MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
We turn now to the Republicans and our series called Crunch Time about key moments in the careers of the presidential contenders. Today, one of the leading GOP candidates, Rudolph Giuliani.
Perhaps his defining crunch time came when he was mayor of New York City on September 11th, 2001. Just the day before, many New Yorkers couldn't wait for him to leave office. Giuliani's tenure featured fights with squeegee men, jaywalkers and art museum, as well as outrage in minority communities over aggressive police action. But Giuliani's performance on 9/11 revived his political career. And it's providing a rationale for his run for the White House.
NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.
INA JAFFE: There are some images from September 11th that will never leave us. One of them is Rudy Giuliani marching out of Lower Manhattan through the dust and ash of the collapsed World Trade Center.
RUDY GIULIANI: Come with us. Come with us.
JAFFE: Even as he joined the throngs of people seeking escape, he took command, issuing orders through a small group of reporters who followed him.
GIULIANI: Keep moving. They should remain calm. They should remain where they are except if they are in Southern Manhattan. If you're below Canal Street, you should walk out of Southern Manhattan and walk north like these people are doing right here.
JAFFE: While President Bush didn't deliver a major address to the nation until that evening, Giuliani was holding news conferences throughout the day, speaking to New York and the nation, finding just the right tone for the millions stricken with grief and horror.
GIULIANI: The city's going to survive. We're going to get through it. It's going to be a very, very difficult time. I don't think we yet know the pain that we're going to feel when we find out who we lost. But the thing we have to focus on now is getting the city through this and surviving and being stronger for it.
JAFFE: So Giuliani urged Wall Street and Broadway and all of New York to get back to business as quickly as possible. This was David Letterman on September 17th, his first show after the attacks.
DAVID LETTERMAN: If you're like me and you're watching and you're confused and depressed and irritated and angry and full of grief, and you don't know how to behave, and...
JAFFE: All you have to do, he said, is watch the mayor.
LETTERMAN: Watch how this guy conducted himself. Watch what this guy did. Listen to what this guy said. Rudolph Giuliani is the personification of courage and...
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
JAFFE: That sentiment was repeated a thousand times over. Giuliani was dubbed America's mayor, named Time magazine's Person of the Year and knighted by Queen Elizabeth. The world saw him through a new lens, says Dan Schnur, who was John McCain's communications director during his presidential race in 2000.
DAN SCHNUR: Rudy Giuliani had always been the tough guy. But in the aftermath of September 11th, he wasn't just Tough Guy Rudy, he was Tough Guy Rudy who cared and who helped hurting New Yorkers through a very difficult situation.
JAFFE: some say that difficult situation was made worse by decisions that Rudy Giuliani made before September 11th. For example, firefighters were still using the same radios that had malfunctioned eight years earlier, the first time the World Trade Center was attacked.
WAYNE BARRETT: So hundreds of firefighters never heard the evacuation order.
JAFFE: Trapping them in the collapsing towers, according to Wayne Barrett, co- author of "Grand Illusion," a book about Giuliani and 9/11. Barrett also says that the now iconic images of Giuliani trudging through the smoke-filled air only incurred because the mayor couldn't get into his emergency operation center. He had chosen to locate in the World Trade Center, building number seven, 23rd floor.
BARRETT: No one would say Rudy Giuliani is a dumb man, but probably the dumbest thing he ever did was put the command center in the only complex that had previously been attacked by the terrorists in 1993. So the visual that is propelling him towards the presidency is in fact a commentary on his own weaknesses.
JAFFE: Barrett and other critics have also blamed Giuliani for failing to enforce safety standards for firefighters and others working in the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Many of those workers have developed respiratory illnesses and the city of New York now faces thousands of lawsuits.
The Giuliani campaign did not respond to our request for an interview with the candidate. In any case, the criticisms have so far failed to get much traction.
Matthew Dowd, who was a pollster and campaign strategist during President Bush's two runs for the White House says that's because voters feel they already know what Giuliani did September 11th.
MATTHEW DOWD: And I don't think it's really all that possible to harm him by going back to a time that the voters already believe they have a picture of, and which is positive.
JAFFE: Dowd said Giuliani is identified so strongly with September 11th that he doesn't even have to remind voters of it. Though, he often does so anyway, to the delight of political cartoonists who've satirized him and the ire of Senator Joe Biden in a recent democratic debate.
JOE BIDEN: Rudy Giuliani, there's three - there's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb and 9/11. I mean, there's nothing else.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
JAFFE: But there is something else, says Matthew Dowd. During the campaign, Giuliani has risen in the national polls because he has expanded the meaning of his performance on the day of the attacks.
DOWD: The voters see his leadership competence, and then that can translate into many different things. I actually think it could translate into, you know, how could he fix the budget, or how can he deal with Social Security. We're at a time where voters are really hungry for competent leadership.
JAFFE: And for many voters, that's trumped the social issues that have played such an important role in past Republican primaries.
Dan Schnur says it's Giuliani's association with September 11th that's allowed the pro-choice, thrice-married candidate to win over some of the party's cultural conservatives.
SCHNUR: Who are pro-life, who are against stem cell, who are pretty different than he is on these matters, who see him as an effective leader not only because he has a national security platform that they agree on, but he has turned the fight against terror into a social and culturally conservative issue and it's the way he's reaching out to his voters effectively.
JAFFE: And to so many voters who remember that day when the nation was under attack and Rudy Giuliani was the one who gave them comfort and made them feel safe.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News.
NORRIS: Thanks to Andy Lanset and the archives of member station WNYZ, cable news channel New York 1, and ABC for providing sound for this story. You can catch up with the rest of our Crunch Time series at npr.org.
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