The Brother and the 'Hood'

The excerpt from Wayne Barrett's biography of Mayor Rudy Giuliani ["Rudy's Secret: His Dad Was a Convict and a Thug," July 11] startled me. I responded to questions put to me by Adam Fifield, Barrett's assistant, during several phone conversations he initiated, with the understanding that the mayor was to be presented in Barrett's book as a man who accomplished remarkable feats during his public career in the very area that some of his relatives might least appreciate. I am the high school teacher referred to as Brother O'Leary. Although still a high school teacher, I am no longer a De La Salle Christian Brother.

It is very gratifying to me that Mayor Giuliani remembers me as a positive influence as his teacher at Bishop Loughlin. The impression given in Barrett's book is that Rudy was a troublesome student. He was not. (Neither, for that matter, was Alan Placa, as the book in another place would lead its readers to believe.) The students at Loughlin at that time were all scholarship students. Rudy was an above-average student in this elite milieu. While it was my impression that Rudy's academic performance as a high school sophomore did not equal his potential, he was still in the upper third of his class and a delightful student to teach. Furthermore, my choice of corporal punishment in response to Rudy's inattention on the occasion recalled in the book was the real misdemeanor in my classroom that day. Unfortunately, as a very young teacher I sought unacceptably crude, if speedy, solutions to what I considered discipline problems, being naively caught up in an atmosphere that deemed such cruelty as appropriate.

Harold and Helen Giuliani represent the kind of parents I wish all of my students had. They were loving and attentive to their high-school-age son. Like the large majority of the parents of Catholic high school students, the Giulianis considered the use of corporal punishment by teachers in the classroom as signs of care and concern as well as good education. I know that the friendship Harold and Helen offered me flowed out of their concern for Rudy. Getting to know his teachers would be an aid to their motivating him to be the best student he could be. I enjoyed the time I spent with Harold Giuliani and never observed even a modicum of roughness or meanness on his part toward anyone. I think of him as cheerful, warm, and generous. I had virtually no knowledge of what Barrett reveals about Harold's early life. I don't believe his son had any knowledge of it at all. Let the good they do live after men such as Harold. Let the rest be buried, to paraphrase the Bard.

For me, Rudy is a hero. My native city of New York is the better for his mayoralty.

Jack O'Leary
Pittsburg, California

Wayne Barrett replies: Jack O'Leary was as valued a source for this book as he was a teacher for Rudy. His letter is wholly based on the excerpt that appeared in the Voice, as he tells me he has not read the book yet. When he does, he will see that I agree with him that Rudy "accomplished remarkable feats during his public career in the very area that some of his relatives might least appreciate"—namely his prosecutions of organized crime. Clearly, as I have said in dozens of media interviews about the book, Rudy transcended his family's mob roots. O'Leary does not challenge a single quote or fact presented in the excerpt. The closest he comes is disputing the "impression" that Rudy was a "troublesome student." Rudy conceded that himself in an unpublished interview taped in 1988. "I along with Alan and a few other people were disrupting the class," he said, adding that it was Brother O'Leary who told his parents that he was "fooling around and making jokes" in class. Beyond this minor difference, O'Leary says Rudy was an "above-average student" and I wrote that Giuliani's 84 average put him 130th in a class of 378. O'Leary says Harold and Helen Giuliani were loving and attentive parents; they are both repeatedly described that way in the excerpt and many chapters of the book that O'Leary has yet to see. It is hardly surprising that the frequently volatile Harold—a description confirmed by his own wife—showed another side of himself to a Christian Brother. What is surprising is O'Leary's suggestion that he was "startled" about the tenor of the excerpt of the book. My assistant, Adam Fifield, told him specifically that this would be "a critical" account of Rudy's life. We sent him clips when Giuliani had homeless men arrested in shelters on ancient bench warrants for trivial infractions. In the course of 10 or so interviews with O'Leary that occurred during the reporting of this book, we informed him of each major new fact we uncovered about Harold, Uncle Leo, and Cousin Lewis. While the details in the excerpt were news to him, the broader picture was not. O'Leary's speculation now that Rudy didn't know about Harold's life omits his own frustrated attempt in 1989 to tell Rudy what he knew—namely about Harold's role in getting the Christian Brother to seek clemency for Lewis. Rudy told O'Leary then that he "didn't want" to hear it.

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