Close your eyes, mix in a few screams, and you’d swear you were standing beside any Florida amusement-park thrill ride. Instead, this is the soundtrack of a West Palm Beach crowd of senior citizens swooning for Rudy Giuliani. He’s spending a Thursday in early October making appearances for Mel Martinez, until recently the Bush administration’s hud secretary and now the Republican Senate candidate; not insignificant to both roles is Martinez’s Cuban-émigré heritage. But this is an Anglo retiree audience, many from the Northeast, and Giuliani’s accent is right at home.
This press conference, ostensibly, is to announce a Fraternal Order of Police endorsement of Martinez. But the retired-cop FOP official and the Senate candidate keep their remarks short to make way for Giuliani. Except in his rallies with Bush, Giuliani plays the Mariano Rivera part at campaign events: He’s the closer. None of the TV cameras would be here today if it weren’t for Giuliani’s presence.
Giuliani’s celebrity may pull in the media, but he’s learned how to hold a crowd with masterful storytelling. Martinez mournfully mentions a Florida highway patrolman who was killed the night before, then moves quickly to campaign boilerplate. When it’s his turn, Giuliani, too, praises the officer, but he then uses the death as a starting point to tug at the crowd’s emotions—and as a natural segue to invoke the World Trade Center. “When they wear uniforms, it says something. It says they’re putting their lives at risk to protect us,” Giuliani begins slowly. “Those are very, very special people. And we thank them. The whole country found out how special they are on September 11, 2001, because they were our first line of defense when we were attacked by the terrorists. I’m gonna tell you a story about one of them.”
Giuliani recounts the last brave acts of Stephen Siller, a firefighter who ran through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel carrying 80 pounds of gear and died saving civilians when the towers collapsed.
“And he left behind five children,” Giuliani says softly.
“Unnnnnnn,” sobs the crowd.
“It was never clear to me how much his abortion position was a matter of conviction and how much it was a matter of necessity,” says Fred Siegel. “I suspect he’ll do a certain amount of repositioning.”
“This year, a week and a half ago, 8,000 people ran through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, like he did.”
“They raised all this money for our children who need education. And standing in the audience, I saw this retired firefighter. And he’s the firefighter who President Bush grabbed and took up on the pile with him—”
“Oooohh, awww, ohhh!”
“—when the president was talking to all the people at ground zero, and when he said, ‘They will hear from us!’ ”
“And the retired firefighter said to me, ‘You tell President Bush that we’re all with him, and we want to make sure that they continue to hear from us!’ ”
“To make that happen, to make certain that we carry out and finish what we—what we didn’t start, what they started when they attacked us—we not only need to reelect President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, but we need to elect people like Mel Martinez to the United States Senate.”
The applause surges. Giuliani is so smooth in moments like this that it wouldn’t be surprising to see the audience charge out of the room and demand to vote right away. But he does more than uplift. He also attacks. The Democratic candidate, Betty Castor, was president of the University of South Florida, and in 1996 suspended a Palestinian professor for making anti-Semitic remarks. Not good enough for Rudy: There were also allegations that Sami al-Arian was raising money for Palestinian Islamic Jihad. “[She] couldn’t figure out how to fire an alleged terrorist! I don’t get that at all,” he says, pronouncing alleged as if he were allergic to the word. “It’s mind-boggling! I know Mel would not have that confusion.” The next day, Florida papers run photos of Giuliani and Martinez beneath headlines with Rudy’s charge that Castor is soft on terrorism.
From West Palm, Giuliani and crew motor south to Boca Raton. He has an hour to rest before a private Martinez fund-raiser in an Embassy Suites hotel, followed by a $10,000-a-head Martinez fund-raiser in Miami. “We’ll bring in $850,000 in three events with Giuliani today,” says Martinez finance director Kirk Fordham. “It’s way more than we’ll raise with Cheney this weekend.”
Giuliani alternates being a Republican cash machine with raking in money for himself. Some of the company is downright schlocky: Last week, Giuliani was on a Learning Annex get-rich-quick bill with Donald Trump. The day he campaigned in Macon, Giuliani stopped off in Atlanta for a paid gig at the Georgia Dome, lecturing as part of something called Get Motivated! alongside Jerry Lewis.
In Boca Raton, the Embassy Suites is one of those soulless, overly air-conditioned hotels adjoining an office park just off I-95, the kind with a glass-walled elevator where all the rooms open onto a central atrium that, in the middle of the day, is as creepily quiet as a mausoleum.