Profile: Rudy Giuliani - A tough guy to beat

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The Independent Culture
Want to see Rudy Giuliani in the flesh? Good luck. He has famously erected police barricades around the entrance to New York's City Hall - those pesky protesters were getting to close to his throne - and he is as reluctant as ever to sit for interviews. (Only reporters come below protesters in his hierarchy of the human species.) But do not despair. Identify the crisis of the day in the seething jungle of a metropolis - there is always one unfolding somewhere, a murdered cop, a fire - and you can be sure the mayor will be there.

Like on Tuesday night, when the lights went out across a swathe of Manhattan. Temperatures exceeding 100oF had frazzled cables and plunged Washington Heights into darkness. Over 200,000 residents were without light and air- conditioning and there was Rudy at a command post on W190th St, overseeing the emergency response and threatening to file suit against the electricity company.

The heat wave was a Godsend for the mayor. He is being cast as the probable Republican opponent against Hillary Rodham Clinton in a US Senate race in New York next year. On Thursday, when the First Lady should have occupied the city's front pages with the start of her corny "listening tour" upstate, instead they belonged to him. "Blackout shows Rudy has the Power", trumpeted the Daily News.

But then, he needed the break. The last weeks and months have not been good ones for the grandson of Italian immigrants who in 1997 won a second term as the man in charge of Gotham City. Events have accumulated to show the less attractive qualities of the figure who has taken credit for slaying crime in New York and making it a pleasant place again for residents and tourists alike - the characteristics that recently drove a former mayor, Ed Koch, to call him "nuts". They're his propensity to jealousy, acts of political childishness, his antagonistic relationship with minorities, and his utter impatience with detractors.

On occasion this year, it has been hard to wonder if the mayor has not displaced his political marbles. Why did he wait for weeks to extend a hand to black leaders when the brutal killing of a black immigrant in the Bronx in February set the African-American community aflame, leading to weeks of protests outside police headquarters? (Four white police officers fired 41 bullets into the unarmed frame of Amadou Diallo.)

Why did he pursue a campaign to bulldoze scores of community gardens and insult outraged green-thumbs with the comment: "Welcome to the era after Communism"? (The actress Bette Midler saved the day by helping to buy many of the plots.) Why did he stop plans by Tina Brown to hold a launch party of her soon-to-debut Talk magazine in the Brooklyn Navy Yards the minute he learned Hillary Clinton was slated to be on the first front cover, earning himself "Party Pooper" headlines?

And why did Giuliani, 55, just convene a commission to redraft the City Charter when it is obvious to everyone that his sole purpose is to knee- cap his least favourite city official, Mark Green, the public advocate? The commission's main task is to change the succession rules that would automatically elevate Green to the mayor's office should Giuliani leave for the Senate in the midst of his second term. That caused the three living former mayors - Koch, David Dinkins and Abe Beame - publicly and jointly to denounce him as a vindictive cheat. It was, Beame growled, "the result of a political vendetta".

To fathom the pig-headedness of the mayor, his appetite for conflict and confrontation with his foes, is to get at his essence. This is a so-be-it leader, little interested in short-term political expediency. He is a zealot for his own convictions, whose mostly white-male entourage is made up of old friends - not pollsters and focus-group junkies. Appeasing for the sake of appeasing goes against his religion.

Last year, he ordered adverts for New York magazine off the sides of buses that read: "Possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for", because he was genuinely offended. No matter, if his pique seemed pathetic to the rest of us. And in 1996 he sacked his first police chief, William Bratton, when he began absorbing too much praise for the drop in crime rates, for just the same reason. He didn't like Bratton's bad manners. (Bratton, of course, saw it differently. "It's a big stage, but he doesn't want anyone else on it," he bitched at the time. "One person is coming out for the curtain call, and that's Rudy.") And the mayor stood by the police department after the Diallo shooting because nobody had shown him that the four white officers had not made a genuine, if tragic, mistake.

Refreshing or self-righteous, the pugilism that is Giuliani's can be traced back through all of his career and his childhood. His father, Harold, was a Brooklyn bartender who would terrorise patrons with a swing of his baseball bat and who famously hated the Mafia. Giuliani Snr was also crazy for the Yankees, to the extent that he thought nothing of thrusting his son out into the streets of Brooklyn in Yankee stripes even though the neighbourhood was in deepest Dodgers territory. "To my father it was a joke," Giuliani once recalled. "But to me it was like being a martyr. `I'm not going to give up my religion.' "

Religion, in the Catholic Church sense, almost steered Giuliani down a different life path. On leaving school, he agonised for years over joining the priesthood but concluded finally that he could not handle the celibacy part. At Manhattan College, where he studied political science, he demonstrated for the first time his taste for a fight. He battled peers in his fraternity who favoured harsh induction rituals for new recruits, calling them barbaric. His faction became the "Pussies" challenging the "Tigers". When the time came for elections for fraternity leader, Giuliani, backed by the Pussies, won handily. (Rudy's opponent one day received a call from Harold Giuliani, who told him he should withdraw on the grounds that his son was obviously going further in life, and winning was, therefore, more important for him.)

Thereafter, began a long and often fiery career in the law. After more years of study at the New York University Law School, Giuliani moved swiftly from a Manhattan firm to a prestigious clerkship in the Federal District Court in Manhattan. At about the same time, in October 1968, he married his first wife, Regina Peruggi, a childhood sweetheart who happened also to be his second cousin. In short shrift, the newlywed Giuliani rose to the position of assistant US attorney in the Southern District of New York. He made headlines for the first time in 1974, when he skewered a former Brooklyn congressman in court on charges of bribery. The Giuliani inquisition was so fierce, the defendant, Bertram Podell, was reduced to a gibbering wreck, whose nervousness one afternoon drove him to poke out a lens from his glasses.

In the ensuing years, Giuliani ricocheted twice between Manhattan and the US Justice Department in Washington. His second stint in the capital began in 1981 as an assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, responsible for immigration and asylum. It was not an easy time. Giuliani was scalded over comments he made after visiting Haiti. Attempting to justify a policy of repelling Haitian boat people, he declared, after meeting President Duvalier, that "political repression, at least in general, does not exist" on the island. And his marriage, which had long been in trouble, ended with a divorce in 1983 followed by a church annulment.

Controversially, the annulment was granted because Giuliani had failed to get the required church dispensation for marrying a second cousin. He claimed - though few have ever bought it - that he had thought that Peruggi had actually only been a third cousin.

The year 1983 marked the start of Giuliani's ascendancy to where he is now, a putative Senate candidate and subject of Republican party gossip as future White House material. He returned to Manhattan in 1983 to be the US attorney in the Southern District, which, translated, meant the city's chief prosecutor. He also romanced, and in 1984 married, a former Miami television anchorwoman, Donna Hanover, with whom he has had two children. As attorney, his notoriety for ruthless prosecution of big-fish targets grew quickly. His victims included figures of the Mafia, in particular members of the Colombo crime family. Others he sent to jail included the stock-market crook Ivan Boesky.

Politics captured him in 1989 when he made his first run for Gracie Mansion, the home to New York's mayors, against the Democrat, David Dinkins. He lost that race and Dinkins became the first African-American elected to lead the city. But, acting in character, Giuliani did not give up, dedicating himself instead to preparing himself to try again four years later. It was worth the effort. In 1993, Giuliani triumphed over Dinkins by just 40,000 votes.

A Republican had gained control in a city where even today Democrats outnumber Republicans five to one. In the campaign and immediately on taking office, Giuliani laid out the mission that has remained his ever since. He would, he vowed, restore law and order to the city and rebuild the quality of life that its residents thought had been lost for good.

The man, who in his student years had been a Democrat, a liberal and an ardent Kennedy fan, laid out his tough-love philosophy in a forum organised by the New York Post. Freedom, he posited, does not mean "people can do anything. Freedom is about 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".

His first symbolic act was to sweep away the squeegee men who for years had intimidated drivers at the city's junctions, demanding dollars in return for smearing Fairy liquid over their windscreens. From that the mayor's - or arguably Chief Bratton's - policy of zero tolerance was born. In the years of his leadership, violent crime and murder rates have dropped by 70 per cent in New York. Residents and tourists need no longer fear riding the subways. Times Square, once the territory of pimps and prostitutes, has become a Disney-dominated urban theme park.

The disciplinarian in Giuliani has served him well, but it may also now hurt him. Critics charge that he has become the city's headmaster who cannot stop imposing rules and doling out detentions. He has sent not just the squeegee men packing, but pavement hotdog vendors too. Dogs must be leashed in parks. Jaywalkers must be punished for illegally crossing the street. (A New Yorker does not know how not to jaywalk). Drunk drivers must have their cars confiscated. "He wants to tell people what to eat and how to cross the street," Steve DiBrienza, a city councilman, complained last week. It is only a short leap to labelling Giuliani as a dictator. (He has twice hauled to court a street-artist who insists on drawing portraits of the mayor in the likeness of Adolf Hitler. The paintings were a favourite prop of participants in the Diallo protests.)

But labelling Giuliani is hazardous. There are contradictions to the man. He can seem fierce and humourless, but twice he has appeared publicly in drag, once as Marilyn Monroe and once as an Italian mother figure, in a house-coat, rumpled stockings and wig on TV's Saturday Night Live. He is fixated with manners but his marriage to Hanover is rumoured to be on the rocks. (Vanity Fair in 1997 ran an article probing an alleged affair between the mayor and a member of his staff.) He is a Republican, who supported Democrat Mario Cuomo against George Pataki for Governor of New York state in 1994, and who favours abortion rights and gun control.

What you cannot take away from him is how New York has changed. To be sure, the economy and the Wall Street gusher have helped. But it is true that when the lights go out in New York, Giuliani is always there, sleeves rolled up. And you had to forgive him when he boasted on his weekly Saturday radio show recently: "No one has made the progress we've made.

"This is the capital of the world again."

Life Story

Born: Rudolph William Louis Giuliani III, 28 May 1944, Brooklyn, to Harold and

Helen Giuliani.

Education: Bishop Loughlin High School, Brooklyn (run by the

De La Salle Christian Brothers); Manhattan College (Political Science) and New York University Law School.

Family: Twice married: in 1968 to Regina Peruggi (second cousin), annulled 1983; and in 1984 to Donna Hanover, television anchor now working with Fox Television in New York. With Hanover, has two children, Caroline and Andrew.

Career: 1981-1983: Number 3

in Justice Department in Reagan administration, in charge of immigration and asylum.

1983-1989: United States Attorney New York Southern District. Successfully prosecuted leading Mafia figures, including members of the Colombo crime family and mobster Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno.

1989: Failed in bid to become New York mayor - he was defeated by David Dinkins.

1993: Wins mayoral race.

1997: Wins second term.

1999: Poised to declare for the Senate race to replace retiring Democrat Patrick Daniel Moynihan. His most likely opponent is Hillary Clinton.

He says: "In New York, you have to be a fighter."

They say: "He likes to disembowel people. He's nuts." (Ed Koch)

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