The Magazine

Prince of the City

Rudy Giuliani explains how he did it.

Feb 10, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 21 • By FRED SIEGEL
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LIKE ALL MANAGEMENT BOOKS, "Leadership" has a good deal of hindsight and common sense dressed up as foresight. Public officials and business executives all over the country have turned the book into a bestseller because, the padding and self-flattery aside, it gives the reader a good sense of how Giuliani operated. He writes, "I've begun every single morning since 1981," when he was appointed the youngest associate attorney general ever, "with a meeting of my top staff." The importance of the "morning meeting cannot be overstated." With the chief executive and his top staff all gathered, "everyone is entitled to air concerns, that meant my staff knew they could get a yes or no from the boss . . . the access worked both ways." And with the different department heads gathered together around the table, it was hard, if not impossible, to engage in blame-shifting.

"The entire 9/11 response and recovery," says Giuliani, who was expecting a second attack, "was planned at the morning meetings expanded to include Governor Pataki's staff, representatives from utilities and the Federal Emergency Management Agency." Baltimore's innovative mayor, Democrat Martin O'Malley, has taken this lesson to heart. He has been similarly drawing together his top staff, so that, guided by timely statistics, he can impose accountability on his commissioners.

The book does little to account for the mix of instinct and intelligence that makes for a natural leader. Whether the subject has been corporate corruption, as when he zealously prosecuted Wall Street malfeasance in the 1980s, his decision to shun Arafat at a time when the Palestinian leader had been accorded a measure of respectability, or his crucial decision in the mid-1990s to emphasize emergency management when most of the country was on "a vacation from history," Giuliani has been ahead of the curve.

But his Office of Emergency Management, which pioneered urban crisis management and made possible the extraordinary success in evacuating 25,000 people on 9/11, is not even mentioned in the two books written on Giuliani to date. The mayor's decision to establish an emergency command center was roundly mocked at the time as overkill. The New York Times derided it as Rudy's "bunker," former mayor Koch called the idea "nuts," and the Rudyphobes (and even some admirers) were derisive. The city council tried to eliminate it.

The location of the emergency operations command post in the World Trade Center was a mistake, but the Office of Emergency Management that built the center proved an enormous success. Designed to prepare for "hybrid emergencies" (such as the possibility of biological or chemical attack), the Emergency Office's sole purpose, since copied by other cities, is to coordinate the city's numerous agencies in responding to a crisis. It got in its practice runs reacting to the West Nile virus, Y2K, and the Millennium Celebration. "For months," Giuliani says, "we had in place an exercise in which we'd drilled on our response to a biochemical attack, specifically practicing for the distribution of medication--that planned date Wed. 9/12." The location was Pier 92 in the Hudson River, which was then turned into the emergency command post when the Towers went down.

"LEADERSHIP" isn't always a good read. It's disjointed. The book jumps from one, often disconnected anecdote, to another organized under the loose rubric of topics like "Loyalty," "Prepare Relentlessly," or "Be Your Own Man." But for those interested in the thinking behind the success of the most effective mayor of the last half century, a mayor whose thinking remained remarkably constant through his eight years, "Leadership" is well worth the effort.

Fred Siegel is a professor at the Cooper Union for Science and Art in New York.