in the introduction that the book “is not a definitive history of the administration, nor is it a comprehensive survey of every event that occurred in that period.” It’s the rare voter that will wade through two thick volumes in order to get a better sense of who it is he or she is voting for, and even that rare, earnest small-d democrat would come away from the effort wondering just who this enigmatic and contradictory demagogue is.
Whereas Barrett and Kirtzman at least make genuine efforts to dig out some of the truths beneath the pile of myth-encrusted misinformation, the former mayor has quite different goals in mind—foremost among them, positioning himself for higher office. Leadership isn’t an accurate, or even engaging, account of his accomplishments and failures. Ostensibly a management handbook with lessons drawn from his experiences, Giuliani’s book is a monument to himself, an early stump speech, a clusterfuck of cliché and trite prose, a minefield-dance of selectivity, a poor attempt at revisionist spin, an opportunity to make as many comparisons as possible between his experiences and what he has learned from the Yankees and The Godfather, and, unfortunately for the country, a bestseller.
It’s not an autobiography—since Giuliani inked a reported two-book, $3 million deal with Talk Miramax Books, that surefire gem has yet to be written. But it’s useful to think of Leadership as a memoir of sorts, because as a management guide, it can’t have much value—it’s much too obvious. Chapter titles include “Reflect, Then Decide,” “Develop and Communicate Strong Beliefs,” “Surround Yourself with Great People.” But even as a memoir, it’s nearly worthless (aside from the sections describing 9/11 from Giuliani’s eyes). His capacity for self-promotion and distortion is the stuff of false legends, but with this book he outdoes even himself. In case readers happen to miss the numerous references to people like the legendary New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Winston Churchill (get the point?—he’s in the pantheon now), the publishers have handily packaged the book with a paperback companion volume, Leadership Through the Ages: A Collection of Favorite Quotations. With an introduction by Rudy the Leader fronting a hodgepodge of supposedly inspirational quotes by notables ranging from Jefferson and Gandhi to Peggy Noonan and Richard Nixon (oh, you know he had to squeeze in some Joe Torre, too) organized under subject headings like “Power,” “Action,” and “Challenge,” it adds absolutely nothing to the myriad quote books available that are much more comprehensive and useful. Its only purpose is to hammer home the point that America’s mayor is now one of the greats, a man who is as quotable as, say, Barbara Bush (whose insights on hard work—“You don’t just luck into things”—are also included).
Giuliani’s future and much of his book rests on his crime-stat laurels. As the stern father who wrestled his lazy-kid city off the drugs and into a job, his reputation rests on the notion that his policies were single-handedly responsible for making New York a better place to live. And his law-and-order tactics, as he acknowledges in Leadership, rest on criminologists George Kelling and James Q. Wilson’s “Broken Windows” theory,10 which states that even the slightest sign of community disorder—such as a broken window or, in one of Giuliani’s failed later crusades, jaywalking—invites more and more-serious crime in a sort of domino effect of deviancy. By making arrests for the smallest of infractions, the theory goes, police can send the signal that no deviant behavior will be tolerated, while at the same time allowing for background checks on arrestees, who just might be wanted in connection with other, more nefarious crimes. But according to Bernard E. Harcourt, a law professor at the University of Arizona and the author of Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing (2001), the first book to systematically analyze the various studies on which the theory rests, there are a couple of big problems with the idea that has revolutionized New York crimefighting: it’s never been empirically proven, and the evidence suggests that the theory is false. By analyzing the studies on which Broken Windows is based, Harcourt finds each flawed: some compare precinct-level stat apples to borough-level stat oranges, others, when the data equating disorder and crime are examined more closely, fall apart in four out of five tests. Harcourt argues that the aggressive misdemeanor arrests and stop-and-frisk policies pioneered by the NYPD are not necessary actions for large cities to take when fighting crime, adding, “A number of large U.S. cities—Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, among others—have experienced significant drops in crime in the 1990s, in some cases even larger proportionally to the drop in crime in New York City.” And while he gives credence to the Compstat program, which allows police to focus their forces according to up-to-date crime statistics provided by each precinct, he says Broken Windows policing—and Giuliani by extension—can’t take all, or even most, of the credit: “A large number of factors have led to the drop in crime in New York City, including a significant increase in the raw numbers of police officers on the beat, a shift in drug use patterns from crack cocaine to heroin, favorable economic conditions in the 1990s… a dip in the number of eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old males, the arrest of several big drug gangs in New York, as well as possible changes in adolescent behavior.”
I won’t spend much more time dissecting Leadership—suffice it to say that little of what Giuliani writes about himself and his administration is to be trusted. The man who packed city government with every high school chum, law practice flunky, and Boston bar manager available writes the following: “I always tried to set a simple standard that I expected everyone I hired to follow when doing their own hiring: find the best person suited for the job. Period.” Lies don’t come much more bald-faced. The book is clearly intended for readers who have never picked up a New York newspaper.
Even a passing familiarity with the facts of Giuliani’s tenure would reveal the cruel hilarity of the following. His thoughts on running his administration: “A leader wants all his managers to be strong. He doesn’t want yes-men leading any departments”; “Some bosses hire only those of like mind”; “My sense of loyalty makes it tough for me to remove people who haven’t done anything wrong.” (Rudy Crew and William Bratton, among literally hundreds of others, might have cause to disagree with all three.) A discussion of his boys in the Reagan Justice Department: “They worked hard, and lo! did they did care about people”11 ; On workfare: “Word choices carry enormous symbolic weight. That’s the reason we changed the name on every ‘Welfare Office’ to ‘Job Center.’” (His appointed workfare commissioner, Jason Turner, once told PBS that “work sets you free,” though he had the sense not to recite it in the original German.) A passage on the treasured advice he gets from his father: “Never pick on someone smaller than you.” His thoughts on the United States and honoring treaties: “We know we’re going to live up to any treaty. We have laws and protocols that ensure it, and our culture demands it.” (Remember: he’s a fan of Dubya.) And, finally: “I am often my most severe critic.”
About the only good thing that can be said of Leadership is that the sections describing his decision-making and thoughts on September 11 are indispensable. It’s true that his guidance, rarely seen empathy, intelligence, decisiveness, pain, and—who knew?—sensitivity were all on display for the world to see that day, and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job during the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Rudy Giuliani studied municipal government and how best to move it for years, and he had become quite good at it, if not always toward good ends. He’s definitely a wartime consigliere. On that day, and during the few days that followed, not only was he a co-president of sorts (on the 11th, he might as well have been president for all the leadership vacuum left by Bush’s jetwash), but in a very real way, he was the face of a world in shock. Then he tried to seize the momentum and declare himself Mayor-for-Life, or for however long he felt necessary, and he reminded us that people don’t really change so profoundly, so quickly. Even he admits as much in his book: “The idea that I somehow became a different person on that day—that there was a pre–September 11 Rudy and a wholly other post–September 11 Rudy—is not true.”
He’s right, and in a sense, he’s wrong. It’s correct to say that Giuliani did not change that day—that the cruel, law-defying, self-deluded autocrat that went to bed on September 10 did not go away or suddenly find his inner Wilford Brimley and decide to smother the world in Werther’s Originals and love. But he’s wrong in the sense that the media want to believe that he did.
They want to believe it so badly that they have made it true. The national media, especially, having covered his mayoralty only when he touted his selective stats designed to claim credit for a revived New York City, or when the latest “Rudy-at-war-with-X” controversy erupted, were largely ignorant of—or chose to ignore—the true nature of his two terms in office. They did not know or wanted to forget the fact that he might have been an effective authoritarian, but he was anything but an effective leader, and seeing an absent president run around the country with his Air Force One between his legs, and needing to assure a scared country that someone was in charge, they watched the firm, empathetic chief of the war zone appear on television every few hours to calm fears, share grief, update the world on the situation and organize a defense and response, and they realized they found their man. They say all the best casting coups are the result of serendipity. I did an analysis of the Giuliani myth-making phenomenon for the Columbia Journalism Review last year, for which I reviewed the international, national, and regional print coverage of the end of Giuliani’s mayoralty, and I found that, by and large, the media choose to remember him mainly for what he did during the last three months in office, and to ignore fifteen-sixteenths of his mayoralty.
I discovered, however, that it wasn’t impossible to find an earnest and reliable assessment of his record as mayor. Dan Barry of the New York Times wrote an excellent, if necessarily abridged, review of his legacy as mayor, as did Jack Newfield for both Newsday and The Nation. Both reporters were able to approach their subject with authority, credibility, and a stoic honesty in the face of overwhelming popular opinion that Giuliani could do no wrong. Forgetting for a moment that these were the exceptions, and that all three publications are New York–based and New York–centric, newspapers and weekly political magazines have only so much room to tell their stories, and this story is too big, too detailed, too demanding of space, and just plain too much to fit into such a limited news hole. But it’s not even so much that newspapers, with their daily deadline demands, don’t have the room to get Rudy’s record straight; it’s that it’s too much for just two local newspapers to do all by themselves, however good those papers’ attempts may be. When that likely election drumbeat starts, the international, national, and regional outlets need to sit up and pay better attention to the Giuliani stories they tell, because more is at stake than just preserving the comforting tale a country needed in the aftermath of tragedy.
Giuliani’s full, accurate history is out there in bits and chunks—a book or two here, a magazine story or thirty there, a few thousand local news dispatches somewhere else—but it’s too dispersed to be easily coalesced by the average person. There’s been too much written about him for that state of affairs to be excusable, and if and when we find ourselves still threatened by apocalyptic terrorism, still in the grip of our I-want-daddy fears, and “America’s mayor” steps up to a podium somewhere and announces his candidacy in front of what will surely be the most patriotic of backdrops, we’re going to need those pieces to be put together, or we’ll never see the entire picture.
George W. Bush is considered by many to be dangerous because he’s not all that bright. Rudolph W. Giuliani is brilliant, and he knows his unearned reputation can carry him as far as he can dream. And his dreams, like the stories he tells about himself, are epic. All he has to do is repeat those stories over and over again, reminding the news media that they’ve been telling the same stories all along. Without a countervailing narrative, Americans just might help Rudolph William Louis Giuliani 3d realize his greatest ambition.