- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 1, 2005



By Fred Siegel

Encounter, $26.95, 320 pages


In the interest of full disclosure: I am a born New Yorker who lived in America’s real capital city for half a century and loved every minute of it. But you don’t have to be a native New Yorker or even an exiled New Yorker (I now live on the West Coast) to enjoy this informative and rollicking biography of the best mayor the Empire City ever had.

That’s not as much of a compliment as one might think when one looks over the list of New York’s mayors in the 20th century: crooks, incompetents, idiots, nonentities with a handful of exceptions like the colorful Fiorello H. Guardia, who during his long tenure ran for the office as the candidate of nine different parties, and the egomaniacal Ed Koch.

One Tammany Hall mayor, asked whom he would appoint as police commissioner replied with breathtaking honesty: “I don’t know, they haven’t told me yet.” You see what I mean. The “they” referred to the Tammany district leaders who once ran City Hall. (Tammany, which got its name from its meeting hall in Manhattan, was the city’s once omnipotent Irish Catholic political machine. Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mayor Guardia crushed Tammany into impotence in 1933.)

Winston Churchill once said: “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” Mr. Giuliani fits that formula. As mayor, he showed a remarkable sangfroid when he took on with no delay the powerful American Federation of Teachers. The city’s school system, Mr. Giuliani said, rather daringly, in his 2000 State of the City speech, “protects jobs before it educates children. It’s essentially a job protection system.”

He proposed merit pay — anathema to the union — for teachers so that, to quote Mr. Giuliani, “the teachers who do a great job [aren’t] paid the same as the teachers who do a bad job.” He supported strongly school vouchers “so that public money would follow the pupils rather than the other way around.” The biographer supplies a fund of anecdotes which display the mayor’s grace under pressure, recalling, for example, an event in October 2001 which demonstrates the kind of man Mr. Giuliani is:

A Saudi prince (15 of the 19 September 11 terrorists were Saudis) presented then-Mayor Giuliani with a $10 million check (the author calls this Saudi gesture an example of “checkbook diplomacy”) at a memorial service for the September victims. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal accompanied the check with a statement blaming the attack on the Arab-Israeli conflict as the root cause of terrorism. Mr. Giuliani returned the check and told the Saudi prince, said to be the sixth richest man in the world: “One of the reasons I think this [September 11] happened is because they [the hijackers] were engaged in moral equivalency and do not understand the difference between liberal democracies like the United States and Israel, and terrorist states and those who condone terrorists.”

And there was the moment in 1995 when Mr. Giuliani hosted a dinner for all heads of state at the World Financial Center to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. The Palestinian delegation was specifically excluded from the invitations list. Yet on the night of the event Yasser Arafat was there. Somehow he had managed to wangle an invitation. Mr. Giuliani’s response was: “Throw him out, he’s not invited.” The mayor refused to proceed with Arafat in the building. Eventually Arafat left.

In 1995 Mr. Giuliani declared “I would not invite Arafat to anything, anywhere, anytime, anyplace.” He disclosed that as a U. S. attorney in the ‘80s, he had investigated Arafat’s ties to a number of terrorist incidents, including the brutal slaying of American Leon Klinghoffer aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship. “I would rather not have someone,” he said, “who has been implicated in the murders of Americans there, if I have the discretion not to have him there.”

Fred Siegel has done an exemplary reporting job (except for smart?alecky writing lapses like ” … while most public officials are consistently insincere, [Mayor] Bloomberg was sincerely inconsistent”). The author makes one thing clear: No politician in the present day has a brighter future than Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Siegel, persuasively, tells the reader how and why.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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