Rudolph Giuliani was always somewhat off-center, even in his glory days as New York City mayor. But people who recall him then were stunned by his decline into a conspiracy-mongering swamp creature of Trump world. The 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 lets us remember that, on that day of horror, Giuliani was on the chaotic scene, passing out courage and hope.
At 10 a.m. on 9/11, I was in New York on a train being kept underground in Penn Station. The two planes had just hit the World Trade Center.
The conductor came on the loudspeaker telling us repeatedly that “this is the safest place you can be right now.” We didn’t all have cellphones then, but a guy in the back of the car did and informed us that the Pentagon had been hit and the first tower, and then the second, had come down. The conductor asked us to pray for the people in the World Trade Center.
We were scared and shuddered, imagining the terror downtown. We didn’t know at that point who did it, why or whether they had stopped. We wanted to get out of town, but the train wasn’t going anywhere because the tunnels were being searched for bombs.
The conductor came on one last time and told us to stay calm, take our bags and leave the train. We ascended into the light and a totally transformed city, country and world.
A public filled with dread needed consoling. President George W. Bush was incommunicado most of the day. But Giuliani was there among the smoking debris, the only visible political figure offering solace and, even more importantly, reassurance that life would go on.
He spoke eloquently about the collective grief. Asked how many had died, he said, “The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear.”
But he also pleaded with New Yorkers to keep faith in the future. “Tomorrow, New York is going to be here,” he said.
The most calming thing he said that afternoon, though, was that two of the subway lines were again operating and named which ones. Yes, it was going to be OK.
Giuliani became “America’s Mayor,” hailed as the ash-covered leader of 9/11. Time magazine made him “Person of the Year,” and Queen Elizabeth gave him an honorary knighthood.
The backstory of Giuliani’s role in 9/11 was less inspiring. One reason he became the hero of the streets was that he had pushed to place the Office of Emergency Management headquarters in the worst possible location, on the 23rd floor inside the 7 World Trade Center building. The office was created in response to the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and the site was considered among the top targets for terrorists.
Giuliani has long had a strained relationship with the truth but went over the deep end in 2019 by peddling a theory that Ukraine tried to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. He forever disgraced himself by pushing lies that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump — culminating in his speech on Jan. 6, calling on Trump supporters to engage in “trial by combat” right before they ravaged the capital.
Giuliani had already fallen far. In 2018, he attended a game at Yankee Stadium, and when the announcer said, “The New York Yankees wish a very happy birthday to Mayor Giuliani,” the crowd burst out with boos.
There’s been much speculation about what happened to him. In New York City, he could have had bridges, roads and schools named for him. All that’s left is a memory of Giuliani’s finest hour urging battle against fear in the darkness of 9/11.