Rudy's Grand Illusion

What Giuliani likes to remember about 9-11—and what he actually did (or didn't do)

The mayor's main mission, as he has put it in repeated accounts, was to gather the information he needed to tell a television and radio audience what they should do, especially people in jeopardy. By the time he talked directly to an audience, however, both towers had collapsed, and the message Ganci asked him to give occupants was moot. The mayor was, in the end, just one more dispatcher who failed to relay useful information. He said he went to Barclay for hard phone lines, but once he got there, his most pressing concern was reaching the vice president and that went nowhere—someone's phone line went dead, although it's unclear whether it was Giuliani's or Dick Cheney's.

The day after: Giuliani tours ground zero with Schumer, Pataki, Clinton, and others.
photo: AP/Wide World
The day after: Giuliani tours ground zero with Schumer, Pataki, Clinton, and others.


From the book GRAND ILLUSION: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 by Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins.
Copyright 2006 by Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins.
Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Right after the Cheney call disconnected, the South Tower collapsed. No one in the police department had apparently considered how Giuliani and, by then, a very large entourage would get out of the building in an emergency. So when the tower knocked out windows and drove rubble and ash into their first-floor safe haven, the group ran through the basement until they found a way into a neighboring building and out onto the street. They walked up Broadway and then Church, finally hooking up with cameras and press, searching again for a command post, with Giuliani pointing everyone north.

Even the mayor eventually acknowledged that it might have been a mistake that his entire 25-member inner circle, including three deputy mayors, the police, fire, and Office of Emergency Management commissioners, was marching with him on this hazardous pilgrimage, a vulnerability that hardly reflected strategic thinking. This time, Giuliani's preference for the comfort of a huge entourage had disconnected the city's management and its fighting force at a crucial moment.

The only time this confounding management choice took the form of a critical media question was on Fox the day after Giuliani's commission testimony in 2004, when John Gibson asked Hauer's successor at OEM, Richie Sheirer, about it. Gibson referred to "the worry" about how the Giuliani entourage had operated, questioning whether it was "fortuitous" that a single "chunk of concrete" hadn't fallen "on Rudy Giuliani, you, or somebody else," causing "the whole thing" to have "fallen apart." Gibson appeared to be questioning the wisdom of the fact that "all of the leaders of the city's emergency structure got together and had this little command center that moved around." Sheirer's answer was pure bluster. "No, there was nothing fortuitous about it," he said. "It was well planned. Our succession plan for the highest levels of government, the mayor and people like me, is very well in place and embedded. That was implemented to the degree that it needed to be."

Kerik was actually a prime example of this managerial dysfunction all morning. For the 102 minutes when the city most needed a police commissioner orchestrating an overall response with an embattled fire department, Kerik became Giuliani's body guard, just as he had been in the 1993 mayoral campaign. His own account of what he did that morning contained no indication that he was actually managing the police response to this emergency. The command center at 1 Police Plaza wasn't opened until 9:45, an hour after the attack, a decision that led the independent consultants commissioned by the Bloomberg administration, McKinsey & Company, to raise questions about why it was "underused."

McKinsey also criticized the "number and continual movement of command posts," and the absence of any "clearly identifiable, main command post," errors associated with the top brass including Kerik, who, unlike Von Essen, is an operational chief. "Many leaders of the Department," the independent consultant found, "indicated that they operated primarily from instinct and experience during an emergency rather than according to a prioritized or structured set of objectives." Only 45 percent of the 557 cops who were surveyed by McKinsey said they "received clear instructions regarding my role on 9-11," with 34 percent saying they didn't and the rest undecided. A meager 24 percent said they were "confident" that the police department had adequate emergency plans. Remarkably, 89 percent had no training in building collapse, 84 percent had none in counterterrorism, 73 percent none in fire rescue/evacuation, and 70 percent none in bio/chem. Of the few who had training in any of these areas, less than a third found it "useful."

The McKinsey report faulted virtually everything Kerik did that day without naming him or anyone else in top management, criticizing a "perceived lack of a strong operational leader commanding the response" and the "absence of clear command structure and direction on 9-11."

Instead of dealing with any of these complex tactical issues on 9-11, Kerik's decisions—at 7 WTC, West Street, Barclay, and the basement—all revolved around the mayor's safety. Chris Marley, the building engineer at Barclay who guided the Giuliani group out, said, "Kerik had his arm around the mayor to protect him." Kerik was later asked what his priorities were that day and he told NPR, "Well, the first thing to do was to get the mayor out of there and get to a secure site." With Kerik, Esposito, Dunne, and McCarthy guarding him at points, Giuliani was protected by the highest-ranking detail in the history of the New York City Police Department. Yet not once did he look around and ask the question: Who's running the shop?

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