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Renée Graham

Rudy Giuliani was never ‘America’s Mayor’

Lesley Becker/Globe Staff/AP

The man Oprah Winfrey once anointed “America’s Mayor” hasn’t mutated into a bombastic clown. Rudy Giuliani has always been a motor-mouthed bully and con man with a proclivity for threats and mendacity.

When Giuliani yelped, “Truth isn’t truth” on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday, it was more than another troubling contribution to the Trump administration’s efforts to gut reality and render facts useless. It was also a reminder that Giuliani’s self-aggrandizing exploitation of September 11 should never have been a cover for his noxious venality.

Following the 2001 terrorist attacks, not everyone bought into the Giuliani-as-national-hero narrative. Frankly, I never believed that he did anything extraordinary during one of the greatest tragedies in American history. As a mayor, he did exactly what he was supposed to do. Plus, I was too familiar with Giuliani as a belligerent tyrant to fall for this shiny new persona. A former prosecutor, he ran for mayor on a law-and-order platform, a racist dog-whistle perennial, despite the fact that New York’s crime rate had declined for three straight years. He painted the city as a lawless hellscape that could only be cleaned up by a tough man willing to make New York great again.

And since his opponent was David Dinkins, the city’s first African-American mayor, Giuliani got to play the “blame the black guy” card.

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As mayor, Giuliani denigrated unarmed black men killed by police. He used so-called “quality of life” crimes like jaywalking as an excuse to target and harass people of color. He tried to cancel the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s lease for showing an exhibit he found offensive.

On a classless personal note, Giuliani broke the news of his separation from his wife, Donna Hanover, at a press conference — which is how Hanover found out about the end of her marriage.

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By September 11, “I think New Yorkers were exhausted by Rudy Giuliani,” said Andrew Kirtzman, author of “Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City.” Yet after the attacks, Giuliani rose from the ruins as the good guy he had never been. On Sept. 10, he was a lame duck, skidding toward political oblivion. A day later, he was “America’s Mayor.”

Giuliani’s new status was burnished when Oprah lauded him for his “compassion, composure, and courage during this crisis,” as she wrote in her magazine. Queen Elizabeth even named Giuliani a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his “outstanding help and support to the bereaved British families in New York” on 9/11.

These days, we’re not hearing too much about Giuliani’s compassion, composure, or courage.

Now, as Trump’s personal attorney and attack dog, he’s back on familiar ground by bellowing lies, hurling insults, and sucking up television news airtime like it’s oxygen.

I never saw much difference between Giuliani and Trump. Both men were fueled by the geographic insecurities that used to haunt bridge-and-tunnel kids from New York’s outer boroughs. (This was before those areas became gentrified, precious, and unaffordable.)

Trump is from Queens, while Giuliani hails from Brooklyn. For all their success, however they attained it, they’re driven not only to prove themselves worthy of the big city, but a Machiavellian compulsion to bend it to their will. Both have a bottomless desire for power and attention. Like most bullies, they are hot house flowers highly tuned to rejection and revenge. And both are immune to facts.

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It initially looked as if Giuliani’s missteps would mean an early exit from Team Trump. Now he’s earning his keep by babbling what sound like Orwellian outtakes, as if he’s getting paid by the word. This is Giuliani in his natural element — in the spotlight and spitballing lies in defense of an indefensible presidency.

“America’s Mayor” isn’t gone. He never existed.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.