Giuliani's Law and Order Armor
There's no questioning Rudy's bold leadership on crime and terrorism. Or is there?
When Rudy Giuliani was still deciding whether to run for president, a leaked confidential strategy memo provided an unvarnished view of liabilities advisers told the former New York mayor he would face in a battle for the 2008 Republican nomination.
Three marriages and a public affair. Millions earned at his post-9/11 consulting business from some questionable clients. His disgraced former police commissioner and ex-business partner Bernard Kerik. Support for legalized abortion.
But Giuliani had two potent assets: the enduring image of "America's mayor" leading New York City after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And an unprecedented crime drop while he ran a city once branded "ungovernable." "His record speaks for itself," says John Odermatt, emergency management commissioner under Giuliani.
Attack. Now, however, with the former two-term mayor making a formidable presidential bid, his campaign is facing its first full-on attack. Critics are questioning credit the mayor is taking for reducing the city's crime rate. And his 9/11 credentials, which revived his political fortunes, are being challenged by a group that also emerged from the tragedy with a hero's sheen: firefighters.
But just how difficult will it be for critics like the firefighters to chip at the very foundation of Giuliani's White House run? An uphill battle, says GOP consultant Ed Rollins, because Giuliani has celebrity name recognition and a durable image as a "significant, tough leader." At a June campaign event in New Hampshire, retired executive George Carlisle introduced the former mayor as "the greatest leader I've seen in my lifetime."
But last week, when the International Association of Fire Fighters released a video critical of Giuliani's 9/11 performance, the campaign was worried enough to dispatch a small army of high-level supporters and former city officials to defend the candidate. With good reason: "If there's an organization with the kind of public support and image that could break through Giuliani's image, it's the firefighters," says Dave Redlawsk, a University of Iowa political science professor.
And the firefighters, who blame Giuliani for outdated radios that failed on 9/11 and for suspending the search at ground zero when they say 242 firefighters were still missing, haven't been alone in questioning the former mayor's leadership. Though the federal 9/11 commission treated Giuliani with kid gloves during its hearings, it concluded that he had failed to get the police and fire departments to cooperate before the attacks and hadn't resolved a decade-old problem with firefighters' radios.
In their 2006 book, Grand Illusion, authors Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins also fault the mayor for moving the city's emergency command center to the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center in 1998. It put the center in a building that was part of the twin tower complex, which terrorists had attacked five years earlier. "He had prepared the city? Handled the aftermath? Fallacy," Barrett says.
In the documentary-style video the union is distributing online and to its 280,000 members, firefighters claim that the lack of radio contact led directly to the deaths of 121 of their comradesa total of 343 firefighters perished that daywho never received two evacuation orders before the North Tower collapsed. "[Giuliani's] attempt to be president of the United States is based solely on this urban legend, this myth of leadership on 9/11," says the union's general president, Harold Schaitberger.
Politics. Giuliani's former Chief of Staff Anthony Carbonetti, now a political adviser, dismisses the union claims as pure politics. "This is an organization that supported John Kerry for president in 2004, so it's no shock that they're out there going after a credible Republican," he said. "Rudy's affection for the rank and file is second to none."
Giuliani's other campaign trump card is his crime-fighting success as mayor of New York. Crime in the city had started to decline before he took office. But his newly hired police commissioner, William Bratton, a national rising star, brought in fresh blood and innovative techniques, including an intolerance for petty crime and a policing strategy that relied heavily on computer analysis of crime patterns.
Between 1993 and 1996, the number of murders dropped dramatically, from 1,946 to 983. Criminologists like Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia Law School's Center for Crime, Community and Law, say other factors, including the waning crack epidemic, pre-Giuliani housing initiatives for the poor, and more stable immigrant communities, contributed mightily to the decline. "It's a grandiose claim to say a single cause drove down something as complicated as crime," he says. The debate still rages, and crime continued to decline, but most give Giuliani and Bratton some credit for innovative tactics and better management.
Despite their success, Bratton's headline-grabbing performance grated on Giuliani, who made clear his displeasure. Bratton resigned after 27 months. In June, after 10 years of not speaking to Bratton, who now heads the Los Angeles Police Department, Giuliani engineered a tactical détente and traveled to California for a photo op with him.
For now, says longtime Democratic political consultant Raymond Strother, America has seen one narrow snapshot of Giuliani, the one where he's standing tall with the trade center ruins behind him. That could get him elected president of the United States. But if other, more controversial images crowd that one out, Giuliani's fortunes could fall in a hurry.
With Nikki Schwab
This story appears in the July 23, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.