What’s Wrong With Rudy?
August 29, 1989
ON A RAINY DAY LATE in June, about a month after Rudolph Giuliani formally announced his candidacy for mayor of New York, his car rolled north to Harlem for lunch at Sylvia’s restaurant with an endangered species: black Republicans. Giuliani was conservatively dressed in a gray suit, his thinning black hair combed into the now familiar it-only-looks-like-a-bad-toupee style. He was missing his belt, wristwatch, and the eyeglasses he uses for reading. Giuliani forgot them while rushing out of his East Side apartment in the morning.
The prosecutor-turned-politician was fiddling with a portable phone in an effort to reach a former colleague who had just won convictions in a tough mob trial, when the talk turned to the city school system:
“What are your thoughts about the number of children enrolled in special education programs?”
“In what sense?,” the candidate replied.
“There are a staggering number of kids enrolled in special education. What are your thoughts on that?”
“You’ll have to make it a more specific question.”
“OK. Well, the number of children enrolled in special education is thought by some to be abnormally high, distressingly high.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand the question.”
“Do you think there are too many children enrolled in special education?”
“Do I think that there are children enrolled in special education inappropriately? That shouldn’t be in a special education program because the numbers are so high? I don’t know the answer to that.”
This is the man who was the most famous federal prosecutor in memory — the media’s darling, who never seemed to make a false move when the public eye was on him. Now, suddenly, Rudy Giuliani seemed very mortal.
As New York’s top cop, Giuliani spent the past five years in a fortress-like environment, as insulated from the nitty-gritty of urban life as any midwestern Republican here to gape at the tall buildings and exotic types. In that monastery of indictments and investigations Giuliani excelled, but on the streets of New York, he frequently seems lost. His solemn face and candlewax skin were appropriate for an avenging angel announcing the indictment of mobsters, inside-traders, and crooked pols. But at street fairs, walking tours, and other venues for mayoral candidates, Giuliani looks wooden, robotic, even a little ominous at times. If he held up a baby, it might cry.
What happened to the Rudy Giuliani many people had such hope for? A stunning cross-section of the city was excited about the idea of his candidacy, but after more than three months of lackluster campaigning, he has slumped badly in the polls. He is trailing both his likely Democratic opponents, Ed Koch and David Dinkins, and so far, he’s looked good only in comparison to the dread Ron Lauder. Fortunately for Giuliani, many voters have yet to make up their minds, but among the uncommitted, his campaign has raised doubts and failed to quell fears. And the media, which initially smiled on Giuliani, has joined the chorus of doubt. “I like the idea of change at City Hall,” says one newspaper executive. “And I like the idea of Giuliani coming in and cleaning things up. But I don’t know what this guy stands for.”
The crime-fighting Giuliani would never have dreamt of becoming, in a single day, the target of tabloid headlines that ranged from “RUDY’S MEN ACTED LIKE NAZIS,” in the Post, to “RUDY HAS A BLACK EYE,” in Newsday. The former allegation was largely bogus; the latter was the biggest blunder of Giuliani’s law enforcement career. In 1987, the prosecutor arrested three Wall Street executives on insider trading charges so flimsy that the case against them dissolved almost overnight. Nevertheless, he pressed a two-and-a-half-year criminal investigation of the trio. It ended last week with no charges filed against two of them. The third executive pled guilty to a charge unrelated to the allegations that prompted the arrest. “It was a mistake to move with that case at the time that I did,” Giuliani said, “and to that extent I should apologize to them.” But Giuliani’s tortured explanation did not help. The politician was paying a heavy price for the abuses of the prosecutor.
Giuliani’s supporters believe his strongest personal and political quality is his leadership ability, but the campaign has so far found him on the defensive on important issues like abortion and irrelevant ones like Noriega. His continued fixation on the C-words — crime, crack, and corruption — might well require the services of a deprogrammer before the election. (Giuliani recently conducted separate press conferences on corruption on three straight days.) “He’s good at the only thing a mayor doesn’t have to do — prosecute criminals,” says Democratic mayoral candidate Richard Ravitch.
Giuliani’s political beliefs remain shrouded by the “fusion” fog pouring forth from his $23,000-a-month headquarters at Rockefeller Center. Giuliani’s press releases refer to him as a “fusion candidate” or omit his party affiliation. This is an honorable tradition in New York, where Fiorello La Guardia ran as a Republican/Socialist, and John V. Lindsay initially pieced together a Republican/Liberal coalition and won reelection without the GOP. But La Guardia, and Lindsay (at least initially) had a popular touch that overcame confusion about their affiliations. Giuliani will go through the ritual flesh-pressing of New York politics, but watching him meet and greet voters, it’s clear he doesn’t have the common touch. Giuliani is used to the kind of personal appearances a crimebuster would be expected to make. He is introduced, makes a short, formal speech, answers questions from a friendly, white, middle-class audience, and departs. This is not exactly the testing ground on which voters in New York decide whom they will allow to live in Gracie Mansion.
The abortion issue, in particular, has left the two-fisted gangbuster doing more head spinning than Linda Blair in The Exorcist. The Supreme Court’s ruling last month underscored Giuliani’s unwillingness to take strong positions on most controversial issues. “I would not take a leadership position supporting or opposing abortion,” Giuliani said just after the court’s decision was announced.
But the problem for Giuliani goes much deeper than appearances. There’s a perception among large groups of voters he will need to fashion a winning coalition that Rudy is traveling in three directions at once. Giuliani wants the Republican and Liberal Party nominations. He must also attract large numbers of Democrats if he is to become the next mayor of New York. He therefore presents himself to the voters in the fuzzy form of Mr. Fusion, the candidate who is all things to all people.
It’s worthwhile noting that Giuliani’s pronouncements on issues like abortion are made only after what one of his associates calls “considered judgment.” For instance, shortly after the abortion ruling was announced, staffers huddled at Giuliani’s campaign headquarters. They reviewed the decision and Giuliani’s previous statements on abortion. They also discussed questions Giuliani might be asked as a result of the ruling. They then moved on to a second meeting with the candidate himself. “We presented to him what had happened and what he’d said on abortion,” former campaign manager Russ Schriefer explained. “We let Rudy talk for a while, and as he talks, we kind of get an idea what his position is, where he’s coming from.” The Giuliani team then peppered the candidate with questions he might be asked. Only after this process was completed did Giuliani emerge from his campaign cocoon to publicly turn one thumb up and one thumb down.
As Schriefer explained, without apparent irony, the most challenging aspect of the Giuliani campaign was illustrated by the abortion controversy. “Every decision you make has to be weighed as to how it’s going to affect another element or another area,” he says. “Abortion was one where the decision-making process had to take into account that there was a liberal position, a Democratic position, and a Republican position.” The “decision-making process” clearly wasn’t good enough. Giuliani’s waffling hurt him badly among women and Jews, prompting an unconvincing recent “clarification” in which the man opposed to Roe v. Wade said that he would fight any effort to outlaw abortion. “It’s one thing to screw up through inexperience,” said a Koch campaign official. “But you don’t have to be a brain surgeon or a savvy politician to have a strong, clear position on abortion.”
At a recent town meeting, Giuliani was asked a simple question about whether community boards should be given more power and money. It took him 350 words to explain that he would “be happy to consider” such an increase. Even when it comes to crime, Giuliani’s performance has hardly been emphatic. The candidate has had much difficulty in straightening out the exact age at which he believes young killers should be electrocuted. Is it 14, 15, 16, 17?
Then there was the Donald Trump newspaper ad in which the balding air-shuttle executive talked about his “hate” for muggers and murderers and the need to incinerate the little criminals. Even death penalty–Ninja Ed Koch found this excessive, but Giuliani hailed the ad by the co-chairman of his first big fundraising event as contributing to what he called a “healthy debate.” On the day he announced his candidacy, however, Giuliani traveled to Bishop Loughlin, the Catholic high school in Brooklyn that he attended as a boy, and faced a solidly black and Hispanic student body. Giuliani swiftly distanced himself from “Trump-the-ad” when a black student asked him if he endorsed the hyperactive casino owner’s position. No flapdoodle for this audience.
Giuliani has raised eyebrows among Irish voters by expressing warm admiration for Margaret Thatcher, and blundered through a campaign appearance at a city firehouse — a place where partisan politicking has always been prohibited. His campaign garnered a potentially valuable endorsement from the families of four slain policemen, but he promptly angered other fallen cops’ relatives by announcing the endorsement minutes after a memorial service for the officers.
“Rudy does not suffer from the Arthur Goldberg or Pete Dawkins syndrome,” insists Raymond Harding, the Liberal Party leader who has singlehandedly crafted the Giuliani fusion. “This is not a man who goes out to campaign and steps on his dick.”
Perhaps not, but Giuliani is clearly a man who has had trouble with his fly.
By mid-June, it became apparent that the campaign was in trouble. By July, the polls confirmed the obvious: Giuliani was trailing Dinkins and Koch. His declining popularity has made fundraising more difficult, and by August, he was faced with a financial crisis. Two weeks ago, he cut staff salaries in order to generate cash for television ads — the lifeblood of any effective campaign.
Perhaps it was inevitable that, when trouble arose, Giuliani would place the campaign in the hands of one of his oldest and most trusted friends. With the exception of one stint as a lawyer in private practice, he has spent his entire career as a criminal prosecutor. He shares the caution and suspiciousness of the law enforcement fraternity. As a prosecutor, Giuliani’s top deputies were more than subordinates; they were his personal friends. So it’s not surprising that he would push out the pros. Says one Giuliani confidant: “You don’t win Rudy’s trust overnight.”
Peter Powers and Rudy Giuliani go back to high school. They double-dated, joined the same fraternity at Manhattan College, graduated in the same class at NYU Law School, and then went their separate ways professionally — Giuliani to the federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan, Powers to a successful practice as a tax attorney. The two men still live close to one another on the Upper East Side, and their passion remains arguing about politics. This decades-old dialogue goes back to the days when Giuliani was a Kennedy liberal. Powers is a lifelong conservative, and though the two still don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, he has emerged as the most influential figure in Giuliani’s organization.
The steady, cautious Powers has been involved with the campaign since day one. He was part of a team who picked Richard Bond, George Bush’s former deputy campaign manager, and Schriefer, another Bushie, as a team to run the campaign. As Giuliani’s candidacy floundered, he turned more and more to Powers. One afternoon in late June, the two men sat side by side in a nearly empty car of a Metroliner bound for Philadelphia. It was the first time in months Giuliani and Powers had been able to enjoy each other’s company without interruption. Their talk, however, was about the problems they had left behind in New York. “Look,” the candidate told Powers as the train slid through Trenton, “I think it’s time you came on board full-time.”
Over the next month, Powers was phased into the campaign. By July, Schriefer, who had been the day-to-day manager of the campaign, was meeting each morning with a “management committee” composed of Powers, campaign chairman Arnold Burns, and Liberal Party chief Harding. On July 25, Giuliani made it official by appointing Powers as his campaign manager. Attorney Ken Caruso, another longtime Giuliani pal, is slated to become Powers’s deputy. He joins deputy campaign manager Bob Bucknam, another friend who worked for Giuliani as an assistant U.S. attorney. Schriefer and Richard Bond — two “Bushies” originally hired to run the campaign — were pushed aside.
(Giuliani’s old sidekick, Denny Young, has never been a major player. Young made the move to White & Case with Giuliani, and his duties with the firm have prevented him from becoming a full-time campaign activist. His presence is missed. As Giuliani’s top deputy in the U.S. attorney’s office and a close friend, Young often seemed epoxyed to his boss. The mild-mannered Young functioned much as a human Thorazine tablet by calming Giuliani in moments of anger and tension.)
The new team is long on the trust factor and very short on political experience. Powers clearly has his work cut out for him. Despite a large and highly paid staff of 35, Giuliani has no briefing book containing his positions on important issues and other pertinent facts. The candidate has also been writing his own speeches — an enormous waste of time, particularly since Giuliani lives in another era when it comes to the written word. He does not type. He does not dictate. He writes everything from letters to major speeches in longhand on yellow legal pads and gives them to his faithful longtime secretary, Beth Petrone, to type. Outsiders brought in to check the campaign’s temperature were amazed to realize that the candidate was laboriously composing speeches that should have been done by hired hands.
Powers says speechwriting has now been turned over to others. A briefing book is being prepared. Another nagging problem, the lack of a media consultant, has been solved with the hiring of Roger Ailes.
The newest member of Giuliani’s inner circle of advisors, Ailes is a 49-year-old veteran GOP media man with the reputation of a tough guy. Ailes is said to have a certain flair for leaning on journalists. Barely on board, he has already called a reporter to complain that her story on a recent Puerto Rican Day Parade in the Bronx had a pro-Koch slant.
Ailes was one of Nixon’s key media men in 1968, and has a lengthy involvement in GOP politics. When Nixon went on television in 1970 to announce the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, Ailes was there. Foolish Nixon advisers wanted the president to use a pointer to illustrate the movement of our boys into the tiny Asian nation. But Ailes quickly realized that the heavy pointer might cause Nixon’s hand to shake, thereby sending the wrong message to the nation and the communist enemy. Thanks to Ailes, Dick Nixon used his forefinger on that fateful night.
Ailes was also manning the ramparts during the dark days of Al D’Amato’s campaign for the Senate in 1980. Once again, the media savant proved equal to the task by unleashing Ma D’Amato on television audiences. The elderly lady was strategically placed at the produce counter of a supermarket. “Every time I go to the supermarket, prices keep rising,” she complained. “I am afraid to walk the streets because of crime. That’s why my son is running for the Senate.”
The rest is history.
Ailes fashioned George Bush’s televised attacks on Michael Dukakis last year, though the modest videomeister denies any responsibility for the infamous Willie Horton commercial. This year he has already raked in major bucks by turning out insufferably boring commercials for Giuliani’s Republican foe, Ron Lauder. After either being ousted in a power struggle or discovering to his horror that Lauder was out to get Giuliani, Ailes quit the Lauder campaign.
Giuliani aides say Ailes has been pushing the candidate to go on television as soon as possible, but the campaign’s continuing financial woes have made it uncertain when commercials will begin. Ailes is planning a series of “positive” ads to precede the September 12 primary. This may well work against Ron Lauder, but in the general election, some of Ailes’s better-known traits may emerge. There’s already been a backlash among liberals to the mere presence of this hardcore Republican — a heartbeat from Lee Atwater — in the Giuliani camp. Ailes’s own image problems could complicate Giuliani’s task of courting Democrats in the general election.
If that weren’t difficult enough, Ailes must teach the candidate to deal with the press. Giuliani needs to return to the “directness and candor” that marked his style as a prosecutor, says Ailes. “I think he’s been too careful. Rudy should stop worrying about being political candidate Giuliani and just be Giuliani.”
That first day of Giuliani’s campaign, May 17, also launched his mushrooming press problem. The day began well enough. The candidate, flanked by his wife, television anchorwoman Donna Hanover; son, Andrew; and mother, Helen, launched into a speech highlighting the C-words: crime, crack, and corruption. The R-word, Republican, was never uttered.
After delivering the speech announcing his candidacy, General Giuliani executed the first flanking maneuver of the war to come by walking out of the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan without answering any questions from the media. Television, the important medium, would be forced to focus on his message without the danger of annoying questions that might deflect attention, and airtime, from the candidate and the C-words. The strategy worked in the same way one might succeed in “tricking” a drunken gang of Hell’s Angels armed with chain saws and lead pipes. The press quickly caught up with Giuliani and began a savaging that continued for weeks. Wasn’t his new law firm, White & Case, representing the government of Noriega, the Panamanian dictator/drug dealer? Of course it was a nonissue. And the media would cream him with it.
The transition from prosecutor to politician transformed Giuliani’s press relations. During his five-and-a-half years as U.S. attorney, Giuliani’s critics liked to revile him as a masterful media manipulator, but it took candidate Giuliani less than a week to establish just how generous that assessment of his talent really was. Giuliani sweated, shifted in his seat, and in one instance simply fled the presence of a hostile television journalist. Nothing remotely like this had happened to him on Foley Square.
“It’s the case of a guy from a very protected environment being thrown into one of the toughest [media] bullrings in the world,” says David Garth, Koch’s media maven. “I can understand the culture shock.”
And Giuliani’s new opponents were not handcuffed or accompanied by lawyers telling them to say nothing. The candidate’s political enemies readily heaped verbal napalm on his head. Of attacks by rascals Ed Koch and Republican perfume scion Ron Lauder, Giuliani said: “If they really were men, they would apologize.” Needless to say, the unmanly imps sneered at the White Knight and continued to slip thistles under his mayoral saddle.
“Prosecutors throw bombs. Mayors catch them,” says Mitchell Moss, director of NYU’s Urban Research Center. “Giuliani has proven to be a bleeder.”
Koch in particular seemed to sense instinctively that it takes very little to set Giuliani off. He was right. Even as U.S. attorney, Giuliani could be stupendously thin-skinned. For instance, there was a flattering profile of Giuliani published in the Daily News Magazine shortly after he became U.S. attorney in 1983. The story was typical of the favorable pieces that were regularly written about Giuliani during his tenure. The author provided some balance to the article by mentioning a few criticisms of the prosecutor. There was a line in the story that reported — correctly — that Giuliani had a temper.
“He got so upset about it,” his wife, Donna Hanover, recalls. “He was hurt, saying this is terrible and so forth. I said, ‘Honey, it’s a little line. There are two or three criticisms in this long article.’ But he was in agony. We agonized the whole Sunday. It was a miserable, miserable day.”
Giuliani’s best qualities — intelligence, courage, honesty, and leadership ability — have yet to put in an extended appearance on the campaign trail. His worst traits — self-righteousness, hypersensitivity, and a grasping opportunism — have been too much in evidence.
His message, certainly, is not getting through. Most New Yorkers know little more about what Giuliani believes than they did three months ago. They might be forgiven for wondering if the candidate actually has any strong feelings on any issue besides law enforcement.
Just what does Giuliani believe?
As most people know, Rudy Giuliani started life as a liberal Democrat who worshipped John and Robert Kennedy. He voted for George McGovern in 1972, and according to friends who knew him then, despised Richard Nixon with a fervor typical of Kennedy worshippers. A year later, however, he registered as an independent. He did so partly because of his growing disillusionment with the party of McGovern but also, as he told the Daily News, because he was working as a federal prosecutor in a Republican administration.
In 1975, Giuliani came under the wing of Judge Harold Tyler, a pillar of the respectable Republicanism of the Eastern Establishment. Tyler was appointed number two man in the Justice Department of Gerald Ford, and took Giuliani along with him as his deputy. When Ford was turned out of office in 1976, Tyler took Giuliani back to New York with him as a partner in the white-shoe law firm then known as Patterson, Belknap & Webb. By then, his politics blended with those of the firm: the liberal Republicanism of Nelson Rockefeller.
A month after Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980, Giuliani switched again, registering as a Republican. The timing was not coincidental. When Reagan took office in 1981, Giuliani was offered the number three job in the Justice Department. Giuliani took two young associates with him to Washington. He advised Renee Szybala, a liberal Democrat, and Ken Caruso, who had no party affiliation, to become Republicans, just as he had.
Giuliani was showing a flair for taking on the political coloration of his employers, and his stint as associate attorney general from 1981 to 1983 marked him as a loyal and energetic Reaganaut. He was a leading player in the administration’s war on drugs, and capably supervised an array of important Justice Department agencies.
His first messy mission involved a pending criminal case against McDonnell Douglas. The gigantic St. Louis airplane manufacturer and four of its executives had been charged during the Carter administration with bribing Pakistani officials to buy the company’s DC-10 airliners. In one of the controversial early decisions of the Reagan administration, Giuliani dropped criminal charges against the four executives. He concluded that the government’s case against the four rested on the retroactive application of a congressional act outlawing overseas bribery, even though the courts had upheld the legality of the indictment. It was the kind of pro-business gesture that set the tone for the Reagan years.
A second act Giuliani undertook as associate attorney general has come back to dog him in the mayoral campaign. The Reagan administration decided to stop the influx of Haitian refugees into southern Florida by jailing those who arrived in the Sunshine State and turning back those they could stop at sea. More than 2000 Haitians were placed in detention facilities critics described as “concentration camps.” This shameful policy was not of Giuliani’s making, but he went to dubious lengths to defend it. Partly on the basis of a 48-hour trip to Haiti in 1982, he testified that political repression was not a problem in Haiti under President-for-Life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
“It was like someone in our own government getting up to say the Soviet Union is a democracy,” said Stephen Cohen, a State Department human rights specialist in the Carter Administration, who found Giuliani’s assessment “laughable.”
Giuliani’s opinion — although based on a visit somewhat shorter than a luxury cruise boat-docking — was important. Immigration law permitted aliens to be granted asylum in the U.S. if they fled political persecution. So if the Haitians were to be kept out, it was essential for Giuliani to find an island bereft of political torture, imprisonment, and intimidation. He followed up his trip to Haiti with an appearance as a government witness in a federal civil case in Florida filed on behalf of the refugees. Under questioning by lawyers for the Haitians, Giuliani described the dread Tonton Macoutes as an “interior police department” that was “alleged” to have committed repressive acts in the 1960s.
Q. Do you believe that the Tonton Macoutes does not exist anymore?
A. I don’t know if they exist or don’t exist.
Q. Mr. Giuliani, in your tour of Haiti, how many prisons did you visit?
A. I spoke with no prisoners.
All of this suggests that like most politicians, Giuliani is a man quite capable of adjusting his beliefs to suit the temper of the times. And a man whose political advice the candidate values highly is, not surprisingly, a professional pollster.
Robert Teeter was the pollster and a top campaign strategist for George Bush in last year’s presidential campaign. The 50-year-old former political science instructor has been active in Republican politics since he went to work for Michigan governor George Romney in 1956. He is widely regarded as one of the best in the business by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Teeter’s advice helps to account for the Johnny One-Note character of Giuliani’s campaign. “By anybody’s definition, those [crime and drugs] are severe problems in the city,” Teeter says. “But more importantly, they are the problems the voters think need attention right now.” Teeter, who lives and works in Ann Arbor, Michigan, flies into New York periodically for discussions with Giuliani and members of his campaign staff. He and Giuliani also talk by phone. Teeter, at least, has no doubt about Giuliani’s politics: “I think he has a fundamental, basic, Republican, center-right philosophy.”
Which brings us to the old saw about strange bedfellows. The last member of Giuliani’s Gang of Four is Ray Harding, a portly aficionado of unfiltered Camels who holds a doctorate in political scheming. Harding has been a major player in the endless and impenetrable infighting in the state’s minuscule (and ridiculous) Liberal Party. But he delivered the party’s nomination to Giuliani and is admired by the candidate for his shrewdness and political judgment.
Of the men Giuliani relies upon the most for political advice — Powers, Ailes, Teeter, and Harding — only Harding has extensive experience in New York politics. Some political observers believe this to be a serious shortcoming. Ailes disagrees: “I haven’t done a whole lot in New York,” he says, “but politics is politics. I’d never done anything in Wyoming, and I won in Wyoming.”
With the new team in place, the future of Giuliani’s campaign is becoming clear. “You’re going to see a new Rudy coming down the pike in the next few weeks,” Powers predicts. The “new” Rudy will speak more forcefully; his answers will be clearer and more concise. The candidate is being made over into a strong leader with the courage and determination needed to make the changes voters want.
His learning curve is on the rise. Despite blackouts on topics like special education, his knowledge of municipal problems has increased since the campaign began. He has earnestly studied the issues in briefing sessions that feature guest experts who enlighten him on various subjects. But one of those urban specialists, who arrived eager to share his expertise with the mayor-to-be, came away disappointed by Giuliani’s glassy-eyed response. “He was very passive, and he didn’t seem at all familiar with the issues we were discussing,” the expert said. “If it were Mayor Koch, he would have been engaging me and asking tough questions. I didn’t have any sense that I was getting through.”
“Getting through” to Giuliani is a matter of arousing his passion. The man who as a little boy donned priestly vestments sewn from Turkish towels to solemnly perform the mass and distribute Holy Communion to his mother and grandmother does not take things lightly. (On one occasion, his mother substituted chocolate mints for the white Necco wafers she normally gave him for use as communion hosts. Young Rudy sternly rebuked her for sacrilege.)
Giuliani has moved from passion to passion throughout his life. Horse-racing, tennis, New York Knicks basketball, photography, and the Civil War are among the interests that he has embraced and abandoned. These pursuits are not as well known as his love of the law, opera, and the New York Yankees, but he has approached them all in the same way. He will read everything he can get his hands on about a topic that strikes his fancy in an effort to master it as quickly as possible. Last winter, when Giuliani privately decided to become the 106th mayor of New York City, he devoured books about municipal government in his small East Side apartment at night and played U.S. attorney during the day.
But the passion always seemed to be missing. Giuliani appeared to look upon governing New York City as a problem to be analyzed and dissected rather than an intoxicating challenge to his abilities. He has always been keenly interested in politics, but there is nothing in his past to suggest that he wanted to become the mayor of New York. He has talked with some measure of enthusiasm about becoming governor, but the road to Albany is blocked by Mario Cuomo’s popularity. He also toyed at length with the notion of challenging Democratic senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, but he ultimately abandoned the idea.
At the time, one of his closest friends said Giuliani seriously considered running against Moynihan only because the opportunity had presented itself rather than because Giuliani wanted to become a U.S. senator. The same might well be said of his mayoral candidacy. Ed Koch’s job was the only important political position on the horizon when Giuliani wrapped up his law enforcement agenda at the end of 1988 with the trial of Bess Myerson and the settlement with Drexel Burnham, Wall Street’s big bad investment firm. Giuliani took the plunge, but nothing about the candidate or his campaign to date suggests that anything approaching a fire burns in his belly.
Giuliani’s supporters are betting that he’ll hit his stride as the campaign unfolds and take on the job of vanquishing his rivals with the same workaholic drive he applied to the Mafia and political corruption. That may happen. Giuliani is a man who doesn’t like to fail — as a college student he was blackballed by the most prestigious fraternity on campus, but he rebounded by promptly gathering a group of his friends and taking over a dying fraternity with three members. The reborn frat made Rudy its president.
But New York City is no fraternity. The divisions between rich and poor, black and white, prochoice and antiabortion, are too deep to permit the election of a formless Mr. Fusion. Rudy Giuliani isn’t La Guardia, and he won’t defeat a Dinkins with bona fide liberal credentials, or a middle-class hero like Koch, unless he tells the voters exactly who he is and what he stands for. “It’s going to be a lot easier for us when we get down to the general election and it’s one of them against one of me,” Giuliani predicts. It’s true that he will get a second chance. But the “new” Rudy will have to show much more to convince New Yorkers he’s an alternative to the “old, tired political leadership” that has made one of the world’s great cities a miserable place for the poor and middle-class alike. ■
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 29, 1989