So there's an absolutely mammoth article about Rudy Giuliani in this week's New Yorker. (Not mammoth like "Oh this Styles section piece is like, OMG, 1200 words long"; more like "It is without end.") We've been trying to avoid reading it all morning, but the bossman keeps throwing things at us and telling us how to do our job and stuff. So, whatever, finally we sat down and read the damn thing.
While ostensibly an article about how Giuliani is playing out in the sticks (surprisingly well), the piece is more or less a lengthy biography of America's mayor. For those of us who endured his tenure, there's not a lot to learn here, but to a national audience that may be unfamiliar with Giuliani, this should probably be required reading. (It is nowhere near as vital as last week's Village Voice cover story on Giuliani, which is a devastating indictment of the mayor's mendacity concerning 9/11, but it is also nowhere near as boring: That story should have been edited down to five bullet points and distributed to every news organization in the country.) What's odd, though, is the way the article actually had us sympathizing with Giuliani for a few moments, particularly when it comes to his upbringing.
The well-worn tale of his Yankees fandom is trotted out once again:
Over the years, Giuliani has often spoken of his childhood in Brooklyn, giving special place to a story about the discordance of growing up a Yankees fan in the shadow of Ebbets Field. His father, Harold, a Yankees partisan from East Harlem, once dressed young Rudy in Yankee pinstripes and sent him out to play in the Dodger-mad streets of Brooklyn. Too young to have any say in the matter, Rudy was set upon by the neighborhood toughs, Dodger fans all. A gang of boys seized him, placed a noose around his neck, and threatened to lynch him. (His grandmother intervened.) In one recounting, to John Tierney, of the Times, a dozen years ago, Giuliani said that the incident was his proudest moment, because he refused to renounce his team. "I kept telling them: 'I am a Yankee fan. I am a Yankee fan. I'm gonna stay a Yankee fan,' " he recounted. "To me it was like being a martyr: I'm not gonna give up my religion. You're not gonna change me."
Then there's this:
One of Rudy's high-school teachers, Jack O'Leary, remembers being struck by Harold's interest in his son's discipline. Bishop Loughlin High was run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, stern-looking men in black robes. One morning, O'Leary—who was known as Brother Kevin—went up to Rudy, who was gabbing with a classmate, and cuffed him on the ear. At the school's annual open house, Harold sought out O'Leary and thanked him for thumping his kid if he'd had it coming.
O'Leary became a family friend and had a lasting influence on Rudy. He encouraged the boy's interest in reading and nurtured his love of opera, helping Rudy form the school's first opera club. O'Leary sometimes visited the Giulianis at home, and Rudy would excitedly greet his teacher and rush him down to the basement, where he kept a phonograph and opera records. Harold, too, formed a personal bond with O'Leary, which eventually took on an aspect of the confessional. "I think it was because I was wearing the robe, or religious habit," O'Leary recalls. "Now, I wasn't a priest—a brother is not a priest. But Harold called me very, very frequently. And I think a big reason was because I was a brother, and he felt that he could confide in me, a religious figure." In his conversations with O'Leary, Harold spoke of his past, and of his troubles before he was married. "But he told me that that was behind him, and how sorry he was," O'Leary says.
Harold Giuliani had been arrested for armed robbery during the Depression and spent more than a year in Sing Sing; allegedly, his son never knew until Wayne Barrett (the author, not coincidentally, of last week's Voice piece) wrote about it in 2000.
So, yes: It's hard not to feel sympathy for Giuliani, a shy, bookish child desperate for the love of a father whose own version of love was to treat him strictly so that he might not make the same mistakes. One can almost picture the eleven-year-old mayor, excited about opera and longing for the approval of a tough, distant parent and any other strong male authority figure he encountered.
And then you come across something like this:
His personality only sharpened the edges of his policies, leaving an impression, broadly felt, that was summed up by former Mayor Ed Koch in the title of a 1999 book: "Giuliani, Nasty Man." When a caller complained on Giuliani's radio show that her son—a robbery suspect—had been shot dead by the New York Police Department, he answered, "Maybe you should ask yourself some questions about the way he was brought up."
And it all dissipates. The rest of the article, rehashing Giuliani's greatest hits (Patrick Dorismond, Bernie Kerik, the ugly divorce from Donna Hanover, his bullshit theatrical arrests of Wall Street figures whose convictions he was unable to obtain or sustain) goes the distance in insuring that you remember that you're dealing with a self-righteous prick who is unable to see how anything is ever his fault. And, well, we've already had one of those guys in office. No need to repeat that particular experiment. But don't take our word for it, read the article yourself. The feeling of rage with which you'll come away has a value all its own.