On an early-October night here in Kingston, a town about a hundred miles north of Manhattan, it was 2007 all over again. A white banner hung over a Colonial-style function hall with the message ULSTER COUNTY WELCOMES RUDY GIULIANI, and attendees were lined up in the autumn chill to pick up their tickets ($95 for dinner, $250 for a private reception). Inside, the guest of honor had just arrived in the main dining room to a standing ovation, and now chaos was breaking out. In many quarters, Giuliani’s disastrous 2008 presidential campaign—$60 million, no delegates—has branded him something between a failure and a punch line. But among this crowd of Republicans, desperate for a savior to lead their party back to power in New York and Washington, this was the same Rudy they had known and loved before his turn on the national stage. The county GOP chairman, Mario Catalano, was giddy at the turnout of 450. (“Normally, if we have 250, that’s big,” he said.) At the moment, however, Catalano was trying to regain order amid a scrum of flashing cameras and autograph-seekers clutching their copies of Leadership or their photos of Rudy and Joe Torre in firefighters’ helmets with the Yankees logo. “Folks, I am begging you to please remain where you are sitting!” Catalano pleaded. “I will walk the mayor around the room. Because right now we’re creating a terrible security hazard.”
At that, Giuliani made his rounds, grinning and twinkly-eyed, floating on the star power that supercharged him on September 11. He wore a pin-striped suit with an American-flag pin on his lapel and, at 65 years old, seemed as vigorous as ever.
“Future governor!” exclaimed one man, pumping Rudy’s hand with glee.
“There’s been a lot of talk these days about the mayor’s political future,” said Catalano, now back at the podium, “and the potential for him to run for governor of New York.” Applause ripped through the room. “Am I to assume that you guys are in favor of that?” A chant broke out: “Ru-DY! Ru-DY!”
And then Giuliani took the stage. “We need your help, Rudy!” someone called out. He basked, then delivered a seminar on the New York economy. “To increase expenditures of the state by 9 or 10 percent this year is totally irresponsible. All that’s going to do is require that taxes be raised even more. If you want to know how you create jobs, you lower taxes.”
He carried on with a big smile, the applause washing over him. “I faced this problem in 1993, when I became mayor of New York City. And everyone knows about the crime problem. But there was another problem—we had a financial crisis. I took a bold approach. I reduced spending by $2.3 billion. I cut everything that had to be cut. I cut things that quite honestly shouldn’t have been cut … I cut them because I had to. I didn’t mind that I was picketed every day.”
It’s not a bad spiel. And in Kingston, his listeners were wound up. “He’s probably the next governor of New York,” exclaimed a sixtyish man in a matching maroon shirt and tie who would identify himself only as Pete. “I believe he’s gonna run. I told him, ‘You have to run. We got the party. All we need is a man to lead us.’ ”
September 11 transformed Rudy Giuliani from a mayor with marital problems and fast-fading popularity into an iconic figure, a heroic leader who steps in when times are hardest. It’s an image that’s made him a plausible candidate for just about anything, and helped him draw millions of dollars in speaking and consulting fees. It’s also a very hard act to follow: What’s a worthy sequel to those terrible, glorious weeks?
For a man defined by his certitude and personal force, his presidential campaign was oddly halfhearted, an echo of his abortive Senate bid eight years earlier. After his 2008 campaign, Giuliani all but vanished from the public eye. But David Paterson’s haplessness opened a door. The Rudy-for-governor buzz built for months, providing a failed White House contender with an opportunity to reintroduce himself, on television (Meet the Press panelist, CNBC Squawk Box guest) and on the front pages of the Times and Post. He seemed to draw energy from all the attention. (Although his appearance with Mayor Bloomberg reminded many New Yorkers of what they didn’t like about him.) The rumblings of a run even brought the ultimate compliment, the attention of the Obama White House—leading to that clumsy attempt last month to persuade Paterson to stand down, clearing the way for Andrew Cuomo. (While recent polls consistently show Giuliani thumping Paterson by double-digits, the reverse has mostly been true with Cuomo.)