Sue Fox recalls meting and interviewing one-time New York City mayor, Rudolph Giuliani.
Having seen far too much of Rudolph Giuliani – the bloated, angry looking legal advisor to Trump – during this election fiasco, I decided to skim through his 2002 book Giuliani: Leadership.
Before the events of 9/11 changed the world, the then 107th Mayor of New York, was already working on the book with his writer/editor Ken Kurson. In part, it was eventually published as a response to the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center. In his highly visible position of Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani more or less became the voice of America in the hours following the attack on the twin towers. The man literally took charge of the devastated city and its terrified inhabitants. By all accounts, he did a brilliant job. In 2002, Giuliani came to London to receive a knighthood, telling journalists that during those darkest days – in his head – he used to talk to Winston Churchill, who taught him how to reinvigorate the spirit of a dying nation. ‘Through the worst days of the Battle of Britain, Churchill never stepped out of Downing Street and said, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ or ‘I’m lost.’ He walked out with direction and purpose, even if he had to fake it.’
Mayor Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor, had previously served as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1983 to 1989. In 1999 when I interviewed him for the Sunday Times Magazine, he was lauded for having been largely responsible for turning the city around into one of the safest in America. It was some transformation. ‘There isn’t anywhere I wouldn’t want to go in this city,’ he told me. Politically, Giuliani was hardly on the radar. After 9/11 he became a world hero. How the mighty have fallen.
In the last paragraph of his 2002 book, Giuliani writes, ‘Part of leadership is retaining your humanity.’ His recent tirades about voter fraud and the Democrats seem to indicate that Rudolph’s humanity gene has gone AWOL. Interestingly, there are several pages of acknowledgements to the people he counted as friends, colleagues, mentors and trusted staff at the back of his book. He includes several rabbis, Harvey Weinstein and Roger Ailes. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any reference to Donald Trump.
I met Giuliani at his Mayoral HQ in City Hall, New York. Walking through the outer offices, there was a not altogether pleasant odour of pizza, hamburgers and fried onions. This was a building where staff ate fast food at their desks. By contrast, the Mayor’s office was calm and comfortable – a place where he sometimes listened to opera, kept fit, and was permanently on call.
Giuliani made me feel welcome. Strangely, he was happy to talk about his life. The series, A Life in the Day, is full of minutiae and personal details. It’s not something I would ever want to be interviewed for – not in a million years. Mayor Giuliani didn’t flinch when I asked him what he had for breakfast. For the record, he alternated between Kellogs Special K, Wheaties, Raisin Bran and bananas. On the days when he had back to back meetings and no time to eat, he had a Slimfast drink.
This was a man who had recently lost 40lbs. His suits, he admitted, were expensive ones from five or six years ago which he had kept. ‘I haven’t had time to buy suits in a long while – but I like to go shopping and buy everything I need in one go.’ Unlike in the UK and other countries, there are no ceremonial robes, gold chains or hats for American mayors – or, for that matter, for US Presidents.
These days Giuliani looks kind of puffy. I doubt it’s because TV makes you appear fatter. It’s like he’s ballooned with verbal venom. Twenty-one years ago, he was an exercise fanatic, working out with barbells, press ups, push ups, sit ups, and some kind of golf swing apparatus which he demonstrated whilst I got well out of the way. Giuliani was punctilious about the different fitness routines he did first thing in the morning, even if he only had time to run on the spot for twenty minutes.
His life was punctuated by meetings – often before 8.00am. He hated having personal security and being driven everywhere but admitted there had been death threats. Home was the official residence, Gracie Mansion, built in 1799, located at East End Avenue and 88th Street. The mansion, which is actually more of a very big house, overlooks Hell Gate channel in the East River. As I write, Hell Gate channel sounds like a perfectly appropriate address for both Giuliani and Trump.
I admit I really warmed to the Mayor all those years ago. It was very moving to hear him talk about going to wakes and funerals of NYC policemen and firemen who had died in the line of the duty. ‘However many times you have done it, it’s hard to find the right words. It’s not something I can ever get used to and I always feel inadequate. The other morning, I did a police graduation ceremony for 800. It’s always a big event emotionally, and this was no different. Later I had to speak at the funeral of a police officer. That hurts.’ A sound sleeper, he dreads 2.00 am calls. ‘No one ever phones at that hour with good news. No one.’
Agreeing that it was tough for the children of high profile parents, Giuliani said that one of the pluses of being Mayor of New York, was being able to schedule his meetings to fit in with his 11 year old son Andrew’s practice basketball games. ‘I go as much as I can. It’s a priority.’ At the time, his daughter Caroline was 9. ‘Family is important, but if I have to cancel something the kids know it’s because there’s an emergency and I have to be somewhere else.’
Last month, In Caroline – now grown up and a journalist – wrote a damning article about her father and why she was urging everyone to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The strap line by her name read, ‘I may not be able to change my father’s mind, but together, we can vote this toxic administration out of office.’
I am reminded of Guiliani telling me how constant police security is not the most desirable way to lead his life. ‘My team are all great people, but you know, I used to love being kind of unstructured. When I lived in Washington, I drove a Porsche. Sometimes I’d just get in the car and drive. I had no idea where I would end up. Sometimes it was in Virginia or sometimes, in the Shenandoah mountains. I didn’t plan anything – I just kept on driving. If circumstances were different today, I could walk through a museum and look at paintings like any ordinary New Yorker. One of the things I’m most proud of is the great feeling of optimism in our city. One of the things we’ve achieved is giving up that culture of dependency and restoring true freedom to the people. They can control their own life. The government doesn’t need to control it.’
Perhaps now Giuliani will have time on his hands. He can get back into his Porsche, press down on the accelerator and speed off into the sunset, far away from Washington.
Post Script. My interview was never published. You may have noticed a total absence of any reference to Mrs Giuliani. Very soon after we met, the papers were full of the Mayor’s affair and his consequent split from his wife, the TV broadcaster, Donna Hanover. The Sunday Times Magazine, which commissioned the piece, was very picture led. It proved impossible to go back and take a photograph of Mayor Giuliani, or to write anything in the strap line which was true such as ‘Rudolph Giuliani, 55, The 107th Mayor of New York lives with his wife, the broadcaster Donna Hanover and their two children Andrew and Caroline in Gracie Mansion’.