Friday, January 25, 2008

Rudolph Giuliani - the President-reject?

In one of the Letter from America broadcasts - the BBC radio programme that was the longest enduring in the history of broadcasting - the late Alistair Cooke recounted how in the US presidential election of 1916, the Republican challenger, Charles Evans Hughes, to the incumbent president Woodrow Wilson, was thought to have won on election night.

Before heading for the scratcher, Hughes left a message for his butler that "the President-elect" wasn't to be awakened until 8:00 am the following morning.

Alistair Cooke told how the results from California came in overnight - Wilson won by only 3,800 votes out of nearly a million cast -and Cooke said that Hughes woke up as the "President-reject."

Fast-forward to 2008 and the Republican frontrunner for most of the past twelve months is likely to wake up like Hughes, in New York sometime soon, and wonder what could have been?

The American way of selecting a president can sometimes appear weird but on occasion it does serve as a useful weeding process and helps to illustrate judgment skills.

Rudy Giuliani in what looks like a monumental blunder, decided to defy conventional wisdom and not participate in the early primaries while banking all on the Florida primary, where many former New Yorkers live.

He is running behind in the latest polls in the state and today, in a national NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, McCain is the choice of 29 percent of Republicans. Next comes Huckabee at 23 percent, followed by Romney at 20 percent and Giuliani at 15 percent.

In the Democratic race, Clinton is leading Obama nationally, 47-32 percent, with Edwards third at 12 percent. A month ago, when there were more candidates in the field, Clinton had a 45-23 percent advantage over Obama.

Also today, the New York Times endorses Hillary Clinton and John McCain and delivers a blistering blast to the campaign of the former Mayor of New York City:

Why, as a New York-based paper, are we not backing Rudolph Giuliani? Why not choose the man we endorsed for re-election in 1997 after a first term in which he showed that a dirty, dangerous, supposedly ungovernable city could become clean, safe and orderly? What about the man who stood fast on Sept. 11, when others, including President Bush, went AWOL?

That man is not running for president.

The real Mr. Giuliani, whom many New Yorkers came to know and mistrust, is a narrow, obsessively secretive, vindictive man who saw no need to limit police power. Racial polarization was as much a legacy of his tenure as the rebirth of Times Square.

Mr. Giuliani’s arrogance and bad judgment are breathtaking. When he claims fiscal prudence, we remember how he ran through surpluses without a thought to the inevitable downturn and bequeathed huge deficits to his successor. He fired Police Commissioner William Bratton, the architect of the drop in crime, because he couldn’t share the limelight. He later gave the job to Bernard Kerik, who has now been indicted on fraud and corruption charges.

The Rudolph Giuliani of 2008 first shamelessly turned the horror of 9/11 into a lucrative business, with a secret client list, then exploited his city’s and the country’s nightmare to promote his presidential campaign.

Earlier this week, the Times reported how in August 1997, James Schillaci, a rough-hewn chauffeur from the Bronx, dialed Mayor Giuliani’s radio program on WABC-AM to complain about a red-light sting run by the police near the Bronx Zoo. When the call yielded no results, Schillaci turned to The Daily News, which then ran a photo of the red light and this front page headline: “GOTCHA!”

That morning, police officers appeared on Schillaci’s doorstep. What are you going to do, Schillaci asked, arrest me? He was joking, but the officers were not.

The report says that the police slapped on handcuffs and took him to court on a 13-year-old traffic warrant. A judge threw out the charge. A police spokeswoman later read Schillaci’s decades-old criminal rap sheet to a reporter for The Daily News, a move of questionable legality because the state restricts how such information is released. She said, falsely, that he had been convicted of sodomy.

Then Giuliani took up the cudgel.

“Mr. Schillaci was posing as an altruistic whistle-blower,” the mayor told reporters at the time. “Maybe he’s dishonest enough to lie about police officers.”

Schillaci suffered an emotional breakdown, was briefly hospitalized and later received a $290,000 legal settlement from the city. “It really damaged me,” said Schillaci, now 60, massaging his face with thick hands. “I thought I was doing something good for once, my civic duty and all. Then he steps on me.”

The Times says that Giuliani was a pugilist in a city of political brawlers. But far more than his predecessors, historians and politicians say, his toughness edged toward ruthlessness and became a defining aspect of his mayoralty.

One result: New York City spent at least $7 million in settling civil rights lawsuits and paying retaliatory damages during the Giuliani years.

After AIDS activists with Housing Works loudly challenged the mayor, city officials sabotaged the group’s application for a federal housing grant. A caseworker who spoke of missteps in the death of a child was fired. After unidentified city workers complained of pressure to hand contracts to Giuliani-favored organizations, investigators examined not the charges but the identity of the leakers.

“There were constant loyalty tests: ‘Will you shoot your brother?’ ” said Marilyn Gelber, who served as environmental commissioner under Giuliani. “People were marked for destruction for disloyal jokes.”

Sounds a little like a man who did become president - Richard Nixon who like Giuliani also had a positive side to him.

Last year, Rudy Giuliani was in Los Angeles and paid a courtesy call to the office of the City Police Commissioner.

William Bratton, the man who had been fired by Giuliani, met the candidate, who was clearly on a mission to defuse potential fallout from his past.

Full marks for keeping cool and in control during a crisis but at what cost would George W. Bush with a brain be?