As it stands now, the performance of Rudy Guiliani on 9/11 is one of unquestioned courage and leadership. Images of Rudy striding down the streets of Manhattan as the world literally collapsed around him and appearing before the cameras as a calm, honest spokesman for not only the government of New York city but for the US government as well will be with us forever. Even the left grudgingly gave him high marks for his remarkable performance that day.
But as in all human endeavors - and indeed all human existence - there were mistakes, missteps, bad decisions, and pettiness. And the fact that government was involved means that there were bureaucratic turf battles, political considerations, and bad planning that, when they are examined (and you can count on them being thoroughly looked at during the campaign) will take some of the luster off of Rudy’s performance that day.
Certainly some of this is part of the process of vetting presidential candidates. The press feels an obligation to expose the worst in our next president - especially if he happens to be a Republican. But you can bet that the Democratic candidates will come in for their share of bad press although one gets the sense that the press doesn’t take quite the gleeful pleasure in exposing Democrats as they do in savaging Republicans.
In short, Rudy is about to have his 9/11 credentials wrung through the ringer. And for ammunition, the press need look no further than this book by reporters Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins.
Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 claims to be meticulously researched and sourced. Not having read the book I can’t say. But this long excerpt from the book in Village Voice will give you an excellent idea where Rudy’s critics will take aim:
Giuliani has never acknowledged a single failing in his own performance. Yet he did nothing before September 11 to alleviate the effects of a terror attack. He embodied his city’s lack of preparation on West Street that morning. And he did not do anything later that matched the moments of grace and resolve he gave us the day we needed him most. What we have left is this: At a moment when the public needed a hero, Rudy Giuliani stepped forward. When he assured New York that things would come out all right, he was blessedly believable. It was a fine thing. But it was not nearly as much as we, at the time, imagined.
You really must read the whole thing to get a sense of the kinds of issues that the authors believe Rudy failed to address that day and the aftermath. But a short version is that Guiliani’s mistakes both prior to 9/11 and on that tragic day were magnified by the sin of hubris - overweening pride that prevented several key decisions from being made that would have saved lives. How the authors arrive at these conclusions is a mystery. And I’m sure you’ll end up reading some of their criticisms and wondering if anyone could have done any better considering the circumstances - something authors are clearly not interested in exploring. But what makes this critique of Guiliani’s performance so problematic for the Mayor is that Rudy, like John Kerry, is running using his past experience in the fires of tragedy as proof of his fitness for office - and not much else.
When you think about it, what else has Rudy got to offer in the way of experience? He’s never been to Congress. He never even served in the state legislature of New York. His experience outside of New York is confined to a stint as Associate Attorney General in Reagan’s Justice department - hardly a position that would inspire confidence in his abilities that would be translatable to the presidency.
Rudy was Mayor of New York city. And beyond that, he was Mayor of New York city on 9/11 for which he is properly considered a hero. But if the press starts to chip away at Rudy’s 9/11 personae, what we might find underneath will not be pretty nor attractive to the mostly conservative voters in Republican primaries.
What might the press find by reading the Barrett-Collins hit piece? This article by AP writer Larry McShane makes it clear that the top two issues that will play against Rudy’s 9/11 narrative are the communication’s snafu at Ground Zero that day which has been flogged by some widows and firefighters for years as well as Guiliani’s decision to shut down the meticulous search for bodies in November of 2001 when so many were still missing:
Giuliani, the leader in polls of Republican voters for his party’s nomination, has been faulted on two major issues:
â€¢ His administration’s failure to provide the World Trade Center’s first responders with adequate radios, a long-standing complaint from relatives of the firefighters killed when the twin towers collapsed. The Sept. 11 Commission noted the firefighters at the World Trade Center were using the same ineffective radios employed by the first responders to the 1993 terrorist attack on the trade center.
Regenhard, at a 2004 commission hearing in Manhattan, screamed at Giuliani, “My son was murdered because of your incompetence!” The hearing was a perfect example of the 9/11 duality: Commission members universally praised Giuliani at the same event.
â€¢ A November 2001 decision to step up removal of the massive rubble pile at ground zero. The firefighters were angered when the then-mayor reduced their numbers among the group searching for remains of their lost “brothers,” focusing instead on what they derided as a “scoop and dump” approach. Giuliani agreed to increase the number of firefighters at ground zero just days after ordering the cutback.
More than 5 1/2 years later, body parts are still turning up in the trade center site.
AJ Strata does a good job debunking these criticisms:
That (bad communications) was not caused by Rudy, but by the different police and fire bureaucracies which refused to integrate their purchasing. If a government entity at any level gives up the power to purchase it gives up authority. And so the firefighters and port authorities and city police and state police all refuse to coordinate their equipment. Many times their money comes from different sources, for instance state, city, county, various federal agencies. The Port authority would get Federal dollars from ICE or the Coast Guard and the cops from DoJ. This is not Rudyâ€™s fault and even a bush-league reporter would know this is the case…
The decision (to step up removal of debris) was WEEKS into the clean up, not days or hours. And the problem here is the mound of debris was a festering health hazard. There was no time to pick delicately through the pile of rubble, within which the fires did not finally go out for MONTHS afterwards.
As for the first issue, Barrett and Collins point out that Rudy had ridden roughshod over many of those same bureaucracies during his terms in office and that the fact he didn’t butt a few heads together in order to get the firefighters and police modern communications was a failure of will on his part. Beyond that, the authors point out that Guiliani put the emergency management bunker at the World Trade Center - even after the towers had been attacked in 1993. Was this smart? The towers were centrally located and seemed a natural place to put the emergency bunker. But the authors are looking at Rudy’s decision from a post 9/11 world. The 9/10 world inhabited by Rudy and the rest of us would have seen the attack in 1993 as an aberration and not a harbinger of things to come. In that context, Rudy’s decision was probably the right one.
But don’t expect too many people to be giving Guiliani the benefit of the doubt once the stories start pouring out criticizing his performance on 9/11. There is also the real question of whether he should have been walking the streets in the first place. Why didn’t he head for the temporary emergency bunker where he could monitor communications? As he was walking around lower Manhattan, he was deaf and blind to what was going on at Ground Zero.
There’s also the question of why the police and fire chief met only once during the crisis and very briefly at that. Couldn’t many lives have been saved if the two were side by side, listening to their own people communicating since their equipment wouldn’t allow them to talk to each other? Could Rudy have ordered the two to stay close by?
Barrett and Collins raise a half dozen other issues - some of them germane, some silly - each of which will force Rudy on the defensive. Notoriously thin skinned, one wonders if the scrutiny becomes too intense if Rudy will be able to weather the public storms without lashing back. This, he must resist in that it will make people start to doubt Rudy’s own narrative of events.
For the moment, Guiliani basks in the glow of being the Republican front runner. But the appetite of the press for a horse race means that they will almost certainly begin to hammer away at Rudy’s version of what happened on 9/11. And how Rudy emerges from this scrutiny will determine whether or not he can go the distance and capture the nomination.