NEW YORK (Reuters) - Republican Rudy Giuliani vows to be tough on terror, chooses advisers who want to bomb Iran and doesn’t think pretending to drown prisoners is torture.
Add to those views a reputation for being combative, and Giuliani often evokes the word “scary” from opponents who find the tough-guy image that served him so well after the September 11 attacks now a cause for concern as he seeks the U.S. presidency.
Type the word “scary” and names of Republican candidates for president into a leading database of articles. The name of the former New York mayor will get the most hits.
“He is a scary guy,” said Jerome Hauer, who ran the city’s Office of Emergency Management for Giuliani. “He was probably one of the more divisive mayors the city has ever seen.
“People in this country should be very frightened of Rudy because he is not going to bring the country together,” Hauer added. “Who knows who he’d pick wars with?”
When New Yorkers reminisce about Giuliani, they tend to recall his contentious moments — threatening to pull funding from a museum over a controversial exhibit, disclosing sealed records of an unarmed man killed by police, insulting a city resident over whether ferrets should be pets, trying to place a homeless shelter in the district of a councilman he disliked or surrounding City Hall with barricades and barriers.
But voters nationwide, at this stage of the November 2008 presidential contest, seem to be thinking more about his calm and compassion after the deadly attacks in 2001 enough to anoint him the Republican front-runner.
“What they see is a guy that they heard was superb on 9/11, and he was,” said former New York Mayor Ed Koch.
But, Koch added: “They don’t know him. He’s a really smooth, charming person. When you talk to him, you don’t become aware from what he says to you of his history in New York City. I honestly believe on 9/10 he couldn’t have been elected dogcatcher.”
Koch said he supported Giuliani twice for mayor but, because of what he sees as his authoritarian and thin-skinned temperament, does no longer.
He has a “knee-jerk need to antagonize critics and people he perceives as enemies,” said Rob Polner, editor of “America’s Mayor: The Hidden History of Rudy Giuliani’s New York.” “He’s perceived as being not only punitive but being a bully, picking on weak targets and being unpredictable.”
Supporters admire Giuliani’s tenacity, an attribute many welcome when the nation is at war. They recall him taming a city many felt was out of control, battling so-called squeegee men who would wrest money from drivers by squirting car windows, sweeping porn shops from Times Square and guiding the charge against crime.
“He’s scary? I think they don’t know him to make a statement like that,” said Guy Molinari, a former U.S. congressman and state co-chairman of the Giuliani campaign.
“If he was going to get things done, as mayor of New York City he had to come out strong. Obviously when he did, he was going to make enemies,” Molinari said.
Giuliani’s critics take issue with his choice of foreign policy advisers that includes neoconservative Norman Podhoretz, who is outspoken on a need to bomb Iran, and Daniel Pipes, who advocates singling out Muslims at airport security points.
Worrisome to them too are Giuliani’s calls for a larger U.S. military and his refusal to call waterboarding, which simulates drowning, a form of torture.
“This is one dangerous man: it’s George Bush with brains,” wrote Michael Tomasky, editor of the Guardian Online.
Online, the blogging community uses similar descriptions.
“There is a sense Rudy Giuliani isn’t just wrong but is genuinely scary. Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson or John McCain are wrong, and they’re perceived as putting the country on the wrong track, but Rudy Giuliani is genuinely scary,” said Steve Benen, editor of The Carpetbagger Report.
Editing by Lori Santos and by Philip Barbara