From the Bully Pulpit

LEADERSHIP, by Rudolph W. Giuliani with Ken Kurson. Miramax, 407 pp., $25.95.

Newsday, October 6, 2002

One of the few revealing stories in “Leadership,” Rudolph W. Giuliani’s overstuffed political memoir in the guise of a management treatise and the first installment in his multimillion-dollar, two-book deal with the Miramax division of Disney, takes readers back to the Brooklyn of his youth, to the celebrated prosecutor-turned-mayor’s first memorable showdown. At 5, Rudy already looked up to men in uniform, and particularly to his Uncle Willie, a cop who was his godfather and who lived downstairs. Uncle Willie promised Rudy a recent issue of one of his policing magazines if he beat up the boy next door, a “big fat kid” who was two years older and had a reputation for picking on younger children. Giuliani can’t recall how the confrontation began, but he does remember bloodying the boy’s nose and then explaining to his own mother, “Albert was bullying people around and I decided to stand up to him.”

Giuliani re-creates this scene to introduce “Stand Up to Bullies,” one of the 14 chapters in “Leadership” that explores an eat-your-vegetables principle central to his success. (“Prepare Relentlessly,” “Surround Yourself With Great People” and “Be Your Own Man” are some of the other platitudes he explicates.) As the chapter on bullies progresses, he recounts other showdowns with adversaries he views as echoes of Albert, from the muggers who prowled Times Square until he took office to the Legal Aid Society, the private nonprofit agency that represents many of the city’s indigent defendants and that his administration locked horns with after its unionized lawyers called a strike during his first year at City Hall.

Those New Yorkers who see Giuliani as a bully – their ranks include the folks over at Legal Aid, which is suing him for a pattern of illegal retribution since the 1994 strike, and myriad other targets of his wrath, but also many citizens who admire his transformation of the city – won’t be rushing out to buy “Leadership” to hone their interpersonal skills, but his account of the boyhood fight might offer them some insight into the formation of his character. As Giuliani tells it, his mother forced him to apologize and then sent him to his room. However, much to her consternation, he received mixed messages: Uncle Willie sent his daughter upstairs to drop off the magazine reward, and Rudy’s proud father, an ex-boxer intent on passing down his fistic knowledge to his son, only wanted to hear the blow-by-blow. This domestic-policy divide persisted after the Giulianis moved out to Garden City. “When my mother demanded that my father discipline me, he would take me off to the basement and pretend to whack me. My mother would stay upstairs, and never knew that my father spent the time teaching me how to box,” he says.

On one level, “Leadership” is an episodic history of how Giuliani learned to fight. Teachers outside his family include Lloyd MacMahon, the ornery federal judge for whom Giuliani clerked, and Ronald Reagan, who appointed Giuliani to be associate attorney general, the third-ranking position in the Department of Justice. Giuliani praises Reagan for carrying through on his threat to fire thousands of striking air-traffic controllers, because one aspect of being a leader is that “people need to understand that you mean exactly what you say.”

“Leadership” also serves as a catalog of Giuliani’s achievements (the chief mayoral ones are summarized in an appendix full of statistics and bullet points), a list of shout-outs to the loyal members of his administration and campaign staffs, an opportunity to deliver an official version of heavily covered events (his tossing of the uninvited Yasir Arafat from a private gala celebrating the United Nations’ 50th anniversary, his decision not to run for the U.S. Senate) and a statement of his political convictions, seemingly with an eye to some higher office. In contrast to his approach while governing a Democrat-dominated town, “Leadership” pushes Giuliani’s Republican credentials, and it gives his reputation for hostility to journalists a timely spin. “Probably the majority of those who cover any government – and most corporations – have a bias against the organization,” he says.

Giuliani had been working with financial journalist Ken Kurson on “Leadership” in the months leading up to Sept. 11, and their book has been larded with anecdotes concerning Giuliani’s deft response to the crisis and bracketed by his first-person accounts of that tragic day and the remainder of his term. “It was as if God had provided an opportunity to design a course in leadership just when I needed it most,” they write. This seems disingenuous, however, since what was so impressive and reassuring about the mayor’s press conferences that day – hours after he was temporarily trapped in a building right near the collapsing towers and hours after he lost close colleagues and friends – was that his plea for calm, unity and resolve was utterly unstudied.

It’s probably unfair to expect the voice of Giuliani in a co-written book to have the same immediacy of his extemporaneous speeches in the hours and days following the attack, but “Leadership” is a varnished and repetitive read. This is true of its case histories, which often have only tenuous connections to Giuliani’s themes, as well as its evocation of his personality through frequent references to the Yankees, opera, the “Godfather” films and Winston Churchill during the Blitz. “Leadership” is destined to become a popular totem for Giuliani fans, but it violates its own edict to Be Direct and Unfiltered.

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