American Idol

Giuliani's constant presence at memorials and funerals has been a great source of comfort for families.Photo: Beth A. Kaiser/ AP Wide World

The spotlight can’t keep up with him. Rudy Giuliani, to a standing ovation, has just taken the stage in a Montreal concert hall, and as he begins a lecture titled “Leadership in Difficult Times,” he seems determined to take the entire stage. Giuliani paces rapidly from extreme left wing to right and back again, audible through a wireless microphone clipped to one lapel of his natty gray suit. For several long minutes, though, he is invisible. Except for the few seconds when he strides through the glowing circle of white light at center stage, Giuliani is a voice from the darkness. Either no one warned the spotlight operator about Giuliani’s mobility, or the poor guy has been fooled by the former mayor’s three introducers: They gushed about the evening’s star guest in both French and English while standing stock-still behind a wood-paneled lectern.

Rudy is on the move. Rudy is vital. Finally, the follow-spot operator gets with the symbolism, and Rudy is illuminated. For the next hour, he strides nonstop from side to side. Two huge TV screens behind Giuliani magnify his face for the cheap seats – well, the distant seats, since prices start at $100. For an extra $750, you got appetizers and a pre-speech snapshot with America’s Mayor. The 2,700-seat Place des Arts is sold out.

Giuliani opens with wit – a self-deprecating anecdote about his boyhood failure to make the church choir: “The nun told me I had a particular kind of voice … a monotone voice” – but quickly moves on to wisdom. His “six principles for getting through a crisis” are a Cliffs Notes version of his forthcoming book, Leadership. Sun Tzu, Anthony Robbins, and the author of Who Moved My Cheese? have nothing to fear from Giuliani’s management insights. “The first lesson,” he says, “is that you have to have a set of beliefs.” Next come “have courage,” “stand up to bullies,” “relentless preparation,” “teamwork,” and “communication.” Not surprisingly, Giuliani is in favor of all of them.

Yet as the crowd files out, into a subterranean marble-floored lobby that leads to a shopping mall, the electricity is overflowing. “That was soooo inspirational!” swoons a woman in a black velvet evening gown.

“Fantastic!” shouts a man in a business suit, high-fiving a friend emerging from the opposite gate. “He was totally down-to-earth! Rudy was soooo much better than Bill Clinton!”

Rudy Giuliani is the official road company of 9/11. Since departing City Hall on December 31, he has traveled from Baden-Baden to Vancouver, from Salt Lake City to Charlotte to Shanksville, charging $100,000 for some speeches. In some places, he plugs his book and his beliefs, and adds to the $185 million he’s raised for the Twin Towers Fund. In others, he promotes the Republican candidate for whom he is the fund-raising attraction. But what he actually says matters – as Giuliani would put it – very, very little.

People yearn to experience his presence. And it goes far deeper than celebrity. Giuliani is an authentic American hero, a man whose days of sadness and glory were felt in real time by tens of millions in a shared cultural moment of overwhelming emotional power. On September 11 and in the awful days that followed, Giuliani acted as we all want to believe we would in the face of danger – and as we all fear we wouldn’t. One year later, people flock to give thanks to Giuliani for his strength and moral clarity. But he has also become an icon in which people invest their civic spirit.

This has made him an unprecedented character in American politics – someone whose appeal is extrapolitical. “People call him a mythical figure? He’s a magical figure,” says GOP pollster Frank Luntz. “He transcends politics, he transcends ideology, he transcends all the traditional barriers that cause people to be disliked.”

So extreme right-wingers who previously castigated Giuliani for his abortion liberalism, like New Hampshire Republican senator Bob Smith, now plead with the former mayor to cut a campaign commercial. Democrats are reduced to praising Giuliani while demurring, very mildly, about his voting-booth coattails.

“He is the hottest political property in America today,” says Virginia congressman Tom Davis. As head of the Republican House Campaign Committee, Davis has dispatched Giuliani to dozens of districts to help GOP candidates. “He comes into a district and you get instant media coverage, earned media, for our candidates. You can send him to the Bible Belt, you can send him to the Southwest, and people will drive 100 miles to see him,” Davis says. “Among Republicans, even though on a lot of the cultural-cutting-edge issues – guns, abortion – he’s on the wrong side, he still basically shares values in terms of trying to instill self-esteem in people, like taking welfare away.”

Giuliani’s longtime aides consider it a sure thing that he will again run for office. What office? “He doesn’t talk about that. And he’s smart not to,” says Bruce Teitelbaum, who managed Giuliani’s short-circuited Senate campaign against Hillary Clinton, still runs Giuliani’s pac, and is one of the partners in the ex-mayor’s new consulting company. Teitelbaum has clearly given extensive thought to how Giuliani plays on a red-and-blue electoral map. Teitelbaum also launches into a passionate monologue about Rudy’s underestimated ability to play well with others. What makes the ten-minute jag especially interesting, though, is the statement that provoked it: I said it’s impossible to imagine Giuliani being satisfied or fully effective as a vice-president to George W. Bush. “A lot of folks make presumptions about Rudy, and they really don’t know him that well,” Teitelbaum says. “I think he could probably do any job he set his mind to.”

Yet conventional calculations aren’t what will determine Giuliani’s political future. More important is whether his character has actually grown as a result of his trials. At an Elizabeth Dole fund-raiser in Charlotte, North Carolina, in July, a fiftyish, blonde former lobbyist, who has paid $200 to hear Giuliani, alludes to his ennobled stature. “I really wished he’d stayed in the Senate race, because instead we have that Hillary,” she says. “But clearly it all worked out for the best, because it was so important he be there to lead after September 11. God had a plan.”

Giuliani with Judy Natham and Prince Andrew in London for his honorary knighthood.Photo: Adam Butler/AP Wide World

The grief is never more than an arm’s length away. Just the other day, Giuliani was suddenly in the mood for a soda but was short of change. One of his bodyguards rooted around in a pocket looking for some coins. Instead, he pulled out a firefighter’s Mass card. Giuliani and his aides went silent.

Most of the time, however, the 58-year-old Giuliani is happier and healthier than ever. Surviving prostate cancer and the terrorist attack enlarged his perspective. But in analyzing his current sunny outlook, Giuliani’s friends all point to a common influence: Judith Nathan.

“He loves her to death,” says Bernard Kerik, Giuliani’s final police commissioner and now a business partner. Though the couple spends an occasional weekend at Nathan’s Southampton condo, she frequently hits the road with Giuliani. Four days in June took him from Chicago to Richmond to Washington to New York. Three days in August brought speeches in Colorado Springs, New Orleans, and Calgary.

One night in Washington, Giuliani raised $7.5 million for the GOP’s National Congressional Campaign Committee. Giuliani has also been the headline act for the Columbus, Ohio, Speech & Hearing Center; at the Choice Hotels International 48th Annual Convention in Atlanta; at the Society for Human Resource Management 54th Annual Conference and Exposition in Philadelphia; at the 2002 Million Dollar Round Table, a meeting of financial advisers, in Nashville; at the American Road & Transportation Builders Association 100th anniversary gala, in Washington; and at the Snapple convention at Chelsea Piers. He has appeared at the Thomas Jefferson Awards and the MTV Awards.

In the past eight months, Giuliani has shared a dais with Scott McNealy, Bill Gates, Mike Krzyzewski, David McCullough, Stephen Ambrose, Willard Scott, Star Jones, the executive vice-president of Ducks Unlimited, and the paraplegic teenage daughter of race-car driver Al Unser.

Since September 11, Giuliani has been able to shield his movements behind a claim of security concerns – and if his complete itinerary were to be made available, he might appear mercenary. Giuliani agreed to appear at a $1,000-a-plate luncheon in Dallas for Republican congressman Pete Sessions only after insisting the campaign do minimal publicity. And though Giuliani usually does a brief pre-event press conference with candidates, his speeches are closed to the media. “The only difference in Rudy,” says a longtime observer and adversary, “is that the press and public have fewer avenues in to see what he’s doing.”

The closed door is easily understood in another setting. Roughly once a month, Giuliani welcomes twenty or so relatives of World Trade Center victims to a conference room at Giuliani Partners, inside 5 Times Square. “After he left office, he said he wanted to meet with us to see how we’re all doing, to give us advice, to guide us,” says Jennie Farrell, who lost a younger brother, James Cartier, and founded the group Give Your Voice. “He comes in and hugs everyone. He’s very in tune with the grief that sits at the table. He has his own grief, and he shares that with us. When we first met him, way back when this nightmare started, you could visibly see it, in his face. And you still can.”

Farrell says Giuliani updates the survivors on his efforts to maximize the memorial space at the Trade Center site and counsels them on where and when to apply their own lobbying. “He has become, for us, a beacon of hope,” Farrell says.

The dark-oak-paneled offices of Giuliani Partners are on the twenty-fourth floor of a new skyscraper at the corner of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue, built by Mort Zuckerman as part of the Times Square redevelopment that Giuliani ushered along as mayor. Giuliani has the largest space, with a picture window with a spectacular view north. Directly across the street is the zipper building, One Times Square. Sometimes Giuliani looks out and remembers the day three years ago when he watched an emergency scene here: A giant mylar sign was flapping loose from One Times Square, and 20 floors off the ground a firefighter dangled to tie it safely back down. The firefighter was Terry Hatton, the husband of Giuliani’s assistant then and now, Beth Petrone. Three weeks ago, Giuliani attended the christening of Petrone’s 3-month-old baby daughter. Hatton died at the World Trade Center, never knowing his wife was pregnant.

When Giuliani walks the thick gray carpet leading from his suite, he sees many of the same faces who’ve orbited outside his office for twenty years. The other partners at what employees call G.P. are Denny Young, who goes back to Giuliani’s eighties days in the U.S. Attorney’s office; Michael Hess, most recently the city’s corporation counsel; Tony Carbonetti, chief of staff in Giuliani’s City Hall; and Teitelbaum. Tom Von Essen, the former fire commissioner; Richie Scheirer, former head of the city’s Office of Emergency Management; and Kerik are senior vice-presidents. Sunny Mindel, communications director, is as potent a force at G.P. as she was as Giuliani’s mayoral press secretary. The one prominent newcomer is Roy Bailey, a Texas financier, who came aboard to handle the firm’s investments.

Giuliani Partners admits to only four clients; its other deals are either said to be “in formation” or confidential. The first, Merrill Lynch, came aboard in April. Giuliani has been friends with senior Merrill executives for decades. But his loyalty, and his eagerness to sign up a big-name client, led Giuliani into a mistake. When New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer went after Merrill for publicly hyping what its analysts believed to be overvalued stocks, Merrill asked Giuliani for help heading off both a possible fraud prosecution and a certain public-relations debacle. Giuliani called Spitzer – and was promptly, embarrassingly snubbed. Giuliani was too late; Merrill caved, paying a $100 million settlement. Spitzer made his decision on the merits of the case, but Giuliani’s call also triggered a sour memory: When Spitzer was elected attorney general in 1999, he placed a courtesy call to Giuliani. The mayor never called back.

In the next few months, when the reeling Arthur Andersen, Enron, and Tyco came calling, seeking a public-relations white knight and waving millions of dollars at Giuliani, the former mayor politely declined. Much of the consulting work done so far by Giuliani Partners sounds more like good old-fashioned lobbying. “Nextel is trying to broaden its use throughout police departments and public-service emergency departments throughout the nation – sheriffs, police departments, fire departments,” Von Essen says. “So we’ve been trying to talk to them on how we think they could do a better job of marketing their product.”

That Giuliani Partners is selling itself as an expert in emergency communications is especially ironic given what New Yorkers have learned about the failure of the NYPD and FDNY to talk to each other before and during September 11. The recent McKinsey report on the flawed World Trade Center response angered Giuliani and company. “We talk about that a lot, about how people look back a year later and say, ‘They should have, they would have, they could have,’ ” Kerik seethes. “Fuck that. Nobody can tell me what was right or what was wrong, unless you were standing next to me. There was only a couple guys standing next to me. And Rudy was one of ‘em.”

Giuliani’s third police commissioner has been working with Purdue Pharma, the drug manufacturer plagued by the theft and abuse of its OxyContin painkiller. “The mayor and I just met with Asa Hutchinson, the director of the DEA; his staff; and people from Purdue,” Kerik says. “We don’t want Purdue put in a position where it winds up being taken over by the courts. Or they get put out of business. What I’d like to see come out of this is we set model security standards for the industry.” Coincidentally, last week Giuliani raised $15,000 for the DEA’s traveling museum.

“Is Rudy more relaxed?” Kerik says with a laugh. “No. At ease? No. Nothing’s changed. Personally, I love the guy. He’s the godfather of my daughter. We’re very, very close. But there’s never a time that you forget he’s the boss.” Lately, though, that power relationship seems to have grated on Kerik. He’s pushed for the spinoff of a company called Giuliani-Kerik. “How’d you get that?” Kerik splutters. “The corporate papers aren’t done yet!” He regroups to say the new venture isn’t a sign of any itchiness. “We decided to create the firm as a competitor to the Krolls and Decision Strategies and other companies like that. It could be litigation support, dignitary protection, other security-consulting issues. Giuliani Partners is sort of a much-higher-level global consulting.”

Teitelbaum says it’s unrealistic, after only eight months, in a troubled economy, to expect Giuliani Partners to have an extensive client list. Just this morning, Teitelbaum says, he’s met with two Israeli firms that want to hire G.P. “We’re very careful who he associates with, for a lot of reasons,” Teitelbaum says. “Rudy is someone who feels his credibility, his integrity, his name, his reputation, is very important to him. So the kind of clients we engage, or the investments we want to be associated with, need to be pristine. Hopefully, by the end of the year, we’ll see some return on the work we’ve done. We’re doing fine.”

Giuliani blows a traditional horn of the Zurich Fire Department.Photo: Frank Greco/AP Wide World

This afternoon, the windows of Giuliani Partners offer a prime panorama of fury. Down on Broadway, 10,000 cops and firefighters are raging about their lousy pay. And many of the angriest signs and most profane chants are directed at Rudy Giuliani, whom they blame for not giving them a raise before Wall Street went bust. Kerik, descending by elevator for a lunch appointment, dons a pair of sunglasses and hustles warily down the sidewalk.

Prosaic disputes over wages and budgets are Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s problem now. Giuliani has strenuously avoided any public criticism of the successor he installed with a single blockbuster TV ad. Yet the old Giuliani, who wasn’t satisfied with anything less than total victory, has begun to resurface. Even though Giuliani’s call for a “soaring memorial” had defined the terms of the debate for redevelopment at the Trade Center site, he’s renewing his demand that the entire site be sanctified, pushing a confrontation with Bloomberg. And the size of the memorial is just the beginning of the squabbling: Privately, Giuliani is extremely critical of what he thinks are Bloomberg-administration blunders, on everything from a too-generous teachers’ pay hike to the elimination of the Police Department’s Street Crime Unit.

Giuliani’s favorite historical allusion since September 11 has been to Winston Churchill and the tenacity of Londoners during the World War II blitz – a comparison that reflects flatteringly on Giuliani. Yet Bill Cunningham, the longtime political consultant who is Bloomberg’s director of communications, knows some history, too. “I’m not enough of an expert in national Republican politics to say what his future is, but once you start to run on your own, there’s always somebody else who wants the same job. And you’re right back into the maw of politics, the cut and thrust of it,” Cunningham says. “And when the public in England was preparing for a peacetime, they got rid of Churchill. Didn’t even look back.”

When it comes to Giuliani, the rest of the world doesn’t care about such intramural squabbles. Frank Luntz worked for both of Giuliani’s mayoral campaigns but stresses his most recent polling was done without Giuliani’s knowledge. “I’ve done dial testing and thrown questions on national surveys,” Luntz says, “and what comes back is that not only was this Rudy Giuliani’s finest moment, but Americans feel this is one of the finest moments in politics. Ever. His national popularity is incredible; his favorability is in the eighties. I want to emphasize one thing here: It was Rudy Giuliani who went on television first to calm the nation. Not New Yorkers, but the nation. Even in the ugliest, darkest moments of a future campaign, nobody will forget September 11.”

Ed Hayes, the street-savvy New York trial lawyer, is a confidant of Governor George Pataki, Giuliani’s sometime rival, and Hayes himself has occasionally clashed with Rudy, most recently when the former mayor was slow to disburse the proceeds of the Twin Towers Fund. “There’s lots of things about him I didn’t like,” Hayes says, “but in one year, he had to deal with his father being a gangster, which is the one thing he’s always been tormented about; he had to deal with cancer; he had to deal with the very unpleasant breakup with his wife, which had to cause all sorts of problems with his children; falling in love, which he seems to have legitimately done; and the World Trade Center. I can’t imagine a greater combination of personal and public concerns. He has proven himself under very difficult circumstances and deserves immense credit for it.”

Hayes sees few limits on Giuliani’s political future. “The born-agains will question his marriages, his girlfriend, but he can say honestly that he has had a rigorous testing as a man and he’s come to terms with his life,” Hayes says. “The one obstacle he has to get over is that part of his pride that forbids him from ever saying, ‘I’ve made mistakes in my life, I’ve learned from them, I want to go forward.’ “

Rudy Giuliani doesn’t have to be here, standing in the sun in a church parking lot on a sweltering August morning, waiting quietly an hour past a funeral’s scheduled starting time with hundreds of firefighters in dress blues. But here he is, in Seaford, Long Island, as he has been in dozens of other suburbs and neighborhoods whenever possible, to pay his respects to yet another fallen hero, Lieutenant Patrick Lyons of Squad 252 in Bushwick.

Inside Maria Regina Church, the mourning is standing-room-only, with 1,200 people crammed into the pews. Above the altar, two beautiful, abstract stained-glass windows glow in the sunlight. Beside the altar is Lyons’s framed red-and-white No. 10 jersey, the one he wore leading his beloved FDNY football team. Some of the eulogies are slick (the pastor, who admits he didn’t know Lyons very well), some are achingly raw (firefighter Pat Alfarone, who opens his mouth to speak but stands mute and sobbing). Only Giuliani receives an ovation on the way to the podium.

He has presided over hundreds of these terrible commemorations since September 11. He isn’t a grand orator, but his humble phrases carry genuine gravity. “When I first realized on the morning of September 11 how many people were going to be lost, had died, in the attack, particularly how many of our firefighters, police officers, rescue workers, I kept trying to calculate how many, because I knew I would have to answer,” Giuliani says in a low, steady voice. “And the number was just impossible to even think about. I knew then that we would feel this pain, that it would just ripple out all over this city, all over the state, all over the country, and all over the world. But you don’t realize until you deal with an individual’s family, the firefighters, all of the impact it has, what a horrible thing they did to us … ” His voice trails off, and Giuliani seems to be back walking in the rubble again for an instant.

“So, uh, I don’t just want to offer my condolences to this family,” he says, the stone returning to his demeanor. “I want to thank you as an American for the incredible man you gave us. The bravery that Patrick demonstrated on that day, each one of them did, each one singularly and alone, they are the reason that the spirit of the United States withstood that attack.”

He briefly leavens the mood with a joke about Lyons’s sports allegiances – “A Dolphin fan? A Met fan? Well, no one’s perfect, I’m not perfect” – but his conclusion is a stunner. The firefighter’s widow gave birth to their first child, a son, on October 7, less than a month after the World Trade Center took her husband. It is to little Patrick that Giuliani directs his final words. “When he gets older, just keep telling him he didn’t lose his dad,” Giuliani says. “There is nobody, absolutely no one – no terrorist, no murderer – no one can take your father from you. It can’t be done. Your father is inside you. He’s part of you. He’s part of what you inherit. And he has inside him all those wonderful qualities we’ve heard about today.”

Weeping echoes through the church. “So he hasn’t lost his dad,” Giuliani says. “In the most important sense, he has his dad right inside him. And I would like you to know how we feel about his dad. I think we should conclude by standing and giving Patrick a standing ovation, so his son knows what we feel about his father.”

The crowd is instantly on its feet, and for a full, cathartic 60 seconds, palms bang out a loud tribute. As the ovation crescendos, the former mayor, also clapping, leaves the pulpit and walks back to his pew. It is a canny gesture, one he has used at funerals before: In that moment he is selfless, merely one of the appreciative citizenry, surrendering the spotlight to the true hero. But Rudy Giuliani is riding that applause, too.

American Idol