Giuliani shines in time of crisis
By JAN WONG, The Globe and Mail
NEW YORK -- The firefighters, of course, knew it was hopeless from the start. When they talked about their "missing" comrades, they spoke in the past tense.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani must also have known. He had rushed to the site after the first attack, and was there for the second. He, too, would have seen first hand what happened. And he would have known that almost no one survived.
But New York's mayor has spun the news wisely -- and humanely. He understood that the news was more than New Yorkers could bear: more than 5,000 people dead, crushed, incinerated, in the attack on the World Trade Center.
"He played it masterfully," said an admiring John Connolly, a screenwriter who worked nine years as a policeman and detective.
"They knew from the start no one survived. But if he had announced right away that 5,000 were dead, you would have had widows jumping out of windows, people going out and shooting Arabs."
On day one, Mr. Giuliani warned that the death toll would be terrible. On day two, he reported that the "best estimate" was that in each building "there will be a few thousand people left."
"Left," he said, not "dead." And he promised that no effort would be spared to find them.
That message of hope gave friends and family members something to do. They kept busy, going from hospital to hospital. They printed up missing-persons flyers.
On the weekend, Mr. Giuliani began warning of a huge death toll, talking about "thousands" of dead. And yesterday, he calibrated his message a notch deeper.
"The reality is the longer the time, the less realistic hope we can offer people," he said at one of the many impromptu news conferences he has given. Then he deliberately moderated the message.
"But it's not impossible. We're not going to give up hope. But at the same time we have to say to people: Don't have high expectations."
Mr. Giuliani, once the most polarizing figure in New York, has become its father figure, psychologist and battlefield general, a leader who has consoled a stunned and fearful populace through the worst week in its history.
He has kept up a gruelling schedule, even as he recovers from prostate cancer. He has visited grieving families, rallied rescue workers, met constantly with his staff, and attended funerals and wakes and memorial services.
On Sunday, he kept a promise made last month. As if in defiance of the dark events of this past week, the mayor donned a tuxedo, put a white rose in his lapel, and escorted Diane Gorumba down a church aisle in Brooklyn. Ms. Gorumba, whose father and grandfather died last year, was supposed to be given away in marriage by her brother, a New York firefighter. But he died last month while fighting a three-alarm blaze.
At his funeral, Ms. Gorumba said to the mayor, half-jokingly, half-despairingly, "Why don't you do it?" Without missing a beat, Mr. Giuliani replied, "I'd be honoured."
The New York Times has anointed him "Mayor of the Moment." Newsweek declared him "the new mayor of America." The New York Post set up a special e-mail address called Rudythanks@nypost.com. It received 1,200 letters in 2½ days and yesterday devoted a full page to letters praising the mayor.
"We really hate Giuliani," said Louis Reyes, a waiter who is a registered Democrat. "But he's done a wonderful, wonderful job."
Mr. Reyes couldn't say the same about President George W. Bush. "He's no leader," he said contemptuously.
Last Tuesday, Mr. Bush was arriving at a Florida elementary school when an aide told him that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. The President decided to go ahead with the staged event anyway.
As Mr. Bush listened to the schoolchildren showing off their reading skills, his aide returned. A second plane had just smashed into the other tower. Mr. Bush stayed in the classroom for another six minutes. Was it nerves of steel, fabulous acting or an underestimation of the crisis?
At 9:12, the President terminated his photo op with the schoolchildren and called Vice-President Dick Cheney. He wrote a statement on a yellow legal pad, then he vanished for the day, scooting on Air Force One from Florida to Shreveport, La., to Omaha, Neb. He did not resurface in Washington until 8:30 that night.
It took Mr. Bush four days to make it to New York.
But Mr. Giuliani has been front and centre, without indulging in his legendary habit of hogging the limelight. Instead, he has praised all of those helping in the crisis, especially his long-time political adversaries. He shared a private hug with Senator Hillary Clinton. And he embraced Governor George Pataki at Sunday's memorial service.
"This is a real team effort," Mr. Giuliani yesterday. "I'm just another New Yorker, and I reflect your strength."
Just a few months ago, the mayor would not have won many popularity contests. Estranged from his wife, television personality Donna Hanover, he broke the news to her that he was leaving her for another woman -- at a news conference.
On Mother's Day, his celebrity divorce lawyer tried to shame Ms. Hanover into leaving Gracie Mansion, where she was staying with their two children. "She's howling like a stuck pig," Raoul Felder said. "I suppose we're going to have to pry her off the chandelier to get her out of there."
An austere man with a dark brown comb-over, Mr. Giuliani once alienated New Yorkers by taking away their inalienable right to jaywalk. He crusaded against the Brooklyn Museum of Art when it exhibited a Virgin Mary depicted with elephant dung. He has called his political foes "morons," reporters investigating his marital woes "jerks," and an unarmed black man shot by police "no altar boy."
Mr. Giuliani served as the No. 3 man in Ronald Reagan's Justice Department. In the 1980s, as U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, he prosecuted the Colombo crime family, hotel queen Leona Helmsley, stock-fraud artist Ivan Boesky and commodities trader Marc Rich.
Although Mr. Giuliani has been known to erupt over small irritations, he has maintained a calm control in what must certainly be the most stressful week of his life. Now he receives standing ovations and spontaneous applause wherever he goes.
The normally caustic New York press has fretted that he is supposed to be on a careful diet, after prostate cancer, but that he subsists on a slice of pizza here, half a sandwich there. All this has fuelled a buzz about having the New York State Legislature somehow allow him to stay on past Dec. 31, when his term expires. Many commentators, among his harshest critics, are now talking with regret that he will have to leave office because of term limits.
In contrast with Mr. Bush, Mr. Giuliani took control from the first moments. He was at breakfast last Tuesday when he got a call from the deputy mayor, a witness to the initial attack. The mayor arrived as the second hijacked airplane was approaching. He checked in with top fire department officials at an emergency command post on site. Then, his cellphone dead, he ran with his aides into a building just north of the twin towers, hunting for a regular phone line.
They heard rumbling. Bodyguards shoved the mayor under a desk. The front of the building where they had taken refuge came down. Then, led by a security guard, he ran through the smoke and debris, through a maze of underground tunnels.
Emerging at a street corner still close to the World Trade Center, he held a quick news conference for the few reporters who had managed to keep up with him. His message: New Yorkers should know he wasn't surrendering the city to terrorists.
Yesterday, he moved back into city hall, a gesture as large and as symbolic as the reopening of the New York Stock Exchange. At a news conference, he announced the latest statistics: 39,416 tonnes of rubble removed; 5,422 people missing; 201 confirmed dead; 135 of the dead identified. He didn't give three bleaker statistics. The number of body parts expected: 20,000. The number of people rescued alive: five. And the number rescued alive since Wednesday: zero.
Slowly, gently, families are being guided from putting up missing posters to providing DNA samples. No one, including the mayor, wants to talk about stark reality. Not only did the two tallest towers in New York City collapse, but the collapse was caused by jet fuel. One week later, the funeral pyre still burns.