Reversal of Fortune

Is 'Stone Cold Rudy' Down for the Count?

Any fan of pro wrestling would have immediately recognized Rudolph Giuliani's recent dramatic transformation, a role reversal forced upon the mayor by the widespread criticism of his handling of the Amadou Diallo rubout.

For years, the Republican relished his role as Stone Cold Rudy, the badass who lived to open a can of whupass on minor-card attractions like David Dinkins or Ruth Messinger. He was the guy who preferred to give his opponents the finger rather than a hand. With that noodled 'do and pasty complexion, he was certainly no matinee idol, but those Giuliani 3:16 signs proliferated anyway. He was a rebel. He really, really was.

But now, the heel has gone and turned babyface. And it is not a pretty picture.

Struck down by his own hubris, Giuliani is now forced to test his limited acting abilities. It is one thing to get dolled up and pull off that Norma Desmond/Hedda Lettuce look. But for anyone who has watched Giuliani meticulously hone his tough-guy act, it is rather painful to watch him struggle through his current role as Mr. Conciliatory, a mammoth stretch for the Rude One. In fact, you get the sense that somebody is whispering the lines from offstage, while poor Rudy muddles through the unfamiliar script. It's as if they asked Freddy Kruger to play Robert Young's part on Father Knows Best.

It seems like only yesterday that Giuliani was crowing about how bales of cash were being thrown at him once rumors of a Hillary Clinton Senate race began to circulate. Now he is forced to invite Virginia Fields into his home and stand in his driveway while the Manhattan borough president scolds him before a bank of TV cameras. The footage of that encounter, with a contrite-acting Giuliani surely dying inside, needs to be stored in a place of honor at the Municipal Archives.

Perhaps it can go next to the sound bite of George Pataki bitch-slapping Giuliani during an interview with Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson on ABC-TV's This Week last Sunday. This kind of sniping is what Giuliani dismisses as "piling on" when it is coming from the likes of Al Sharpton or Charles Rangel. Giuliani got a taste of what a little whupass felt like himself when Pataki noted that "part of governing is being tolerant and listening to criticism and responding appropriately to criticism." And while Pataki said last Friday that there was no need to appoint a federal monitor for the city's police department, he continued his criticism of the mayor. "You don't succeed as a city, you don't succeed as a state with a huge divide where some people feel things are getting better and some others worse," said Pataki.

Pataki could go further, but he won't. He could admit that Giuliani and police commissioner Howard Safir have redlined minorities just as dishonest banks have for decades. City Hall will claim that it is not targeting blacks or Latinos, just the neighborhoods from which all the trouble emanates. "What makes him think if he stopped every Italian kid in Gravesend, Coney Island, Ozone Park, and Bensonhurst, he wouldn't get a fair number of gun possessions there?" asked one Republican politico.

Of course, the governor— who entertains delusional thoughts of himself on a national GOP ticket— is seeking a disproportionate share of credit for the reported renaissance of New York. So, while on the mark, his criticism of Giuliani remains politically tinged. "The governor got an opportunity to tweak [Giuliani] when he's not getting it," one Republican consultant said, adding that Pataki took the swipe at a time when "he's got plenty of cover."

The Pataki beat-down came on the heels of Giuliani's victory in the great Joe DiMaggio Parkway sweepstakes and the pair's squabbling over funding for the Holocaust memorial museum (among numerous other beefs big and small). And Pataki can't pick up a paper or watch the tube without seeing accounts of Giuliani swooning over Senator John McCain and other possible Republican candidates. "Actually, they've got a good personal relationship," claimed City Council minority leader Thomas Ognibene, clearly an optimist at heart.

The Queens Republican would have you believe that the Pataki-Giuliani tiffs amount to a "lovers' quarrel," as he explained to the Voice. Well, Tom, Rudy apparently knows all about such frailties of the heart, and even he wouldn't characterize his problems with Pataki in such a generous (and amorous) light. Among fellow Republicans, Ognibene deserves credit for desperately trying to cover Giuliani's ass during the blow-back from the Diallo shooting, spinning statistics to make one think that it's more dangerous to be white than black in this city. But as they say in the Bronx, that dog don't hunt.

Who else can the mayor count on? Well, Postcolumnist Steve Dunleavy, always one to come to the defense of Giuliani and the NYPD, has been sent to Yugoslavia, where he is filing gripping columns from "in the war zone." As for the paper's editorial-page boss, well, it seems that Giuliani's predicament has left poor John "the Poddler" Podhoretz— in editorials and on NY1— tearing his hair out trying to devise a plan to rescue Rudy and Safir, the mayor's bumbling sidekick.

But another city fixture has had no such trouble rushing to the defense of City Hall, specifically Starstruck Safir, who is probably in front of Moomba right now trying to get Matt Dillon's autograph. Buried in the final paragraph of a March 23 Timesstory on Safir's trip to the Oscars is a defense of the flying flatfoot by none other than William Fugazy, described as a "friend of Mr. Safir's and the chairman of the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations." Fugazy stated that "no one could be more concerned about relations with ethnic communities" than Safir.

The absurdity of Fugazy rushing to Safir's defense is monumental. Fugazy is a convicted felon who pleaded guilty in 1997 to perjuring himself during a bankruptcy proceeding. In addition, one of the federal government's leading Mafia witnesses once described the 74-year-old businessman as a mob "associate" during federal court testimony. It is incredible that Safir chooses to pal around with this skell (according to a Postgossip item, Fugazy and high- living Howie have golfed together at Westchester's exclusive Winged Foot country club). Imagine if the Internal Affairs Bureau discovered that a lowly patrolman had such a criminal for a friend. An affiliation like that tends to radically alter a cop's career trajectory.

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