Thug Life

The Shocking Secret History of Harold Giuliani, the Mayor’s Ex-Convict Dad

With scorching ulcers and a nascent heart problem, Harold Giuliani was no longer the swaggering, hearty man readily disposed to put the knuckles on someone for looking at his wife the wrong way. But the reason he had failed to report to work since the previous spring was not a physical one. "Harold had something of a nervous breakdown," explained his confidant Jack O'Leary. "He wasn't working at the time."

Harold told friends that one of the events that triggered his breakdown was an incident in a Long Island state park in the spring of 1961. For the first time in many years, he was arrested, a chilling, jolting experience that abruptly exhumed old memories. The offense was trivial but embarrassing. Harold had long suffered from severe constipation. One afternoon, while strolling in the park, he suddenly felt the need to go. By his own account, when he found a public rest room, he pulled his pants down and began doing deep knee bends outside the stalls to expedite the process. A police officer happened to walk in right then. Harold was arrested for "loitering" and hauled down to the local police station. The charges were eventually dismissed, but the experience haunted the 53-year-old.

"The last time I saw Harold," recalled O'Leary, "he was practically bedridden. He was sitting out on a lawn chair in the backyard all pale and terrible-looking."

Illustration by Tim Gabor

In October 1978, Harold and Helen sold their split-level house in Bellmore for $52,000 and rented a three-bedroom apartment in Bayside, Queens, for $600 per month. A sedentary middle-class neighborhood, their section of Bayside was populated with clusters of retired Italians, Irish, and Germans. The Giulianis' apartment building on the corner of 218th Street and Horace Harding Parkway would have been just as peaceful and quiet as Pine Court if not for the relentless roar of the Long Island Expressway less than 50 feet from the front door.

A friendly Italian couple, Joe and Lina Merli, owned the building, living in the first-floor apartment. The Giulianis, who lived upstairs, would often join the Merlis for dinner, bantering in Italian over Lina's sprawling pasta feasts.

"Harold, he was so funny man, a very familiar person," recalled Lina, an 82-year-old retired hotel housekeeper, who still struggles at times with her English. On Saturday afternoons, Lina and Harold would often share stories, lolling in lawn chairs on her small garden patio, just a chain-link fence and a few lilac bushes away from the drone of the LIE. Harold proudly predicted that his lawyer son Rudy would go on one day to become president of the United States and, perhaps as evidence, carried with him a photo of Rudy standing next to President Ronald Reagan. He once told Lina how happy he would be if Rudy married her beautiful daughter, Luchana.

On one of these afternoons, Harold also shared with his new landlord his views on race. "Giuliani's father," recalled Lina, "was disturbed by colored people." The polite woman listened as Harold expounded on the differences between whites and blacks. "Harold say, 'God separate the colored and the white.' He say, 'Because all the world is white, except Africa.' " Harold's explanation for why blacks are black? "God said the colored were not mature," Lina remembered Harold telling her. "So God put them in the oven to make them mature. But God, he forget to take them out, so colored people came out black."

Because of his progressing prostate cancer, Harold had to urinate frequently, and often while out in the garden with Lina, he would stagger into a corner, unzip his pants and moan with relief as he pissed into the weeds.

Rudy, then a full-time partner at Patterson, Belknap, earning $160,000 per year, frequently visited his parents in Bayside and even had his own room in their apartment. Lina remembered that the third bedroom in Harold and Helen's apartment had been made up for Rudy, who would occasionally stay for as long as a week at a time.

At 70 years old, Harold was commuting by bus to a part-time custodial job at the Gotham Building Maintenance Corporation on 28th Street in Manhattan. A man whose sporadic 50-year work history was made up largely of off-the-books jobs was back on the books again, part of a 300-man fleet that, among other things, waxed floors, shampooed carpets, and washed windows in city buildings.

On the weekends and on Harold's off days, he and Joe Merli would usually walk three blocks down Horace Harding to the Bayside Senior Citizens' Center, a flat, maroon-brick building where they would spend the afternoon playing pool and poker with the grumbling, ill-tempered old-timers. It was a familiar setting for Harold, its fluorescent lighting, dull, salmon-colored linoleum floor tiles, and bright, multicolored plastic chairs reminiscent of a high school cafeteria. It was a place to hang out, chew the fat, get away from the house. Everybody had chores, though, and Harold and Joe would usually end up washing dishes. As they sponged plates one afternoon, Harold suggested to Joe that if they only did a so-so job washing these dishes, maybe they could escape dish duty in the future.

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