To New Yorkers, he's Churchill in a baseball cap

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

It was the day New York was attempting to return to "normal," and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's attire reflected the occasion. Gone was the crisis-mode windbreaker and FDNY (New York Fire Department) cap. Instead, the mayor appeared at a Monday press conference wearing a light gray suit, crisp white shirt, and dark tie. He looked precisely as he did one week ago - except for one detail: His black leather shoes were covered in a thick layer of dust.

Once again, the mayor somehow seemed to be embodying exactly what his city was going through - in this case, the struggle to ease back into old routines, even while betraying that things will never be the same again.

Over the past week, Mayor Giuliani has taken on a number of new roles, from crisis manager to counselor, chief mourner to chief cheerleader. But perhaps most important has been his continuing ability to reflect, with almost perfect pitch, New Yorkers' own moods and feelings about the crisis. He has, like a number of politicians, been reassuringly human in his response to the tragedy - showing a range of genuine emotion, from sadness to anger to exhaustion - without weakening his firm command of events. He seemed intuitively to sense when the city needed to grieve, and when it needed to go back to work.

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Of course, this is the kind of empathy many politicians aspire to throughout their careers - though it's a tactic that can sometimes backfire, if it's perceived as phony. Perhaps because Giuliani was never a "feel your pain" kind of politician, his response has seemed surprisingly authentic - and moving - to many New Yorkers, winning over even his most ardent critics.

To many, he's shown a kind of leadership that goes beyond mere empathy. Through his words and example, he has inspired many New Yorkers, who firmly believe they will come out of this tragedy stronger than before.

"What he has done magnificently is provide leadership. He has risen to the occasion," says former New York Mayor Ed Koch, never a Giuliani admirer. "He is showing sensitivity in the way he deals with people, the way he takes into consideration the needs of others."

These are not comments many New Yorkers would have made about their mayor before last Tuesday. As an often abrasive Republican in a heavily Democratic city, Giuliani's tenure had been marked by controversy. A number of police-brutality scandals under his watch had made him a highly unpopular figure among blacks and Hispanics. More recently, his messy divorce had provided endless fodder for the tabloids.

But in one week, all that seems to have been forgotten, as New Yorkers from all parts of the city sound their approval, and even affection, for their mayor.

"I would vote for Giuliani for president - and I'm the biggest liberal Democrat I know," says Lou Stanek, a professor at the New School here. "In great trouble, men that have it within them, find it."

It's not a given that a great crisis makes for a great leader, however. In the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Mayor David Dinkins largely deferred to police commissioner Raymond Kelly and Assistant FBI Director James Kallstrom, recalls Wayne Barrett, a senior editor at The Village Voice. "Dinkins was really a minor figure," he says.

Mr. Barrett points out that Giuliani is a voracious student of history, and that two of the mayor's heroes are former New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Winston Churchill - whom he has been quoting. "Rudy's theory is that there are singular individuals for singular moments who transcend everyone else, and have the skills and temperament to organize and inspire," says Barrett, author of biography on Giuliani.

Immediately after the first plane hit Tower 1, Giuliani was on the scene - and in fact, had to run for cover when Tower 2 collapsed. Since then, he has been working "26 hours a day," says spokesman Sid Dinsay. He has made himself regularly available to the press, answering questions with candor, at all hours of the day. On the night of the attack, the mayor held a briefing at 11:30 p.m., then went back to the site, and then had another briefing at 1:45 a.m. Since then, his last briefing has generally been at 10 p.m., after which he has a staff meeting, and plans for the next day.

"He's like a two-fisted Energizer Bunny," says Dan Collins, a journalist for CBS.com. "Whoever is the next mayor should appoint Rudy head of the rebuilding effort."

There's no doubt that the next mayor will have large wingtips to fill, in a job that has changed dramatically in the past week. Some New Yorkers have been expressing unease that there will be a change in leadership at such a critical time (the general election is in November; the primary will be next week). Indeed, some have gone so far as to suggest Giuliani should temporarily extend his term or that the state legislature should revise the statute that calls for term limits.

But at a recent press conference, the mayor put those suggestions firmly to rest, saying he plans to do his job until Dec. 31 and then "prepare someone else - whomever the citizens select." He also emphasized that there are many people helping to manage the crisis, and who will continue to provide leadership during the transition. "This is a real team effort," he said.

And Mr. Koch, for one, believes that a change in leadership does not have to lead to chaos. "When FDR died in office, he was followed by Harry Truman, who did a superb job. People rise to the occasion."

Staff writers Ron Scherer and Alexandra Marks contributed to this report.

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