Three years and three months is a long time to keep your sainthood if you’re still among the living, so give Rudy Giuliani credit: He had a good run.
But mark the date: On Dec. 11, 2004, in a splash of tabloid headlines, history returned to the man formerly known as “America’s Mayor.” His attempt to install his former driver and rough-edged alter ego as the Secretary of Homeland Security backfired, his new Republican friends threw him overboard and, returning to New York, he found the city he’d once tamed turning on him, its cowed press militant and his old enemies-remember when Rudy had enemies?-gloating on television.
“Giuliani is trying desperately hard to regain his pre-9/11 reputation,” chuckled U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, the Harlem Democrat and longtime Giuliani antagonist who was a ubiquitous commentator on the Kerik affair. “I don’t think it could get lower politically in terms of personal conduct and lack of popularity.”
As the stream of damaging stories about Mr. Kerik’s past began to rage out of control, Mr. Giuliani’s small inner circle scrambled frantically to control the damage, a Republican insider told The Observer. They looked for somebody to blame, somebody with good information who might be leaking stories about mistresses and friends with alleged mob ties. “They are shaking the trees to find out who the leakers are,” said the Republican insider.
Outside Mr. Giuliani’s circle, however, the revelations about Mr. Kerik seemed an almost inevitable consequence of his nomination. No secret plotters were required, for example, to make public the open secret of his alleged affair with publisher Judith Regan.
“It shows that you can be the hero of 9/11 until the moment at which you step back into the political arena,” said Democratic consultant Howard Wolfson. “Then your 70 percent approval rating doesn’t amount to much anymore.”
To some Republicans who are in touch with Mr. Giuliani’s aides, the desperate search for culprits showed just how far-and how quickly-the former Mayor’s fortunes have fallen. Six weeks ago, on the morning after Election Day, Mr. Giuliani was given the high-profile assignment of ushering John Kerry, who hadn’t yet conceded, off the stage. He exuded false sympathy and familiar scorn as he urged the Democrat to give up.
Mr. Giuliani’s performance earned him a lot of chits. He could have spent them on making himself the Homeland Security Secretary, a former White House official said. Instead, he tried to install his former driver in that job, a man whose character-loyal to a fault and just as confident-seemed to mirror that of his boss, down to each man’s quasi-public affair with a woman named Judith (Nathan, in the Mayor’s case; Regan, in Mr. Kerik’s).
“If you only get a few big favors in your life, you better ask for the right ones,” said a Republican with ties to the White House. “This was a big ask for Rudy.”
Now that Mr. Giuliani’s judgment has been called into question, his new conservative friends don’t seem as faithful as they once did. The White House forgave him officially, but anonymous White House officials engaged in a typically disciplined round of anonymous sniping at the former Mayor.
No Friends of Rudy
Meanwhile, some of Mr. Giuliani’s other apparent allies on the right have turned out to be friends of convenience. Although he campaigned tirelessly for conservative Republican Senate candidates and for George W. Bush, the conservative movement-whose gatekeepers are key to the Republican nomination for President-have little use for him. They apparently view him as a useful tool, and little more.
The roadblocks along Mr. Giuliani’s path toward the Republican Presidential nomination in 2008 began emerging even before the Kerik scandal hit the news, as the former Mayor was finishing up his work as a successful Bush surrogate during the election season.
One moment of truth came in a quiet snub from David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union and a Republican Party gatekeeper, whose annual Conservative Political Action Conference is a prime forum for aspiring Presidential nominees (even, yes, years before the actual election).
Mr. Keene told The Observer that he received “an informal feeler” from a Giuliani aide seeking to place the former New York Mayor as a speaker at the conference.
“I didn’t quite see how he fit in,” said Mr. Keene. “He’s a celebrity and he’s got a lot to say, but we’re probably not focused on the issues he’s focused on. We’re focused on small government, taxes.”
The basic problem with Mr. Giuliani, said Mr. Keene: “I don’t think he is a conservative.”
The emergence of an ugly, colorful scandal involving allegedly mobbed-up contractors, double affairs and what the press called a “secret wife” (that would be No. 3 for Mr. Kerik, tying him with Mr. Giuliani in the multiple-marriage department) comes at a bad time for a Presidential hopeful.
“This kind of stuff as he’s just getting introduced to the Republican primary audience is embarrassing,” said Nelson Warfield, a Republican consultant who was an aide to Presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1996. “This start of Giuliani’s turn on the national stage looks suspiciously like his run for the U.S. Senate [in 2000], which is remembered by donors and party activists who have this pre-primary primary in which candidates are reviewed and credentialed.”
But the Kerik mess revealed a cultural, not political, divide between the rough but forgiving world of city politics and the upright Beltway. Newsweek, for example, led its story about Mr. Kerik’s fall with a lurid, cartoonish scene at the uptown Italian restaurant Rao’s, a colorful little snapshot of what the magazine called “the flashy underside of New York City nightlife,” which conjured “mobsters and models and Wall Street masters of the universe.”
“It’s a class of cultures,” said a former White House official. “There’s almost nobody in that White House who has any experience with the New York Police Department.”
And there’s the matter of appearances. One former Giuliani aide winced to see Mr. Kerik give his bleary-eyed, Saturday-morning press conference on the lawn of his garish, million-dollar home in Franklin Lakes, N.J.
“What an idiot, having a press conference on the lawn of that mobster house,” the former aide said. “It reinforces everything they think of us-we’re a bunch of mobsters.”
And in the week’s single most incongruous moment, a few days later, Mr. Giuliani delivered a line you would never have expected to hear from a man who made his name busting up organized crime. He was talking about Mr. Kerik’s friend, Frank DiTommaso, who runs a company called Interstate Industrial Corp., which city law-enforcement officials believe has ties to organized crime.
“DiTommaso was not convicted of anything,” Mr. Giuliani said. While true, and while Mr. DiTommaso denies that his company has mob ties, Mr. Giuliani was a zealous crusader against mobsters and those close to them in the 1980’s. As a prosecutor, he might have made mincemeat of the argument he now gave on behalf of Mr. DiTommaso and, by extension, Mr. Kerik.
Mr. Kerik will soon be a footnote, and Mr. Giuliani’s public star is only slightly dimmed. The fact that most of his Republican critics remain anonymous attests to his power and potential. But any notion that he could be the consensus candidate of the Republican establishment is dead. America’s Mayor, purified by fire, is fading fast, and the public Rudy-who went from crime fighter to troubled mayor to hero to Bush loyalist-needs yet another reinvention.
“That dream of Rudy Giuliani as the man of 2008 was a fantasy created in New York City, and not something that is an accepted reality to anyone who knows the national Republican Party or even Washington Republicans,” said the former White House official. “That’s the joke of this.”