Giuliani's record is operatic with dramatic highs and lows

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 29, 2007 

WASHINGTON — In a city with 8 million people, five boroughs, 24 subway lines and two major-league baseball teams, even the most ardent New Yorker had a hard time keeping track of the many faces of Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

There was the Prince of the City, the Giuliani whose policies dramatically reduced crime, transformed 42nd Street from a seedy porno district to an urban Disney attraction, slashed welfare rolls, cut taxes, turned a deficit into a surplus and tamed a government bureaucracy that many experts had said was untamable.

"Rudy Giuliani fundamentally changed the way New York is governed in generally positive ways," said Fran Reiter, a former New York state Liberal Party head who was deputy mayor under Giuliani. "As such, he changed the way New York is governed in the future — it was a successful mayoralty."

Then there was the Prince of Darkness, the ego-driven, thrice married, mean-spirited, always combative Giuliani, who saw enemies everywhere, couldn't share the spotlight, had little patience for the plight of the city's poor and turned a tin ear to African-American complaints of overaggressive police tactics even after three violent, high-profile incidents.

"He's an oversized personality who can capsize a ship in calm waters," said Fred Siegel, a professor at New York's Cooper Union and the author of "The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life." "The good comes with the bad. It's a package — you can't separate one from the other."

Voters know Giuliani as "America's Mayor," the leader who gained national praise for the resolute and compassionate way he steered New York through Sept. 11, 2001, when two hijacked jetliners brought down the World Trade Center.

His handling of Sept. 11 is the cornerstone of his presidential campaign, but it's only part of his story as mayor. To know Giuliani fully, friends and foes agree, one must also know the man who was running New York the day before the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

"The people who are supporting him have one image, 9/11, and are unfamiliar with his record," said former New York Mayor Ed Koch, a one-time Giuliani supporter-turned-critic and the author of "Giuliani: Nasty Man." "I thought he handled 9/11 superbly; no one could have handled it better. But had there been an election on 9/10, he couldn't have been elected dogcatcher."

Before Sept. 11, most New Yorkers had grown tired of Giuliani's combative ways and tumultuous personal life — he announced that he was divorcing his second wife at a news conference without informing her first — which provided ample fodder for the city's raucous tabloids.

By the summer of 2001, New Yorkers were showing signs of Giuliani fatigue. Many liked the job he was doing — he registered a 50 percent approval rating in a July 2001 Quinnipiac University poll — but they didn't like him. The same poll found that only 39 percent of city residents had a favorable opinion of Giuliani, and 36 percent had an unfavorable view.

"He had some substantial accomplishments as mayor, but he had worn out his welcome," said Doug Muzzio, a public affairs professor at New York's Baruch College. "He was fighting with somebody every day. He was the demanding, yelling uncle."

After a high-profile career as the No. 3 official in President Ronald Reagan's Justice Department and the mob-busting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Rudolph William Louis Giuliani became New York's 107th mayor on Jan. 1, 1994, after his second run for the office.

He inherited a Big Apple that seemed to be rotting at the core because of violent crime fueled by crack cocaine, rising rents, poor city services and a mounting homeless problem.

Tourists who drove into Manhattan from the bridges or tunnels were usually greeted at stoplights by "squeegee men," street-corner panhandlers who'd wash car windows, usually with dirty rags, and expect payment for the unwanted service.

Embracing free-market economic solutions and an aggressive "broken windows" law enforcement strategy that focused on small crimes in order to deter bigger ones, Giuliani vowed to take back the city by restoring a sense of safety and civility.

"Work with me to demonstrate that there is no force sufficiently powerful to interrupt us as we scale new heights as a people and as a city," he said in his 1994 inaugural address.

But his path to a more tranquil New York was anything but. He angrily butted heads with the Democratic City Council and advocacy groups that quickly chafed under what they called the new mayor's mean-spirited and autocratic ways.

He quickly set out to show New Yorkers who was in charge. He banned press conferences or demonstrations on the steps of City Hall. After campaigning on a slogan of "One City, One Standard," he refused to meet activists such as the Rev. Al Sharpton and resisted meeting high-ranking African-American elected officials.

"Giuliani's tone was a function of what he was up against," Siegel said. "He's accused of being hard-edged, but he had no choice in order to move the city. When he encountered hostility, that's when he returned it in kind."

But friends and foes say that Giuliani more often than not appeared to be itching for a fight. Former U.S. Rep. Floyd Flake, D-N.Y., one of the few African-American elected officials to endorse Giuliani for a second term, said the mayor's combativeness was a legacy from his days as a federal prosecutor.

"His biggest problem is ego — he has this superiority complex," said Flake, now a Giuliani critic. "He's always a prosecutor; he's never left that role. His life revolves around proving people guilty."

That instinct often got him into hot water. In 2000, Patrick Dorismond, a 26-year-old African-American off-duty security guard, was shot and killed in a scuffle with an undercover police officer outside a midtown Manhattan bar after the officer asked Dorismond where he could buy marijuana. Dorismond had angrily told the officer that he wasn't a drug dealer.

Giuliani defended the police action. He ordered Dorismond's court-sealed juvenile criminal record released to the media. He quipped in a television interview that the victim was "no altar boy."

In fact, the victim had been an altar boy and had attended Brooklyn's Bishop Loughlin High School, Giuliani's alma mater.

For Giuliani supporters such as Fred Siegel, it was hard sometimes to figure out when the mayor's battles were political and when they were personal.

He clashed with the Republican Party in 1994, when he endorsed incumbent Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo over GOP challenger George Pataki, who won the election. He unsuccessfully tried to strip the Brooklyn Museum of its funding because it displayed a painting of the Virgin Mary that contained pieces of elephant dung.

He sparred with his first police commissioner, William Bratton, who was one of the main architects of the get-tough law enforcement strategy that Giuliani credits for cutting crime dramatically.

When Time magazine put a trenchcoat-clad Bratton — not Giuliani — on its cover for a January 1996 story, "City Hall was apoplectic," recalled Andrew Kirtzman, the author of "Rudy Giuliani, Emperor of the City."

In retaliation, Giuliani's administration opened an investigation into a book deal that Bratton had signed and, after the tabloids reported the commissioner's propensity for traveling in high style, scrutinized trips that Bratton and his wife had taken.

Bratton got the hint and quit after two years on the job.

"These were prosecutors," Bratton said in Kirtzman's book. "They were familiar with creating damage through investigation. I had seen them do it at the U.S. Attorney's Office."

Bratton was replaced by Howard Safir, who was replaced by Bernard Kerik in 2000. Kerik was a Giuliani protege who rose from being the mayor's driver to corrections chief to New York's top cop. Questions have been raised about Giuliani's judgment, however, after a federal grand jury in November issued a 16-count indictment against Kerik, charging him with various counts of conspiracy, tax evasion and making false statements to the federal government during his aborted nomination to be President Bush's homeland security secretary.

As for Bratton, after more than a decade of icy silence, in May Giuliani reached out and met with his former police commissioner, who's now the police chief in Los Angeles.

People who know Giuliani say the attempt at rapprochement shows that the passage of time, his fight with prostate cancer, his (third) marriage to Judy Nathan and the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks have softened the former mayor.

But Guy Molinari, a former Staten Island borough president and the co-chairman of Giuliani's presidential campaign in New York, disagrees.

"Rudy is the same Rudy I met years ago," he said. "He's a very firm person; he's hard-charging. He's not changing direction at all."

� McClatchy Newspapers 2007

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