• Email
  • Single Page
  • Print

Rudy Rules!

Strength is a key word in that estimate. People “need to see someone who is stronger than they are, but human, too,” we’re told. If you’re a leader, you have to “accept that maybe you really do know better and can see a little further down the road than others.” The challenge he faced on September 11 was to put his anger “to work in ways that would make me a stronger, better leader.” He seldom allows himself to sound as self-righteous or vindictive in these pages as he often did in his daily news conferences as mayor. But the more mellow Giuliani leaves no doubt about who this model strong man and leader might be, and since he has organized his presentation of this exemplar around a string of precepts, he has plenty of leeway to skip over, indeed to leave out entirely, memorable incidents of his tenure that do not illustrate his maxims. You won’t find the names Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, or Patrick Dorismond in these pages—to mention three dark-skinned New Yorkers whose violent encounters with the police (fatal in the last two cases) came to symbolize everything that was held to be wrong in relations between the police and nonwhites in the Giuliani years.

Also missing is the name of Ramon Cortines, a schools chancellor who, having lost the mayor’s confidence, became persona non grata at City Hall and finally was driven from town. Anyone who has ever discussed schools or race relations with Rudolph Giuliani in a private setting knows he has arguments on his side—about the failure of the schools, about the successes of the police—and that he is not only fiercely intelligent but studious. At his best, when he is not throwing himself into his Savonarola imitation, he shows himself to be knowledgeable, full of insight, and even sensitive. That side of him is also not on display in Leadership, which is about being and staying in charge, rather than actual problems he faced, let alone problems he failed to solve. So he also won’t concede that the heroic and unparalleled rescue operation attempted in the scant one hundred minutes between the time the first plane slammed into a tower and the time the second tower collapsed was plagued by failures of coordination, communication, and equipment that may well have cost scores of lives. It was the “greatest rescue in the history of this country” and those who had ridiculed his administration for game-planning how it would handle disasters such as a sarin attack in Lower Manhattan or a plane crash in Queens have, he contends, no business second-guessing it now on the wholly unforeseen disaster that did occur.

Coming down from the mountain to deliver his “rules,” his principles of leadership, Giuliani sidesteps obvious questions and tells conspicuously less than he knows. It is a meal in which fortune cookies are served at the start, in the middle, and at the end of every course, opening up to platitudes. Here are some of the analects of Giuliani:

Making the right choices is the most important part of leadership.

Leaders must find a balance between speed and deliberation.

A leader must manage not only results but expectations.

Often it’s to a leader’s benefit not to let others know what he’s up to.

One of a leader’s responsibilities is to meet the needs of those he or she leads.

There is no more powerful motivation for others than a leader who sets an example.

A leader wants someone who doesn’t just kowtow but can step up to the plate.

A leader should be anticipating all the time.

Granted that the sort of people who get or seek stock options in American corporations have an insatiable appetite for such thin gruel, the former mayor does himself some injustice by stepping forward as an abstraction rather than a politician made of flesh and blood. You have to turn to Commissioner Kerik’s book to find a reasonably candid discussion of what went wrong in the Giuliani years between the police and minority communities that were the overwhelming beneficiaries, as the mayor kept pointing out, not only of the fall in violent crime but also of the department’s ability to exert self-discipline in its own use of weapons against civilians. (In 1993, the last of the Dinkins years, there were 212 incidents in which police weapons were discharged. By 2000 that statistic had dropped to 73.) “The most pressing matter,” Kerik writes, describing what he faced upon taking office in the seventh of Giuliani’s eight years, “was the deep rift between the NYPD and the city’s minority neighborhoods.” The previous year, the city had paid out $40 million to settle police brutality claims.

For weeks the new commissioner barnstormed from one black church to another, meeting community leaders and listening to their complaints. He then started to rein in the plainclothes Street Crime Unit, the enforcers of a “stop and frisk” policy that had been highly effective in getting guns off the street at the price of alienating thousands of young blacks who believed themselves to have been victims of racial profiling. Precinct commanders and Street Crime Unit officers were ordered to follow the commissioner’s example and go to community meetings and to listen well to what they heard. Training programs on how to speak politely and respectfully were started. New questionnaires were distributed demanding details of the conduct that led to a decision to stop and frisk a possible suspect. “Suspicious behavior,” the usual answer in the past, was now deemed inadequate. The Street Crime Unit itself was reduced in size.

Kerik doesn’t acknowledge that the Clinton Justice Department had reached a conclusion that the Street Crime Unit had been stopping young blacks and Hispanics without legally defensible reasons and was warning that it might have to take legal steps to restrain it. Giuliani had hotly disputed that conclusion but, for once, the mayor was not in a confrontational mood. Although Kerik doesn’t say so, it’s plain that he was not acting on his own, that he had been given a mandate by Giuliani to repair the damage. A couple of months earlier, in a news conference that was remarkable for a few moments of vulnerability and doubt, the mayor had spoken of the “barriers that maybe I placed” between City Hall and those New Yorkers who felt bypassed by their city’s revival. He never went so far as to admit that anything had gone wrong, but he now wanted to set matters right. This sequence of events must illustrate some leadership principle but not one that you will find in Leadership.

Indeed, his assigning of particular principles to particular moments of decision often seems entirely arbitrary, a matter of authorial convenience. Giuliani, who can make a decision to close down a Staten Island strip club or ban street fairs in the days after September 11 sound like the decision to launch the Normandy invasion, is loathe to acknowledge that he ever acted from political motives. So he tells us only what he was not doing when he decided in 1994 to back Mario Cuomo against his fellow Republican, George Pataki: he was decidedly not seeking the praise his liberal critics showered on him for his independence. Was he backing the candidate he expected to win in order to reserve for himself a chance to run for the office four years later? He does not deign even to sweep aside so unworthy a suggestion. And did the Cuomo decision, which left him with a need to mend Republican fences in New York, have anything to do with his decision six years later to back George W. Bush against his fellow maverick and friend, John McCain, at a time when he was still contemplating a run for the Senate? It was merely an example of how “leaders have to make decisions that are multidimensional, usually between two or more imperfect remedies, on criteria that encompass long-range goals and plausibility.”

Writers, even hired writers, have to choose between sentences that convey meaning and sentences that function as stuffing. Leadership is full of stuffing, words designed to insulate its author from criticisms that have grated on him over the years; for instance, the suggestion that he was a “control freak” who ruled as an autocrat. That criticism is answered without being acknowledged in the man-ual by a chapter called “Surround Yourself with Great People.” In it we are told that on the inside the Giuliani administration was always a meritocracy, full of strong persons indulging in spirited debate and conflict, even if it then closed ranks, presenting only one stern face to the public. His standard in hiring was to “find the best person suited for the job. Period.” But as Giuliani gratefully puts faces on the hitherto faceless people who surrounded him, a pattern emerges. One is “a lifelong friend,” with whom he had run campaigns in high school; another “my friend for twenty-five years”; another “a longtime friend”; another “my friend of twenty years”; another had been an assistant US attorney with him “in the early 1970s”; another was that man’s son; another the son of a “longtime political supporter, friend, and advisor”; another “worked for me when I headed the US Attorney’s office”; another was “our good friend.” Even if they were all as capable as Giuliani contends, it was not a team chosen in a wide-ranging talent search. Not since Tammany days had City Hall seen so inbred an inner circle.

And yet, despite all that and this book, Rudolph Giuliani had a bigger impact on our city than any mayor since La Guardia and changed it mostly for the better, by dint of his energy, his sometimes irritating single-mindedness, and his unwavering conviction that change was possible. Social scientists will debate for years the question of whether the filling of the prisons in the Cuomo years, the hiring of more police by David Dinkins, the improving economy, or the waning of the crack epidemic had more to do with the city’s turnaround than the tactics of Giuliani’s police. But it’s hard to doubt that those tactics were effective, or that his determination was the most obvious reason for their being sustained.

Giuliani has gone on to a new life as an American war hero and, more recently, a white knight for hire on Wall Street. (He has allowed a group of investors, who have been buying up bonds of the bankrupt WorldCom, to float his name as a possible chairman for the company.) His city, meanwhile, has survived nearly a year without him. A reform in running the schools that he had both sought and made impossible has come to pass under his successor. But the Wall Street revenues that would have been helpful in making it a success are sinking fast and austerity is the order of the day. As Michael Bloomberg makes his cuts, including cuts in the uniformed services, problems like homelessness and housing on which Giuliani had at best a spotty record will become again conspicuous. Among the liberal intellectuals he despised, this may lead to renewed quibbling and caterwauling over his legacy. But voters more than likely will forget his hectoring and remember the Giuliani years as the good ones.

  • Email
  • Single Page
  • Print