The Reality of Rudy Giuliani

It has been said that the greatest benefit that the modern public relations apparatus can bestow on those fortunate enough to be in its protective graces is that one is allowed to be judged by carefully crafted perception and not by actual actions. It wouldn’t be difficult at all to think of figures of whom this is true. Regarding modern American politics, even with five living presidents (and Reagan being dead), the smart money may well go for Rudy Giuliani.

Rare as it is for a mayor to achieve much national notoriety, let alone international, Giuliani has achieved both in plenty. He was the relentless crime fighter who ‘saved’ New York City from the endless hoards of criminals using cutting edge policing theory and technology. Actually crime began to decline significantly under his predecessor David Dinkins mainly because the crack epidemic burned out (and a reduction in the number of young men who statistically commit the most crimes- a phenomenon that Levitt and Dubner famously attributed to abortions in Freakonomics), and the use of Compstat in its current form was pioneered in the city by police commisioner Bill Bratton who Giuliani ran out of town when he thought Bratton was hogging too much of the limelight. Bratton has gone on to a pretty distinguished career (as far as police commissioners can) while Giuliani’s last commissioner Bernard Kerik is in the middle of a four year prison stretch for tax evasion and helping a mob connected construction firm win city contracts.

Giuliani was the man who ‘cleaned up’ Times Square from pornographic filth and caused a ruckus by threatening the Brooklyn Museum with the loss of city funds over its 1999 exhibit Sensation (which featured Chris Ofili’s piece The Holy Virgin Mary, made partially with cow dung). Yet the transformation of Times Square to its current form (for better or worse) again began under David Dinkins. At precisely the same time he was battling immoral art Giuliani was having an affair on his second wife who he eventually informed the press he would be divorcing without informing her about it first.

If accepting a certain amount of grandstanding and petty hypocrisy is evitable, it would be pleasant to think that there are still limits. It was on September 11th, 2001 when Rudy Giuliani became ‘Mayor of the World’, an ‘America Churchill’ who rushed to the scene of the worst terrorist attack on American soil and took charge by coordinating the rescuers who had been prepared by his foresight to establish an Office of Emergency Management, and in the aftermath held the city together by the sheer force of his determined personality.

The brutal truth is that the official response to the 9/11 attacks in New York was a picture of dysfunction. Giuliani’s Office of Emergency Management, originally designed to coordinate emergency operations of different agencies, was completely useless at the time it was needed most, mainly due to the fact that Giuliani insisted, over the objections of practically everyone else involved in the project, that the office’s headquarters be within walking distance of City Hall. It ended up inside WTC 7- a site that was already the target of a 1993 terrorist attack. Far from rushing to the crime scene, Giuliani was rushing to a mistake and spent most of the fateful morning seeking out a new command center by moving north away from the towers (the command center site has since been moved to a more remote spot in Brooklyn, its original destination). 911 operators were right to the end telling callers from inside the towers to stay put after an evacuation was ordered. The police and fire departments were not coordinating (in part due to that lack of a central headquarters, partly due to a long standing acrimony), and due to a long bout of corporate cronyism involving Motorola of which Giuliani’s administration was smack in the middle of (see Wayne Barrett’s Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11), fireman were equipped with inadequate, outdated radios that left hundreds of them unable to hear the evacuation orders that would have probably saved many. Police helicopters warned repeatedly that the North Tower would collapse as early as 25 minutes before it happened, fire chiefs were unable to heed these warning.

It was also Giuliani who echoed Christie Whitman and the EPA’s public assessments that the air quality around ground zero was safe from toxins, suppressing his own administrations outdoor air tests. The city took 87 outdoor test of air quality from September 12th through September 29th. Seventeen showed hazardous asbestos levels, others were so overloaded with particle dust that no readings could be taken. Health problems persist to this day among clean-up workers and residents. Congress finally passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act at the end of 2010 allocating $4.2 billion to create the World Trade Center Health Program for testing and treatment of long term health problems. In the face of all this it is difficult to look back with anything but disgust at all the worldwide accolades Giuliani gladly received (embellishing his role every step of the way) in the aftermath of the attacks from fawning journalists, celebrity pundits like Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman, even a knighthood from the British monarchy.

Fortunately Giuliani’s post-mayoral political life hasn’t gone as swimmingly. There was a stalled campaign against Hillary Clinton for one of New York Senate’s seats and a laughable 2008 campaign for the White House, one he made sure to drop-out of before he got shellacked even in New York State. He wasn’t even able, not even after the 9/11 attacks, to overturn New York City’s voter approved term limits for mayors (this was left for his successor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, to achieve).

On the other hand evidence suggests that Giuliani has raked in tens of millions in speaking fees and through his consulting firm Giuliani Partners. Still basking in the glow of his alleged 9/11 brilliance, Giuliani Partners (the company’s web site includes the banner: Integrity, Optimism, Courage, Preparedness, Communication, Accountability) won contracts in a wide range of fields from pharmaceutical companies to scandal plagued WorldCom. It assisted in helping Perdue Pharma avoid having Oxycontin use, linked to a spate of overdoses, restricted by the DEA. After a lengthy investigation several executives eventually plead guilty to false advertising, the company paid a small fine and didn’t have to admit an ounce of wrong doing. Giuliani Partners also wrote a report for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America predicatively touting the dangers of cheaper imported proscription drugs from Canada as a border risk in the age of terror.

While the list of clients has also included many some blue-chip corporations like Apple and General Electric (though the firm as always refused to list its clients who have to sign confidentiality agreements), Giuliani Partners has not been above dipping into the farcical, like with the $4.3 million it got from a group of Mexican businessmen in 2002 to advise on crime fighting in Mexico City. That affair began with a staged, dramatic drive-thru by Giuliani through the mean streets and finished with a list of 146 recommendations that succeeded in reducing crime nary a single percentage point, well less than the ten percent promised.

Yet even in the grimy private sector this game manages to reach new lows. This past spring found Giuliani in Serbia working as an advisor for Aleksandar Vucic’s failed mayoral bid. Vucic some time ago was minister of information to none other than Slobodan Milosevic and author of the Information Law that banned criticism of the government. Running for president on the same ticket as Vucic was Tomislav Nikolic, known as “Toma the Gravedigger”, also a former member of the Milosevic regime, who a few weeks after being elected publicly denied that any atrocities occurred at Srebrenica.

This was not the first time Giuliani had shined his light on a shady political figure. Last year he was in Peru with Keiko Fujimori, then a right-wing candidate for president as well as the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, the former president currently serving 25 years for kidnapping and authorizing death squads. Fujimori senior has always been suspected of pulling the strings for his daughter as she spends her political life trying to clear his name. Keiko Fujimori narrowly lost the election.

Even groups designated as terrorists by the U.S. government are no longer beneath the great anti-terrorist crusader. This past March Giuliani traveled to Paris to stump for Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). Formerly a militia for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war and later part of Hussein’s awful slaughter of the Kurds in 1991 (the group also murdered six Americans in Iran during the 1970s), MEK claims to have reformed itself (though it seems to retain plenty of cultish qualities such as mandated divorce and celibacy), renounced terrorism, and is opposing the Ahmadinejad regime in Iran. Apparently this is enough for Giuliani, along with a whole host of far too many American public figures (such as Howard Dean and retired military figures like Gen. Wesley Clark and Gen. Anthony Rinni) who are accepting payments to assist MEK in being removed from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

All a far cry from the man who had Yasir Arafat removed from a concert in Lincoln Center all those years ago. More likely is that publicity stunt was only one in an endless line of shallow, dishonest self promotions which probably was Giuliani’s only true political genius all along.

Joseph Grosso is a writer and librarian in New York.


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Joseph Grosso is a librarian and writer in New York City. He is the author of Emerald City: How Capital Transformed New York (Zer0 Books).