Headquarters of Engine Co. 22 and Ladder Co. 5 at Houston Street and Sixth Avenue, Sept. 11, mid-morning: An hour has passed since a pair of hijacked jetliners rammed into the World Trade Center, and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his top aides are taking refuge in this firehouse. Thousands of frightened people are fleeing north along Sixth Avenue, past the closed firehouse door. Mr. Giuliani is coated in ghostly white ash. Some stray arrivals to the firehouse are weeping. Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen is on the verge of tears, having learned that scores of firefighters are missing. Mr. Giuliani turns to Mr. Von Essen and hugs him.
“He had an instinctual emotional attachment to Commissioner Von Essen,” Deputy Mayor Tony Coles, who was in the firehouse, later recalled. “He told him the whole city would work to get us all through this.”
As Mr. Giuliani and his aides begin to figure out how to take command of a reeling city, they pause to consider that, moments ago, they almost lost their lives. They had arrived on the scene just after the second plane hit the south tower. They were in an adjacent office building when the first tower collapsed, shearing off a piece of their temporary shelter. The dust and smoke turned day into night. “It felt like midnight,” one person present said.
Their room filling with smoke, they escaped through a warren of stairwells and walked uptown to the Houston Street firehouse.
Now, in the firehouse, Mr. Giuliani is scrambling to make telephone calls. Cell phones aren’t working. There aren’t nearly enough land lines in the firehouse. Throughout the morning, Mr. Giuliani will try repeatedly to contact President George W. Bush, but the President’s aides are reluctant to reveal his whereabouts, because Mr. Giuliani’s phone lines are not secure.
Network news headquarters, Sept. 16, late afternoon: Nearly a week has passed since the disaster. Anchormen Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Charles Gibson are in their respective studios, each waiting for their own live-feed interview with Mr. Giuliani. The interviews were scheduled for 4:15, 4:30 and 4:50, after Mr. Giuliani fulfilled his promise to walk a bride–the sister of a Staten Island firefighter who died in the line of duty several weeks ago–up the aisle. But the wedding ran long, other matters arose and Mr. Giuliani was scheduled to attend to a mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 5:30. He skipped the interviews.
Two weeks ago, it would have been hard to imagine the networks clamoring for a piece of Mr. Giuliani’s time. He was a lame-duck Mayor who was preparing to hand City Hall to a successor. The only headlines he garnered, it seemed, were about his tumultuous private life and his quarrelsome demeanor. Despite the successes of his first term, he suddenly seemed irrelevant, a man whose second term was destined to be remembered as gossip, not as history.
Now, however, Rudolph Giuliani was a man transformed. In the midst of chaos, horror and unspeakable tragedy, he went far beyond the role of crisis manager, acting as the spiritual guide for an entire city. He rallied the city’s spirit without inspiring any false hope or shallow optimism. He sought to assuage the city’s fears while trying his best to indicate, ever so gently, that the 5,000 people missing very likely will never be found. He has handled the most grisly moments with grace, as when he explained to reporters that the number of recovered body parts didn’t necessarily correspond to the number of dead.
Mr. Giuliani has, again and again, seemed more Presidential than the President himself. Whereas Mr. Bush has struggled to find his voice, Mr. Giuliani has spoken extemporaneously and at length, giving voice to an entire city’s grief and fears, his emotional range expansive, his tone pitch-perfect. He has reminded us once again what a complex and unpredictable person he is, a man capable of highs and lows, of moments great and small.
The Mayor has again become a national, and even an international, figure. News organizations around the globe have lauded his efforts. Every major news outlet has been clamoring for a piece of the Mayor’s time. Veteran CBS correspondent Mike Wallace has personally telephoned Mayoral aides with requests for a brief interview, once accidentally in the middle of a private briefing. The Economist called him “an inspirational figure,” and Newsweek described him as “a Mayor for all America.”
The 69th Regiment Armory at Lexington Avenue and 26th Street, Sept. 13, late morning: “It is an unimaginable, horrendous task–very difficult and horrible for the families,” Mr. Giuliani is saying.
Two days have passed since the disaster. The Mayor is standing in the middle of the avenue, surrounded by a tiny group of reporters, his shoulders hunched in despair. In the background is a wrenching sight: hundreds of people lined up outside the armory, which is serving as a kind of clearinghouse for those seeking information about missing family members or friends.
Some of the people lined up outside are clutching photographs as they quietly endure the unimaginable tension of waiting to find out whatever is known about their vanished loved ones. Others break down in tears. Just around the corner is the morgue; the smell of carnage hangs in the air.
Mr. Giuliani has just spent two hours in the armory, lending solace to despairing family members. Now he sounds vaguely puzzled, as if he has yet to absorb the enormity of what he’s just seen.
“They are sifting through thousands and thousands of names,” he says. “They are trying to find out if one of their loved ones are on a hospital list, in which case they would have survived, or whether they are on a list of people who have been identified already, or whether they can help identify the unknown bodies.
“I fear that’s only going to get worse,” Mr. Giuliani continues quietly. “It’s going to get bigger and bigger.”
Pier 94 on the West Side, the city’s new command center, Sept. 17, mid-afternoon: “We have recorded 5,422 missing people,” the Mayor says. “We have 201 confirmed dead. We have identified 135. And we have 56 that have not yet been identified. We have confirmed 34 fire officers who have died. Two civilian E.M.T.’s. Two Port Authority police officers. A New Jersey firefighter.”
The command center, Sept. 17, late afternoon: Cristyne Lategano-Nicholas, the Mayor’s former communications director and long one of his closest confidants, is staring at the floor as she slowly makes her way across the command-center. When a bystander asks for a moment of her time, 30 seconds go by before she can respond.
“I can’t put it into words how extraordinary he’s been,” she says, speaking of the Mayor. Ms. Lategano-Nicholas adds that her priest was Father Mychal Judge, the Fire Department chaplain who died while administering last rites to a firefighter at ground zero. “With all the pain Rudy’s going through, he took the time to say, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’”
The Police Academy on East 20th Street, Sept. 11, around noon: Mr. Giuliani and his aides, having left their temporary base in the Houston Street firehouse, are frantically setting up a temporary command center here, just hours after the disaster. Technicians scramble to set up enough phone lines to handle the enormous communications task before them. A consensus is privately reached that all televised briefings will be shot against a wall bearing no police posters or police paraphernalia.
“We chose a nondescript backdrop, because we didn’t want people to figure out where the Mayor was,” a Mayoral aide later recalled.
The sight of Mr. Giuliani searching for a suitable place to manage the city during its darkest moment will surely put an end to any ridicule once directed at the Mayor’s obsession with security. Not long ago, Mr. Giuliani’s barricades at City Hall served as little more than laugh-line material for the stump speeches of his would-be Democratic successors. His plans for a high-tech emergency command center were long derided as a “bunker,” the product of the Mayor’s paranoid and Strangelovean egomania.
But now, such measures seem astonishingly prescient. It’s now clear that the only mistake Mr. Giuliani made with the command center was under estimating the dangers facing the city–he put it on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center, which collapsed in a heap not long after the Twin Towers went.
The Police Academy, Sept. 13, mid-afternoon: “Mr. Mayor, how many bodies have been recovered?” a reporter asks at a press briefing.
“I’ll give it to you the way the chief medical examiner does it,” Mr. Giuliani replies. “The disaster number count–which is the number of bodies or parts of the body–is 184. Thirty-five people have been identified so far. In many cases of that 184, it’s a part of the body–35 of which have been positively identified.”
“Some of these parts could be from the same body,” a second reporter observes.
“It could be, right,” the Mayor says. “They’re not identified that way right now, but it could be. And DNA would actually help positively identify that.”
“So that means there could be fewer dead than 184, if two body parts were from the same person,” a third reporter says.
“It could be,” the Mayor replies.
Pier 94, Sept. 16, late evening: “I have not given out the number on body parts,” Mr. Giuliani tells reporters. “Because I somehow–” He stops.
“I don’t like doing that,” he continues. “But we can give you that number. It just seems strange to be talking about that. But there was an increase–I think a pretty substantial increase–in the recovery of body parts.”
Lower Manhattan, Sept. 14, early afternoon: It is the day of President Bush’s visit to New York. Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Bush arrive separately. The Secret Service is on high alert. Reporters are vetted thoroughly. Any press person who strays from the protected area can’t get back in. Accompanied by the Governor and members of the New York Congressional delegation, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Bush tour ground zero. A mob of ironworkers, police officers and firefighters looks on, giving the scene the look of one of those choreographed political rallies of bussed-in hard hats. But in this case, the hard hats are busy sifting through the rubble of the World Trade Center in search of survivors.
When the workers catch sight of the politicians, they break into a lusty chant of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” But the refrain quickly changes when Mr. Giuliani comes into view: “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!”
Several hours later, at a joint press conference uptown for Mr. Bush and Mr. Giuliani, it quickly becomes clear which of the two leaders is commanding the most attention. The President of the United States is standing off to the side, attended to by a handful of reporters with pads. Meanwhile, 15 feet away, Mr. Giuliani is being mobbed by about two dozen print and TV reporters from the New York, Washington and national press corps. Amid the horror and confusion, the Mayor of New York is reassuring the nation and the world with his leadership. It is an astonishing and even inspiring spectacle. He has risen to such occasions before, only to revert to a smaller, more querulous version of himself. A year and a half ago, he riveted New Yorkers with a bold and heartfelt admission that he was battling prostate cancer–but then he squandered the city’s goodwill several months later by publicly humiliating his estranged wife, Donna Hanover. Now Mr. Giuliani has again expunged all memories of his lesser angels, perhaps permanently. It was a week that Mr. Giuliani has been preparing for all his life–it took a crisis of unthinkable proportions to elicit a performance that will stand as his most outstanding achievement.
City Hall, Sept. 17, early morning: Mr. Giuliani has gathered all his commissioners and deputy mayors for a staff meeting at a newly reopened City Hall. Instead of the NYPD windbreakers and Fire Department hats that have been his uniform since the day of the attack, Mr. Giuliani is wearing a suit with an American-flag lapel pin. It’s a sign that he’s getting back to business–and so should the rest of New York. Much of lower Manhattan is, miraculously, stirring again. The macabre mixture of dust and shredded office documents that had swirled through the streets has been hosed away. New, bright blue signs direct the commuters to the New York Stock Exchange.
After Mr. Giuliani finishes his short briefing, he spontaneously decides he will walk to his next event, the ringing of the stock-exchange bell. He sets off down Broadway surrounded by advisers. Soon he’s walking through a scene that looks like a cross between Apocalypse Now and The Last Days of Pompeii : He’s making his way past men in battle fatigues and gas masks, through a haze of acrid smoke rising from smoldering heaps. All around him are the ghostly remains of once-majestic skyscrapers.
“The World Trade Center looked like ancient ruins,” recalls Andrew Kirtzman, a senior political reporter for New York 1 News. “The remains looked so flimsy–like you could topple them over with your hand.”
The West Side command center, Sept. 16, early morning: The Mayor looks tired. In a halting and quiet voice, he’s delivering the gruesome litany of ever-changing statistics that has become his daily refrain: “180 confirmed dead … number of missing is 5,097 …. “
He talks about dimming hopes of finding a miracle in the ashes. “We’re going to continue to search for people and look for people, at the same time realizing that the losses here are staggering …. “
Suddenly Mr. Giuliani stands up straight and stares toward the cameras at the back of the room.
“Life goes on,” he says. “And the life of the city is going on …. We had the most horrible attack in the history of the city, and we have emerged a stronger city, more united. More united with ourselves, more united with the rest of America.”
–Additional reporting by Rebecca Traister and Andrea Bernstein
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