Word is that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is now the front runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
This far out from the actual nomination the polls don’t mean much, and I am reasonably certain that Rudy’s candidacy will self-destruct long before the Republican National Convention. There are reasons the people who know him best — New Yorkers — prefer their polarizing Senator, Hillary Clinton, over Rudy Giuliani. There are also reasons why the thought of a President Giuliani scares the daylights out of me.
Here are a few things America really needs to know about Rudy Giuliani:
Had Rudy Giuliani been mayor of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, no one would be talking about what a great leader Giuliani is today.
I was in lower Manhattan on 9/11, and as I was working in Manhattan I spent most of my time there in the days and weeks after. So you can take my word on this: Rudy’s post-9/11 “leadership” amounted almost entirely of the mayor appearing on television. He did a fine job of appearing on television, and he managed to set the right tone and say the right things — abilities Hizzoner did not always draw upon in the past. I give him credit for his performance. But that performance did not constitute “leadership.” It was all public relations. It was all about Rudy.
Jimmy Breslin wrote,
He was a nobody as a mayor and in one day he became a hero. This sudden career, this door opening to a room of gold, all started for Rudolph Giuliani when his indestructible bunker in World Trade Center building blew up. He had personally selected it, high in the sky, and with tons of diesel fuel to give emergency power.
And Giuliani walks on. He walks from his bunker, up Barclay Street and went on television. Went on and announced his heroism and then came back every hour or so until he became a star, a great figure, a national hero, the mayor who saved New York.
Most of this comes from these dazed Pekingese of the Press. … Giuliani was a hero with these news people. He did not pick up a piece of steel or help carry one of the injured off. [Jimmy Breslin, “He Molests the Dead,” New York Newsday, March 7, 2004]
The fact is that Giuliani did little to “lead” rescue or recovery efforts. While Rudy was prancing around on television, a hodge-podge of city agencies loosely — very loosely — coordinated by the Office of Emergency Management went to work deconstructing the remains of the World Trade Center with little input or direction from the Mayor.
Consider also that the World Trade Center was yards away from Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. Unlike Mayor Nagin of New Orleans, Mayor Giuliani did not have to beg for help getting the debris cleared and electricity hooked up so that the financial district was up and running again as quickly as possible. New York’s business leadership saw to that.
This pro-Giuliani TCS article comparing New York and New Orleans is nothing short of absurd. Conditions in New York after 9/11 and New Orleans after Katrina cannot be compared, because these are entirely different cities and entirely different disasters. There were not, alas, thousands of New Yorkers waiting to be rescued after 9/11, for example. As terrible as it was, the tragedy of 9/11 did not exhaust New York’s resources to deal with it. New York is a rich city, and most of it was untouched.
On that day the survivors of the tragedy simply walked away from it; I remember seeing them, covered in white dust and walking silently as ghosts up 8th Avenue. They had only a few blocks to walk before the air was clear and the infrastructure (and civilization) was intact, and all the food and medical assistance and other help they could possibly want was theirs for the asking.
For those who couldn’t walk, New York’s several state-of-the-art hospitals took it upon themselves to besiege lower Manhattan with ambulances and paramedics and world-class triage units to care for the injured. These medical professionals lingered most of the day with little to do. Those survivors who did need first aid got it very promptly.
In New York, residents who were unable to return to their apartments for the most part had the means to find other shelter on their own without waiting for FEMA to assign them a trailer. They did not have to resort to looting abandoned grocery stores for food or wait for days in unsanitary shelters for buses to take them elsewhere.
To be fair, the mayor did threaten to arrest anyone caught south of 14th Street without permission. That threat, and the solid wall of armed law enforcement officers and New York National Guard who populated 14th Street intersections for several days, no doubt discouraged looting. Manhattan’s geography — the damage was on the tip of an island — made securing the area easier. More important, large numbers of increasingly desperate people were not trapped inside the secured area with no help and no way out.
So exactly what did Mayor Giuliani do to exhibit “leadership”? The fact is that post-Katrina New Orleans was a much bigger mess than post-9/11 New York, and Rudy Giuliani did nothing after 9/11 that would indicate his “leadership” would have made much difference in New Orleans. As Michael Atkinson wrote in the Village Voice last year, “After 9-11, a sick, scandalized lame-duck mayor became a national hero for simply keeping his composure on TV.”
Which takes us to the next item:
Rudy Giuliani’s shoddy “leadership” made the 9/11 tragedy worse.
You might recall that several New York firefighters died when the towers collapsed. Giuliani testified to the 9/11 Commission that firefighters had been given an evacuation order, but they chose to stay because they were rescuing civilians. This testimony was not exactly, um, true.
For all the power of his voice and stature, however, Mr. Giuliani’s account must compete with a substantial and diverse body of evidence that flatly contradicts much of what he and his aides say happened that day, particularly on matters that could be seen as reflecting on the performance of his administration.
On perhaps the most painful of these, the loss of at least 121 firefighters in the north tower, Mr. Giuliani suggested that they stayed inside the trade center because they were busy rescuing civilians — never mentioning that they could not hear warnings from police helicopters, that many of them never learned the south tower had collapsed or that they were having serious problems staying in touch with their own commanders.
Witnesses who escaped from the tower tell a vastly different story than Mr. Giuliani. They say that in the north tower’s final 15 minutes, only a handful of civilian office workers were still in the bottom 44 floors of the building, perhaps no more than two or three dozen. Many of the firefighters who remained in the towers were between the 19th and 37th floors, having made slow progress up the stairs in their heavy gear.
It is clear, witnesses said, that even after the south tower collapsed, many, if not most, of the firefighters had no idea that they were in dire peril, or that it was time for them to leave. In contrast, police officers received strong guidance from their commanders to get out of the building, the commission reported, thanks in large part to the information sent to the ground by police helicopters.
The police could not talk to the firefighters, however, because the two NY departments used different types of radios set on different frequencies. Giuliani offered the 9/11 commission a lame excuse about the limits of technology, which is absurd on its face. In fact, there had been many complaints about the radios before 9/11, and the Mayor had done nothing.
Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins wrote in The Village Voice (“Rudy’s Grand Illusion,” August 29, 1006):
Everyone agrees that a critical problem that day was that the police and fire departments could not communicate; that’s one of the reasons the lack of inter- operable radios became such a focus of fury. If the top brass of the two departments were at each other’s sides, they could have told each other whatever they learned from their separate radio systems. Many of the command and control issues that might have saved lives could clearly have been better dealt with had Giuliani stopped, taken a deep breath, and pushed Kerik and Ganci to fully and effectively join forces. Insisting that Kerik, McCarthy, Esposito, or Dunne stay at the incident post would have established a joint operation.
Wayne Barrett (author of Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 and Kevin Keating (director of the documentary “Giuliani Time” were interviewed by Amy Goodman recently; see the transcript here. Wayne Barrett said,
The firefighters were using the same radios that they used at the â€™93 bombing, even though we found a report that was written in 1990 that said that they were already obsolete and that they were a danger to the life of firefighters. And the firefighters are still carrying those same radios eight years after the 1993 bombing.
Kevin Keating made another point:
Here, our own local channel in New York, New York 1, had the head of the police union, the head of the firefighters union. Both of them were condemning Giuliani. They don’t have to negotiate any more contracts with him. This is not union leaders blustering about a contract. They had to be embodying and representing the vast majority of their membership. They pointed to our book and said our book told the truth about how Giuliani responded. And they denounced him, not just for the lead-up to 9/11, but for what you raise, which is, we have two chapters in the book that point out Giuliani’s terrible responsibility for — look, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 you can understand the chaos. You can understand why firefighters and police officers are out there without respirators. Theyâ€™re still trying to do rescues. But once it was clear that nobody could be rescued, why there were thousands of construction workers, as well as these first responders, working there without respirators and with no plan to get them respirators, and why they were exposed to these toxins and why we now have thousands of them who have respiratory and even cancer signs right now, severe respiratory difficulties, why that was allowed —
You know, Giuliani, we quote the head of — his own commissioner from the Department of Design and Construction, who ran the ground zero cleanup. He said he dealt with Giuliani every day, that Giuliani only asked him one question: how much debris did you remove yesterday? Are we on schedule? Are we ahead of schedule? All he cared about, even though the fires were still burning and spewing toxins in the air, all he cared about was the public relations. I mean, obviously, it’s five years later. Nothingâ€™s been built there. What was the rush? The public relations question of making it look like they were efficiently cleaning up the site. And the consequences have been dire.
In fact, many of the 9/11 families were so outraged at the gentle treatment Giuliani received at the hands of the 9/11 Commission that hundreds of them refused to go to the final hearings as scheduled. Today, some are threatening to campaign hard against Giuliani’s presidential bid.
Coming soon in Part II: Learn why Rudy’s your guy if you want America to be a police state. No question. If he were to run America the way he ran New York, he’d make the Bush Administration look benevolent.