In recent polls, Rudy Giuliani leads his rivals in the Republican primary race by about ten points. That’s surprising, since he’s been a supporter of gay rights, abortion rights and immigrant rights as well as gun control. It suggests that a President Giuliani would be better than Bush. I asked Kevin Baker–he’s author of the well-known City of Fire trilogy of novels about New York City–Strivers Row, Dreamland and Paradise Alley. He also writes for the New York Times, Washington Post, and Harper’s, where his essay, “A Fate Worse Than Bush,” leads the magazine’s August issue.
Giuliani’s main claim to fame is his conduct immediately after 9/11. Many still remember his TV press conference the night of the attacks, when a reporter asked how many casualties there would be. Giuliani had a magnificent answer: “More than we can bear.” Compared to what President Bush was saying, that was Shakespeare.
But what about the rest of his performance around 9/11?
“Most of 9-11 was actually a debacle for the city government,” Baker told me in an interview, and “Giuliani bears a great deal of the responsibility.” The World Trade Center had been attacked in 1993, but Giuliani had “learned none of the lessons that could have been learned. There was no serious attempt to coordinate the radios between the police and fire departments, or even to insure that the fire department had its own communications that would work inside buildings.” The consequences? “Probably hundreds of unnecessary deaths that day.”
The second failure: Giuliani insisted on locating his emergency control center in the World Trade Center complex, even though that had been the target of the 1993 attack. “He did that against the advice of virtually all the security experts he consulted,” Baker explained. “He put it on the twenty-third floor of a forty-seven-story building, World Trade Center Tower 7. It included an unprotected, 7,000 gallon fuel source on the seventh floor, a sort of a fuse to set the building off. When the building was hit by debris on 9/11, that did indeed bring the whole building down.”
What if Giuliani he had been in his new command center on 9/11?
“He was within a few minutes of dying right there that day,” Baker said. “Instead he ended up having to spend most of the 102 minutes between when the first plane hit and when the second tower came down simply walking around the area with staff members, looking for someplace to set up a new command center.”
What should he have been doing?
“Other things badly needed to be done,” Baker said. “Realizing there was no communicating with the firemen who were in these towers, maybe they could have set up a trail of runners or something to tell them they should get out of there, the towers are coming down. Nothing like that was done.”
Giuliani told the 9/11 Commission that the firemen in the towers died because they refused orders to come out. He said they wanted to save lives of people trapped inside.
“That’s a demonstrable lie,” Baker told me. “The firemen in the buildings were simply waiting for orders. They never got the word. It’s easy to second-guess people in such a traumatic event, and anybody could be forgiven for not making the right decisions in the middle of everything. But to go to Congress months later and lie about this–I find that despicable.”