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Authority Figure

The childhood roots of Giuliani's strange views of liberty.

At a town hall meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, last month, local resident Bob Roughsedge introduced Rudy Giuliani as “the next mayor of the United States.” No one tittered or spoke up. Afterward, Roughsedge wasn’t even aware of the slip, and Giuliani, who is usually quick to correct, did not seem aware of it either. Maybe that’s because Giuliani is actually running to be mayor of the United States.

Giuliani is selling himself to voters on the basis of his service as New York’s mayor. He is arguing that he has the kind of administrative experience that would prepare him to be president. “I’ve had a great deal of experience,” Giuliani says. “I think it’s the kind of experience that helps to prepare [you to be] president, if there’s any experience that does.” He also claims that he was an exceptionally successful mayor. “I took a city that was the crime capital of America, and I left a city that was the safest in America,” he declares. And he is saying that his approach to governing the Big Apple is readily applicable to the national and international problems a president would face: “The things that I did as mayor of New York City, during very difficult times in New York City--not all of them, but many of them--are transferable to what America needs now, and that’s why I’m asking people to vote for me.”

Clearly, many Americans already buy the argument that Giuliani’s tenure in New York has equipped him to be a successful president, as he leads the GOP field in nationwide polls. But, for those who remain unconvinced, there are two questions worth pondering. The first is whether Giuliani’s tenure at City Hall was the unmitigated success he claims it to be, or whether he made significant missteps as mayor that he could also make as president. The second, and perhaps more important, question is how Giuliani’s behavior as mayor--and his underlying philosophy of government--would translate to his conduct in the White House. To answer that question requires understanding Giuliani’s particular view of liberty and authority.

By the time Giuliani took office as mayor in 1994, he had already enjoyed a spectacular career as a U.S. attorney, becoming the scourge of the Mafia and Wall Street inside-traders, including Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky. In addition, he had already acquired a philosophy of government and a way of dealing with subordinates that would mark his eight years as mayor. He picked up some of this approach in his years as a prosecutor, but most of his core beliefs can be traced to his childhood in New York and to his enrollment for 16 years in Catholic schools. Much of what struck liberal New Yorkers as odd about Giuliani becomes readily understandable when seen in this light.

Giuliani was born in 1944 and grew up as part of a large Italian-American extended family in Brooklyn. His grandmother lived with him and his parents, Harold and Helen D’Avanzo Giuliani. His mother’s brother, who was married to his father’s sister, lived downstairs, and other relatives lived nearby. Family members worked for each other, loaned each other money, and sometimes even married each other. (Rudy would marry his second cousin Regina Peruggi in 1968.) The bonds of family carried over to old friends. The son of Harold Giuliani’s childhood friend Louis Carbonetti would end up working for Rudy’s mayoral campaigns, and his grandson would work in the Giuliani administration.

The ties of family loyalty defied conventional morality. Four of Rudy’s uncles were policemen, and another was a fireman. But his uncle Leo D’Avanzo was a bookie and loan shark with Mafia connections. According to Wayne Barrett’s Rudy!--an invaluable guide to Giuliani’s family and upbringing--Leo was seen as a black sheep, but he remained a part of the Giuliani-D’Avanzo extended family. When Leo bought a bar in which to house his operations, his brother Vincent, a patrolman, secured the business license, and the bar itself was called “Vincent’s.” Leo employed members of the family, notably Harold Giuliani. And, when Leo’s son, Lewis, got in trouble, Harold and Rudy Giuliani interceded on his behalf.

Harold Giuliani led a troubled life. He wanted to be a boxer, but he couldn’t see without thick glasses. Still, he lived much of his early life by his fists. In 1934, he was arrested for armed robbery and served a year and four months in Sing Sing. Afterward, he went to work in Leo D’Avanzo’s bar as a bouncer and enforcer in charge of collecting loan payments and gambling debts. He left the bar for several years to work as a school custodian, but, after a nervous breakdown, he returned.

Harold never told his son about his criminal past--Rudy says he only found out about it in 2000, from Barrett’s biography. The father was clearly ashamed of what he had done and tried to protect Rudy from his own unsavory life. He discouraged his only child from hanging around the bar with Leo’s son, Lewis, and, in 1951, he moved the family to Garden City, Long Island, to get Rudy away from the bar. His message to his son was, essentially, do as I say, not as I do. In 2001, Rudy Giuliani told Time magazine, “He would say over and over, ‘You can’t take anything that’s not yours. You can’t steal. Never lie, never steal.’ As a child and even as a young adult, I thought, ‘What does he keep doing this for? I’m not going to steal anything.’ ”

His father’s words, along with the example of other family members, had their effect. As a U.S. attorney, Rudy Giuliani prosecuted crooked cops, inside traders, corrupt politicians, and the Mafia. He never appears to have had any mob ties himself or, except for minor campaign infractions, to have engaged in any corrupt practices. He also reproduced in his capacity as a public official the extended family, bound together by loyalty, that he had grown up in--albeit, in this case, with a single dominant father figure. He called loyalty the “vital virtue” and surrounded himself with men and women who were sometimes termed “YesRudys.” Bernard Kerik, who would serve as his police commissioner, once described entering Giuliani’s inner circle as analogous to becoming a “made man in a Mafia family.” Like the Giulianis and D’Avanzos, he also tolerated disreputable characters as long as they remained loyal.

In Catholic schools, Giuliani learned the virtue of hard work and discipline, but he also acquired a Catholic outlook on government and society. At Bishop Loughlin in Brooklyn, an honors high school to which Giuliani commuted from Garden City, half his classes were devoted to the study of religion. At Manhattan College, he had to take theology as well as ancient and medieval philosophy (including Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas) during his first two years, and he studied philosophy and political science as a junior and senior. From all accounts, he took his lessons seriously. At one point, he even thought of becoming a priest.

There are two aspects of Catholic philosophy that show up clearly in Giuliani’s political outlook. The first, which he would have found at almost any religious school, is a tendency to view politics and history as a moral contest between good and evil. That is sharply in contrast to a secular post-Enlightenment view of individuals--from presidents to petty thieves--as products of historical forces greater than themselves. The difference between Giuliani’s view and the secular one would show up in his attitude toward crime and criminals.

Second, Giuliani was exposed to a specifically Catholic (as opposed to Protestant-individualist) view of the relationship between authority and liberty--one that dates from Aquinas’s Christian Aristotelianism, was spelled out in Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical on the Nature of Human Liberty, and still enjoys currency today, even in the wake of Vatican II. Catholic thinkers do not see liberty as an end in itself, but as a means—a “natural endowment”--by which to achieve the common good. For that to happen, individuals have to be encouraged to use their liberty well; and that is where authority comes into play. Authority, embodied by law and the state, encourages--at times, forces--free individuals to contribute to the common good. Or, to put it in Aristotelian terms:Authority--by creating a just order--encourages liberty over license.

Of course, Giuliani made his career as a prosecutor rather than a philosopher, and there are certainly Catholic teachings he has repudiated or ignored. In 1989, wanting the New York Liberal Party’s endorsement for his GOP mayoral bid, Giuliani renounced his past opposition to abortion and Roe v. Wade. But his exposure to Catholic and classical political thought clearly had a lasting impact on him. At a forum on crime in March 1994, sponsored by the New York Post, Giuliani voiced views on liberty and authority that seemed to flow from these teachings. He criticized liberals for seeing only “the oppressive side of authority.” “What we don’t see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be,” he said. “Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.” Asked in the question period to explain what he meant, Giuliani said, “Authority protects freedom. Freedom can become anarchy.” Norman Siegel, the then-executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said afterward that he was “floored” by Giuliani’s definition of liberty and authority. But anyone who studied philosophy at a Catholic college would not have been surprised by Giuliani’s words.

In the nineteenth century, Catholic thinkers used the concepts of liberty and authority to criticize democracy, but there is nothing inherently anti-democratic about Christian Aristotelianism. In U.S. politics, it claims adherents as politically diverse as liberal Mario Cuomo--whose 1984 Democratic convention speech portraying the nation as a family was a stirring application of these principles--and conservative Pat Buchanan. But, just as the danger of Protestant individualism is that it can be used to rationalize plutocracy, the danger of Catholic communitarianism is that it can be used to rationalize a slide toward authoritarianism. Giuliani’s ideas on liberty and authority were integral to his assault on crime in New York, but they also may have encouraged a penchant for using power to curtail freedom.

Unlike Irish immigrants or Jews after 1932, Italian-Americans were not committed to a particular political party. In New York, working-class Italians tended to be Democrats, while middle- and upper-class Italians tended to be Republicans. Fiorello LaGuardia, who was mayor of New York from 1934 to 1945, was an upper-class progressive Republican who was closely allied with Franklin Roosevelt; Vincent Impelletteri, mayor from 1950 to 1953, was a working-class conservative Democrat. Rudy Giuliani’s parents fit this changeable mold. As Barrett recounts, they were registered Democrats when they lived in Brooklyn. When they moved to middle-class Garden City, they changed their registration to Republican.

When he went to high school and college, Rudy Giuliani, like many young Catholics, fell under the spell of John and then Robert Kennedy. He thought of himself as a liberal Democrat and volunteered for Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1968. He saw both men as strong leaders willing to use the full power of government to solve problems. In the Manhattan College student newspaper, he praised John Kennedy’s support for “strong, large government,” and rejected the Republican “laissez-faire” approach. “The Republicans must find men who will adequately address themselves to the problems of discrimination, of poverty, of education, of public housing, and the many more problems that Senator Goldwater and company throw aside in the name of small laissez-faire government,” he wrote.

But Giuliani was not part of the 1960s counterculture or the New Left. He was against the Vietnam war because, he later explained, it “didn’t meet the conditions of what Catholics call a just war,” but he didn’t demonstrate against it. One NYU law school classmate recalled him as “a real Robert Kennedy Democrat, a liberal, except on law and order.” Over the next three decades, Giuliani would retain his support for a “strong, large government,” but, after he became a U.S. attorney, he would see its principal purpose as ensuring law and order rather than providing housing or eliminating poverty.

Giuliani voted for George McGovern in 1972, but, shortly after he was appointed Ford’s deputy associate attorney general in 1975, he changed his registration to Independent. In 1981, when Ronald Reagan appointed him associate attorney general, he changed his registration again, this time to Republican. In 1989, when he announced his first race for mayor of New York, he did so in a small room at the Metropolitan Republican Club where LaGuardia had announced his own run in 1933. During the 1989 primary, he would dally with running to the left of incumbent Ed Koch. But the liberal David Dinkins defeated Koch in the Democratic primary, and, rather than running as a progressive Republican, Giuliani ran on a law-and-order platform--the same approach he would take in his successful 1993 rematch with Dinkins.

The writing of history isn’t usually served well by presidential campaigns, and this one is no exception. To sum up his mayoralty, Giuliani likes to quote George Will’s comment that “his eight years as mayor were the most successful episode of conservative governance in this country in the last fifty years.” On the other side, Giuliani’s liberal opponents, eager to undermine the main argument for his presidency, insist that he was a complete bust as mayor. In Harper’s, Kevin Baker has described Giuliani as a “do-nothing mayor” who “accomplished almost nothing of significance.” The truth in this case is somewhere in between. Giuliani had an outstanding first term and, until September 11, a less than spectacular, at times even disastrous, second term that brought out many of the weaknesses in his philosophy of government.

Giuliani’s greatest achievements in his first term were, as he would himself say, the reduction in New York’s crime rate and, equally important, the reduction in the popular fear of crime. In September 1990, Time had run a cover story titled, “The Rotting of the Big Apple.” Five years later, New York magazine would run a cover story called, “The End of Crime as We Know It.” Giuliani can’t take all the credit for this, of course, but he approved the strategy by which the police reduced crime and appointed the man--Police Commissioner William Bratton--who carried it out. Not coincidentally, it was a strategy that perfectly accorded with his own approach to government.

When Giuliani took office in January 1994, some conservatives advised him to focus on cutting taxes. Influenced by the Manhattan Institute, Giuliani had begun to embrace the laissez-faire economic theories he had once scorned, but he still had his priorities. “Tax cuts are important, but so are other things--like law enforcement,” he told supply-sider Lawrence Kudlow at a discussion that winter. Giuliani also rejected the liberal argument that, in order to reduce crime, he would have to address its “root causes,” such as unemployment or poverty. Instead, he saw the problem as a contest between right and wrong--moral freedom and license--in which he would have to use the authority of the state to strengthen the former.

Through the efforts of Fred Siegel, editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, Giuliani became acquainted with the “broken windows” theory of crime prevention. It focused on stopping the disorder--broken windows--that created a lawless atmosphere. Disorder, criminologist George Kelling wrote, can consist of “youths hanging out on the corner, panhandlers, hustlers and suggestively dressed prostitutes on the street, public drunkenness and rowdiness.” According to Kelling, public disorder of this kind eventually led to “serious crime as well.” Kelling proposed that police patrol neighborhoods to discourage--and, if necessary, arrest--the perpetrators of disorder. The broken windows theory fit Giuliani’s view of liberty and authority. It meant that, in order to create order and encourage moral liberty, citizens would have to allow the police to discourage behavior that was often only marginally illegal.

Giuliani hired Bratton, Boston’s police chief, to put the strategy into practice--and, supplemented by the innovative use of computers to single out and target high-crime neighborhoods, it had a dramatic effect on New York’s crime rate. Giuliani’s detractors would later say that the decline began under Dinkins, but that is misleading. The city’s murder rate reached an all-time high in 1990, then declined slightly over the next two years. But it was only after Giuliani took office that the crime rate declined precipitously--starting in 1994, when it fell by 12 percent. New York’s reduction in crime also far exceeded the national average--16 percent in the first half of 1995 compared to one percent nationally.

Giuliani enjoyed similar success in driving the Mafia out of both the Fulton Fish Market and the commercial garbage business. He also reduced fraud in New York’s welfare rolls--no small accomplishment. From 1989 to 1995, more than 270,000 New Yorkers were added to the welfare rolls. After Giuliani instituted fingerprint checks and home visits in 1995--an infringement on liberty to be sure--the welfare rolls declined by 18 percent the first year.

Giuliani easily won reelection in 1997 and enjoyed widespread popularity--even in parts of the black community. Black leaders like the Reverend Floyd Flake appreciated that Giuliani’s policing methods--however intrusive--had revived neighborhoods that had been riven by drugs and guns. As journalist Andrew Kirtzman put it in his book on the Giuliani years, “The essential truth of ’97--that life on the streets was calmer, safer, saner--was just as relevant to the poor of Bed-Sty as to the prosperous of Brooklyn Heights.”

Yet, by 2001, Giuliani’s last year in office, he was widely loathed in the black community. New Yorkers, fearing the onset of political disorder, were “holding their breath” waiting for Giuliani to leave office, according to John Mollenkopf, an urban affairs expert at the City University of New York. The reason was that Giuliani, emboldened by his initial success, had gone too far in his exercise of authority.

Giuliani’s seemingly insatiable appetite for authority was evident, first and foremost, in the way he ran his administration. Obsessed, as always, with loyalty, he demanded that power be centralized in his hands and that he receive credit for any of the administration’s achievements. Even the Department of Environmental Protection’s daily reports on the water level in the reservoir had to be cleared through Giuliani’s press office before being released. He also replaced Dinkins-era officials with loyalists, some of whom had little preparation for their jobs. Tony Carbonetti, the grandson of Harold Giuliani’s friend, was put in charge of the Office of Appointments, even though his previous experience consisted mostly of running a bar in Boston. According to Kirtzman, “one agency estimated that, of patronage hires, 60 percent were qualified, 20 percent had no experience, and 20 percent were ‘dirtbags.’ ” Among these hires was Carbonetti’s father, who was named director of the Community Assistance Unit. He was forced to resign after admitting that he had two driver’s licenses and had failed to pay $156,000 in liens and judgments against one of his businesses.

The most important casualty of this process was Bratton, who, besides Giuliani himself, was most responsible for the administration’s early success. Whenever the press gave too much credit to Bratton, the police chief and his spokesman John Miller would be called into city hall to be bawled out by Giuliani loyalists. Miller was finally forced to quit. After Time put Bratton on its cover in January 1996, an enraged Giuliani had City Hall attorneys begin investigating his personal expenses. That was enough for Bratton. He quit two months later.

In The Prince of the City, Fred Siegel called Giuliani’s ouster of Bratton “the single biggest mistake” of his administration. Bratton was replaced by a colorless bureaucrat and “YesRudy” man named Howard Safir who lacked Bratton’s understanding of the broken windows theory and would prove incapable of mitigating Giuliani’s excesses. These began soon after Safir was appointed. Eager to accelerate the decline in New York’s crime rate, Giuliani pressed Safir to triple the size of the Street Crime Unit, the elite group that swept into neighborhoods and implemented the broken windows strategy. Under Bratton, these units had operated with discretion, sometimes attempting to resolve situations without making arrests, often acting as community relations specialists. But, wrote Siegel, “rapid expansion was achieved through diminished training and by sending untested units out without a veteran heading the team.”

In 1997, the police stopped and frisked 27,000 citizens--double the number from the year before. Those who were stopped began to include members of the black middle class, including Flake and deputy mayor Rudy Washington. Resentment rose in minority neighborhoods. Then, a series of brutal incidents set off massive protests: In February 1999, four inexperienced members of the Street Crime Unit killed Amadou Diallo, an unarmed Guinean vendor. And, in March 2000, an undercover narcotics detective killed an unarmed security guard, Patrick Dorismond. Instead of trying to placate his angry constituents, Giuliani, convinced of his righteousness, inflamed them. To discredit Dorismond, Giuliani released his nugatory juvenile arrest record and said he was no “altar boy.” Ironically, it turned out Dorismond was an altar boy and had attended the same Catholic high school as Giuliani.

Giuliani also pushed the concept of broken windows well past what Kelling and Bratton had envisaged. On the basis of an article in City Journal, Giuliani decided that he needed to suppress not only petty criminals, but also jaywalkers, street vendors, speeding bicycle messengers, and reckless taxi drivers. “If we don’t act in a civil manner here, we can’t thrive as individuals or as the capital of the world,” Giuliani announced in February 1998. Giuliani’s new campaign, billed “Creating a More Civil City,” was met with strikes from cab drivers and food vendors, as well as angry reactions from citizens threatened with arrest for jaywalking. Giuliani finally gave up on it, but, the next year, he took on the New York art scene. He tried to stop the Brooklyn Museum from putting on a provocative show, “Sensation,” which he called “sick stuff.” Giuliani’s attempt to cut off city funding for the museum and fire its trustees was defeated in court.

Andrew Kirtzman attributes Giuliani’s threats against the Brooklyn Museum to a desire to curry favor with upstate New Yorkers whose votes he would have needed to win the 2000 Senate election against Hillary Clinton. And, indeed, Giuliani currently brags about his bid to shut down the exhibit when trying to woo social conservatives. But this move, like his poorly executed expansion of the Street Crime Unit and his crusade against street vendors and jaywalkers, was consistent with Giuliani’s growing commitment to use his authority at the expense of liberty.

Perhaps the most telling example of Giuliani’s attempt to expand his authority came after September 11. In the crisis created by the terrorist attacks, Giuliani excelled as a leader. He was calm and eloquent, a voice of reassurance while the president, aloft in Air Force One, remained curiously silent. But, even before the dust had settled over Ground Zero, Giuliani began lobbying the New York legislature to repeal the city’s two-term limit so he could run again, while simultaneously pressuring the candidates vying for his office to accept a 90-day extension of his term. Giuliani’s moves showed a reluctance to cede power and a contempt for the democratic process. It was a demonstration of how far he would go in the pursuit of authority.

Of course, if Giuliani were elected president in November 2008, he might have no interest in resuming the push for ever-widening spheres of authority that accelerated in his second term as mayor. But he has given no indication that he has rethought those years. Indeed, he now seems to revel in the opposition he provoked. “Go back and read The New York Times editorials at that time and what they were saying about me, and all of the others,” Giuliani recently advised an audience of social conservatives in Washington.

So it is reasonable to take Giuliani at his word and to imagine his presidency as an extension of his mayoralty. To do that is to contemplate an administration that would challenge many Americans’ conception of their own liberty. It would perpetuate the worst aspects of Bush’s imperial presidency: the contempt for Congress and the press; the encouragement of a polarized politics; the centralization of power in the White House; and the administration of government based upon loyalty rather than competence. That may be something a sizeable chunk of Republican voters want--but it is not something that will appeal to most Americans.

There is one final matter to consider: Giuliani’s claim that what he accomplished in New York is “transferable” to the nation as a whole. Put simply, that idea is impossible, disastrous, or entirely misleading. Giuliani cannot export welfare reform from New York to the federal government, since national welfare reform already happened. A broken windows strategy probably wouldn’t help the FBI unearth white-collar crime or catch terrorists. Giuliani claims he will “control spending” as he did in New York; but, in fact, the budget went up 37.6 percent during his two terms, leaving his successor with a large deficit even before September 11. As for cutting taxes, which Giuliani has also promised to do, most of his New York tax cuts were relatively minor--the most important were initiated by the state. And, in any case, the next president will have difficulty selling still another tax cut in the face of huge deficits.

The centerpiece of Giuliani’s claim, however, is the suggestion that his approach to fighting crime provides a model for conducting foreign policy. In a recent essay for Foreign Affairs, he wrote: “I know from personal experience that when security is reliably established in a troubled part of a city, normal life rapidly reestablishes itself: shops open, people move back in, children start playing ball on the sidewalks again, and soon a decent and law-abiding
community returns to life. The same is true in world affairs. Disorder in the world’s bad neighborhoods tends to spread. Tolerating bad behavior breeds more bad behavior.”

This is a foolish analogy. In policing the world, the United States cannot claim to be enforcing its own laws; we lack legitimacy to do so, as we found after invading Iraq. When the nypd went into poor neighborhoods, it was not an occupying force; when the U.S. military took over Baghdad, it was, and it suffered the consequences. Some of the “neighborhoods” Giuliani wants to clean up, such as Iran, possess their own armies and can call on other “neighborhoods,” such as Russia and China, to deter an attempt to punish them for bad behavior. In short, the world is not New York writ large, and the trade-offs between authority and liberty look very different from the White House than from Gracie Mansion. But these distinctions seem lost on the man who aspires to be the next mayor of the United States.

JOHN B. JUDIS is a senior editor at The New Republic and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.