Triumph of Pugnacious Politics
NEW YORK — If you were to make a movie about the life and times of Rudolph Giuliani, you might have to title it "Beyond Broadway."
His resounding reelection Tuesday, gives the mayor of the nation's largest city something of a springboard for higher office.
Of course, to be true to the character today, you would have to cast someone with an affinity for opera, Joe Torre, and the New York Yankees.
He'd have to excel at New York pugnacity and be passionate about law and order. And, he would have to be willing to give the appearance of working 24 hours a day, showing up at the scene of every major mishap in the City of Gotham. Vacations? Forgetaboutit.
Clearly, Mayor Giuliani is a tough act to duplicate. In some ways he embodies the brand of pragmatic, moderate politics that Northeast Republicans find necessary to win office in traditional Democratic strongholds. He's for less government and gay rights. He's a crimebuster and a abortion rights supporter. It's not a mix that plays well with the ascendant conservatism of the party and may hinder a bid for national office.
"He's a very, very long shot," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. "He's more of a contender for the Senate, if [Sen. Daniel Patrick] Moynihan decides to retire, or for a Cabinet position."
Still, Giuliani is undoubtedly leaving a mark, and not just on New York. Mayors from around the country already have adopted his crime-fighting methods. Now, he has vowed to reduce the drug scourge in the city. If he is successful, New York could become a national model on curbing illicit narcotics.
While other cities have seen sharp drops in the crime rate, Giuliani's success thus far has garnered him wide praise - including from people who should be his political opponents.
Queens borough president Claire Shulman endorsed Giuliani - the first Republican in her long career. But Giuliani's been good for Queens, she says, "just look around at the new subway station, new library."
So many Democrats backed Giuliani, his campaign began distributing a list. His 16-percentage point margin of victory Tuesday speaks to his effectiveness in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 5-to-1 margin.
Giuliani's success reminds some political observers of Fiorello La Guardia, the 99th mayor of New York and Giuliani's hero. "The Little Flower," as Mr. La Guardia was known, beat the Tammany Hall crowd - the famously corrupt Boss Tweed political machine - three times. Like Giuliani, La Guardia was an Italian-American, a lawyer, a supporter of immigrants, and known for his honesty.
"I'd say there are great similarities in terms of stubbornness, temperament and ability," says Morton Lawrence, secretary of the La Guardia Memorial Association, an organization of La Guardia's friends and administrators.
But the Giuliani stubbornness has been characterized differently by opponents. Ruth Messinger, his mayoral rival, calls him a bully. Former Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, says "if you are not a sycophant, he destroys you." Yet, Mr. Koch, like most New Yorkers, voted for Giuliani not out of a sense of affection but because the quality of life here has improved.
Parks Commissioner, Henry Stern, contends the mayor's "always courteous, he explains what he wants, gives me a chance to discuss it and then he makes a decision," says Mr. Stern who has served under six different mayors. "He's never bullied me or anyone in Parks."
Stern says some of the criticism stems from the media. And part of that perception comes from the mayor's daily - often feisty - press conferences. It's not unusual for Giuliani to argue with reporters, challenging the assumptions built into their questions.
Many people have been surprised to find the mayor also has a healthy sense of humor. In an annual media roast earlier this year, the mayor participated in a take-off on the play Victor/Victoria. He appeared as "Rudina," wearing a pink dress and blonde wig.
But, the side most people see is the gruff, stern mayor. Part of Giuliani's argumentative nature stems from his background as a prosecutor. He was known as a relentless interrogator.
"His reputation was that he is fierce, persistent, meticulous, aggressive and prepared," says Stephen Gillers, a professor of law at New York University and a classmate of Giuliani's. These traits first came to light in 1974 during the trial of three-term Congressman Bertram Podell. As Giuliani grilled Mr. Podell on the witness stand, Podell became rattled, caved in and pleaded guilty. "This is something usually reserved for Perry Mason," says Mr. Gillers.
The law has been a defining influence on Giuliani. After graduating in 1968 from New York University law school, he went on to clerk for a federal judge. That lead to a stint in the US Attorney's Office. Then, he went to work for the Justice Department, running the narcotics, prisons and immigration division.
In 1983 Giuliani became the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, an equally high-profile job. His racketeering prosecutions of major organized crime families brought comparisons to Elliot Ness, who took on Al Capone.
He became a national figure in the late 1980s when he successfully went after stock trader Ivan Boesky and Drexel Burnham Lambert junk bond guru Michael Milken. President George Bush praised him as "America's greatest crime fighter."
"This is a man who believes in the law to the last dot over the "i," says Philadelphia's Mayor Edward Rendell, a good friend of Giuliani.
His insistence obeying the law, was on display at a recent press conference where a reporter from Tass, the Russian news agency, asked Giuliani about demands that foreign diplomats here pay their parking tickets. Giuliani quickly singled out the Russians as the "worst" offenders. But, the Tass correspondent demanded to know, what Giuliani would do for the Russians if they paid their parking tickets. "Nothing," he replied. They just wouldn't get more tickets.
Part of this is the no-nonsense side of the mayor. One former employee who worked in the city's budget office under three different mayors says Giuliani is much more focused on what he wants to get done. Under former Mayor Dinkins, he says, agency heads would appeal - often successfully - budget cuts. "In Giuliani's case, he simply said, 'If you can't make those cuts, I'll find someone else who will.'"
With the budget and crime under control, the Giuliani's next mission is "to cut heroin, cocaine and marijuana by 50, 60, 70 percent."
Amid speculation about post-mayoral ambitions, the mayor is coy. He says his philosophy is "that the best way you can create a good future for yourself is to do the job you are doing as well as you can." It is advice, Giuliani says he gives to young people, including his young children, "so I have to take that advice for myself."