Giuliani's New York Is Open Book





More than four years later, the written record of life inside the mayor's office in the chaotic weeks after Sept. 11 is emerging for the first time from city archives. At once insightful, poignant and banal, the documents vividly portray an administration toiling in the shadow of catastrophe, grappling with basic needs, fielding requests for help and offers of advice, and coping with an unrelenting dirge of wakes and funerals. They also provide the occasional glimpse of Mr. Giuliani's personal activities.

The papers were among a vast collection of documents that Mr. Giuliani transferred to a private archivist when he left office in December 2001, under an unusual agreement with the incoming Bloomberg administration. The transfer sparked an outcry from historians and leaders of public interest groups, who argued that the documents should not leave the city's control. Despite the opposition, Mr. Giuliani followed through with his plan to have the material professionally archived before returning it all to the city records department, which said it received the final batch late last year.

''It's a partial record of what it took for the city to deal with the worst terrorist attack on the United States,'' said Sunny Mindel, a spokeswoman for Mr. Giuliani. ''It speaks to the care and concern of the world community for the city and state of New York, and the concern that New Yorkers had for each other.''

Paging through it on microfilm offers a somewhat scattered retrospective of the Giuliani era, revealed through draft reports, newspaper clips, personal notes, internal memos and schedules spanning not just the post-Sept. 11 period but also the mayor's eight years in office.

Among the documents from 2000, for example, were a personal note from Senator John McCain, inviting Mr. Giuliani to an Arizona cabin for a weekend of ''food, fun and good friends,'' and a memo about problems opening a waste transfer station peppered with handwritten speculation on the source of opposition. ''Ferrer?'' the writer wondered, referring to Fernando Ferrer, then the Bronx borough president. Another file was filled with copies of newspaper articles about political opponents like Mark Green, Al Sharpton and David Dinkins.

There was a report from the Department of Business Services, observing that a reputed mobster was spotted at the Fulton Fish Market early one morning, and adding dryly that it ''did not appear he was buying fish.'' And there was a short letter from former President George H. W. Bush, who dashed it off after watching Mr. Giuliani announce his withdrawal from the Senate race because of a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Mr. Bush hit a slightly off-key note:

''Now you have made all Americans very proud as they saw a warm, sensitive, decent human being,'' he wrote. ''But although others might not have seen that side of you, we Bushes have seen it all along.''

Of particular interest is the portion of the papers dealing with the events of Sept. 11 and the period up to Dec. 31, 2001, when Mr. Giuliani left office. City officials said, however, that much of that material was not yet available on microfilm because it had been delivered to the archivists later than the rest of the papers.

''Much of the post-Sept. 11, 2001, material was gathered afterward because it was still in people's offices at the time,'' said Kenneth R. Cobb, the deputy commissioner of records.

What is available from that period offers not only a fresh perspective on the city's struggle to get back on its feet, but also a few insights into Mr. Giuliani's private activities during the period.

For instance, a fax dated Sept. 10, 2001, contains an unsigned agreement between the book publisher Talk Miramax and William Novak, who was to be a ghostwriter for a Giuliani memoir, a project the mayor later scrapped. There is an e-mail message from a publishing executive urging the mayor not to miss a November 2001 lunch because ''the attendees -- sales representatives -- are the very people who will go out and sell this book.''

Among the thousands of ''advance information sheets'' prepared by the mayor's schedulers over the years was one for Sept. 11, which said he was to attend, in black tie, the opening of ''The Flying Dutchman'' at Lincoln Center that night. The appearance was canceled.

Within days of the attacks, memos began to circulate outlining economic recovery plans and requests for federal assistance, some offering hints of behind-the-scenes tensions with Albany and Washington.

A mayoral aide in Washington sent an urgent message to City Hall from his BlackBerry, saying, ''New York's $$$ on shaky ground'' and warning that White House budget officials ''believe they can shuffle around monies for New York'' and spend it elsewhere. A memo detailing how federal aid would be spent had additions scribbled in the margins aimed at making sure the city had an equal voice with Albany.

The files also show that not even the worst terrorist attack in American history could snuff out the parochial concerns of politicians and lobbyists.

Just days after the attacks, a city councilwoman, Juanita Watkins, left a note for Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington at his home, asking for help getting the Fire Department to approve a certificate of occupancy for a new school in Queens. A list of discussion topics for a ''town hall meeting'' on Staten Island included the World Trade Center attacks, the anthrax scare and ''the Weed Avenue sewer.''

A Republican lobbyist in Washington, Wayne Berman, sent a note saying that one of his clients was offering heavy equipment to help remove debris from ground zero. And an artist in Tennessee asked about getting some steel from the trade center to fashion a Sept. 11 memorial in Memphis.

''We would prefer smaller beams, approximately 10 to 12 feet long, and numbered about 10,'' the letter said.

Elsewhere, the mayoral papers chronicled efforts to kick-start the vast machinery of New York's bureaucracy. A long memo from the city's pension actuary dispassionately pondered the likely purchasing power of surviving spouses of police and firefighters.

An analysis by city lawyers examined potential liability, concluding that there were as many as 10,000 possible plaintiffs who could claim, among other things, that authorities had mistakenly directed people into harm's way and that rescue workers had been given faulty equipment. The memo explored options for seeking federal indemnification against lawsuits: ''We have been advised that the city will have to convince Congress that it has a compelling need to be bailed out, something in the order of a likelihood of bankruptcy without federal protection,'' it said.

Throughout the internal correspondence, it was evident that the mayor's staff, despite all the chaos swirling about, remained vigilant for potential slights or risks to the reputation of their boss.

When Gov. George E. Pataki's office sent along a proposed script for an ''I love New York'' television ad, a Giuliani aide sent it back with revisions that gave the mayor a larger speaking role. A proposal by NBC to have Rosie O'Donnell join Mr. Giuliani in opening the Rockefeller Center tree lighting show was quickly reconsidered: ''We have moved Rosie O'Donnell out of this greeting,'' a network executive said in an e-mail message to the mayor's office.

Amid the familiar parade of city officials and politicians making entreaties to the mayor's office, a few famous faces made cameo appearances, usually requesting some sort of assistance or making unsolicited offers of advice.

A week after the attacks, a Microsoft executive sent an e-mail message to the mayor's office saying Mr. Gates wanted to know if it was still appropriate to announce his new Windows operating system at a Times Square event in October. The message observed that Mr. Gates had donated $3 million to ground zero relief efforts, adding, ''These gifts have not been announced by the Gates Foundation.''

There was a note saying Mr. Kissinger called to recommend that Mr. Giuliani meet with Iain Duncan Smith, leader of the Conservative Party in Britain. Other memos contained recommendations from the State Department on the diplomatic value of having the mayor meet with foreign dignitaries like the Italian deputy prime minister, Gianfranco Fini: ''It would be useful to cultivate him,'' an e-mail message said.

Memorial services for the dead weighed heavily and were a constant presence in the files. Day after day, the schedules of the mayor and his deputies were filled with funerals and wakes, each one demanding respect for the wishes of the families involved: A planning sheet for the funeral of one firefighter said that his relatives did not want Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen to attend.

If nothing else, the archival trove offers reassuring evidence that, for all the trauma inflicted by Sept. 11, New Yorkers wasted little time recovering the time-honored norms of social engagement that define life in the city. The artful meld of entreaty and enticement that lubricates the gears of politics and business was on display in an ''urgent and sensitive'' fax to Deputy Mayor Joseph J. Lhota from Peter G. Peterson, a private equity investor who was chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The emir of Qatar wanted to tour ground zero and have his picture taken presenting a donation to Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Peterson wrote, adding that it ''might be a good thing to show a Muslim leader reaching out to the city.'' Then he offered a personal sweetener. Commenting on how hard the mayor and his staff were working, Mr. Peterson said they should all be rewarded by grateful citizens like himself.

''Taking the mayor and his son out to play golf in the Hamptons or wherever else he would like would simply be my first step,'' he wrote to Mr. Lhota, ''as would taking you to the Four Seasons.''



comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list