Article by Peter Maass

Rudy Awakening

George  |  April 1999
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has New York under his thumb, and he’s become one of the GOP’s rising stars. But as Giuliani ponders his next move, New Yorkers are starting to rebel against his rough-and-tumble tactics.

“Il Duce!” called out a portly gentleman in an orange t-shirt, trying to attract the attention of Rudolph Giuliani, the mayor of New York City. “Il Duce!”

Giuliani was marching at the head of a parade honoring the city’s West Indian community, and thousands of people lined Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway, waving Caribbean flags, sitting on the curbs or leaning against blue police barricades. It was a late summer day, the weather was humid, the beer iced, the music reggae and the atmosphere tranquil until the mayor and his entourage marched up the street like conquistadors from City Hall.

“Il Duce!” the guy bellowed from the sidewalk. His arm stabbed the air in a straight-armed salute that would have delighted the long-deceased dictator who made the trains run on time in Italy. But the mayor who makes the subways run on time in New York and cleaned up Times Square pretended not to notice this unscripted outbreak of street theater. “Il Duce!” the guy shouted again, straight-arming the sky. “Il Duce! Il Duce!”

Giuliani strode onward, passing a woman who was broadcasting a fog-horn “Booooo” from her supertanker lungs. “Get outta here!” yelled another onlooker, and someone else, less genteel but more grammatical, shouted, “Get the fuck out of here!” Giuliani walked on, plowed ahead, really, waving and giving a thumbs-up to those spectators who were not giving him the middle finger, such as one plump woman who cooed, “Hey, baby, I got a t-shirt for you.” I was a few feet away as Giuliani veered toward the woman; a mayoral aide beside me, not liking the way things looked, whispered to me in that clenched-jaw way so common among stressed-out underlings, “This is a mistake.”

Giuliani grabbed the T-shirt, held it against his chest, and smiled. He shook a few hands, kissed a baby, and, before the hissers and catcallers could process this display of Italian cojones, veered back into the street, his aides and bodyguards trailing him like the tail of a zany comet.

The craziness continued for nearly an hour, the jeers and the cheers, the forays into the arms of admirers. Giuliani steamed on, defiant and exultant, loved and hated, master of the great and impossible domain that is New York.

When it was over, after ducking indoors and changing into a sport shirt, Giuliani made himself available for communion with reporters. Someone asked what he thought of the catcalls. “Everything is relative,” the mayor said. “The amount of booing last year was greater.”

Boos are of academic interest to Giuliani these days, a curious noise that he occasionally hears and generally ignores. For the most part, the mayor is lauded as a political terminator who slashed New York’s murder rate by 70 percent, who sliced welfare rolls to levels last seen in the 1960s, and who presides over the renaissance of a metropolis that had been written off as ungovernable. Giuliani has been more than a mayor; he has been a performer. He dressed in drag for a skit on Saturday Night Live and has appeared on the “Late Show With David Letterman,” once announcing a mock tourism slogan for New York: “We Can Kick Your City"s Ass.”

Giuliani knows that governing in the 1990s is not just about policy-making; it is about entertaining, reaching over the nattering nabobs of negativism—also known as the liberal media—to communicate directly with the people, even if it’s simply to tell them to clean up after their dogs. He kills most audiences with his act. But he is not going for laughs alone; he is positioning himself for employment after 2001, when term limits will force him to leave City Hall. He does not, however, lack for options: They are arrayed before him like scripts on a hot actor’s coffee table. There’s one called “Rudy Goes to the Senate.” Another is entitled “Run for Governor,” and a third reads, “Don’t Rule Out the White House.”

The Giuliani persona has created such possibilities. Tired of pander-addicted candidates spraying America with soporific promises, with political air freshener? Giuliani wants to feel your pain about as much as Patton wanted to hear complaints about C-rations. He is the anti-Clinton, the Latrell Sprewell of politics. He is not a wonk. He is not a healer. He doesn’t parse his words: Jerk and idiot are among his favorites; is means is. He can be rude, even contemptuous. At a year-end meeting with local reporters a few months back, Giuliani replied to a question about the city’s being “leaner and meaner” by shooting back, “That’s an insulting question…It’s something that you keep writing, and I really don"t give a darn. I’m doing my job…If people like my personality, thank you. If you don’t, I really don’t care.”

Many New Yorkers agree that they don’t need to like Giuliani as long as he is effective. “This fella is getting things done,” says Gary Muhrcke, who owns a shoe store opposite Bryant Park, which was once a drug haven behind the New York Public Library but is now a pleasant quadrangle where office workers relax during the day. “He’s not afraid to step on some toes,” Muhrcke adds. “Sometimes you agree with him, sometimes you disagree with him, but at least you know his position.”

After rarely leaving New York in his first term, Giuliani began barreling around the nation before last November"s elections. The ostensible purpose of his travels was to boost Republican candidates, but Giuliani’s penchant for visiting key presidential states—namely Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and California—ignited speculation that he wanted to run for president. He did not discourage the talk. In Waterloo, Iowa, I saw him deliver a keynote speech at a GOP fundraiser. He led a hand-over-breast recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance as everyone stood up and faced the flags flanking the auditorium stage. After several paeans hailing the New Yorker, in the words of one cliche-ridden speaker, for “putting the shine back on the Big Apple,” Giuliani launched into a proto-stump speech about fighting crime, ending welfare, battling drugs and getting government off the backs of honest Americans. He started by surveying the room and shooting off a favorite one-liner: “This is a lot more Republicans than I ever get to see in Manhattan!”

The laughter was immediate: He killed ‘em. Even so, the implausibilities of a presidential run seem to have caught up with Giuliani. New York mayors have rarely made successful bids for higher office, let alone the White House, and Giuliani’s positions don’t sit well with his party’s more conservative element: He is pro-choice and pro-gun control, and he committed the cardinal Republican sin of endorsing a Democrat, Mario Cuomo, in the 1994 New York gubernatorial race. GOP conservatives have one word of advice for Giuliani on his presidential hopes: fuhgeddaboudit. The veep scenario is dubious, too. If the party’s presidential nominee is looking for someone who can help carry New York, the proven statewide vote-getter is Governor George Pataki. Plus, Giuliani would be the Doberman of vice presidents. Who would want to be tethered to that for four years?

More likely is a run for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 2000. Before Moynihan announced his retirement late last year, most New York political observers thought that Giuliani wasn’t interested in being a senator and would not fare well if elected: Abrasiveness is not appreciated in the coziness of the Senate. But polls show Giuliani would have little trouble winning his party"s nomination, and the mayor has strongly hinted that a Senate campaign is the way he’ll go. If Hillary Rodham Clinton tries for the Democratic nomination, as state Democrats are hoping she will, New York might be the setting for the liveliest race of 2000, if not the decade. Rudy vs. Hillary—it doesn’t get any better than that.

The story of Rudolph Giuliani is a political classic. The grandson of Italian immigrants, he was raised in working-class neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Long Island and graduated magna cum laude from New York University Law School. During the Reagan Administration he became associate attorney general, the third-highest position in the Justice Department. In 1983 he was appointed U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, where he led crackdowns on the mob, government corruption, white-collar crime and drug dealers. Although he lost his first mayoral campaign in 1989, four years later he edged out incumbent David Dinkins, who was seen as an affable but ineffectual leader of a city plagued by unemployment, poverty and crime. Giuliani’s hard-charging administration included fellow prosecutors who shared both his round-the-clock work ethic and his notion that the only way to take care of business was to attack and, if that failed, attack again.

“We were Republicans and reformers coming into City Hall, so it wasn"t going to be easy,” says Peter Powers, a longtime friend of Giuliani’s and deputy mayor in his first term. “We had to be tough. Everyone was against us.”

Inheriting a steep budget shortfall, Giuliani made cuts in almost every department With the conpicuous exception of the Police Department, insisting, against a chorus of criticism from the city’s liberal establishment, that the war against crime required the resources he was giving it. Giuliani also embraced a crime-fighting initiative developed by then-Police Commissioner William Bratton. The program boiled down to a minute examination, on a daily basis, of the incidence of crime in each precinct; any upward spike would get immediate attention from not only from the commissioner"s office, but also from the mayor’s office. Giuliani and Bratton embraced the “Broken Windows” theory of sociologist James Q. Wilson—the idea that a single broken window in a building, left unattended, will give the impression of civil apathy and invite more vandalism. The solution? Repair the broken window, and stop a cycle of decay and crime before it starts. That approach led to a crackdown on petty crimes that the police had been tolerating. Suddenly, there was a police sweep on the squeegee men who wiped windshields with a dirty rag and demanded payment from the drivers—or else they “keyed” the sides of the car. The police also went after youths hopping subway turnstiles and men urinating in public. The regimen worked: Not only did robbery and murder and rape decline, but the emphasis on curbing everyday harassments brought real improvement to New Yorkers’ quality of life.

Giuliani has always had little patience for minor offenses, as Sal Scarpato can tell you. Scarpato and Giuliani were both members of Phi Rho Pi fraternity at Manhattan College in the early 1960s, before Vietnam penetrated the national psyche. The men at Manhattan, an all-male institution, wore jackets and ties to school and bowed their heads in prayer before class. Scarpato was the fraternity mischief-maker. Giuliani, a fraternity officer who ran the meetings, didn’t tolerate speaking out of turn, which was Scarpato’s favorite indulgence. The two clashed often, and one day Scarpato threw a soda bottle at Giuliani—it missed—which, naturally, led to the young men leaving the room and scuffling outside. “Rudy and I represented opposite points of view,” recalls Scarpato, now a businessman in Los Angeles. “If he were running a meeting, he expected it to run according to Robert"s Rules [of meeting protocol]...I was a young kid from the Bronx. What did I know about Robert’s Rules?”

Giuliani knew what he wanted, and he didn’t appreciate people getting in his way. In 1963 he ran for class president, but his opponent, Jim Farrell, beat him soundly. “The night of the election there was a school dance in one of the hotels,” Farrell recalls now. “He looked at me like he would kill me…I had taken something from him that he not only wanted but believed he was entitled to.”

Farrell, who became a lawyer in New York, ran into Giuliani several times in later years. He remembers their last encounter vividly. They were at a banquet, and Giuliani was seated at the dais. Farrell approached his old classmate to say hello. “I said, ‘Rudy, how are you? Nice to see you.’ I tried to reach my hand up to the dais. He looked at me like, Who the hell are you?” The mayor recognized him, Farrell is sure; he just didn’t want to admit it.

That stubbornness dates back to Giuliani’s earliest years. He was an only child of hard-working parents who doted on him and taught him to stand his ground in the world. Giuliani likes to tell the story of how, when he was a young kid in Brooklyn, his father dressed him in a Yankees uniform and told him to go for a walk outside. Wearing Yankee pinstripes was a provocative act in a borough beholden to the Brooklyn Dodgers, but Rudy’s father wanted to toughen up his son. Rudy was taunted by neighborhood kids but refused to cut short the walk, and today he still boasts of his Yankee loyalties.

Giuliani’s extended family was steeped in New York civic life; his father was a tavern-keeper, his uncles were cops or firemen. The Giulianis had boisterous dinners at which the main topics of discussion were politics, politics and more politics. Everyone was a Democrat, including Rudy, who was an ardent supporter of John F. Kennedy until he grew disenchanted with the disorder of the 1960s and migrated to the Republican side. Peter Powers, one of Giuliani"s best friends in those days, recalls the Giuliani men arguing passionately about issues of the day. “You had to be strong and tough to last in that debate,” Powers recalls. “If you were weak, you wouldn"t make it.”

Giuliani attended parochial schools, but he is hardly a dogmatic Catholic: He supports gay rights, married his second cousin and, in 1982, had that 14-year union annulled in order to have a church wedding with Donna Hanover, his current wife. He does, however, retain a Catholic certainty in his beliefs that makes him unafraid of picking fights. The list of those whom Giuliani has singled out for mayoral punishment includes taxi drivers (Giuliani thwarted their attempts to stage a traffic-jamming protest), hot dog vendors (Giuliani has tried to oust them from many streets), pedestrians (the mayor has closed crosswalks at some intersections), civil libertarians (Giuliani has floated the idea of a DNA database for all newborns) and owners of topless clubs (many of which have been padlocked under Giuliani’s publicity-grabbing crackdown on sex shops). And, of course, there is Bratton, the police commissioner who was forced from his job in 1996 because, City Hall observers believe, Giuliani didn’t want anyone else taking bows for the successful war on crime.

In 1997 the mayor’s reluctance to concede that New York’s renaissance might have been helped by other people, such as Bratton, or other factors, such as the boom on Wall Street and the decline of the crack cocaine trade, prompted New York magazine to run ads on city buses hailing the publication as “possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn’t taken credit for.” Giuliani was not amused, and the city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority yanked the ads. In response, the magazine sued, arguing that its First Amendment rights were violated. Two courts ruled in the magazine’s favor, but Giuliani appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The magazine’s lawyers argued the appeal should be dismissed because the litigation was caused “by the whim of a mercurial mayor.” The Supreme Court, in refusing to hear the appeal, apparently agreed.

“My simple line to America is ‘Beware of Rudy Giuliani,’” says Norman Siegel, head of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Since 1994, the NYCLU has filed 16 First Amendment cases against Giuliani"s administration, prevailing on 14, losing on two. Another challenge looms over Giulian’s decision to limit public access to City Hall, which used to be relatively open and now, thanks to the mayor, resembles a fortress, ringed by concrete to fend off urban barbarians. The Police Department cites its terrorism; the mayor"s critics suggest that he is a control freak.

“He thinks that freedom is about respect for authority,” says Siegel, who attended law school with Giuliani. “There are people in New York who have called him a dictator, Hitler, Mussolini. All of those things are outrageously not accurate, and whenever anybody says that I correct them. But you don"t have to be that far out in order to be a threat to civil rights.”

African-American New Yorkers in particular have not taken well to Giuliani. That’s partly because he defeated a black incumbent, Dinkins, and rarely passes up an opportunity to belittle his predecessor. Dinkins, who is slow to anger, has had enough of Giuliani’s abuse. “He is a bully,” Dinkins says. “He uses fear and intimidation to accomplish things.” Most black leaders in New York believe that Giuliani’s take-no-prisoners mentality has implictly encouraged police brutality. Complaints against officers have risen since he took office, though police officials say this is because more cops are on the streets, and whenever contact with civilians increases, so do the number of complaints. The debate grew heated in 1997 after police officers arrested a Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, and allegedly sodomized him with a toilet plunger at a local precinct. During the beating, the officers reportedly jeered, “It"s Giuliani time,” meaning, This is what cops can do when Rudy is mayor. Though it later emerged that the phrase had not been used, “Giuliani time” struck a chord.

The issue of Giuliani and race took center stage again last September, when Khallid Muhammed, a former minister of the Nation of Islam, held his controversial Million Youth March in Harlem. The mayor tried to prevent the rally, calling it a “hate march.” Muhammed, known for his anti-Semitic and anti-white vitriol, won a court order granting permission for a four-hour event. Giuliani responded by closing off subway exits and deploying more than 3,000 cops to guard a march that wound up attracting a peaceful crowd of perhaps 6,000 people—roughly one cop for every two marchers. Just as the four-hour time limit expired, with Muhammed winding up a bigotry-laden tirade, a police helicopter swooped low over the crowd and officers pulled the plug on the sound system. Chaos erupted, and more than a dozen police officers and civilians were injured. When it was over, black leaders accused Giuliani of treating Harlem as if it were an occupied territory. Giuliani conceded nothing, although his problems worsened in February when four cops killed African immigrant Amadou Diallo in a fusillade of 41 shots. Diallo was unarmed.

“He wants to play to an Archie Bunker crowd,” Reverend Al Sharpton says. “Some of my friends call him a racist, but that’s giving him an out. I think he"s worse than that. I can deal with a racist, but I can’t deal with someone who is duplicitous and uses racism to manipulate people.”

Giuliani disputes that charge. City Hall officials note that blacks are more frequently victims of crime than any other demographic group. Consequently, the drop in murders, from 2,000 a year when he took office to about 600 last year, means that more blacks are alive today than would be if he were not mayor.

Like presidents, mayors usually take their greatest strides in their first term, and Giuliani will have a hard time matching his first. Crime may continue to decline, but the days of head-turning plunges are gone. The Wall Street boom can’t go on forever. Some New Yorkers are even starting to grumble about the “Disneyfication” of the city. Meanwhile, most of Giuliani’s second-term initiatives have an almost petty flavor to them, such as when he urged neighborhood residents who opposed topless clubs to photograph patrons entering them and publish the pictures in local papers.

Ed Koch, the voluble former mayor of New York and presiding judge on TV’s People’s Court, believes Giuliani’s Doberman demeanor is now alienating New Yorkers. “He is on the cusp of being held in very low regard,” Koch says. “He’s his own worst enemy. There’s no reservoir of goodwill. When he starts going down the incline, which is happening, there will be nobody there to support him, because they’ll all be kicking him.” I asked Koch why Giuliani hasn’t turned kinder and gentler in his second term. Koch cackled, his version of a political purr. “Why does the scorpion sting? It’s the nature of a scorpion.”

One holdover from Giuliani’s first term is his war against the media. The mayor usually holds a brief press conference every day, sometimes two or three. As a former prosecutor, he seems to enjoy arguing his case with reporters. But he grants interviews infrequently—he canceled a long-scheduled one with me, claiming he hadn’t known about it—and he rarely shmoozes with reporters. The reason is simple: While the national media fawn over Giuliani in much the same way they exaggerated Michael Dukakis’s Massachusetts Miracle in 1988, the local press has a tendency to note that the parks may not be as clean as the mayor says or that the police may not be as color-blind as they should be. To Giuliani, that makes the press the enemy.

Take, for instance, the press conference before the West Indian parade. Two days earlier, police had broken up the rally in Harlem, and Giuliani was asked what he thought of the brutality accusations. “That’s really an outrageous displacement of responsibility and the typical knee-jerk anti-police reaction that happens in some of the media…” he began. “The press fails to report the rhetoric and the language [of rally speakers], so it gives a false picture of the numerous people that got up there and called for the murder of Jews, the numerous people that got up there and called for the killing of police officers, the numerous people that got up there and called for the killing of white people.” Though Giuliani himself was painting an exaggerated picture of the march, he was just hitting his stride, throwing out words like “outrageous,” “perverted” and, again, “knee-jerk,” to describe the reporting of the event.

Such antagonism seems counter-productive for someone seeking higher office or public support for his policies. It is particularly ironic given that Giuliani began his second term by initiating a campaign for “civility” in New York. The mayor, however, begs to disagree. “To me civility and niceness are not the same thing,” he told the Washington Post. “Civility is the basic respect you have to have for the law. I actually think I am a very polite person.”

In the end, the mayor has chosen to deal with reporters in much the same way he deals with political rivals—by trying to intimidate and marginalize them. Yet journalists continue to land reportorial jabs, and the political cut from one of those blows has yet to heal.

Rumors have long circulated in New York political circles that Giuliani"s marriage to Donna Hanover is far from blissful. The couple, who have two children, rarely appear together; Hanover even skipped her husband"s re-election bash and refused to say whether she voted for her husband. According to her spokeswoman, Hanover, a features reporter for a local Fox morning show, just “wants to be known for being her own person. But in 1997 the state of their marriage became a public issue when Vanity Fair reported that Giuliani had become “intimate” with another woman. Named in the story, the woman in question was Cristyne Lategano, his director of communications and closest confidante, occasionally referred to as “co-mayor.”

Giuliani denied the story, and his office pointed out that the article was flawed. Key details, such as the overnight trips on which the alleged relationship began, were incorrect. On one trip, Lategano was not present; on another, the overnight trip was not, in fact, overnight. The story predicted that Giuliani and his wife would separate after the 1997 election; they have not. Vanity Fair stands by its article but has acknowledged Lategano was absent from one of the trips it suggested she was on. Lategano and Giuliani do not deny that they have a close professional relationship, but both charge their accusers with sexism—the assumption that a close relationship between a male politician and a female adviser must be more than professional.

City Hall reporters don’t ask Giuliani about Lategano. They know the mayor won’t give them answers; he responds to queries he doesn’t appreciate with remarks such as, “That"s not a serious question” or “I expect more intelligence than that.” And the beat reporters know that any journalist who asks personal questions will get frozen out.

But with the national political culture immersed in sagas of marital infidelities, Giuliani cannot avoid the issue, and he was asked about it while on a trip to South Carolina last September. At a press conference at state GOP headquarters, a local reporter, who wasn’t aware of the Lategano rumor, asked Giuliani about stories that congressman Dan Burton had fathered a child out of wedlock: “What are your thoughts on the scrutiny that we"re finding in the political world of elected officials and if, down the road, you were to seek a higher office, how might that affect you?”

The silence in the room, as Giuliani hesitated before replying, was absolute. “The fact is there is a lot more scrutiny of people’s private lives than was the case ten, fifteen twenty years ago,” he said. “If it connects, in honesty and good faith, to the performance of their job; if you can find some connection between a problem they have in their private life or an issue they have in their private life, and the way they are doing their job; then it’s a legitimate [issue]. If it doesn’t, then it really is just to satisfy someone"s prurient interest, and that"s kind of a sad way for our society to go, and a sad way for journalism or politics to go.”

The reporter asked again, “How might that scrutiny affect you down the road?”

“I have no idea,” Giuliani replied, his face unreadable. “I don’t speculate on it, I don"t think about it. I think that you only have a certain amount that you can control of what you"d like to see in politics and journalism. A lot of times it doesn’t turn out that way.”

They lined up around the block and waited, in the darkness of the borough of Queens, to pass single-file through a metal detector. From there, they walked into an auditorium and took a seat, and when all the seats were taken, they stood against the walls, nearly a thousand people in all. There was a buzz in the place, the sort you feel at a religious revival or rock concert, a premonition that something memorable and great might occur on this evening. The heavy security—bodyguards hovered around the entrances, eyeing everyone with that one-wrong-move-and-you’re-history look—lent the place an aura of gravitas. Yes, something big was going to happen.

Promptly at eight o’clock, Giuliani strode into the hall, and the first members of the audience to see him shouted out “Rudy! Rudy!” Applause rippled around the auditorium, passing from front to back. The first rows were occupied by approximately a hundred city officials—commissioners of this, directors of that—and they rose to their feet, as did everyone else, a standing ovation before the mayor had even said hello. What followed in the next hour was a town meeting that mixed the confessional tone of a talk show with the political theater of a sultan hearing the pleadings of his subjects. All manner of problems were raised by the mostly white, mostly middle-class audience—divorce problems, noise problems, trash problems, tree problems, traffic problems, dirigible problems: One man wanted the city to open an airport for blimps.

Giuliani promised action on matters in the city’s purview and instructed petitioners to talk, on the spot, with the relevant officials who sat before him. If the city couldn’t help, citizens were advised to take matters into their own hands. “Go business to business and tell ‘em they’re slobs,” Giuliani advised one petitioner who lamented shops which let their garbage pile up. “And also see if you can organize boycotts of the worst offenders.”

More applause. Whether the audience members were Republicans or Democrats—and the odds, in New York City, are that most were Democrats—they seemed to leave in a state of rapture, typified by a small woman who gave her name as Rosie. She asked the mayor to tell the parks department to clean a neglected park near her home. Her humorous soliloquy, in a thick accent that oozed Queens, prompted amiable laughter in the hall, and Giuliani played along, cracking a few jokes and promising to take care of the matter. Rosie was irresistible, Rudy was irresistible, and they ended up in a bear hug as the place crested into hollers and cheers. “God bless you and thanks a million,” Rosie crooned. “You"re the greatest president…”—the laughter was immediate—”...uh, the greatest mayor.”

It was a good show. Not for the first time, Giuliani killed ’em.