NEW YORK (Reuters) - Voters are lining up behind Rudolph Giuliani, who became “America’s mayor” on Sept 11, 2001. But many New Yorkers remember the mayor before that day with less affection.
New Yorkers may have enjoyed Giuliani’s success at taming the untamed city but are quick to recall the combative mayor who insulted constituents, bullied opponents and made crossing the street in the middle of the block a punishable offense.
That’s not to mention his multiple marriages, a divorce so acrimonious a judge ordered Giuliani’s mistress out of the mayor’s mansion and a son so estranged he plans to play golf instead of campaign for his father.
Nevertheless, as he builds on the reputation earned guiding New York after the World Trade Center attack, polls show the moderate Republican leading in the race for the party’s nomination for the U.S. presidential election in 2008.
New Yorkers familiar with Giuliani’s brash style and hot temper wonder how those traits will play on the national stage. Giuliani is focusing on issues of national security and strong leadership as he woos voters across the country.
“He was mean-spirited, he was harsh, but I’m not sure that hurts him on the Republican national stage,” said former city councilman Stephen DiBrienza, a Democrat who calls Giuliani the “most divisive elected official in modern history.”
“One can only hope that the arrogance of power he displayed and the abuse of process his administration often engaged in will not be mistaken for leadership,” said DiBrienza, who now lectures on government at Baruch College in New York.
Term limit rules forced Giuliani to leave office in 2002, after eight years, with high approval ratings over low crime, a strong economy and healthy job creation rate.
But his successes came at a price. While crime fell to the lowest rates in a generation and aggressive panhandlers disappeared from city streets, reports of police brutality climbed.
Human rights group Amnesty International accused New York police of abuse, especially against minorities. The fatal shootings of two unarmed black men by police deepened racial divides.
The city was criticized for going too far — citing hot dog vendors who parked carts on the wrong corners and making welfare too difficult for poor people to apply.
Giuliani proposed new homeless shelters be located in the districts of political opponents, set up a “decency commission” to review artwork at publicly funded museums and told a caller to a radio show he was “deranged” and needed a psychiatrist.
Former Democratic Mayor Ed Koch, who battled Giuliani off and on for years, says the nation is meeting a calmer man. “It’s a much more muted style than it was in New York City,” he said. “He is a control freak, capable of controlling himself.”
But Giuliani’s national success puzzles plenty of New Yorkers. A New York magazine cover featured Giuliani and the headline “Him?”
“He could not have been re-elected on 9/10 in New York City,” Koch said. “I still believe he couldn’t be re-elected in New York City even after 9/11.”
Giuliani’s temperament could be deceiving, said Fred Siegel, author of “The Prince of the City” on Giuliani and New York, who called the mayor’s anger “tactical.”
“Most of the time he worked very effectively and very quietly,” Siegel said. “If you think about the major accomplishments in terms of welfare reform, crime reform ... there was very little in the way of tirades.”
Political columnist Michael Tomasky suggested Americans may never see Giuliani’s “ill temper and his obnoxious side.”
“He just has a way of seeming to a national audience the epitome of reason,” Tomasky said. “I imagine somebody sitting in Tulsa or Omaha thinking, ‘What’s the problem with all those crazy liberals in New York that they don’t like this reasonable man?’”