If your idea of the perfect president for the United States is a former no-holds-barred Federal Prosecutor, whose instinct for secrecy makes Cheney look like an open book, and who loads his staff and appointments with cronies, not necessarily qualified for the post – Rudy Guiliani is your man. If he sounds very similar to the incumbent in some respects, he is. The difference is that he is a very smart man, but he is also doomed by a towering ego which makes it impossible to see his own limits and mistakes and with a moral certitude which he attributes to his strict Catholic upbringing. (That he has had 3 marriages and supposedly supports gay rights and abortion is a positive for me, but not for the Catholic Church.)
After his run as Federal Prosecutor in the 1980s, Guiliani, as mayor, went on to turn New York City from a terrifying walk on the wild side to a version of Disney World for the masses – mostly by implementing the suggestions of his talented police chief, William Bratton. This is certainly to his credit. But since then, he has accepted the crown of “the hero of 9/11” given him with the help of a complacent press, and set up his campaign around this myth – something accepted as an absolute by people outside of New York City.
We New Yorkers are a bit more sceptical. His major positive actions after September 11th were to remain calm and to attend something over 300 funerals, which he did for weeks. He makes no mention of the disastrous decision (not his only bad one) to have placed New York’s emergency response center in the World Trade Center—a target not only of one terrorist attack in 1993, but also consistently presented by terrorist groups as the target for the future – one they made good on September 11, 2001. Or of having failed to set up a working communication system, a fact horrendously clear immediately after the attack. And then he left the area, taking all of the heads of public security (police chief and fire chief among them) to walk uptown with the other people fleeing the scene. Many people credit the communication breakdown and the lack of leadership at the scene with contributing to the unnecessary deaths of over 300 fire fighters as well as many others. A group of fathers of those lost firemen are, in fact, suing Guiliani for his deadly mistakes.
As a New Yorker who witnessed Guiliani as mayor for 8 years and was there on September 11th, I can only say I hope that someone else will be the Republican candidate. But more than that, I hope that Obama is the Democrat’s choice. I believe more and more that he can be elected and I also believe he’d be a great president.
originally published in Currents Feb/Mar 2008