Since Sept. 11, Rudolph Giuliani has been lauded by the public,
exalted in the media and knighted by the Queen of England. Always a formidable
figure, he has been all but unassailable since leaving office. Yet on the
morning of Feb. 26, five modestly dressed women sitting in a midtown lawyer’s
office were less than 30 minutes away from a potentially hostile meeting with
Mr. Giuliani-and they were spoiling for a fight.
The five women were widows of police officers killed in the World
Trade Center attack.
“I’m ready for anything,” said Jessica Ferenczy. Her collegues
nodded their assent. Their lawyer, Ed Hayes, engaged in a little last-minute
coaching, advising them to speak forcefully in order to make their demands
clear. And they were off.
As it turned out, the meeting later in the day turned out to be
mercifully anticlimactic. The family members were skeptical about Mr.
Giuliani’s role in the distribution of funds raised for their benefit, but in
the end the former Mayor assuaged their concerns. He promised to increase their
involvement in the management of the fund and to distribute the funds within 60
days. The widows got what they wanted, but only after a struggle that
represented the first real public relations setback for Mr. Giuliani since he
became a private citizen.
At issue was $160 million donated from all over the world to the
city-run Twin Towers Fund to benefit the families of some 400 uniformed rescue
workers killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. Mr. Giuliani, never
content to exit quietly from the public arena, wanted to retain control of the
funds by having the money transferred to a private charity, which would retain
the name Twin Towers Fund, under his direction. Then, according to the plan, he
would be able to parcel out the money at his discretion. In the meantime, his
allies would oversee the not-for-profit entity, with several of them receiving
six-figure salaries to do so.
Some of the widows-for whom the money was intended-were having
none of it, and they mobilized to stop the transfer of funds. On Feb. 20, they
announced that they would try to block a court order releasing the funds from
the Bloomberg administration to Mr. Giuliani’s charity. The protests received
the backing of the Uniformed Firefighters Association and, more recently, the
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of the Port Authority. They also attracted
the attention of State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who said he would review
the propriety of the maneuver.
After a week of mounting protest, the Feb. 26 meeting with Mr.
Giuliani in the charity’s Fifth Avenue headquarters was surprisingly
diplomatic, with a few exceptions. Mr. Giuliani and several of his appointees
to the charity’s board of directors, including former Police Commissioner
Bernard Kerik and former Deputy Counsel Larry Levy, personally welcomed the
widows and their lawyer.
According to people who attended the meeting, Mr. Giuliani said
that the disagreement was simply a misunderstanding. The former Mayor also said
that the timing of the payouts was not an issue, because he and his colleagues
already had resolved to distribute the money within 60 days. (Several family
members were skeptical, wondering aloud why they had not heard anything about
any such a commitment despite repeated inquiries and highly public protests.)
Mr. Giuliani also promised to give the intended recipients a
bigger say in how the organization is run. And, he said, the overhead costs,
including salaries, would not be taken from the existing fund, but would come
solely from funds raised for that specific purpose.
In the end, an agreement was reached to transfer the money,
providing that the conditions laid out at the meeting were included in the
court order allowing the deal to proceed.
The family members said they were happy with the result. “The
Mayor seemed to be sincere and upset at whatever problems we had,” said Ms.
Ferenczy. “It remains to be seen if what he said will happen is going to
happen, but we’re feeling pretty good about this.”
So was their lawyer. “They promised to give us everything we
wanted, and more,” said Mr. Hayes, who played a lead role throughout the week
in orchestrating opposition to the unilateral transfer of funds.
A Clear Victory
It seemed to be a clear
victory for the families of the police officers, firefighters and other
uniformed rescue workers killed at the World Trade Center. After the uneven and
somewhat disorganized dispersal of the money raised at the end of 2001, the 60-day
time limit should ensure that the payments are sped, in large installments, to
their intended recipients.
For Mr. Giuliani, by contrast, the result was more complicated.
On one hand, he will be able to remain involved with New York’s recovery
efforts, a cause he’s embraced and has benefited from. On the other hand, the
pointed and often personal criticism of his actions by the people he was
professing to help represented the most painful sort of contrast to the
adulation he’s received for his performance on and after Sept. 11.
Jonathan Prince, a spokesman for the Twin Towers Fund, said that
the apparent disagreements were only the result of miscommunication, and that
there were never any substantial differences between Mr. Giuliani’s position
and that of the victims’ families. “As the meeting progressed and a lot of
misinformation was cleaned up, it became clear that the Mayor was deeply
committed to getting money to the families as quickly as possible, and to
making sure that what he referred to as his moral obligation is met.”
Mr. Prince also denied that Mr. Giuliani’s agreement to a time
limit for payments was a reaction to the torrent of criticism leading up to the
meeting. “Mayor Giuliani has always been the one leading the charge to raise
money and distribute it rapidly,” he said. “He said at the outset that he
wanted to distribute the money quickly, even if there was no hard number put on
it at the time. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t communicated better to
Some backers of the victims are unimpressed. “I’ve been a cop for
28 years, and as soon as I heard about this, my scam alarm went off,” said Port
Authority P.B.A. president Gus Danese, who has feuded with Mr. Giuliani in the
past. “Where does Giuliani come off saying that because his friends donated to
the fund, he should control it? People would have responded even if Giuliani
wasn’t the Mayor-he didn’t do anything special to go out and raise that money.
He was concentrating on sticking his face in the camera.”
Mr. Danese also rejected Mr.
Giuliani’s insistence that he had a “sacred obligation” to the victims’
families to keep charge of the fund. “Nobody asked him to be guardian of the
fund, nobody wants him to be guardian of the fund,” said Mr. Danese. “Why would
any victim want him to manage the fund, rather than just having the city divide
up the remaining money equally? Where did he come up with this information that
the family members wanted him to do this, and why didn’t he share this poll
with everyone else?”
For now, though, the battle over the money seems to be over,
perhaps bringing a small measure of satisfaction to people still coping with
extremely grim circumstances. But the widows essentially proved that W.T.C.
family members are powerful in practice as well as in theory, perhaps
foreshadowing the role they intend to play when it comes time to discuss topics
from the reconstruction of lower Manhattan to reforms in the rules that govern
“I think this increases their profile and their influence
hugely,” said Mr. Hayes. “They wanted a dramatic move from Rudy Giuliani, one
of the most powerful and hard-headed individuals in the country, and they got