Way back in the idealistic 1960’s-before he became a lawyer, a prosecutor and then a politician-Rudolph Giuliani was a liberal journalist. As an undergraduate at Manhattan College he wrote regularly for Manhattan Quadrangle , the campus paper. Nobody who watches the Mayor will be surprised to learn that what most interested him about the newspaper business was the opportunity to share his political opinions. His early writing displays just a hint of the hectoring style that has since become so well developed and beloved.
The fledgling commentator wasn’t wholly without talent or insight, but his collegiate literary efforts are of interest mostly because of a freshly relevant coincidence. The young Rudy had a lot to say about a certain controversial issue in the 1964 Senate race.
Mr. Giuliani was a passionate supporter of Robert F. Kennedy, the former Attorney General who had suddenly moved to New York that summer to challenge Senator Kenneth Keating, the Republican incumbent. Appalled by this threatening incursion, Keating and his supporters cried “carpetbagger” loudly and incessantly from Labor Day to Election Day. They said Kennedy knew nothing about New York. They described him as the power-hungry beneficiary of a famous name. They suggested that his real agenda was to launch an eventual campaign for the Presidency. (Less kindly but perhaps more accurately, some critics whispered that he was running to heal the terrible wound left by his brother John’s assassination the year before.)
Local editorial pages amplified Keating’s assault. As Jack Newfield recalls in his classic R.F.K. biography, The New York Times strongly opposed the Kennedy candidacy. “Why he has any special claim on New York to rescue him from non-office is a mystery,” The Times mocked. “Mr. Kennedy apparently needs New York. But does New York really need Bobby Kennedy?”
These old screeds are echoed in Mr. Giuliani’s current complaints about Hillary Rodham Clinton, his prospective opponent for the Senate next year. But such arguments didn’t impress him back then. Indeed, his recent quips contrast rather sharply with his Quadrangle column of Oct. 9, 1964. In the Kennedy-Keating contest, he evidently viewed the arrival of an ambitious carpetbagger as precisely what New York needed.
In his methodical way, the young Democrat scornfully disposed of Keating’s “truly ridiculous” arguments. Under the Constitution, he wrote, “a Senator must be a resident of the state he represents on the day he is elected … Presently Kennedy and his very large family reside in Glen Cove, Long Island, and so he will fulfill the Constitutional limitation.” Moreover, he noted eruditely, there was a most venerable and inspiring precedent for Kennedy’s candidacy that dated back
to the Revolutionary era. “Rufus King, the first United States Senator from New York, was a Massachusetts native who moved into New York immediately before his election to the Senate.”
To carp about Kennedy’s abrupt arrival was to resort to “standards of parochialism which were outdated even in 1792,” Mr. Giuliani wrote. He expressed a lofty hope that “cosmopolitan New Yorkers can rise above the ridiculous, time-worn provincial attitude that has so disunified our nation.”
From there he moved on briskly to the charge that Kennedy had “come to New York to use this state for some kind of sinister, cynical power grab in order to move into higher office.” To him, this canard, too, was merely “another example of a screen put up by Senator Keating and his friends to avoid discussing the real issue,” meaning which candidate could better serve the state.
Hillary Clinton is not Robert Kennedy, as no doubt we will be reminded, repeatedly and needlessly, in the months to come. (In 1964, Robert Kennedy wasn’t quite the secular saint he was later to become, but that, too, is beside the point.) Yet the First Lady’s nascent candidacy bears some odd and even haunting parallels to his reluctant electoral debut. She, too, is suspected of seeking office to soothe a painful personal wound. He was urged to run by Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of Harlem. She was first encouraged by Powell’s successor, Charles Rangel. Among his chief strategists was a Long Island lawyer and Democratic leader named Jack English; among her top advisers is Harold Ickes, a former partner in English’s old law firm. And the New York Times editorial page, openly hostile to Kennedy, now quite predictably takes much the same attitude toward Mrs. Clinton.
But there is something eerily amusing about Mr. Giuliani’s words returning to contradict him now. The next time he puts on his overalls and starts wisecracking about Arkansas, he may just have to explain why political carpetbagging offends him so much more today than it did 35 years ago.
His reply is almost certain to include the word “ridiculous.”
With assistance from Christopher Tennant.