How Hizzoner Rose to the Occasion

By Diane Brady


By Rudolph W. Giuliani with Ken Kurson

Talk Miramax Books -- 407pp -- $25.95

A lot of people no doubt looked to Rudy Giuliani for inspiration before September 11, 2001. He is, after all, the man credited with putting the shine back on the Big Apple. And he was already enough of a draw to get a reported $2.7 million advance for this book in January, 2001.

If not for his actions in the days after the attacks, however, the former New York mayor might have been remembered as much for his extramarital behavior and battle with cancer as for his performance in office. In a shell-shocked city, his blunt honesty, calm determination, and ubiquitous presence became a powerful salve. The man who had cleared homeless people off the streets and earned a spotty reputation for race relations suddenly seemed to embody compassion as well as strength. In short, Giuliani rose to an incredible challenge.

No wonder he decided to call his new book simply Leadership. What might seem like a presumptuous title for other politician-scribes is unlikely in this case to prompt snickers. Even critics would admit that the guy has a knack for getting things done, even though his manner rubs some people the wrong way. Moreover, Giuliani has clearly given a lot of thought to the hallmarks of great leadership. In addition to laying out his own prescription for success--with chapters organized around principles such as "Loyalty: The Vital Virtue" and the tongue-in-cheek "Bribe Only Those Who Will Stay Bribed"--he cites the thinking of other leaders, including Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, and President George W. Bush.

In the end, though, Leadership has more value as a memoir than as a how-to book. At its core is an account of why and how Giuliani has done the things he has done, from delivering a childhood beating to a fat, older bully to tracking and reducing the city's crime rate through a now much-copied process known as CompStat.

A hefty chunk of the text is devoted to the events surrounding September 11. Not only was Giuliani himself almost trapped under the rubble when the Twin Towers fell, but he also lost a number of close friends. With so little time and privacy on that day, he allowed himself to cry only once. And that lasted barely a minute. The soot-covered mayor eventually arrived back at a friend's apartment at 2:30 a.m., read about Churchill for the next two hours, caught a nap, and then waited for the sun to come up--determined to fight back. "People needed strength from their leaders," he writes. What's more, "instead of simply saying, `Let's get back to normal!' I tried to explain why that was important."

Considering the praise heaped on Giuliani these days, perhaps it's no surprise that the book's tone veers toward self-congratulation. If the author feels he has made mistakes in his life, he doesn't dwell on them. This is a volume about the triumphs that marked his Catholic childhood in Brooklyn, time in the Justice Dept., five years as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and two terms as mayor of New York, among other things. He doesn't reflect on what many consider to have been lapses in judgment--such as his unpopular and later-retracted idea of extending his term as mayor after the attacks. And of course, there's virtually no mention of his messy divorce or indiscretions, although he often refers fondly to current girlfriend Judith Nathan. Donna Hanover, his wife of 20 years, is essentially ignored. Giuliani cautions readers: "If we as a nation expect to attract real people to public life, we have to do what we can not to intrude on matters that don't affect a public figure's duties and performance." Translation: Buzz off.

Still, there is enough candor here to make Leadership an entertaining read. Giuliani writes about throwing up on the street, sweating profusely in meetings, and desperately having to urinate at inconvenient times during his prostate-cancer treatment. He chronicles his victorious scrapes with unions, Democrats, and lethargic bureaucrats. His reflections on September 11 are often genuinely moving, and there is evidence, here and there, that he has a sense of humor. Faced with hundreds of banner-waving supporters as he drove up the West Side Highway with Bush after visiting Ground Zero, Giuliani said: "I hate to break it to you, Mr. President, but none of these people voted for you. And only four of them voted for me and the Governor."

The former mayor is also blunt about the people he dislikes, such as former TWA CEO Jeffrey Erickson. After the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996, the mayor requested a list of passengers. Erickson responded by saying he'd like to "liaise" with the mayor--which Giuliani perceived as stonewalling. Writes the author: "From the moment I heard the word `liaise,' I suspected he was not my kind of guy." He also doesn't have a lot of time for Democrats, from Bill Clinton to former New York Mayors David Dinkins and Ed Koch. And he's venomous toward such obvious targets as Osama bin Laden and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. But he spends far more time praising those he does like, from Reagan to the late Fire Dept. Chief Raymond Downey. In fact, Giuliani says that the real key to his success has been working for, and surrounding himself with, great people.

That's a wise tactic for a politician who's likely to set his sights on another public job. In fact, to some extent, Leadership can be seen as an extended campaign speech. As such, it's a fair representation of its author--blustery, unapologetic, and marked by an obvious passion for the city he led.

Brady covers New York.

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