Kerik's missteps may trip Giuliani

Politics: The nomination fiasco could tarnish the ex-New York mayor's reputation as a leader.

December 20, 2004|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The promotional material for Rudolph W. Giuliani's consulting firm includes inspirational sayings from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, Gen. George S. Patton and Edward R. Murrow. The musings of only one living public figure are quoted high up there with those legends - those from Giuliani himself.

"Nothing builds confidence in a leader more than a willingness to take responsibility for what happens during his watch," Giuliani's quote reads, under the banner "Accountability." Watchwords such as these have helped sustain the heroic Giuliani image long after 9/11, bringing his firm colossal business contracts and fueling speculation that New York's former mayor could become the country's next president.

But lately that "accountability" quote may seem more ironic than iconic. The scandal surrounding Giuliani ally Bernard Kerik - the former New York City police commissioner whose nomination to lead the Department of Homeland Security imploded this month - has put the first bit of tarnish on Giuliani's post-9/11 image.

The question remains whether the Giuliani imprimatur will retain its value. Giuliani Partners, the security consulting business Giuliani opened in 2002 after leaving the mayor's office, got hot in part because Giuliani emphasized the expertise of its executives - a team that included Kerik and several other public safety officials who helped oversee the recovery efforts after the World Trade Center attacks.

The former mayor has traded heavily on his connection to Ground Zero, with clients that include insurance and risk-management company Aon; Nextel Communications, whose cellular systems are used by many first responders; and Strohl Systems, which sells business recovery software for responding to attacks.

But more recently, Giuliani has been expanding his empire. Two days before President Bush named Kerik as his pick for the top job at Homeland Security, Giuliani announced that he had bought Ernst & Young Corporate Finance to start an investment banking firm called Giuliani Capital Advisors. In a press release, he cited the experience of his team of senior executives - including Kerik - as turning the city into a "worldwide example of good government and effective management."

That sound bite doesn't go down so well with Kerik's lapses and Giuliani's reported failure to have the city conduct a background check on him before he became commissioner of the largest police force in the world. Over the past week, Kerik has been accused of using an apartment intended for exhausted 9/11 rescuers to meet two mistresses, getting entangled with a construction company under investigation for alleged Mafia ties, hiding a third marriage from his much-publicized life story and other unsavory conduct.

"What the Kerik affair did more than anything else is cast doubt on Giuliani's judgment," said Marshall Wittmann, a former Republican staffer and now a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council. "He recommended an associate who clearly had a questionable past. Prior to Kerik, Rudy was the closest you could get in politics to sainthood. Now, Kerik has put in stark relief all of Rudy's political baggage."

Giuliani has survived bad PR before. Though 9/11 turned him into "America's mayor," before the attacks Giuliani was getting kicked out of Gracie Mansion because of an adulterous affair. He was known for going after edgy Brooklyn art exhibits that offended his morality or battling charges that he fired police Commissioner William Bratton because some believed the top officer overshadowed him in battling crime.

Though the one-time prosecutor took bold steps to reduce crime in the city, cleaned up the streets and developed a reputation for efficient government, critics attacked Giuliani's inner circle, accusing him of surrounding himself with loyalists ever eager to protect their own.

A reinvention

But the Sept. 11 attacks reinvented Giuliani. His leadership and his public safety team became linked with images of firefighters and police officers running into burning buildings. In the aftermath, Giuliani became a public face of the heroes.

The relationship between Giuliani and Kerik drew admiration in that disaster. But the Kerik debacle opens Giuliani's leadership style to new scrutiny. Critics say that 9/11 immunized Giuliani but that the way he ran his government was suspect.

"Anytime anyone in the city looked to blow the whistle about Giuliani, he looked to demonize them and make them a target - so there were people who were very reluctant to say anything until after Giuliani was gone," said Richard Steier - editor of The Chief Leader, a news weekly aimed at city government employees. Steier added that Giuliani foes had a motto about his administration: "The connected get protected."

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