Giuliani, Forever With His Dukes and Dander Up
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 30, 1999; Page C1
Hizzoner, the dyspeptic, commanding and inveterately quarrelsome mayor of New York, sits in his corner office at City Hall wearing radio headphones that resemble oversize earmuffs.
It's 11 a.m., time for "Live From City Hall‚. . ." on WABC Radio, the city's weekly 50,000-megawatt window into the coiled psyche of Rudolph William Louis Giuliani III.
The mayor clears his throat with a few public interest announcements and he's off . . . attacking his handpicked education chancellor for opposing private school vouchers.
"Don't listen to the special-interest, job protection coalition," he advises listeners. "Don't let the school bureaucracy and edu-crats determine which school your child can go to."
And those cops who refuse to write enough double-parking tickets?
"Man, that really gets me angry. . . . My contention, and it shouldn't be a contention, it should be a decision, after all, I'm the M-A-Y-O-R, and I want them to write tickets . . ."
As for the first lady, this Hillary Rodham Clinton, who may run against him for a U.S. Senate seat in New York, maybe she'd like to debate Yankees trivia, huh?
"Where was she when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run? Probably in Illinois somewhere‚. . ."
On and on and on he goes. New York's forever wartime mayor, scolding, abjuring, psychoanalyzing the millions of New Yorkers who had the good sense to elect him but perhaps lack the discipline to defer to his wisdom.
An intelligent man defined more by his enemies than by his friends, a political pugilist who rather enjoys martyrdom (an adviser once counseled Hizzoner to think "smile" whenever he was more naturally inclined to sneer), Giuliani, 55, is father to a most unusual conundrum.
He is popularly regarded as the helmsman of the city's renaissance. His name is synonymous with declining crime and welfare rates. And he is pro-choice, pro-gun control and a resolute champion of immigration, positions that are well within New York's mainstream.
It plays great in the national media. Wall Street spurts like an oil gusher and Times Square never looked prettier. National Republicans raise money by marketing the mere prospect that Saint Rudy might run for the U.S. Senate and slay the Arkansas dragon.
And yet . . .
Sixty-three percent of Giuliani's fellow city residents now tell pollsters they'd rather not see the mayor gain a Senate seat. Giuliani stays within hailing distance of Hillary Clinton only because of his strong showing with suburban and Upstate voters.
Or, put another way, Giuliani is most popular with those who know him least. A raspy-voiced city Republican leader emits an exasperated sigh.
"He's one of our most effective mayors, tourists are streaming to the city, and he can't hold his own in the polls against a woman from Arkansas?" the GOP leader says. "He's coming to the sad realization that being a [insert unprintable word] really does hurt you politically."
So you have the question: Is Giuliani reaching the natural limits of his temple-throbbing style?
His shoot-first, aim-later manner helped drive down crime and transmitted the important message that This Mayor was in charge. Then he's reelected in 1997, just flattens a liberal Democrat, and New York becomes Rudy's Land of Too Many Commandments. An exercise in urban behavior control. Don't jaywalk (I'll put up pedestrian barriers), don't let your dog off the leash (I'll handcuff you), don't climb the trees (I'll fine you $1,000), don't sell falafel sandwiches (I'll lock up your vendor's cart), don't eat on the steps of City Hall (I'll confiscate your falafel).
New York magazine played with the mayor's powerful sense of self a few years back, running an ad on city buses that read: "Possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for."
Giuliani ordered the Transit Authority to take down the ad.
Freedom, Hizzoner advises his citizenry, is "the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do and how you do it."
So the man who once flirted with the seminary builds a $15 million bomb shelter with a hot line to the White House and has police commanders who put snipers on the roof of City Hall during an AIDS demonstration. His expanded street crime unit frisks 10 people for every one it finds doing something wrong. And three of those hastily trained officers shoot an unarmed black man 41 times.
And he keeps picking those fights.
Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the president's drug czar, is a "disaster." The city's "schools commissar" (a‚k‚a the chancellor) is "very, very rigid in defense of the status quo." Former senator – and fellow Republican – Al D'Amato was "running a protection racket." Gov. George Pataki had "no mind of his own." The Brooklyn borough president "needs his head examined."
It's terrific theater. But Republicans and Democrats now speak of Giuliani with about the same solicitude the Roman Senate evinced for Caesar on the Ides of March.
"He wants to tell people what to eat and how to cross the street," says Steve DiBrienza, a Democratic Brooklyn councilman who sports a few Giuliani-delivered hematomas. "We elected a mayor. I don't need a father."
Ed Koch, the former Democratic mayor who knows a thing or two about getting under people's skin, adds: "He likes to disembowel people. He's nuts."
So can the mayor, a man of vaulting political ambition who flirted with a presidential run earlier this year, put a cork in his id? Giuliani professes no worry. This is a guy, after all, who says his father dressed him in Yankee pinstripes when they lived in Flatbush, ground zero for Brooklyn Dodgers fandom.
Rudy was a pudgy 7-year-old. He says he loved it.
"To me," Giuliani said, "it was like being a martyr."
Leading a Crusade
He strides into the Sheraton ballroom in Manhattan, shoulders hunched in that boxy blue suit, that large forehead tilting forward as though into a gale.
It's the annual Urban League gala, a chance for several thousand accomplished African Americans to celebrate good works. And a challenging moment for Giuliani, who rode to power on a wave of white discontent with a black mayor, David Dinkins. Giuliani can be eloquent in his insistence on a single racial standard. But it's widely known that he has no influential blacks in his inner circle.
The applause is polite; but he's late and he's not staying long. "I want to apologize for leaving early. It's very, very hard for me to get a cab."
"You think I'm kidding? Have you ever tried to hail a cab in New York?"
Deader silence. It's not clear that Hizzoner, who is engaged of late in a little recreational pounding of the taxi industry, realizes that most of the people in the room have been shunned by some cabby somewhere.
"I put up a finger to hail a cab and the cabby puts up a finger, too. But it's a different finger."
He waits for the laughs that aren't coming.
Four bodyguards swirl 'round, he bends into that wind and leaves. No taxi problems at curbside: He steps into the "Ice Cream Truck," the white GMC Suburban van with the tinted windows that whisks him about his New York, his beloved opera tapes in the console.
The world that Giuliani inhabits is a strangely insular place, bubbling over with hubris and accomplishment and self-congratulation and undigested ferocity.
Crime is down. Jobs and tax receipts are up. The streets are cleaner, the sky is bluer, even the sports teams are better. And, if you are intellectually honest and not engaged in a – to use one of the mayor's favorite words – jerky exercise, you would give proper credit to‚. . .
"No one's made the progress we've made," Hizzoner says. "This is the capital of the world again."
Giuliani's been a tenor in the city's opera buffa for nearly two decades. In the 1980s, he was the crime-busting Untouchable, a nationally renowned U.S. attorney who corraled corrupt pols and whacked a dozen gangsters upside the head. (He often entertains visitors by reciting gravel-voiced monologues from "The Godfather.") And always with that connoisseur's eye for the perfect publicity shot.
If he lodged some scanty charges, walked a few stockbrokers out of their offices in handcuffs only to have judges throw out the charges, hey . . . as he explained, sometimes a prosecutor's just got to scare people.
He first ran for mayor in 1989, losing to Dinkins, then narrowly beat him in 1993. It played as Supercop Becomes Mayor, but that's not the whole story, not really.
It's the paradox of Giuliani that he can be a more thoughtful man than the grand-inquisitor shtick he retails. This is a man who spent the years between defeat and victory studying the city and its discontents, engaging thoughtful people in an urban tutorial.
And he came to City Hall armed with this insight: Make the city safe, become known as The Leader who made it happen, and he could walk a politician's golden road. So he appointed a swaggering and effective Bostonian, Bill Bratton, as police chief and together they tracked down crime trends as a bettor would a tip on a good filly. The murder rate went into free fall and he created his own reality: New York Transformed.
But when Bratton started getting too much ink, when he appeared on the cover of Time magazine without Giuliani – such audacity! – the mayor wrote him out of his drama.
Then Giuliani topples a school system chancellor – "He talks out of both sides of his mouth," the mayor explains helpfully – refuses to give out information on his welfare-to-work program, boots the porno peddlers out of Times Square, cuts housing inspectors, threatens to defund nonprofit groups that challenge him, and fights with the tri-state Port Authority for a fairer share of the regional pie.
Some of it's productive, some of it's not. But it's all war, all the time. Giuliani relies on an inner circle of longtime friends and former prosecutors, crusaders sure of their motive and virtue – even as they threaten opponents with mayhem and pad some agencies with patronage hires. It tends to recall the medieval crusaders, who never blanched at the expedient in pursuit of the divine.
"We're on a holy mission," says a member of that inner circle. "It's caffeine and laugh at the mayor's jokes and go get 'em. We're golden."
Bratton, the deposed top cop, has a more sardonic take. You can't crack the inner circle, he told New York magazine, unless you're "willing to drink the Kool-Aid."
Upon closer inspection, it's not all magical. Former mayor David N. Dinkins had a haplessly consensual leadership style, but he hired 5,000 new cops and crime fell more than 22 percent in the year before Giuliani instituted his crime-fighting reforms. Dinkins also persuaded Disney to anchor the revitalization of Times Square. And Giuliani's budgets and revenue projects kept falling short until the cap blew off the Wall Street geyser in the mid-1990s.
Hizzoner, too, is chary about applying his lash to the city's wealthy. They feel his caress far more often than they hear his roar. He cuts the hotel tax and hotel owners promptly raise rates. He hands the New York Stock Exchange $900 million and Bear Stearns $75 million to stay in New York – even though few insiders expected the companies to depart. And he yearns to foot the bill for a billion-dollar stadium for the Yankees in Manhattan.
"Conde Nast got $10.7 million for moving crosstown," says Ray Horton, a Columbia University business professor. "Politically, it's great to get business support. As policy, it's totally dumb."
Then again, with the Dow making like a Chinese rocket, it's enough to surf the gilded wave and radiate that power vibe.
It is, perhaps, the bottom line concession owed Giuliani: The man's no consultant-wrapped, blow-dried fake. He barely sleeps, he hates to back down, he betrays no ambivalence whatsoever about wielding power.
"I don't want to complain . . ." a WABC listener says, hesitantly, to this irascible mayor.
"Ahhhhhhhh, come on: Complain!" Giuliani, for the first time in the broadcast, is almost jocular. It's Rudy as Padrone. "That's what I'm here for."
The show is winding down, Giuliani is still talking, and after a while it's clear he's put his city on the analyst's couch.
"There is a lot of complexity here, a lot of deep psychological fears that people don't understand and therefore can't put on the table," he says. "We have to be more open, we can't be so rigid."
Giuliani's going on about school vouchers, but it could as well be a dozen things that, like, New Yorkers actually don't get. Like their "absurd" attachment to a city university that offers "make-believe" education and to the hundreds of pearl-like community gardens he wants to sell off – "Welcome to the era after communism," he taunts.
And when New Yorkers complain about proposed library cuts? Giuliani mimics a child's whine. "Oh, yeah, like be efficient. Uh. Oh my God, they're going to have to be efficient."
So why does he act this way? Why is this leader at his most cheerful when he's bludgeoning someone? His aides tend to portray the bluster as strategic, a sonic blast intended to loosen concessions of one kind or another from the city's calcified bureaucracies. And there's some truth to that, as there is to the competing notion that his personality is destiny.
If it now sounds like he's running against New York even as he lords over it, well that could be the point, too. The mayor's rep as the man who poached the Apple could serve him well in the suburban and rural expanses of Long Island and Upstate New York.
The national Republicans certainly believe it sells: Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.), Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and a cottage industry of spinmeisters flack Giuliani as the odds-on favorite to steamroll a Hillary Clinton candidacy.
But caution seems advisable. An unfortunate number of Upstate Republicans remember Giuliani's 1994 endorsement of Democratic former governor Mario Cuomo and his rhetorical kneecapping of the Republican candidate, George Pataki. Officially, the line is let bygones be bygones. But this is New York, land of politics as blood sport.
So conversations with those close to Pataki tend to sound like this:
"It's easy for McConnell and Lott to say, 'Well, we want to win in New York.' They're not from New York. They don't have to deal with this [bleep] and rely on this [bleep]. It's gotten to the [bleep] point where we tell Rudy [bleep-bleep]. We're not bending over anymore and letting you [bleep-bleep]. We're not taking this [bleep]."
Then there's the mayor's personal file. Not unlike the wife of the impeached president, Giuliani has . . . issues.
Hizzoner's first marriage was annulled after 14 years when he says he discovered he was married to his second cousin. He says he never got the proper Catholic Church dispensation. "I was under the impression we were third cousins because I had never calculated the lines of consanguinity," he explained to the New York Times.
His second marriage, to former newscaster Donna Hanover, produced two children but has been plagued by rumors of affairs and seems a tad chilly now. In interviews in 1997, Hanover declined to mention her husband by name or say if she would vote for him. (The bio on his campaign Web site – RudyYes – heralds his professional accomplishments, his quality time with Leno and Letterman, his golf game and his "accomplished" amateur photography. It neglects to mention his wife, daughter and son.)
It shapes up as a shootout at the no-family-values corral.
"If it's about his personality, she wins," says City Council member Ken Fisher of Brooklyn. "If it's about her personality, he wins."
In recent weeks one hears a lot about Hizzoner sanding the serrated edges off his personality. He reaches out to a black leader or two, hugs a pastor, even declines a really good opportunity to eviscerate the governor.
A new maturity, his aides whisper.
Then Giuliani instructs his commissioners not to take phone calls from former senator D'Amato, now a lobbyist. It seems D'Amato backs Rep. Rick Lazio, the mayor's chief rival for the Republican Senate nomination.
Then Giuliani's appointees block Talk magazine from throwing a glitzy inaugural party in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The decision surprises Miramax CEO Harvey Weinstein, who owns a piece of the new magazine and has been talking with Giuliani about building a $150‚million film studio on the same spot.
What's the problem? It seems that Talk's first cover photo is rumored to be of the first lady.
Mayoral aides deny they could be so petty. Then Hizzoner marches into City Hall's blue room and all artifice drops away.
"I don't think this is an issue of discrimination against somebody from Arkansas," he tells the media gaggle. "I think it would have been a very onerous event anyway."
More questions. Giuliani's lower lip curls – the telltale tic.
"I imagine there must be something else going on in the life of this city that you'd like to ask about. Or have we gotten to the point of ultimate frivolity?"
He's getting testy. The cameras roll, the strobes flash. He's walking out . . .
Martyred again, and grooving on it.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company