So what should a mayor do? Just let constituents call his weekly radio program on WABC — the one called “Live From City Hall ... With Rudy Giuliani” — and whine and complain and get in his face without answering back?
When Joe from Manhattan called in 1998 to complain about the city government giving special parking privileges to a white-shoe law firm, Mayor Giuliani emitted an audible groan into the microphone.
“Well, let me give you another view of that rather than the sort of Marxist class concept that you’re introducing,” Mr. Giuliani said.
When a National Rifle Association member opposed a ban on assault rifles in 1994, Mr. Giuliani really got annoyed.
“Now the reason why the N.R.A. has lost all credibility is statements like that,” he said. “By definition these are attack weapons. They are used for offense. It really is absolutely astounding that the N.R.A. continues to have influence in areas in which they make no sense at all.”
And when Sal from Brooklyn called in 1999 to complain about owners who refused to pick up after their dogs in Marine Park, well, Hizzoner could not contain himself — even with a caller with whom he agreed.
“I get angry about this all the time! When I was a private citizen I would go up to people and tell them they were slobs,” Mr. Giuliani recalled. “I would say: ‘Hey, you’re a real slob. And you’re disrespectful of the rights of other people. Clean up after your dog, damn it!’”
So it went week after week on Mr. Giuliani’s radio program, a 50,000-watt window into the thoughts, preoccupations, resentments and (occasional) joys of the man who ruled New York City for eight high-intensity years.
Giuliani the Presidential Candidate is a pasteurized fellow who favors smiles and reasoned talk and self-deprecating humor (not to mention unexpected cellphone calls from his wife). One can trail him for weeks without monitoring a temperamental eruption.
But to listen to a Giuliani sampler — 55 taped hours of his old radio program, which ran from 1994 to 2001 — is to hear the uncensored and unbowed Mr. Giuliani, an irascible figure familiar to millions of New Yorkers.
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He grooved on his unfiltered roar.
“I didn’t have to be a slave to press coverage,” he wrote of his radio program in his book “Leadership.” “I was deliberately going beyond the newspapers, communicating directly to the people.”
The radio tapes offer a rough chart of Mr. Giuliani’s journey from iconoclastic Republicanism in 1994 to something closer to Ronald Reagan-quoting orthodoxy by 2001.
In 1994, Mr. Giuliani applauded President Bill Clinton for banning assault rifles and urged Congress to enact physical and written tests and stringent background checks for prospective handgun owners. He also saluted the Clinton health care plan as “doing some pretty good things” and boasted that New York offered “universal health care,” not least for illegal immigrants.
"Isn’t it better they get some humane treatment for themselves?” Mr. Giuliani told a caller.
Mocking Hillary Clinton
By 1999, he demanded investigations of Mr. Clinton and argued for Republican-backed tax cuts. And he mocked Hillary Rodham Clinton, his likely rival for a United States Senate seat, when she claimed to have secretly loved the New York Yankees.
“Where was she when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run?” Mr. Giuliani asked in May 1999. “Probably in Illinois somewhere.”
(Mr. Giuliani announced, facetiously, on the radio that he would explore a Senate bid from Arkansas: “I would represent Arkansas even though I’ve never been there, don’t know anything about it, have no connection with it. But, you know, maybe it would be kind of cool.”)
Not every phone call occasioned a mayoral thunderclap. If Mildred from Queens talked about clogged storm sewers or Juanita from the Bronx complained that a center for the elderly was treating her grandmother badly, the mayor became a municipal Mr. Fix-It, listening patiently and delivering services.
But talk smack to him? He’s right back at you. On Aug. 8, 1998, Marvin from Brooklyn complained that the mayor talked too much about the Yankees. (Mr. Giuliani opened summertime programs by examining the Yankees’ prospects and closed with: “Go Yankees!”) Marvin got off the line but the mayor was not finished with him.
“Marvin, where’d you go? You go back into your hole, Marvin? Listen, I enjoy sports, Marvin — you think that makes me a bad person? Marvin, get a life.”
Then there was David from Oceanside, who was president of Ferrets’ Rights Advocacy. He was furious that the city health code had just been changed to bar ownership of ferrets.
The mayor was outraged that David was outraged. They went back and forth during the summer of 1999.
“David, your compulsion, your excessive concern for weasels is a sign of something wrong in your personality,” the mayor said. “I am giving you the benefit of 55 years of experience — having handled insanity defenses, you need help.”
Mr. Giuliani often put the city’s denizens on his couch, the better to psychoanalyze their discontents. Sounding like a mayoral Dr. Ruth, he advised a caller: “Usually new ideas scare you because of your fear of inadequate performance.”
When Bob from Manhattan asked in 1999 about a report linking a mayoral friend to ethical wrongdoing, Mr. Giuliani butted in.
“Why don’t you seek counseling somewhere, Bob? I think you could use some help. I can see the direction we’re going in — there are people so upset and so disturbed that they use radios for these sick little attacks on people,” Mr. Giuliani said. “I hope you take this in the right spirit, Bob.“You should go to a hospital. You should see a psychiatrist.”
Cuomo, not Pataki
Mr. Giuliani picked enemies with a joyful lack of discrimination. That a strong-willed Republican in a vastly Democratic city quarreled with what he called the “civil liberties crowd” and social service advocates “who thrive on the perverse philosophy of dependency” comes as no surprise. But in 1994, he shocked his party by endorsing Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, a liberal Democrat. Then he eviscerated the Republican challenger, George E. Pataki.
“He has one idea in this campaign and it’s borrowed from someone else,” Mr. Giuliani said of Mr. Pataki during an October 1994 show.
The mayor kept up the mauling after Mr. Pataki became governor-elect.
When a caller told him to grow up, Mr. Giuliani interrupted.
“I’m not acting like a school kid — I really resent that,” he said. “I’m not going to let anyone humiliate me.”
The mayor and governor eventually declared a truce.
The tone of the WABC program changed over the course of Mr. Giuliani’s years in office. In 1994, Mr. Giuliani inherited a city plagued by 2,000 homicides annually; to some, swaths of the city were nearly impassable at night. Caller after caller complained of drug dealers and thuggish intimidators, and Mr. Giuliani hacked at encrusted bureaucracies and preached “change, change, change, reform, reform, reform.”
When Police Officer Sean McDonald was killed trying to arrest robbers, the mayor was eloquent.
“New York City was shattered again this week by a brutal attack on all of us,” he said, opening his March 18, 1994, program. “It’s an attack on everything that’s good and decent in New York City.”
As the city improved, Mr. Giuliani became looser, more assured — and quicker to scold and mock. Gravel-voiced Joe from Dutchess County asked in 1999 why the mayor did not attack President Clinton at a fund-raising dinner. When the program returned after a commercial break it sounded as if Joe still was on the line. It was the mayor, imitating Joe’s dese-dem-dere voice.
“This is, uh, Joe from, ahhh, Dutchess County. I unnerstan’ youse went too easy the other night because people applauded or they didn’t applaud for ya or sumthin’—I don’t remember.” Mr. Giuliani giggled. Then he speculated that maybe Joe was a long-term resident of a state prison.
“I think you should go back to making license plates, Joe.” The mayor cracked up again, before adding: “Oh well, we’re only kidding around. You’ve got to have a sense of humor, Joe.”
He denounced some racially insensitive whites — in 1999, he hooted Hal from North Bergen off the line: “You have to be the most prejudiced person I’ve ever talked to. What a jerk you are, Hal.”
But he rarely modulated his tone with black callers, even as racial tensions mounted during his second term. He had hired few senior black officials and he distrusted most of the city’s elected black leaders. Then in February 1999, plainclothes police officers fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, an unarmed black peddler, killing him.
Tony from the Bronx
In April, Mr. Giuliani punched a button at WABC and greeted Tony from the Bronx. Tony, who was black, minced no words. Your problem, he told the mayor, is that you won’t talk to black elected officials, your police are out of control and innocent men are getting shot to death.
Tony paused and the mayor began talking. Mr. Giuliani saw himself as the one who was misunderstood and aggrieved.
“Well, you’re not telling the truth, Tony — so I’ve got to tell you the truth,” he began. “You are buying into a demonized rhetoric, which is ignorant. See, what you do is, you either don’t read the papers carefully enough or you are so prejudiced and biased that you block out the truth.”
He attended the Diallo funeral, the mayor said, and “in a heartfelt manner expressed my remorse.” But, he added, “I was virtually spit at and called all sorts of names. I had a hard time feeling like a religious service was going on.”
The mayor returned to Tony: “It’s really unfortunate that you don’t have the ability to understand this.”
Tony did not respond; he had hung up several minutes back.
Copyright © 2013 The New York Times