A Kinder, Gentler Rudy?

How Rudy Prepared for His Bad-News Press Briefing

April 23: After delivering Easter baskets to kids at Metropolitan Hospital and doing a spirited reading of Peter Rabbit, he returned to his Elián commentary: "The big winner yesterday was Fidel Castro," he declared. "He's been orchestrating this." The INS agents "were dressed up as if they were in the middle of a war action," he said, without returning explicitly to his "storm trooper" mantra. Critics had already reminded Rudy of his repeated denunciations of anyone who invokes Nazi imagery as a cheapening of the Holocaust.

April 24: Hillary Clinton said Rudy was exploiting Elián's case for political gain and that Rudy's rhetoric was "extreme." The 17,500-member Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association issued a statement expressing their "strong disgust and dismay" over Rudy's choice of words.

When a reporter offered to read Clinton's brief statement, Rudy cut him off: "I don't really care what she said," he raved. Repeating the three names three times, he excoriated "Fidel Castro, Bill Clinton, and Janet Reno," launching into a 15-minute monologue about his own immigration experience as the third-ranking official of the Justice Department in the Reagan administration. He did not mention that the INS commissioner who orchestrated the Elián raid, Doris Meissner, ran the agency under him as well. Nor did he mention that his 1981-82 blockade and exclusion policies sent thousands of Haitian refugees—including six-year-old boys—back into the arms of the brutal Duvalier regime.

April 25: The day before his biopsy, and aware by now of both PSA results, he refused to apologize for characterizing the INS agents as storm troopers, though he tried to shift the onus of the comments exclusively onto Clinton and Reno. "I'm not going to back down from it," he insisted. When he made his cancer announcement two days later, he said that once he got the second high-PSA report, he "expected" the biopsy to be positive and "started thinking about how I would handle it." Apparently, standing firm on storm troopers was his first response.

April 26: Returning to City Hall after his still-secret biopsy, he called a reporter who survived gastric cancer two years earlier a "jerk" and an "embarrassment." The incident occurred while he was taking reporters through newly installed metal detectors at the entrances to City Hall Plaza, a security measure he adopted after losing a First Amendment lawsuit over access to the steps. A group of 12- to-16-year-old kids from London surrounded him and he began chatting with them about the city. When Rafael Martinez Alequin, publisher of an independent paper called The Free Press, asked the kids if they had "this type of security in London," Rudy blew up:

"Don't pay any attention to him. He doesn't even have a newspaper. We have embarrassments in America. He's one of them. Jerk. Jerk. I mean it's ridiculous." Alequin told Newsday, the only paper to report the rant: "He has insulted me before, but never so blatantly, and directly in front of a group of school children."

The Times published a brief item in its late edition revealing that Giuliani underwent tests for prostate cancer during a three-hour visit to a hospital that morning. NY1 aired the story that night as well, leaving Giuliani no choice but to do his next-morning press conference.

April 27: When Alequin, whose grace exceeded Rudy's, assured him at the press briefing that "there is life after cancer," he replied: "I know that. And thank you. Thank you for saying that."

When reporters shifted from cancer to cops and asked about the U.S. Civil Rights Commission report leaked that morning to the Times, he denounced it. "They're a joke. I say that most respectfully," he laughed. "If you take what they're saying seriously . . . they're a big joke." The 9 percent of Staten Islanders who are black and were among the 91 percent of Staten Islanders stopped and frisked—as the report revealed—weren't laughing.

Donna Still-Don't-Call-Me-Giuliani issued a written statement that actually announced that she and Rudy had "discussed" his cancer and that she was both "optimistic" and "supportive." In the most awkward sentence of the day, Donna's statement declared: "It would be appreciated if he is given the maximum opportunity possible to deal with this privately." The statement could not say "we would appreciate it" since the first-person plural is as banned a phrase as the last name. Nor could it say, "he would appreciate it," since Rudy had already been very public about every aspect of the crisis. What she meant was that no one should question her own continuing unwillingness to take on an acting role that she has declined to play in recent years—the loving wife.

After getting a standing ovation from 200 Queens residents at a town hall meeting the night of his cancer press conference, he got one tough question from a man in the audience who said he knew someone with medical problems who was denied public assistance. "Can you imagine having a serious disease and not having the health benefits to deal with it?" the man asked. "Do you feel personally responsible?"

"That's really an unfair question, but I am used to dealing with unfair questions," fired back the mayor who's lost cases at the highest state levels and in federal court over his administration's arbitrary denials of medicaid and other benefits to AIDS patients and other welfare recipients. He then defended the city's public assistance policies. There were a quarter of a million fewer city residents receiving medicaid in February than there were five years ago—in part due to aggressive Giuliani efforts to restrict health benefits.

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