It’s been 21 years since Rudy Giuliani led a terrified city through the deadliest attack in its history. Like a reporter watching him from a few feet away that morning, I ran with him through the hurricane of ash and debris after the collapse of the World Trade Center North Tower, pulled a mile up Manhattan Avenue while he and his aides searched for safe haven and watched his security guard break into a fire station with a crowbar.
He calmly and firmly gave orders to assistants, reassured a frightened police officer, silenced a cheering crowd, and addressed the world from a tiny office. Like countless others, I was grateful that someone had taken charge, undaunted by the madness of the situation.
These images often come to mind as I try to reconcile that brilliant leader with the confused, widely ridiculous figure who may be charged with trying to undermine the 2020 election.
Mr. Giuliani is virtually alone at this desperate hour. Supporters have let him down; once-friendly news organizations have banned him from their airwaves; and few have helped him avoid the bankruptcy of countless lawsuits and investigations. At age 78, the man who helped lead New York City and the nation out of some of our most horrific days is a shadow of his old self.
Mr. Giuliani is in this situation, not despite his actions on September 11, but rather because of them. The choices he made to capitalize on his period fame—and his efforts to maintain it when it began to slip—have led to his problems today.
Mr. Giuliani received overwhelming acclaim for his performance as mayor in the weeks following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. He was transformed from a limited-term politician to “America’s mayor.” address the United Nations and receiving an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. New Yorkers’ long love-hate relationship with him turned into something closer to hero-worship. He was a warrior who had fought his entire career as a prosecutor and mayor on crusades, and they had prepared him for the greatest battle of all, his attempt to save a stricken city.
With his fame at its peak after September 11, every possible career door swung open. But instead of retaining the role of his statesman – a hero over mere politics – he chose to make money.
His mercenary was Giuliani Partners, which was billed primarily as a management consulting firm, although neither he nor his group of former town hall assistants had any management consulting experience. He was no doubt aware that it was not his expertise that his clients would pay for, but rather his name.
“We believe that government officials will feel more comfortable knowing that Giuliani is advising Purdue Pharma,” said the controversial drug company’s lead attorney after it hired Mr. Giuliani in 2002, while Purdue fended nearly 300 lawsuits over his role. in helping a generation of Americans hook up on opioids. Many other customers followed, troubled companies seeking a seal of approval from the internationally beloved leader.
Giuliani Partners brought in an estimated gross profit $100 million in the first five years. A man who, as mayor, bought his suits off the rack at Bancroft for $299 became addicted to luxury, eventually buying six houses and 11 country club memberships.
He took advantage of his fame on September 11 for both power and money. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were as drawn to Mr. Giuliani’s brand as any scandal-ridden company, finding him a powerful ally when their efforts in Iraq went sideways.
At the 2004 Republican National Convention, he bestowed his blessings on the president. As Mr Giuliani told an admiring crowd, after the first tower fell on Sept. 11: “I grabbed the arm of then-Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and said to him, ‘Bernie, thank God George Bush is our president.'”
The alliance with Mr. Bush provided him with more client business and a launching pad for his ultimate goal, the presidency.
Kathy Livermore, Mr. Giuliani’s girlfriend during his college days, recalled to The New York Daily News in 1997 that he had vowed to one day become America’s first Italian-Catholic president. “Rudolph William Louis Giuliani III, the first Italian-Catholic president of the United States,” he told her, enjoying the sound of it.
His 2008 presidential run is now remembered as a footnote, if remembered at all. Some people may remember it because of a joke by Joe Biden, who ran in the Democratic primaries, who… said“There are only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb, and 9/11.”
The collapse of his candidacy—he left the Republican primaries with just a single delegate—marked the end of his political dreams; he would never go to the office again.
In the years that followed, he seemed increasingly desperate to save both the financial benefits and political power that came with being “America’s Mayor,” listing shady foreign clients for his company and backed Donald Trump—whom he considered a “carnival barker” according to an aide at the time—for president in 2016.
His reliance on Mr Trump has been a driving force behind his serial disasters ostensibly in support of the administration: his bizarre attempts to frame Joe Biden in the Ukrainian scandal, which resulted in the president’s first impeachment, and his catastrophic attempts to tamper with the 2020 presidential election, which could land him in jail.
The man of law and order, famous for his righteousness as a United States attorney for the Southern District of New York in the 1980s, is the subject of investigations in Georgia and Washington, DC. Both are about deeply cynical moves to revise the 2020 election results. They reveal a depraved character, caused by a succession of moral compromises made over the years to preserve the power and money he had become accustomed to after 9/11.
What would have become of Mr. Giuliani if the attack on the World Trade Center had never happened? At one point, he may have run for senator or governor in New York, based on his strong track record as mayor, or he may have landed the attorney general’s job in a Republican administration, based on his track record. as a pioneering prosecutor.
He wouldn’t have collected that much money or gained worldwide fame. But on the other hand, his hero’s reputation is long gone. (“I’m afraid it will be on my tombstone – ‘Rudy Giuliani: He lied for Trump,'” he said told The New Yorker in 2019.) His political power has evaporated, and his wealth is almost… exhausted – he has been sale personalized video greetings for $325, and he dressed like a feathered jack-in-the-box for the Fox show “The Masked Singer” this spring. Even his performance the day the World Trade Center was attacked has been tarnished by numerous findings of disastrous mistakes he and his administration made.
History will pay Rudy Giuliani his due for leading New York through its darkest hour. But it will also record that his exploitation of his actions on September 11 led him to the abyss.
Andrew Kirtzman, a former New York political journalist and author of books about Rudy Giuliani’s mayoralty and the Bernie Madoff scandal, is the author of “Giuliani: The Rise and Tragic Fall of America’s Mayor.”
The Times is committed to publication a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d love to hear what you think of this or any of our articles. Here are a few tips. And here’s our email: email@example.com.