Giuliani: Mafia Film Buff, Mob Buster
Monday, September 10, 2007; 7:15 PM
NEW YORK -- Rudy Giuliani clearly has a love/hate thing when it comes to the Mafia: celebrates the fictional characters, incarcerates the felonious ones, keeps mum about those in his own family tree.
The former federal prosecutor is both film buff and mob buster, still breaking out his raspy Don Corleone impression and quoting lines from "The Godfather" more than two decades after busting up the New York mob's ruling hierarchy.
But Giuliani spent a lot more time _ he once estimated 4,000 hours _ listening to the bugged conversations of real Mafiosi than channeling Marlon Brando's chipmunk-cheeked boss. And long before anyone heard of Tony Soprano (yes, Rudy's a fan), Giuliani was jailing "Fat Tony" Salerno after the 1986 "Commission" trial.
Giuliani's mob fascination _ including a reported link in his own family _ has already surfaced during the presidential campaign, although few expect much political fallout from the occasional "Godfather" parody. But it provides a glimpse into his career path from prosecutor to mayor to presidential candidate.
When he arrived as U.S. attorney in 1983, the chance to take on the mob was an offer Giuliani could not refuse.
While many Italian-American public figures avoided the word "Mafia," saying it reinforced stereotypes, Giuliani used it repeatedly at news conferences. "By using the word Mafia correctly," he insisted, "you actually help to end the unfair stereotype."
Giuliani's prosecutorial zeal led an attorney for Genovese boss Salerno to charge that Giuliani had "made it his personal mission to bury my client."
Giuliani, uncharacteristically, replied with a no comment.
In addition to the "Commission" case, where the heads of New York's five Mafia families were indicted, Giuliani made his prosecutorial bones with the "Pizza Connection" case _ a mob-bankrolled plan to import $1.6 billion in heroin through pizzerias.
The former two-term mayor's interest in the mob, as either movie patron or prosecutor, is unlikely to impact his presidential candidacy, said one political analyst. Voters are more likely to focus on his performance after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks or his three marriages and the resultant fallout.
"The positive for Giuliani is 9/11," said pollster Maurice Carroll of Quinnipiac University. "The negative is the personal stuff."
A 2000 investigative biography revealed that Giuliani's love/hate deal with the Mafia included his own family: His father and uncle had Mafia ties. Uncle Leo D'Avanzo ran a loan-sharking and gambling operation out of a Brooklyn bar, and used his father Harold as muscle to collect unpaid debts, author Wayne Barrett reported.