HOW HE GOT HERE
Sunday, December 16, 2007
New York was warm on that spring day in 1961, remembers Jack O'Leary, a teacher and role model for 17-year-old Rudy Giuliani, and a confidant for the boy's father, Harold Giuliani. Harold had asked O'Leary, then a member of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, to Sunday afternoon dinner at the Giulianis' home on Long Island. He said he had something he needed to discuss. A puzzled O'Leary found Harold in the back yard, stretched out on a chaise longue beneath a blanket despite the heat, his head on a pillow. His son was standing like a sentry next to his prostrate father.
O'Leary took a seat in a patio chair and listened as a despondent Harold told a troubling story: He had been arrested recently on suspicion of loitering in the restroom of a local public park -- loitering for immoral purposes, O'Leary recalls Harold explaining.
O'Leary glanced at Rudy.
That the police had dropped the matter against Harold, never so much as filing a formal charge, had done nothing to dent his trauma. Insisting to O'Leary that the incident had been a misunderstanding, Harold alluded to his version of what had happened in the park restroom: Suffering from chronic constipation, he had been doing deep knee bends to loosen his bowels. But most of Harold's rambling talk revolved around his only child, and his fear that the incident might forever haunt Rudy.
"Harold had suffered a nervous breakdown over what had happened," recalls O'Leary, sitting in a restaurant in Northern California, where he lives today after leaving the De La Salle Christian Brothers in the late '60s. "He said he couldn't work. He couldn't do anything. But, with all his problems, he was mostly worried over what all of this would do to Rudy."
The younger Giuliani solemnly listened to his father's anguish. "Rudy was very calm -- no crying, no hysterics," O'Leary remembers. "I knew by the way he was acting that he had already heard the full story from Harold, and that he was there for him and his mother. . . . He'd been brought up to be loyal to family and the people close to him."
Giuliani says he can't remember much about the episode O'Leary describes. Nor does he remember his father, who died in 1981, ever lecturing him about loyalty, only that his dad routinely exemplified the quality until it acquired the force of an ethic in the Giuliani household.
Harold, he says, once offered him an important bit of advice. "He said to me, 'It's more important to go to a funeral than a wedding, because people are going to need you more at a funeral,' " Giuliani recalls. "He said you have to be there for people who are there for you even remotely. . . . That was about loyalty for him. . . . In my upbringing, I grew up seeing that."
But there were limits in 1961 to what Giuliani knew about his father's past, particularly the extent of his allegiance to relatives. A year earlier, Harold had asked O'Leary for a favor: Would he speak to a judge on behalf of one of his nephews from his wife Helen's side of the family, a young man who had yet to be sentenced for trying to sell a stolen car?
Twenty years later, during his first campaign to become mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani would tell O'Leary that he never knew that his late father and O'Leary had interceded on behalf of his lawbreaking cousin. "I don't want to know any more," O'Leary recalls a protesting Rudy saying as he began telling the story.
O'Leary says he did visit the judge, who told him that he'd already decided not to lock up Rudy's cousin. "The judge said to me that he didn't think the kid had a chance growing up under the circumstances he did," O'Leary remembers.