Giuliani rises above the devastation of Manhattan

The Mayor
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Rudy Giuliani, Mayor of New York for the last eight years, is a lame duck politically. Term-limit laws mean he must stand down at the end of this year. But his performance during the terrible last hours in the city since the collapse of the twin towers has many residents wishing he could stay.

Mr Giuliani, whose reputation had dimmed in recent months because of a messy divorce, illness from prostate cancer and his withdrawal last year from the US Senate race, has once more shown what he is good at: acting as cheerleader, grief counsellor, consoler and, above all, crisis manager in a city that has been struck by almost unthinkable tragedy.

He himself was only a few doors away from the twin towers just minutes before the first one collapsed and was whisked to safety. Many of the most senior members of his fire department perished in the implosion of glass and masonry. They were his friends.

Mr Giuliani is known for his firmness of hand. He has not hesitated in sealing off five square miles of lower Manhattan to ensure maximum freedom for the rescue effort. He has pledged maximum penalties for anyone who tries to take advantage of the crisis, for instance by pushing up retail prices. And he has promised to crack down on any reprisals against minority groups stemming from the attacks.

He has also tried to invoke the indomitable spirit of New Yorkers by speaking already of his determination to see the city rebuild itself. "We're not only going to rebuild, we're going to come out stronger than we were before, and in addition to having wonderful people in the city ... we also have the strongest business community of anywhere in the world, and we're going to call on them."

He added that he was already having meetings with representatives of the hotel, restaurant and tourist industries to discuss ways to repair New York's reputation and bring back visitors.

In these times, few will begrudge giving the Mayor, who is a Republican, his due. All the candidates in the race to replace him – primary elections for Democrats and Republicans were meant to happen on Tuesday but were suspended – were by his side for the television cameras on Wednesday. Tom Brokaw, the liberal-minded anchor of the NBC network, said on the air: "If there was a vote for the Mayor of New York today and Giuliani were allowed to win, he would win by a landslide."

Particularly anxious to stamp out any racial backlash in the city, Mr Giuliani told reporters: "Nobody should attack anyone else for racial, ethnic, religious reasons."

He added that that the attack on the World Trade Centre showed "the insane, sick hatred of people for another group of people... It would be really horrible if New Yorkers practised any form of that".