Rudolph Giuliani: Faith in work, God, and himself

The former New York mayor's sense of discipline, which stemmed from a childhood living with a devout Catholic father and attending parochial schools, has shaped his career in public service.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Minutes before the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed into a roar of white dust and debris, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani caught a glimpse of the Fire Department's chaplain, Father Mychal Judge.

"Pray for us," the mayor said, reaching out to grab the chaplain's hand as the two raced past each other in the chaos.

"I always do," replied Father Judge. "I always pray for you."

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It was the last time Mr. Giuliani would see his close friend and spiritual adviser. Judge was killed minutes later as he administered last rites to a firefighter. The chaplain was just one of many personal friends among the casualties, which the mayor summed up for the stunned nation simply as "more than we can bear."

That calm, resolute, sensitive leader who emerged on Sept. 11, 2001, transformed the combative, operatic, and unpopular lame-duck mayor into New York's Churchill in a baseball cap. On the strength of that feat and his career as a crime-fighting, bureaucrat-busting reformer, Giuliani is staking his bid for the presidency.

At the core of his public life has been a private faith: faith in God, the American spirit, the value of hard work, and, unapologetically, in himself. Born and raised a Roman Catholic, educated in rigorous parochial schools, Giuliani says he even seriously considered becoming a priest "at least twice." But the thrice-married former prosecutor now declines to talk about his religious beliefs, calling them a private affair.

God, though, is another matter. On the campaign trail, he drops frequent references to the Almighty, even crediting God with preparing him to cope with 9/11 by guiding him to a book deal to write about leadership. "It was as if God provided an opportunity to design a course in leadership just when I needed it most," he writes in his book, aptly named "Leadership." As for faith, he believes in America's founding ideals. In a Monitor interview he called them a "secular religion."

"Where do our rights come from? Most Americans believe they come from God," he says in a conference room overlooking Times Square in the office of Giuliani Partners, the consulting firm he founded. "I mean the really basic ones: the idea that all people are created equal, that human rights are enormously important, that people should select their own leaders. And they're not just ours. They've been put there for everyone."

Rooting for the Catholics

Giuliani's strong sense of self and of his role in the world was honed early. Living in Brooklyn just blocks from the Dodgers' Ebbets Field, 5-year-old Rudy was sent out to play wearing the uniform of the archrival Yankees. Neighborhood kids threw him in the mud and started to put a rope around his neck before his grandmother chased them away. "I'm a Yankee fan, and I'm going to stay a Yankee fan," he's quoted in Wayne Barrett's biography "Rudy!" as saying about the incident. "I'm not going to give up my religion. You're not going to change me."

Giuliani credits his father with instilling a deep respect for his Catholic upbringing. Harold Giuliani did time in Sing Sing state prison, pleading guilty to robbing a milkman on the Upper East Side in 1934. He later worked in a Brooklyn bar owned by a brother-in-law who reputedly was a mob-connected loan shark, according to the Barrett biography. But Rudy's father moved his family to Long Island, to Garden City, to keep his son away from such connections. There, the boy spent much time with an extended family of local police officers and firefighters. He went to a Catholic elementary school and was chosen to attend Brooklyn's elite Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, to which he commuted from Long Island.

Brother Peter Bonventre, then assistant principal at Bishop Loughlin, remembers Giuliani as a "gregarious, bubbly personality with a big smile." As a senior, he played Santa Claus and ran a friend's campaign for student council president. He also founded the school's Opera Club.

His classmate and friend Peter Powers, who remains a close adviser, says Giuliani was a natural leader.

"He was always the guy we followed," says Mr. Powers. "Like with the Opera Club. We were a bunch of middle-class kids who hadn't for the most part been exposed to that. He was always reading librettos and listening to operas. When he had an interest in things, he shared it and got us involved."

Giuliani, then a liberal Democrat, was such an ardent admirer of President John Kennedy that he once skipped school to see him in New York. Powers, always a Republican, remembers the delight they had in challenging each other's ideas.

"He and I spent hours, days, months debating things we were on the different sides of," he says. "We were like two dogs on a bone, but I realize how lucky I was to have a close friend that I could really disagree with – we really challenged each other's beliefs."

Although named "Class Politician" in his senior yearbook, Giuliani says he thought seriously at the time about becoming a doctor or a priest. He even visited several seminaries. Ultimately, he decided against the priesthood because of his "budding interest in the opposite sex," he says in a Monitor interview.

But the idea stuck with him through college. He even thought briefly about converting to become a Lutheran or an Episcopalian, so he could be a priest and get married. But he says he couldn't because of his father.

"In most Catholic families it's the mother who's really devout. But in my family it was my father," Giuliani says. "And he wasn't just devout, he rooted for the Catholics."

And so the son went on to Manhattan College and then New York University Law School.

Discipline and order

If Giuliani's 37-year career as a public servant reveals anything, it's that he's a law-and-order guy.

First as a US attorney who with equal zeal took on Wall Street titans and Mafia dons, and then as a two-term mayor who made safe streets his top priority, Giuliani found high-profile outlets for righting what he believed were wrongs and bringing order where there was chaos.

"Rudy's moral, ethical, and issues core comes from his Catholicism," says Doug Muzzio, a longtime Giuliani watcher. "The fact that he went to Catholic grammar school, high school, and college fundamentally shaped his orientation and character – the discipline and order."

That sense of discipline is evident in his own work ethic, say those who know him. Indeed, a chapter in his book is entitled "Prepare Relentlessly."

"It's striking – his emphasis on work and discipline," says Fred Siegel, author of "The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life." "Work is central to his self-definition and his sense of what people should be."

His drive to correct what needs correcting was matched by a certain ingenuity in approach, say admirers. Giuliani wasn't the first US prosecutor to use a federal racketeering law to go after the Mafia, but he was the first to use it in a big way, indicting 11 organized-crime figures at once in 1985. His stated goal: "to wipe out the five families" that ran La Cosa Nostra, according to a Time magazine article.

Likewise, when he was elected mayor in 1993, Giuliani saw an opportunity to "fix" his hometown. Four years earlier, a Time magazine cover had dubbed it the ungovernable "Rotting Apple," and it was still dirty, crime-ridden, and deeply in debt when he moved into City Hall. With the ardor of an operatic protagonist and the discipline of a Yankee-in-training, Giuliani took on the city's vested interests. He cut taxes, slashed the budget, and forced the mob out of the fish markets.

"Part of what motivates me is [a desire to] straighten things out, make them better, have an impact on problems," he told the Monitor.

Giuliani gradually came to feel he'd have a better chance of having an impact as a Republican. In the 1970s, he'd registered as an Independent so his prosecutions as a US attorney wouldn't be seen as political. In 1980, he switched to the GOP, hoping for a job in Washington in the newly elected Reagan administration – which he got within a month.

On the campaign trail, Giuliani is quick to tout his New York accomplishments.

"When I was mayor of New York City, we worked very, very hard to reduce crime, but also to right-size government … ultimately to make it effective and efficient," he said at a September breakfast hosted by the Northern Virginia Technology Council in Reston, Va. "If it weren't for technology, we wouldn't have been able to accomplish that." Noting that he had created a new department responsible for upgrading the technology of all other city departments, he wryly said: "The reason we named it the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications – DOITT – was because we wanted to call it DO-IT!"

To his supporters, the former mayor remains the tight-fisted hero who tamed an uncivil city.

To his critics, Giuliani was a divisive bully who brazenly stole credit for others' accomplishments: The crime rate had started to decline three years before he was elected, and the Disney deal that revitalized Times Square was negotiated by his predecessor, David Dinkins.

Some also saw a love of the limelight and a tendency to showboat. His work prosecuting big fish like Ivan Boesky in 1986 for insider trading and junk-bond trader Michael Milken in 1988 gained Giuliani a steady stream of national headlines. But critics accused him of parading brokers from their offices in handcuffs simply for the media attention. In several high-profile cases, he was later forced to drop the charges.

Others charge that he made New York worse in some fundamental ways. Racial tensions flared, and Giuliani refused to meet some leading African-American public officials for a year after becoming mayor. Those tensions were exacerbated by several high-profile police misconduct cases.

"Blacks and Hispanics in particular would complain to me that he was a racist. But I'd say, 'He's definitely not a racist, he's nasty to everyone,' " says former Mayor Ed Koch, author of "Giuliani: Nasty Man," in a phone interview. "He believes he knows best and will brook no dissents."

But people who worked closely with him contend that Giuliani did listen – in fact, he thrived on people challenging his ideas, just as his childhood friend Peter Powers had done.

"He could take a very, very tough position publicly and look to be unbending, when in fact there were very few things that he was unbending about," says Fran Reiter, then a leader of the Liberal Party who became one of Giuliani's deputy mayors. "Rudy is a pragmatist, and that's ultimately what made him effective."

Controversial 9/11 footprints

As he campaigns for president, Giuliani often invokes 9/11. While it was not the cornerstone of a speech – he works not to politicize it, even shutting down his website and holding no political events on the anniversary – the attacks were a transforming moment for him as well as for the nation.

When he reopened the New York Stock Exchange in September 2001, he said, "We understand even more the value of our democracy. We appreciate even more a nation that's ruled by law and decency and concern for human life, and we understand the necessity to defend ourselves."

That's the theme Giuliani returns to on the campaign trail.

"We have to be on the offense against terrorism," he told the Virginia high-tech executives. "But we also have to do a better job of explaining who we are as a people – we're not militarists. We want to do business with you."

He attributes to 9/11 his conversion to certain views held by the National Rifle Association. "September 11th … puts a whole different emphasis on the thing America needs to do to protect itself, even putting a renewed emphasis on the Second Amendment [the right to bear arms]," he told a polite but skeptical audience of NRA members, during a speech last month in Washington.

He also promised to appoint "strict constructionist" judges, which for many is code language for judges who would see almost any form of gun control as unconstitutional.

Neither went over well with this crowd. Jeff Reh, general counsel of Beretta USA, noted that Giuliani, when mayor, brought the lawsuit against gun manufacturers currently in the courts.

"I found it troubling to hear Mayor Giuliani suggest the enforcement of constitutional rights should depend on the circumstances of the moment," said Mr. Reh. "It was disingenuous.... When he was mayor, he worked to increase restrictions on ownership of assault rifles."

Giuliani says his thinking on that matter has simply evolved – and appeals to common sense rather than ideology.

"You never get a candidate you agree with 100 percent. I'm not even sure I agree with myself 100 percent," he says, smiling. "You have to look at the overall candidate and figure out who is electable, who can win."

His attempt to mollify conservatives – which includes nuancing his longtime support for abortion rights – has also upset some old colleagues.

"There are core values that you do not stray from," says Ms. Reiter, who is supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton for president. "On the issues he's doing it on – abortion rights and gun control – you have to ask, 'Is this pragmatic approach disingenuous and simply wrong?' "

Though Giuliani is tying his presidential credentials to his leadership during 9/11, not everyone thinks he was a hero. He has been criticized for insisting, over objections of some top staff, that New York's $16 million emergency-response center be located 23 stories up in 7 World Trade Center – a known terrorist target. Giuliani counters that was where the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Department, and the Secret Service were located. And it was within walking distance from City Hall, which was important to him.

To critics, it's one of many cases when stubbornness and politics clouded his judgment.

"The weaknesses that were displayed that day built up during his mayoralty – there was nothing in eight years that showed any focus on terrorism," says Dan Collins, co-author of "Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11," in a phone interview. "And now you see him assume this mantle of a terrorism expert on the presidential campaign that is almost wholly cut out of false cloth."

Some city firefighters, too, charge that Giuliani knew since the 1993 attack that the department's radios were problematic, yet did nothing about it. Had the radios worked properly, hundreds of firefighters might have lived, some say.

"It's disgusting for Rudy to campaign on 9/11. It devalues those lives – it's a fraud," says Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which has endorsed Sen. Christopher Dodd (D) for president. "Rudy had nothing to do with the response that day. In fact, he hampered [it]. Because his command center failed, he had no single place to go and be in charge. Instead he was wandering around the streets."

Through a series of e-mails, the Giuliani campaign declined to comment on the firefighters' allegations.

An uneven temperament

Giuliani can be charming one moment and curt the next.

Campaigning last month at a NASCAR event in New Hampshire, he joked that Red Sox fans treat him better than Mets fans do, drawing laughs.

But he can also be dismissive, even rude. A day later in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he didn't like a reporter's question, grimaced, and walked away. Longtime Giuliani watchers say that's progress. In the past, he might simply have attacked the reporter as naive or the question as stupid.

"He's got quite a temper," says Mr. Muzzio, a leading New York political analyst. "In New York, everyone's on a 'Wait 'Til Rudy Explodes Watch,' and he's done a wonderful job of not doing that yet."

Indeed, Giuliani's temper is legendary. During a now infamous call-in radio show in May 2001, Giuliani told a caller concerned about a ban on walking ferrets in New York, "There is something deranged about you...." He regularly insulted reporters at City Hall press conferences. He told the media before he told his second wife and two children that the marriage was over.

People close to Giuliani say his bout with prostate cancer in 2000 and his happy marriage to third wife Judith Nathan four years ago have softened him.

Then there is 9/11, and, for Giuliani, the revelations about the world and himself that came with it. For several years before, he had increasingly leaned on Mychal Judge as a spiritual adviser. The Franciscan father, he says, had helped him to realize he had the ability to genuinely comfort people – almost as a priest would.

"Father Judge … was the person I leaned on the most," says Giuliani. "Not for the physical stuff, but the hardest stuff – trying to explain to people the loss of their father, the loss of their husband. He gave me the confidence that I could do that."

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