Rudy - Now More Than Ever: The 9/11 Story
For the Mayor of New York City, it was a day that began like many others. Rudy Giuliani was catching up with an old friend, Bill Simon, over breakfast at the Peninsula Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Shortly after quarter of nine, they were wrapping things up in the lobby of the hotel, when a police detective on the detail gestured to Denny Young, the Mayor's aide.
A plane had hit the Towers.
Mayor Giuliani instinctively knew something was wrong. He turned -- and it was explained to him. He later recalled his first thought: "A plane just doesn't hit the World Trade Center by accident."
His first instinct wasn't to hunker down. It was to rush to the scene. As Giuliani explained in his memoir, Leadership: "While mayor, I made it my policy to see with my own eyes the scene of every crisis so I could evaluate it firsthand."
At the scene, a decision was taken to establish a police command center at 75 Barclay Street and fire command center on Wall Street. He conferred with the civilian and uniformed leadership of the NYPD and FDNY. He ran into Father Mychal Judge, chaplain of the FDNY, and exhorted him, "Pray for us, Father."
"I always do," replied Father Mychal. "I always pray for you."
It was when the Mayor saw with his own eyes the first person voluntarily jumping 102 floors to their death that he recognized that this was a threat unlike any we had ever faced -- that we were at war.
Once a command post had been established across the street, two priorities became clear to the Mayor: One, ensure an effective rescue operation to save the thousands still in the Towers, and two, ensure an orderly evacuation and convey a message of calm to all New Yorkers.
As he tried to establish contact with the White House, Rudy's team was also busy setting up a makeshift press conference near the scene, one that would obviously be overtaken by events. The goal: to show that the City's leadership was alive and in control, and to guide any still in the area to safety.
It was when Mayor Giuliani was trying to establish a phone connection with Vice President Cheney that a giant roar -- followed by an enveloping in black smoke -- overtook 75 Barclay Street. Everyone else in the room hit the deck. The Mayor stayed standing, but it was clear with the collapse of the first Tower that this location too was longer safe. See the Mayor describe this episode (forgive the still):
As he headed uptown -- following the same advice given him by the Fire Department -- he grabbed the arm of NY1 reporter Andrew Kirtzman, no friend to the Administration -- and said to other reporters, "Come with us. We'll walk as we talk." That was the importance of the Mayor placed on communicating clearly and often with the crisis-stricken people of the city.
Rudy made his way north -- and urged all in the disaster area to do the same. On the way his party encountered a man on crutches, who needed their help. The Mayor went up to him and said, "We'll put you in one of the cars." With police commissioner Bernie Kerik, he helped the man into the car and to safety.
Rudy and his aides sought a place from which to re-establish city government, eventually settling on the Police Academy on 20th Street. From there, the Mayor and the Governor would give this press conference, urging calm, describing the scene, and giving full support to the President in doing what he needed to do to respond to these hideous monsters:
Mayor Giuliani would rush to Ground Zero, not once, not twice, but six times that day. He recalled, "There's never been a time I've gone there without feeling that rage. That first time back, I just let it wash over me." Five years later, Rudy would again tell a TV interviewer that he couldn't go back to Ground Zero without feeling profound anger at what happened there.
Rudy made another decision that day: that the City would do whatever it took to rescue its fallen brothers in the rubble -- working all night, 24 hours a day -- and tasking his staff to find heavy equipment and lights to help with the rescue.
Eighteen hours after the first plane hit, Rudy returned to the apartment of his friend Howard Koeppel, where he had been staying for a few months. In what has become one of the most remembered parts of this story, the Mayor turned to a book he had been reading Roy Jenkins' Churchill, and opened to the pages describing his ascension to power in 1940 after the feckless Neville Chamberlain. He remembered thinking that Americans would rise to the challenge, and he awoke to await a sunrise he wasn't sure would come.
It did come.
This was Rudy Giuliani's moment -- and America's -- to rise to the occasion, to recover, and to fight back.