Thursday, August 03, 2023

The Myth of "America's Mayor"

It's the stuff of urban legend.

Sixteen years ago, Rudolph Giuliani, the media-designated "America's Mayor" hero of 9/11, was leading the pack in the race to be the Republican nominee for President. It was at that time that Kevin Baker, journalist and author of a trilogy of novels about New York City, spoke to Jon Weiner of The Nation. Weiner wrote

"Most of 9-11 was actually a debacle for the city government," Baker told me in an interview, and "Giuliani bears a great deal of the responsibility." The World Trade Center had been attacked in 1993, but Giuliani had "learned none of the lessons that could have been learned. There was no serious attempt to coordinate the radios between the police and fire departments, or even to insure that the fire department had its own communications that would work inside buildings." The consequences? "Probably hundreds of unnecessary deaths that day."

The second failure: Giuliani insisted on locating his emergency control center in the World Trade Center complex, even though that had been the target of the 1993 attack. "He did that against the advice of virtually all the security experts he consulted," Baker explained. "He put it on the twenty-third floor of a forty-seven-story building, World Trade Center Tower 7. It included an unprotected, 7,000-gallon fuel source on the seventh floor, a sort of a fuse to set the building off. When the building was hit by debris on 9/11, that did indeed bring the whole building down."

What if Giuliani he had been in his new command center on 9/11?

"He was within a few minutes of dying right there that day," Baker said. "Instead he ended up having to spend most of the 102 minutes between when the first plane hit and when the second tower came down simply walking around the area with staff members, looking for someplace to set up a new command center."

What should he have been doing?

"Other things badly needed to be done," Baker said. "Realizing there was no communicating with the firemen who were in these towers, maybe they could have set up a trail of runners or something to tell them they should get out of there, the towers are coming down. Nothing like that was done."

Giuliani told the 9/11 Commission that the firemen in the towers died because they refused orders to come out. He said they wanted to save lives of people trapped inside.

"That's a demonstrable lie," Baker told me. "The firemen in the buildings were simply waiting for orders. They never got the word. It's easy to second-guess people in such a traumatic event, and anybody could be forgiven for not making the right decisions in the middle of everything. But to go to Congress months later and lie about this — I find that despicable."

The workers at Ground Zero in the following months, we now know, were exposed to significant health hazards. How much of that is Giuliani's responsibility? "He made no real attempt to determine the safety of working there," Baker said. "That was also the responsibility of Christie Todd Whitman, was the EPA Administrator at the time."

So what did Giuliani do after 9/11?

"He very quickly took the disaster of 9/11 as a great opportunity," Baker told me. "He proposed that his term in office be extended to give him more time to deal with things, and he tried to put his mistress of the time, who later became his third wife, Judith Nathan, in charge of a fund set up to give money to survivors and victims' families. Right from the beginning he was trying to exploit this. The words he said on TV were wonderful, but they weren't backed up by any actions at all."

Unlike in his earlier days, Giuliani has in his old age become a crude, comical and criminal character, a worthy subject of alliteration.  But he was always- always- Rudy Giuliani.

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