When the time came to let William Bratton know that he had overplayed his part as the city’s top cop, unnamed members of Rudolph Giuliani’s inner circle put on worried faces and confided to reporters that the corporation counsel needed to check out the $300,000 book contract the police commissioner had just signed in order to make sure it complied with the city’s rigorous ethical standards. The plain implication was that there might be something troubling about a public official finding time to cash in on his performance in a job he had not left.
What was really troubling, it soon became clear, was less the theoretical possibility of a conflict of interest in the line of duty than the self-promotion of a striver: Bratton was obviously not going to be content to let his boss claim full credit for the stunning drop in violent crime he had helped to engineer. Before the corporation counsel got around to ruling on his book deal, Bratton got the message and stepped down. (When his book finally appeared, Bratton had been in the wilderness for two years, crime rates had continued to drop, and Giuliani had been reelected, so the challenge implicit in its chest-thumping subtitle, How America’s Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic, hardly registered.) But we now know what the corporation counsel concluded: on September 11, 2001, as the hijacked airliners headed for Lower Manhattan, both the mayor and the last of his three police commissioners had been under contract for books for half a year, in routine communion with their muses and hired writers.
Inevitably, what happened in the next few hours and days redefined their lives, careers, and the stories they were to tell. The topless towers had burned and they were now characters in an epic with the mayor cast as hero. Suddenly the Giuliani story for which Tina Brown and Harvey Weinstein had put up nearly $3 million in a two-book contract earlier in the year had a new emotional center. No longer would it pivot on his cascading and very public epiphanies in the spring of 2000 when, facing prostate cancer and the danger of banishment to a one-hundred-member legislative chamber in another city, he discovered his mortality and true love. Now, tempered by those experiences or rising above them, he had stepped beyond his own story to find the words of grief and steadfastness that his assaulted city needed to hear. He seemed, in those days, omnipresent and tireless, focused and noble, an exemplary public man (until, overcome by exertion and praise, he relapsed into self-centeredness and broke the spell by proposing that his term be extended beyond its statutory end).
Imagine the urgent sense of opportunity the publishers and hired writers felt when they were able again to consider their projects and realized that, somehow, September 11 had to be grafted onto outlines and manuscripts that had been conceived before anyone could have foreseen the huge, flaming finale of the Giuliani years.
The first of the two books to which the mayor had committed himself was to have been a manual on leadership, the kind of book that basketball coaches and baseball managers have been known to write as a ticket to lucrative off-season earnings for speaking to conferences of corporate managers. It is a genre that includes such titles as The Winner Within by Pat Riley, late of the Knicks, now of the Miami Heat; Success Is a Choice: Ten Steps to Overachieving in Business and Life, by Rick Pitino, formerly of the Boston Celtics; Leading with the Heart: Coach K’s Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life by Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski; and Joe Torre’s Ground Rules for Winners by the Yankees’ manager. Rudolph Giuliani’s Leadership shows every sign of having been constructed with the same purpose, that of providing a platform for a dependable income from speeches before anyone had imagined that he could command the $100,000 an appearance that he has reportedly received in the aftermath of September 11. To this end the mayor teamed up not with a political writer but with a sharp, young personal finance commentator, Ken Kurson, the author of a “how to” book for investors described on its cover as “A No B.S. Money Book for Your Twenties and Thirties.”
Bernard Kerik, the last of Giuliani’s three police commissioners, made his book deal just six months after he was elevated to the job and only a few weeks after the mayor had made his. He had had an unusual career as a soldier, a bodyguard to Saudi royalty, an undercover narcotics detective, and a prisons commissioner under the mayor he loyally served, but this seemed the stuff of a résumé rather than a memoir. After consulting with his publisher, Judith Regan, he resolved to build his book around an excruciating and unexplored part of a difficult childhood, the violent death of his wayward mother in Ohio in 1964, five years after she had vanished from her son’s life. Whatever it would do in the way of a catharsis for Kerik personally, it would supply his narrative with an emotional frame that it otherwise lacked.
So, ordering up what he called an investigation into a thirty-seven-year-old homicide that had apparently never been investigated, he sent two New York officers to Ohio, supposedly on their own time. (After leaving office, Kerik paid a relatively lenient fine of $2,500 levied by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, acknowledging that the officers had made five trips to Ohio to do research for his book, that some of their work was done on city time, and that it had been a conflict of interest for him to ask them to perform this proxy excavation into his past.) Kerik himself made only one trip to Ohio, in August 2001, just a few weeks before the manuscript was completed. He doesn’t tell us whether Jess Walter, his hired writer (the author of Over Tumbled Graves, a mystery), went along. But he does say he finished reading the last chapter in the early hours of September 11.
The problem of how to build accounts of the events of that day into two expository artifacts that were already somewhat rickety is handled most expediently in Kerik’s book with a thirty-six-page epilogue thickened with another thirty-two pages of glossy photographs from Ground Zero. The commissioner (now in private life with Giuliani Partners, the former mayor’s consulting group) tells where he went hour by headlong hour, what he saw through billowing gray ash, and what he thought when he had a chance to reflect on the turmoil of those days. The epilogue provides a serviceable account of remarkable events and the publisher got the book into the shops in less than three months, an early entry in the September 11 sweepstakes even though it was mostly about something else. So Kerik didn’t have to wait to be a former commissioner to promote his book. By the time the Giuliani team left office at the year’s end, it had already had its four weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller List.*
Retrofitting the Giuliani book shaped up as a bigger problem and, clearly, a much bigger opportunity. A management handbook is not the obvious vehicle for conveying something as rare as true grace under cataclysmic pressure. And Giuliani, it must be said, is not the best witness to what Giuliani accomplished. So nearly complete is his identification with his city that he comes close to imagining in the first frenzied hours that it is the Giuliani administration and family that might be under attack rather than the citadels of American power in the world. Considering City Hall “a likely target,” he had put his command center at 7 World Trade Center, on the twenty-third floor, ignoring the fact that the adjacent World Trade Center had been shown to be a target for Islamic terrorists in the 1993 bombing. Now, with 7 World Trade Center tottering, he ruled out Police Headquarters as a replacement command center. It was also “a potential target.” Gracie Mansion was “a possible target.” His estranged wife and his children might be targets and therefore needed to be evacuated to New Jersey. He ordered extra security for Judith Nathan, the woman in his life for more than a year. “I thought those attacking our city might go after her,” he says.
Wild thoughts and fears for loved ones were rushing through millions of minds in these same awful moments. Yet even before Giuliani had located a command center nondescript enough in his judgment to be unlikely as a target, even before he had settled his own racing imagination, he acted on the need to assert that “the leaders of the city were alive and in control.” He first spoke to the city before the second tower collapsed; he was on the air again within half an hour. He emphasized only what he knew: the scale and horror of the loss, the need to head north and evacuate Lower Manhattan, the need for calm. He did not give voice to his private fears that hostages might be taken, that Manhattan’s tunnels and bridges might be next on the list of targets, that the United Nations or Statue of Liberty might be hit, that “individual bombings” (presumably, he means suicide bombings by individuals) were now to be expected. He did not dwell on his own close scrapes in the area of the disaster or the many people he personally knew who had perished. (“There was no time to spend actually experiencing an emotion,” he tells us.) He spoke for the larger community, mourning its loss, and he came across as appalled yet measured, shaken yet brave.
He would have us believe that he was able to do all this because he had been working on this book for months and, therefore, his hard-won principles of leadership were clear in his mind. For this he credits the divinity, not Miramax. “It was as if God had provided an opportunity to design a course in leadership just when I needed it most,” he says. If that is not an expression of faith, it’s at least a literary conceit that helps connect September 11 to the manual. The chapter on the attack starts the book; another chapter on the recovery ends it. In between are fourteen chapters organized around Giuliani’s “rules” of leadership, which are illustrated by seemingly random reminiscences of incidents in his life and career that supposedly shaped his precepts.
There is no time line but references to September 11 have been basted into the manuscript at regular intervals. They come across not as a leitmotif so much as a tolling gong, reminding us that narrow issues of New York governance took on national significance and gave us a leader who now feels himself to be ready for any challenge. The Giuliani leadership manual bears some resemblance to Richard Nixon’s Six Crises. It’s part of a continuing campaign, and while the road ahead is anything but clear for a Republican who is pro-choice and favors gay rights, who endorsed Mario Cuomo and failed to run against Hillary Clinton, the fact that this disjointed and patchy book zoomed to the top of the best-seller list and became a fixture there suggests that there is an audience beyond his city that is prepared to accept him at his own estimate.
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 manual 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.
January 16, 2003
Another recruit to Giuliani Partners, the former fire commissioner Thomas Von Essen, has also produced a memoir: Strong of Heart: Life and Death in the Fire Department of New York (ReganBooks). Meanwhile, Commissioner Bratton, who entertained the idea of running for mayor in New York and then backed Democrat Mark Green in 2001 in hopes of being restored to his old office, has recently taken command of the Los Angeles police. ↩