New Yorkers have traditionally expected their mayor not so much to govern the city as to incarnate it—to radiate to the bland hinterland west of the Hudson the exuberance, quarrelsomeness, wit, and unassimilable ethnicity that make New Yorkers, at least in their own minds, a species unique on the planet. Even such ineffectual mayors as James J. Walker in the Twenties and William O’Dwyer in the Forties have reinforced the impression that New Yorkers live inside the world of Guys and Dolls. The most popular mayor of the century, Fiorello LaGuardia, was an Italian Jewish Protestant, a tyrant and a wag and a shameless ham who read the Sunday funny papers over the radio to the city’s children. Closer to our own time, Ed Koch is remembered not so much for anything he did as for the torrential flow of his chatter about city life, as if he had been elected cabdriver-in-chief rather than mayor. The proudly corrupt world of Tammany Hall, the Democratic machine that had driven the city’s political life for 150 years, enjoyed a final moment of efflorescence in the Eighties, before its chief practitioners were thrown in the slammer.
The man who threw them in was New York’s current mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. Unlike Koch, or Koch’s predecessor, Abe Beame, or his successor, David Dinkins, Giuliani was not a product of clubhouse politics, and thus was not ready to accept the immemorial norms of the city’s political life. He was a prosecutor, and a famously remorseless one; in City for Sale, an account of the scandals of the Koch years published in 1988, journalists Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett described Giuliani as a “priestly prosecutor,” an ascetic figure driven by a profound hatred of corruption and the abuse of power. This Savonarolaesque lawyer, with his terrible glare and his hatchet profile, corresponded to no known New York type.
After an incoherent campaign in 1989, when he lost by a hair to David Dinkins, who thus became the city’s first black mayor, Giuliani ran as an enemy of the status quo. He positioned himself as an opponent not only of the machine politics he had helped to destroy but of the social-welfare liberalism that had flourished since LaGuardia’s day, and of the preoccupation with individual rights that was a legacy of the Sixties. Giuliani was one of the least ingratiating candidates in recent memory; but that was part of his appeal. Who, after all, would want to identify himself with a city so violent, so dirty, so irresponsible? New York could no longer afford the politics of charm; it needed a priestly prosecutor’s harsh corrective.
And Giuliani has been as good as his word. Since becoming mayor in 1994, he has done the one thing to the city that nobody, New Yorkers included, could have imagined: tamed it. Crime is way down, but so are lesser forms of social disruption that New Yorkers have tolerated for years, such as aggressive panhandling. And he has, to a remarkable extent, won the battle of ideas. He has challenged habits and assumptions—about spending, about welfare, about crime control—that have long been part of the local consensus. And yet, for all that, Giuliani has never really been embraced by the city as some of his predecessors were. The man who would rather be respected than liked has gotten his wish. His enemies despise him and even his admirers occasionally find his behavior repugnant. Perhaps it couldn’t be otherwise; a less ferocious figure would himself have been tamed. And yet, watching the mayor govern has, at times, been a sickening spectacle, like a one-sided schoolyard fight. Giuliani has rarely been satisfied merely to defeat his foes; he seems to need to crush them, humiliate them, leave them no room for honorable withdrawal. There is some spirit of excess in the man, some force of unreason, that has made him fascinating.
Until this past spring, Giuliani was, of course, going to run against Hillary Clinton to fill the Senate seat vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a battle that at times threatened to blot out the presidential race. Giuliani was running an oddly lackadaisical campaign, as if he expected to be made senator by acclamation. Then he made his astonishing announcements: that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and that he was separating from Donna Hanover, his wife of sixteen years. In his illness, he said, he had come to depend on his “very good friend,” a former nurse named Judith Nathan. The mayor seemed equally stunned by mortality and by new love (though not by the prospect of separation from wife and family); and as he very publicly bared his emotions, he showed reporters, who had come to regard him as barely human, a side they had scarcely imagined, much less glimpsed. “Pray for me,” he said to a tabloid correspondent with whom he had not been on speaking terms. Then in mid-May, he ended the protracted drama by announcing that he would not run for the Senate—a discouraging decision for the two journalists who had been commissioned to write biographies of the mayor. The books were hustled out over the summer to catch the expiring Giuliani tide; they now read as epitaphs, if perhaps premature ones, to one of the most improbable political figures of our time.
In Rudy!, which is described as “an investigative biography,” Wayne Barrett, a longtime reporter for The Village Voice, accomplishes something remarkable: he exhumes the buried tale of Rudy Giuliani’s family past, including a great many details with which the mayor himself appears to have been unfamiliar. By interviewing family members whom nobody appears to have thought to talk to, and by beavering his way through ancient police and court records, Barrett discovered, as the world now knows, that in 1934 Giuliani’s father, Harold, pleaded guilty to the armed robbery of a milkman in the darkened stairwell of an East Side apartment building, and was sentenced to two to five years in Sing Sing. Harold’s one professional talent seems to have been the use of violence, and Barrett alleges that he made a living as the “muscle” for a gambling and loan-sharking operation run out of a Brooklyn bar by Leo D’Avanzo, his wife’s cousin, enforcing discipline with a .38 and a baseball bat. Not until Rudy was fourteen did Harold hold a legitimate job, as a janitor in a Long Island high school. But even this didn’t last. Harold was arrested for loitering when Rudy was seventeen; he suffered what a friend described as a “nervous breakdown,” left his job, and eventually drifted back to tending bar, or at least was paid for showing up at the family bar.
Rudy Giuliani has been in the public eye for over fifteen years, intensely so since he first ran for mayor in 1989; and yet none of this was known until now. (And none of it appears in Andrew Kirtzman’s biography.) Though I have written two extensive profiles of the mayor, I had always assumed that Harold Giuliani was a “tavern owner.” I had, it turns out, lifted this quaint description, redolent of tethered horses, waitresses in mobcaps, and servants sleeping on hay, from City for Sale, coauthored, with Jack Newfield, by the very same Wayne Barrett who has now torn the veil from the mayor’s past. I feel better about my own lack of curiosity knowing that so determined a researcher as Barrett had also accepted Giuliani’s fictional accounts of his family at face value. But it raises an embarrassing question: How could the notoriously prying New York press have failed to unearth the most elementary facts about the mayor’s background? It would be as if Bill Clinton had claimed that he had grown up in suburban bliss, and reporters had bought the story until just now.
A certain amount of credit goes to Giuliani himself, who until his recent confrontation with mortality was a shining example of the old school of anti-confessional politics. In fact, since Giuliani hardly talked to reporters at all, except en masse, not many members of the press even had the opportunity to ask him about his childhood. But what is also true is that the few anecdotes Giuliani supplied fit perfectly into the persona that he was shaping for himself. His father had tied a pair of boxing gloves on him at age two; his father had dressed him in a Yankee uniform in the middle of Dodgers-mad Brooklyn; his father had taught him that no work was undignified; his father had run the “tavern.” Was this not precisely the childhood to form the Oliver Cromwell who stood before us?
When they write about great men, journalists take their cue from Plutarch, seeking the mythic narrative that points to the great truth. Think of JFK and touch football on the lawn at Hyannisport, or JFK and Camelot, or JFK and Marilyn Monroe (for the larger truth is subject to fluctuation). Bill Clinton, a thoroughly modern politician, understood that his tale of family dysfunction perfectly qualified him to be the Boy From Hope. And Giuliani, though far more reticent, fashioned himself into a model of the working-class respectability which he vowed to restore to a city corrupted by an excess of tolerance. It fit; and reporters need not just the truth, but a truth that fits.
The real story was, of course, much more interesting. Giuliani was the first mayoral candidate in recent years with a genuinely Runyonesque background. And he had “overcome” something—his father’s wayward life, the family’s dark connections. Giuliani’s obsession with rectitude, his Manichaean sense of the universe, make far more sense when one understands that his own father dwelt in a violent world, and that “going bad” would not have been a mere abstraction to the boy. The story that Barrett tells makes Giuliani a more sympathetic, and a more nuanced, figure than the one that Giuliani himself has presented to the public. But Giuliani chose the conventional morality tale. It is, of course, very dangerous politically for an Italian politician to admit to even a remote family connection to organized crime. And even if such a story could count in the mayor’s favor, it’s not easy to imagine Giuliani—at least the pre-prostate cancer Giuliani—recognizing that this might be so. But finally, it may be that Giuliani has persuaded himself that he was raised in the bosom of respectability. Though a fearsomely rational figure when it comes to pursuing a line of argument, Giuliani also has the gift of ardently believing whatever it’s useful for him to believe.
What, if anything, does this tell us about Giuliani the man? Barrett, who sticks to the facts, at least as he understands them, is silent on this subject, but perhaps we can draw some inferences from what he has discovered. Barrett cites, without comment, a profile of Harold Giuliani written by Benjamin Apfelberg, a psychiatrist with the city’s Department of Hospitals, just before Harold was committed to Sing Sing. Apfelberg described Harold as “a personality deviate of the aggressive, egocentric type,” and went on to note, “This aggressivity is pathological in nature and has shown itself from time to time even as far back as his childhood. He is egocentric to an extent where he has failed to consider the feelings and rights of others.” Does this sound familiar?
Giuliani has rarely talked about anyone in his family except his father; it’s as if he is all superego, all obedience and rigor and self-discipline. And yet the stern paterfamilias is a fabrication. Whatever Giuliani believes now, as a child and an adolescent he must have had profoundly mixed feelings about a father who preached diligence and work but whose own life was a mess. (The mayor has been characteristically opaque on the question of how much he knew of his family’s past.) One is reminded of Ronald Reagan, who celebrated an archetypal father who turns out to have been a drunk. Giuliani seems to have made himself into the man that his father professed to be, but wasn’t. Perhaps it was not so much his father’s example as a fear of sinking into the family morass that made him such a fearsome crime-fighter. And perhaps his virtual obsession with self-discipline and will has less to do with his father’s maxims than with making sure that he didn’t follow the father’s example.
If he had never run for mayor, Rudy Giuliani might well be remembered as a scourge of the powerful. As US attorney for the Southern District of New York in the mid-1980s, Giuliani did not so much prosecute individ-ual bad guys as “take on” entire classes of evildoers—corrupt politicians, Wall Street barons, mobsters. Giuliani seemed to quite consciously offer himself as an instrument of the widespread moral anger against the greed and heedless self-dealing of the age. He had a moral hierarchy of his own that was quite independent from that of the US Criminal Code; he once said that corrupt politicians were the lowest form of life, except perhaps murderers. And he used the power of public spectacle to enforce that moral code. Most notoriously, he had two Wall Street brokers, Robert Freeman and Richard Wigton, arrested in their offices and marched off in handcuffs in front of their peers. A third, Timothy Tabor, was arrested at home.
The message was clear: No special treatment for the rich. On the other hand, as Wayne Barrett, now a bristling adversary rather than an adoring fan, observes, Giuliani permitted Gambino chieftain Paul Castellano, presumably a far more dangerous figure, to be arrested without publicity and “to buy a Snickers bar on the way to the arraignment.” Perhaps the US attorney felt that mobsters were such a discredited lot that nothing was to be gained—in regard to either publicity or moral edification—by publicly humiliating them.
It’s easy to forget that many on the left had traditionally viewed the feds not as the defender of the people against the powerful and the corrupt but as the personal instrument of J. Edgar Hoover—a domestic spying agency obsessed with Communists and “radicals.” One of Giuliani’s remarkable achievements—a byproduct of his more substantial victories—was to change the ideological tone of the federal prosecutor’s office. Giuliani is the hero of City for Sale, as he is of countless other books and articles written about his exploits at the time. And he was a public hero as well. He couldn’t walk down the street or take in a game at Yankee Stadium without people shouting out his name, urging him on. He was almost certainly the most celebrated prosecutor in America since Thomas E. Dewey.
Giuliani’s passionate moralism made him a formidable prosecutor and a folk hero; it also made him reckless. It’s not, after all, a good idea to indict someone because of what they represent. To his great embarrassment, Giuliani had to drop all charges against Wigton and Tabor, while Freeman pleaded guilty to a minor count. Of the three famous women he put in the dock—real estate magnate Leona Helmsley, former Miss America Bess Myerson, and Imelda Marcos—he won a conviction only against the first. Several of his Wall Street cases were overturned on appeal, as was the Wedtech case against a company accused of cheating the government, in which he had permitted his own boss, US Attorney General Edwin Meese, to be described in court as “a sleaze.” The celebrated failures do not outweigh Giuliani’s impressive record, but they certainly tarnish it. One gets the impression that Giuliani had no one around him who could check his worst impulses; and that those impulses grew more dangerous over time.
Most of the story Barrett tells here is familiar, though it’s amusing to compare the priestly prosecutor of Barrett’s City for Sale with the reckless publicity hound of Rudy! Barrett does, however, describe a sinister figure named Tony Lombardi, an IRS investigator who served as Giuliani’s personal inquisitor and designated leaker. In Barrett’s account, Lombardi used an inquiry into allegedly corrupt contracting practices of the Koch administration to hunt for evidence that Koch had had a homosexual relationship with a contractor; or, failing that, with a former administration official. Lombardi also apparently kept the rumor pot simmering with hints dropped to members of the press. Barrett sees this as a transparent attempt to harm or even destroy Koch, against whom Giuliani was planning a mayoral run. “The Lombardi sex probe contaminated an office Rudy had revered and, in many ways, uplifted,” Barrett writes. One may be skeptical, since at the time of the investigation Giuliani was planning to run for the Senate rather than for mayor. But Barrett presents evidence that Giuliani also used Lombardi to gather dirt on New York Senator Alfonse D’Amato after he and D’Amato had a falling out. However one characterizes this dubious use of prosecutorial power, one is left with the image of a man so suffused with self-righteousness that he permits himself to use the kind of cynical and underhanded tactics that he would find contemptible in others.
Barrett must ponder the question of how he came to despise a figure whom he once so deeply respected. His unambiguous answer is: Rudy changed. Giuliani had once been a Robert Kennedy liberal and a registered Democrat, Barrett observes. Then he joined the Reagan administration as an associate attorney general in 1981. Barrett bitterly describes Giuliani’s single-minded execution of the Reagan administration’s policy of interning Haitian refugees and refusing to take seriously requests for political asylum. Giuliani, he notes, insisted in courtroom testimony that “political repression does not exist, at least in general, in Haiti.” This makes for ugly reading, and Barrett concludes the episode by writing, “Not just his party affiliation had changed. His heart had.” Another explanation may be that Giuliani was a zealous and hardheaded young administration official who understood that he had been handed a job of police enforcement, and treated the situation accordingly. In fact, one can see the Haitian episode as the first sign of Giuliani’s habit of viewing almost everything as a matter of public order.
The principal evidence Barrett cites to support his thesis that Giuliani was a liberal who betrayed his principles out of ambition comes from Giuliani’s failed 1989 mayoral campaign, in which he initially assumed that he would have to outflank his opponent, Mayor Koch, from the left. This version of Giuliani, a nonpartisan figure who promised “a government of inclusion,” a compassionate soul prepared to spend large amounts on the problems of homelessness and of AIDS sufferers, has been lost to history, and we have Barrett to thank for resurrecting him.
In any case, he didn’t last long. Koch unexpectedly lost the Democratic primary to David Dinkins, and Giuliani executed a swift pivot to the right. He lost, and when he reemerged in the 1993 election, he was the recognizably anti-liberal figure of today. Barrett can see this only as a betrayal. The new Rudy, Barrett writes, espoused “a welfare and homeless philosophy more focused on dependency than decency, better suited for saving money than saving lives.” Barrett fails to recall that public attitudes on these issues shifted significantly to the right during the four hapless years of Dinkins’s mayoralty. What’s more, the position with which Giuliani emerged, which is that liberal social policies have undermined the willpower of the poor and thus condemned them to endless dependency, is a much more accurate expression of his intuitive world view. It’s the 1989 campaign whose liberal rhetoric now looks like an opportunistic bid for votes by a man who, in any case, had scarcely given a thought to matters of social policy.
At this point Barrett ceases to be a useful guide to Giuliani’s career, because Barrett is an unabashed partisan of the big-city liberalism which Giuliani vowed to smash. Barrett understands Giuliani’s battle with Dinkins strictly as a racial drama, which is precisely how most liberals saw it in 1989, if not the second time around. Barrett describes Giuliani in 1989 as “the trooper blocking the schoolhouse door,” and he approvingly cites President Clinton’s ill-advised comment in 1993 that Dinkins’s bid for reelection was in jeopardy because “too many of us are still too unwilling to vote for people who are different than we are.” Barrett paints Dinkins in heroic colors, but the truth is that Dinkins was a clubhouse figure who happened to be black—“a social democratic hack,” as a columnist once described him. He was widely viewed as an ineffectual mayor who seemed to feel that he had succeeded simply by being elected, and thus could dispense with the hard work of governing. Dinkins offered himself as, and clearly wished to be, a “healer,” but during his time in office the city was troubled by a race riot involving blacks and Hasidic Jews, a bitter standoff pitting blacks against Koreans, and innumerable smaller incidents.
Giuliani’s victory in 1993 could hardly be seen as a setback for racial tolerance, no matter what the President thought. The election was a significant event in an entirely different sense, for it sounded, as Andrew Kirtzman writes, “the death-knell for Lindsay-era liberalism.” Kirtzman goes on to observe, “Dinkins had believed with all his soul in a status quo that had been calcifying for twenty years; he rhapsodized about government’s promise, the generosity of its spirit, even as it barely functioned anymore.”
Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City has few surprises; Kirtzman has not put in anything like the legwork that Barrett has, and his insights into Giuliani’s larger political significance are pedestrian. But the book’s conventionality is its virtue. Kirtzman himself registers many New Yorkers’ admiring and almost awestruck recognition of Giuliani’s onslaught on longstanding convention, as well as their equal horror at his brutal indifference to the feelings and rights of others. Dinkins was an extremely unlucky mayor, for he took office at a time of flat economic growth, rising use of crack, and the crime and chaos that came with it; and Kirtzman recalls the sense of aimlessness, and even helplessness, that beset the city during his tenure. Drugs were sold openly in poor neighborhoods, and even many in the middle class had to run a daily gantlet of panhandlers, the homeless, and the mentally ill. Kirtzman recalls Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s summary of the situation in a speech titled “Defining Deviancy Down,” in which he told New Yorkers that “you are getting used to behavior that’s not good for you at all.” Giuliani repeated Moynihan’s diagnosis constantly during the 1993 campaign.
Giuliani’s mayoralty, or at least his first term, represented a spectacular fusion of the man and the moment. In 1989, New Yorkers might not have tolerated Giuliani’s bulldozing tactics, his scornful rhetoric, and his disregard for civil liberties, and by 1997 might have considered these tactics unnecessary. But in 1993 the city felt something like the chaotic, conductorless orchestra that Fellini once used as a metaphor for Italy. What’s more, as a result of a court decision the city had been forced to abolish the Board of Estimate, a body through which a wide range of decisions over budgetary expenditures was funneled, thus leaving the mayor with no check on his power except a traditionally toothless City Council (a crucial fact which neither biographer sees fit to mention). New York was not only psychologically but administratively primed for a benevolent dictator. And Rudy Giuliani was eager to become that man. “Freedom,” he once said, “is the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do and how you do it.”
Giuliani used his legal powers and his popularity to stage one battle of wills after another. Having inherited a huge deficit, he issued a budget with severe cuts to such core services as parks, education, and health care—and the City Council yelped, and then complied. Legal Aid lawyers went on strike, and the mayor threatened to fire them—and the strike collapsed. As part of his campaign to define deviancy back up, Giuliani ordered the police to start arresting squeegee men and aggressive panhandlers—and he treated the cries of civil libertarians with disdain. The police had become so sensitive to allegations of brutality that they had stopped arresting low-level offenders. Working with his police commissioner, William Bratton, Giuliani reversed police practice, instituting a new crime-control policy that began with taking low-level offenses seriously.1 And crime began to drop precipitously. Giuliani’s success in bringing down crime was not only his single greatest achievement, it also served as a metaphor for a larger restoration of order and civility for which most New Yorkers were, it turned out, very grateful.
But there was a problem. Like any benevolent dictator, Giuliani understood his job as gaining a monopoly over power in order to ensure wise administration. But when he moved beyond matters of public order, he often seemed to have only a sketchy idea of what to do with that power. He publicly denounced his own schools chancellor, Ramon Cortines, for refusing to cut 2,500 jobs from the Board of Education, as he had demanded, and he tried to gain control over the chancellor’s budgetary powers. But scarcely anyone besides Giuliani believed that children were failing to learn in the city’s schools because the board had too many bureaucrats, or that the children would fare better under Giuliani than under Cortines, a highly professional educator. And Giuliani’s brutal treatment of Cortines, which Kirtzman recounts in grim detail, exposed a streak of gratuitous cruelty, almost of sadism, that had nothing to do with wise administration. The would-be benevolent dictator must always take care to be seen as benevolent.
Giuliani has always ruled like a desert prince, with a tiny circle of loyal clan members dispatching orders to the tribe and defending the chief from the hostile forces of the larger world. As US attorney, Giuliani hired some of the most gifted young lawyers in the country, but his inner council consisted of fervent loyalists who had the instinct to know where all arguments stopped. The “Yesrudys,” as they were known inside the office, followed him to City Hall. Both Kirtzman and Barrett write admiringly of Peter Powers, Giuliani’s closest friend and adviser, but note that the mayor was otherwise surrounded almost entirely by sycophants. Giuliani treated the government professionals whom he inherited, and even many that he appointed, as mere functionaries, disposing of them when they advocated their own view too strenuously. The system could execute policy with tremendous dispatch, but could not formulate it; there was no means to absorb intelligence from the outside. Everything emanated from the core group, which itself was distinguished by loyalty rather than wisdom or expertise. And so the more nuance an issue required, the more inadequate the Giuliani administration’s response tended to be.
Thus the mayor has claimed welfare reform as his greatest achievement after crime control, because the ranks of welfare recipients has dropped almost as sharply as the murder rate. But while cities like Milwaukee have gone to great lengths to train recipients for private-sector jobs, and then help them find and keep those jobs, New York City has been content to throw people off the rolls, and to compel others to do make-work as a con-dition of receiving welfare. Giuliani claims this is spiritually nourishing, but it doesn’t produce much change in material circumstances. New York has slashed its welfare population by a staggering 400,000, but the city’s poverty rate has been stuck at 24 percent since Giuliani took office, despite years of steady economic growth. Very few former welfare recipients have joined the private workforce on a long-term basis.
The mayor has also taken his war on misplaced liberal compassion to the plight of the homeless, with equally mixed results. He has reduced the average population in city shelters by applying strict new criteria for access, and the number of homeless people in the streets has not increased, as advocates for the homeless predicted it would. He has encouraged programs to put single homeless adults to work in order to instill independence. But he has also sharply cut funding for treatment for drug addiction and mental illness—the root causes of homelessness, in his own view—as well as for the construction of new housing.
Giuliani himself often seems to lack completely the sympathetic imagination that allows a leader to put himself in his citizens’ shoes. The “stop-and-frisk” policy which has resulted in a tremendous decline in gun violence has also infuriated many young black and Latino men who find themselves stopped continually by the police. Giuliani’s steady response has been that they should feel fortunate to be living in a safer city. It’s not clear, in fact, if police brutality is rising or not, but in a report made public this July federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have alleged that mild punishment for police found guilty of brutality has produced a climate of impunity.2 And there have been several appalling incidents which have raised the question of whether the police generally have become too ready to pull the trigger, including the killing of an unarmed West African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, by four undercover officers in February 1999. In the midst of the ensuing furor, according to Kirtzman, Floyd Flake, a minister and Congressman and one of the mayor’s strongest black supporters, tried to tell him what it felt like to be pulled over and ordered out of your car by a cop, for no other reason than that you were black. Giuliani simply recited his statistics about declining crime.
Soon afterward Giuliani’s own advisers convened a focus group, consisting entirely of white New Yorkers, in the hopes that he would recognize his problem. Giuliani listened to them praise his anti-crime policies, and then criticize him for failing to apologize to the Diallo family for their loss. The mayor, according to Kirtzman, shouted furiously, “I am not going to give in to the mob mentality!” and then added, “I’d rather not be mayor than do something unprincipled.” Such is the purity of the mayor’s principles that he must, as a matter of moral obligation, pay no heed to their human consequences. Here, truly, is virtue carried to excess.
The mayor hasn’t simply accepted the unpopularity that comes of being a stern reformer; he has embraced it. A man persuaded that the truth is self-evident naturally sees his critics as not just wrong but willful, blind, self-serving; and so Giuliani takes the obloquy that comes his way as proof that he is hitting the liberal establishment where it hurts. The fierce tone of Wayne Barrett’s biography, which includes an almost virtuosic twenty-five-page passage designed to prove that the celebrated drop in crime actually results from “a conspiracy of feigned crimelessness”—in which the mayor and his top police officers have allegedly fudged even the murder rate—would probably delight him. But Kirtzman’s book comes much closer than Barrett’s to reflecting opinion among the city’s policy elite.
Giuliani doesn’t see that the liberal establishment was already shaky by the time he came along, and that he has largely converted it since then. One need only track the movement of the New York Times editorial page in recent years on issues like crime, welfare, and school standards—and on Giuliani himself—to see that this is so. But Giuliani does not seem at ease in any mode save the confrontational. He is, alas, a bully; and a bully inevitably provokes hatred. Ed Koch wrote a book—a collection of his newspaper columns, actually—about the mayor, whom he supported in both the last two elections before ultimately giving up on him in a Kochian spritz of disgust; the title is Rudy Giuliani, Nasty Man.
Giuliani will probably be remembered as the steely-eyed mayor who brought the murder rate down to unheard-of levels but also wore out New Yorkers with his ceaseless combativeness. But this judgment simultaneously sells the mayor short and minimizes his failures. Giuliani bears to New York approximately the relationship that Margaret Thatcher bore to England. That is to say, he shattered New York’s reigning ideology as thoroughly as Thatcher did England’s—so much so that Giuliani’s successor is likely to sound like a kinder and gentler version of him, just as Tony Blair does of Thatcher. It is simply no longer possible for New Yorkers to talk about the budget, about crime, or about welfare as they did in 1993, though obviously that also has a great deal to do with changes in national politics. Giuliani has, as they say, changed the discourse.
At the same time, it will come to be seen in retrospect that Giuliani’s achievements were in fact rather narrow. Fiscal experts have been waiting for years for Giuliani to take on the city’s union contracts, which grant a vast number of benefits in the form of holidays, sick leave, and job protection, and demand virtually nothing by way of improved productivity. Only with the sanitation workers has the mayor succeeded in changing the status quo. The schools haven’t improved at all; parks and recreation facilities in the outer boroughs are falling apart; soup kitchens are providing food for more people than ever. Most of the truly complicated problems fester as before. And while the administration has been almost scandal-free, Giuliani’s people have handed out jobs to hacks and cronies with the shameless abandon of the old machine. Kirtzman describes Giuliani’s head of appointments, Tony Carbonetti, a twenty-three-year-old whose father was an old Giuliani family pal, doling out choice jobs to the relatives of supporters, and calling up the Health and Hospitals Corporation, a vast patronage dump, and telling an official, “There’s a person’s resume coming over the fax. Have him hired by Friday. Salary’s got to be around fifty thousand.” It’s hard to reform government when you have contempt for it.
On the other hand, Giuliani may be remembered for sex—a proof, certainly, that God loves irony. Giuliani is the first mayor in recent history to actually make an issue of sex, rewriting city ordinances to force the closing of topless bars, peep shows, video stores specializing in porn, and the like. He is our modern Comstock, grimly stamping out the indecency and license that spring up in great cities everywhere. He has tried to make New Yorkers live by his parochial-school conception of freedom-as-self-restraint. But while he has enjoyed some success with New Yorkers, he has, to the glee of the city’s lesser mortals, failed with himself. Barrett claims, on what seems like fairly solid authority, that Giuliani regularly exempted himself from his rigorous moral views, at least when his first marriage was disintegrating. But there can’t be much doubt about the second marriage, whose demise was by far the most surprising public spectacle of Giuliani’s career. Insiders had long trafficked in rumors about Giuliani’s relationship with Cristyne Lategano, his fervently dedicated communications director. Relations between Giuliani and his wife, Donna Hanover, grew so frosty that in an interview in early 1999 Hanover could not even bring herself to say that she would vote for her husband if he ran against Hillary Clinton.
Several months later, it now seems, Giuliani had begun his affair with Judith Nathan. I am embarrassed to report that Friday afternoon golf sessions described in a New York Times Magazine article—by me—as a sign of a mellower new Rudy were, according to Barrett, a fiction designed to conceal visits to Nathan’s Southampton condo. When the news finally broke, Giuliani announced his separation from Donna in one of the strangest and most painful press conferences in memory. His wife, outraged at this public humiliation, issued a press release of her own accusing Giuliani of previously having had an affair with Lategano. For a few weeks New Yorkers could speak of nothing but Giuliani’s sex life; the mayor had metamorphosed into Donald Trump.
The mayor has not, of course, slunk off the stage like the humiliated husband in a Molière comedy. He has, if anything, tried to present himself as a more sympathetic, even vulnerable, figure, aware of his shortcomings and eager to persuade skeptical New Yorkers that he has been the best thing that’s ever happened to them. Though he will not be senator (and he won’t be eligible to run for mayor again until 2005, because of the rule against more than two consecutive terms), Giuliani will be looking for the next step up, because that is what ambitious men do.
And yet, as he probably knows, a curse lies on the head of New York’s mayors. They are so formed, or deformed, by the city itself that they seem unsuitable for anything else, and never go on to higher office. And the truth is that Giuliani’s time may have come and gone. Not only New York, but other cities are not as chaotic, as violent, as racially torn, as they were a decade ago. Just as schools no longer need principals wielding baseball bats—if they ever did—so cities no longer need mayors wielding electric prods. And the national Republican Party is unlikely to know what to do with a figure as abrasive as the right-wing leadership in the House but as moderate politically as the marginalized Rockefeller wing of the party. An uncompassionate centrist may have no home in the party of “compassionate conservatives.” And so for Giuliani, as for his predecessors, there may be no next step up.
What then? Rudy Giuliani in private legal practice sounds as dangerous as Napoleon in exile. What’s he to do with his energy, his ambition, his passionate will to combat? Will he brood in obscurity, or rally his forces and get ready to campaign for mayor in 2005? Perhaps, as a public service, someone should find this man a small and pliable country to run.
October 19, 2000
See James Lardner, “Can You Believe the New York Miracle?,” The New York Review, August 14, 1997, a review of Fixing Broken Windows, by George L. Kelling and Catherine M. Coles, whose views were much cited as having had an influence on the policies of Police Commissioner Bratton. ↩
See “More Police Officers Being Punished, but Not More Severely,” The New York Times, July 28, 2000, p. B1. ↩