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Mayor Giuliani
An Essay by NPR's Daniel Schorr

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Daniel Schorr
Daniel Schorr

Sept. 30, 2001 -- "He's our Winston Churchill," writes Jonathan Alter in the current Newsweek, "walking the rubble, calming and inspiring his heartbroken but defiant people."

But by the time the article appeared, he'd gone back to being Rudy Giuliani, playing political games and making himself the center of a spirited controversy. Giuliani had emerged as possibly the most popular figure in a terrorism crisis. He played host at Ground Zero to national and international figures, starting with President Bush. He floated on an unbelievable wave of popularity. By refusing to talk politics, he came to transcend politics.

But it didn't last. Barred by the New York term limit law from seeking a third term as mayor, Giuliani succumbed to the temptation to cash in on his popularity by offering to stay on another few months. Otherwise, he said, he might feel obliged to ask the Legislature to change the law and permit him to run for a third term.

"Giuliani had emerged as possibly the most popular figure in a terrorism crisis.... By refusing to talk politics, he came to transcend politics. "

Daniel Schorr

In that one political move he expended a good deal of his popularity. For one thing, what he proposed ran against the spirit of the U.S. Constitution. The 20th Amendment was enacted precisely because the March 4th presidential inaugural date created an awkward, four-month, lame-duck administration. But in New York, Giuliani says, a longer transition is needed -- five months instead of the current two months.

What would the elected mayor be expected to do during those five months? Who would live in Gracie Mansion, to bring up a sore point? Mavens of New York politics tell me it isn't likely to happen, nor is Governor Pataki likely to be willing to sign a law permitting Giuliani to run as a last-minute, write-in candidate.

It is understandable that Giuliani, who had to retire from a race for the Senate last year because of health problems, found it difficult to let go of a position in which he now found himself bathed in adulation. A pity. He would surely have been offered a prestigious position, perhaps in the federal government. Now that he is a center of controversy again, the likelihood of that is less.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst for NPR.