New Facts Fail to Reveal Rudy, Municipal Man of Mystery

Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani , by Wayne Barrett, assisted by Adam Fifield. Basic Books, 498 pages, $26.

Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City , by Andrew Kirtzman. William Morrow, 333 pages, $25.

Two years ago, at Thanksgiving dinner, someone suggested we go around the table and share what we were grateful for. Like everyone else, I was thankful for family, health, our gathering, the food. But what I also said was: “Thank you, Monica Lewinsky.”

As a citizen, I had plenty of regrets about the state of the union, the morality of youth, the politicization of government and the overall scumminess of our debased politics. But I’m a journalist, and Ms. Lewinsky had given me and my colleagues in the media the wildest, most exhilarating, most challenging ride of our careers.

With similar caveats, I give thanks today for Rudy Giuliani.

For most of the 90′s, Rudolph Giuliani, 107th Mayor of the City of New York, has been giving journalists and citizens alike enough daily drama to enliven dinner conversations from the East End to Elaine’s.

Just think what Mr. Giuliani’s provided us in the last year alone: a contentious Senate race, flirtation with the extreme right wing, an ousted schools chancellor, a battle with the Brooklyn Museum of Art, an attack on an innocent victim of police zealousness, followed by prostate cancer (soon to be cured, we hope), the public unraveling of his marriage, the emergence of a “very good friend” and his shocking withdrawal from a race he had a chance to win.

He fought fierce political battles with Governor George Pataki, former Senator Alfonse D’Amato, former Mayor Edward Koch, Conservative Party chairman Michael Long, First Lady and Senate candidate Hillary Clinton, and danced provocative dances with the likes of Senator John McCain and former Liberal Party chairman (and good buddy) Ray Harding. He was the ideal protagonist: deep, complex, dark, menacing, an inscrutable vessel of power and might who cast a shadow over all around him.

Through it all he remained, essentially, a mystery. The more we followed his exploits, the less certain we were of the man, his beliefs, his very heart and soul. What would he do next? And why? We–his aides, the press, the city–careened from one Rudy-generated crisis to another, never certain why.

Now, with a term limit looming and the state Republican Party–at least for the moment–making “over our dead bodies” gestures in his direction, it seems the end of the Giuliani decade is nigh, and he won’t have us to kick around any more. We, in turn, won’t have at the center of our daily lives this middle-aged man with a bad combover and sneering lisp who confounds us with his crazily confrontational style and his mysterious goals.

So who is this guy?

Wayne Barrett, through extraordinary new reporting, tries extremely hard to answer the question. He’s on a mission: Once, he confesses, he had been sucked in by the Giuliani myth, and made him the hero of his previous book, City for Sale , an indictment of the Koch administration based largely on the prosecutions led by Mr. Giuliani when he was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

But then Mr. Giuliani became mayor. Since then, according to Rudy! , there’s very little that Mr. Giuliani has done right. Or, at least, little he has done without a hidden motive to benefit himself or his close friends. Mr. Barrett goes deep into Mr. Giuliani’s childhood and, as recounted in the most highly publicized chapters of this book, discovers new truths about the real Rudy and his people. It is truly shocking to learn after all these years that New York’s most famous crime fighter is the son of a convicted armed robber who did time in Sing Sing. Late in life, Harold Giuliani was arrested again, this time for loitering in a public restroom. That arrest threw him into a deep depression that left him unable to work.

These revelations are solidly reported. Equally well documented is Mr. Barrett’s contention that Harold Giuliani’s duties at his brother-in-law’s Brooklyn bar included collecting big payments for the family’s loan-sharking operations. (That’s when he worked at all.)

You may think these details are none of our business, but remember: Harold Giuliani’s son imposed workfare on mothers and City University of New York students, and hired a welfare chief who once declared to a reporter, echoing Auschwitz, “Work sets you free.” Harold Giuliani’s son took away the livelihood of fish merchants, refusing to license anyone to work at the Fulton Fish Market who had even a shred of crime or corruption in their family’s past. Harold Giuliani’s son made public the sealed juvenile record of Patrick Dorismond, a man shot dead by the police merely for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But when he knocks the accomplishments of the city’s prosecutor-in-chief, Mr. Barrett takes on the role of prosecutor. His pounding of Mr. Giuliani is relentless, a diatribe without mercy or context. Reminds me of the man himself.

How I enjoyed learning that the man who so freely exposed the flaws in so many others–referring to the poor, unlucky schools chancellor, Ramon Cortines, as “precious” and “the little victim”–only earned 569 on the verbal and 504 on the math portions of his SAT’s.

I also enjoyed learning that Mr. Giuliani–the man who went to great lengths to get an annulment for his 14 -year marriage to his first wife, claiming he didn’t know she was his second cousin–was thought by his colleagues to be single during many of the years of that marriage?

Sprinkled throughout this 498-page indictment are small, revealing facts: A psychiatrist’s report on Harold Giuliani, prepared as he was shipped off to Sing Sing: “He is egocentric to an extent where he has failed to consider the feelings and rights of others.” A description of Harold Giuliani, ravaged with pain from prostate cancer but refusing to have surgery: “Nobody is going to touch my balls!” Yet there’s something missing in this tale. Though he has found out facts that no one had uncovered before, Mr. Barrett is no better than the rest of the press at connecting the dots. How is it that a man who reveres his now-dead father, who insists at every opportunity on the profound role his father played in his life, sends his own young son, Andrew, home from a Yankees game with his security detail, so he can bounce around town with his then communications director–and rumored lover–Cristyne Lategano? How is it that a young lawyer in private practice can defend Dow Jones and the Tribune Company in First Amendment cases, and then run the most repressive government vis-à-vis the press in city history?

Now we know that Harold Giuliani robbed a milkman, but we have no clue–other than his son’s previously published remarks–as to how he raised his only child. Now we know that the father had a criminal past, but when did the son know? Did he, as some people suspect, first learn about it in the published reports on Mr. Barrett’s book?

And something else is missing: the City of New York. For though Rudy! provides us with fact upon fact about Rudy Giuliani and the people around him–the chapters about Donna Hanover, Cristyne Lategano and the other alleged women in Mr. Giuliani’s life are captivating, not just on a voyeuristic level but for their journalistic precision–it does not tell us why a tough guy like Mr. Giuliani was able to achieve so much. And why so many people who don’t like the man or his policies are grateful that he was Mayor for much of the 1990′s.

For the missing elements, turn to Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City , by Andrew Kirtzman, another veteran New York City reporter who has been a witness to all of the Rudy years, first at the Daily News and later at New York 1 News. For political and media junkies, there’s Mr. Barrett’s book; for the rest of the world, there’s Mr. Kirtzman’s, a nicely written narrative that pulls together the highlights of the Giuliani era.

Mr. Kirtzman reminds us of the squeegee men and the armed marauders who defined this city before Mr. Giuliani became Mayor and had the good sense to (temporarily) bring in creative law-enforcement men like Bill Bratton, Jack Maple and John Timoney to run the NYPD. Mr. Kirtzman reminds us of the hellhole that was Times Square and the sense of hopelessness that permeated the five boroughs. Like Mr. Barrett, Mr. Kirtzman is horrified by the lengths to which Mr. Giuliani will go–the humiliation of Ramon Cortines and Rudy Crew being two of the lowest moments in Mr. Giuliani’s tenure. And, again like Mr. Barrett, Mr. Kirtzman focuses on the role race has played in the words and actions of Mr. Giuliani; both authors are puzzled by the Mayor’s persistent ability to play it wrong and mean and ugly.

Race is the story of New York. It’s the story of America. And it’s the story of Rudy Giuliani. But chalking it all up to Mr. Giuliani’s Long Island or Catholic or Italian-American background is too easy. There’s something else going on here and, like the rest of us, neither author has it figured out.

Nor do they figure out Mr. Giuliani’s complex relationship with the city’s police officers–his knee-jerk instinct to defend them at any cost while adamantly refusing to give them the pay raises they so crave.

Both books were rushed out early–first to hit during the Senate race and then, when Mr. Giuliani dropped out, to hit while the Mayor was still hot news. Perhaps more time and perspective (the thing most sought by every well-intentioned journalist) would have brought more focus and insight. Meanwhile, we’re left with the most basic questions: Who is Rudolph Giuliani? And how will the press ever live without him?

Mary Ann Giordano is managing editor of The Observer.