MANCHESTER, N.H. — As Rudy Giuliani roamed around the stage at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on Monday, you could almost forget that he was the mayor of New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. He talked about immigration and crime statistics. He mentioned his time as associate attorney general during the Reagan administration and how he fought crime as a prosecutor in New York City.
“I know how to get big tasks accomplished,” Giuliani told the crowd. “Look at what I did about organized crime as the United States attorney. Look at what we did about political corruption in New York City. Go back and look at what we did about drugs when I was in the Reagan administration. And go look at what I did when I was mayor of New York City.”
It wasn’t until nearly an hour into his town hall meeting that he mentioned the domestic terrorist attacks, and then it seemed almost a fleeting reference. Speaking about potential running mates, he spoke of his role handling logistics for the John Hinckley arraignment after the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt. He said the Hinckley experience, plus his work the day the Twin Towers fell, showed a president needs a vice president who can step in at an instant.
9/11 reference on any subject
It is a far cry from the types of answers Giuliani gave just a couple of months ago, when reporters joked that he could turn any question into an anecdote about fighting terrorism, even when asked “what are you going to do when you are president” by a 9-year-old at a house party in New Jersey in September.
“I’m going to work hard,” Giuliani told the child, Justin, who was watching the event online at a house party for the Giuliani campaign. But he then went on to speak for more than two minutes about how he would work to put the United States on offensive against terrorism, delving into the Fort Dix terrorism plot that had been thwarted months earlier. While he never directly referenced the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the correlation was obvious. Giuliani was essentially using an open-ended question to remind the audience of his work as mayor of New York City and the continuing terrorism threat.
Giuliani has used his 9/11 experience to explain a change in his position on gun control to the National Rifle Association, and even to justify taking a call from his wife during a big speech. But not anymore. In recent weeks, Giuliani has been mentioning his experiences that day, and terrorism in general, less and less.
This week, the campaign is expected to launch the first of several Internet videos highlighting Giuliani’s experiences pre-9/11. And they are being coupled with more frequent references by the mayor of his time fighting crime at Justice and as the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.
Maturation of campaign?
The shift is the maturation of Giuliani’s campaign, analysts said. He is spending more time speaking on the issues of the day, including fiscal discipline, health care and energy independence, and referencing anecdotes from his background that showcase experience with those issues.
But at the same time, it also reflects a growing revelation within Republican circles that overuse of 9/11 imagery and repeated references to the terrorist attacks can make Giuliani look like a one-issue candidate. Or worse, it can look like Giuliani is riding to the White House on the backs of firefighters, police officers and others who lost their lives in the Twin Towers.
“I think the 9/11 message has worked well for the mayor, but you can’t continue with just one message,” said Republican strategist John Feehery, who is not affiliated with any campaign.
Concerns about Giuliani’s use of 9/11 imagery crystallized last week, when Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called Giuliani unqualified at the MSNBC debate in Philadelphia. “There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb and 9/11,” Biden said. “I mean, there’s nothing else.”
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Giuliani’s campaign quickly fired back. Giuliani’s communications director, Katie Levinson, said Biden’s comments were a “desperate attack” and that she personally had a better chance of becoming president than the Delaware senator.
But since then, when Giuliani speaks of running New York City during “difficult times,” he is quick to note he is not just speaking of 9/11. He reminds reporters and voters that the hard times include a crime wave and fiscal irresponsibility before he became mayor. He speaks often of his “executive experience,” contrasting himself to the three front-runners for the Democratic nomination, all current or former senators.
“The reality is the mayor has a very good story to tell,” said campaign spokeswoman Maria Comella. “He has a career that spans different areas and makes him a more complete candidate.”
It is a tough line for Giuliani to walk. Much of the name recognition and support he receives along the campaign trail comes from people who first noticed him after the terrorist attacks. Talking to voters at a diner or ice cream parlor, he is often met with firefighters and police officers who describe him as a hero. He is asked to sign photos of the Twin Towers and news clippings from that day.
But some have taken it too far. Donors have given the Giuliani campaign $911 or $9.11; which the campaign has returned. And the campaign got a lot of unwanted attention when one California fundraiser invited guests to the September online house party for a $9.11 entry fee.
And Giuliani’s legacy on 9/11 is not indisputable. He continues to be dogged by members of the International Association of Fire Fighters, who claim Giuliani’s mistakes before the terrorist attacks — specifically not replacing the radio network firefighters use to communicate and placing the city’s command center in the World Trade Center — added to the lives lost.
“New York City firemen are completely outraged that he talks about it so much,” said Jim Riches, deputy chief of the Fire Department of New York, who was a battalion chief on 9/11. “He’s someone who has made millions of dollars on a national tragedy, and now he’s trying to parlay it to be president of the United States.”
‘Different part of his biography’
Comella stressed Giuliani is not ashamed of his 9/11 record, and continues to speak about it when asked.
“I think what you’re seeing this week, and in the coming weeks, is just a different part of his biography,” she said.
The Giuliani campaign has been able to save a lot of money because it does not need to go on television in early primary states, introducing their candidate to the public. In fact, Giuliani has yet to air a single television ad. So many people know him, campaign staffers say, and have a positive image of him. But analysts said they are now playing catch up to show Americans an image of Giuliani that moves beyond just one day.
“That’s how he was introduced to most people,” Feehery said. “It was important to remind voters who he is. Now they have to remind them what he has actually done.”