Record, abrasiveness work for Giuliani

N.Y. mayor's style sets harsh tone likely race against Hillary Clinton

July 04, 1999|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK -- Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is clenching a hot dog with both hands, taking tiny bites as he stands before a press corps hungrier than 336-pound "Hungry" Charles Hardy of Brooklyn. While Hardy stuffs an entire Nathan's hot dog into his mouth to promote a Fourth of July international hot-dog-eating contest on Coney Island, Giuliani declares he is rooting for Hardy because the jumbo-sized champion comes from Brooklyn.

Even in hot-dog-eating contests, Giuliani believes the New Yorker should win. Not a bad mantra for the mayor, a Brooklyn native himself, whose likely bid for the Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton next year already hinges on the idea that only a New York native deserves victory.

"I am of full conviction that the next senator from New York will be someone who comes from New York," Giuliani said Friday to the packed Blue Room at City Hall, where a London reporter needled him about the first lady's looming candidacy.

As Clinton prepares to take her first step this week toward a full-fledged campaign with the announcement of an exploratory committee, Giuliani hammers again and again on the carpetbagger theme.

On his weekly radio talk show Friday, he jabbed Clinton for professing her love of the Yankees and ridiculed her talk of "exploring" a bid for New York by proclaiming "I'm just exploring. Let's explore!"

Later this month, he will tour Arkansas to mockingly profess his affinity for all things Arkansan just to pound away at Clinton's outsider status.

Aggressive? In-your-face? That's Rudy.

In the unofficial race for the seat of retiring New York Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the mayor's handlers are counting on Giuliani's thick record of accomplishments eclipsing questions about his often harsh personal style.

But Hillary Clinton's team has other plans -- in part to highlight Giuliani's manners in what one Clinton adviser called "a campaign based on general obnoxiousness."

Giuliani on the campaign trail is indeed a sight to behold. When the mayor's red, white and blue campaign bus rolled down the Brooklyn asphalt two years ago, a few disgruntled constituents shouted that he was bad for New York. So, a spectator recalls, Giuliani tried what most candidates would never dare: He screamed back.

"Maybe you ought to move out!" he boomed.

So much for baby kissing. Giuliani does not know from coochi-coo. His frank demeanor is one reason New Yorkers liked him enough to re-elect him in 1997 -- a feat for a Republican in a 5-to-1 Democratic city. The man who mimics political adversaries, stalks out of news conferences and yells at his own constituents has risen to the heights of the Republican stratosphere by refusing to lay off the rough stuff.

In the past, when opponents bet that New York could not tolerate the stop-and-frisk tactics of the Giuliani administration, they almost always were wrong. In New York, people know people like Rudy. They call them Mom and Dad. Tough, but for their own good.

The evidence: Giuliani took on city debt, bloated welfare rolls and general lawlessness -- grabbing the city by the neck, banging its head against its own sidewalk and setting it straight, to much acclaim.

"They said his personality was going to be the issue, but people said, `Look, this guy's doing a terrific job and we like him,' " said Peter J. Powers, an old friend and former deputy mayor under Giuliani, referring to the mayor's re-election.

But there is formidable ammunition against Giuliani: The two-term mayor -- who would be out of a job in 2001 because of term limits -- has been attacked for his response to alleged police brutality. His outta-my-way tactics are seen to make him too powerful in his own government -- where critics are swatted away like so many Adirondack flies. And he generates ill will by doing battle against generally sympathetic targets such as community gardens and city librarians.

"If he bit the head off a live rat, maybe our mayor could have done something a little more disgusting this month," the New York Daily News editorialized about Giuliani's proposed library cuts in May.

In his forthcoming book, "Giuliani: Nasty Man," former mayor Edward I. Koch writes that Giuliani "acts like a petty tyrant" and adds that "perhaps he might have pulled the wings off a fly as a child."

The mayor's allies say this is not the real Giuliani. Their effort over the coming months: to edify and Rudify the public.

"People have a distorted image of who he is," said Guy V. Molinari, Staten Island Borough president and a longtime friend. "He's a fun guy, he's a compassionate guy, he's a caring man. Unfortunately, the people don't see enough of that side of him."

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