Transcript: Giuliani on his 9/11 'defiance'
Rudy Giuliani: The first three days of September 11 were basically all instinct. They were just -- I would make a decision, and sometimes I would say a little prayer. I'd say, 'I'm making this decision too fast, I know I don't have as much time to think about this like I usually do. Please dear God, make it right.'
Jonathan Capehart: Let's talk about 9/11. I was in New York City at the time, and obviously you were there, being mayor of the city, and really the leader of the country because we hadn't heard from President Bush until later in the afternoon. What was it you had learned about leadership up until that point that helped you get through that?
Giuliani: I think the thing that helped me get through was having been through a lot of emergencies before. It wasn't the first one -- [though] it was by far the worst, unprecedented. There were times I was going through it that morning, in which I did wonder, "Could we handle it? Could we get through it?" But I quickly put those aside, and I reverted to the things I had done when we had had terrible fires or hurricanes or subway derailments or blackouts or hostage situations or -- as you know you get one those a month in New York City; we had the whole big West Nile Virus thing. So I went back to the things that I did in those situations. We had Flight 800 crash, we handled that when it happened right outside of New York. So I felt comfortable handling emergencies.
Capehart: Now it's been reported that you read Roy Jenkins' book about Churchill during at the time of the crisis. What did you learn from that book?
Giuliani: When I got home that night, it was probably about one in the morning, we were into the next day already. And it was the first time I actually sat down and saw the television pictures that everybody else had seen. It was the first time that I actually saw the towers implode -- I don't think I really understood how it came down until then. And maybe it was in even more of a state of shock than I realized.
When I went into bed, I laid all my clothes out because I thought there would be another attack. So I laid all my clothes out the way that I had read LaGuardia used to do, because LaGuardia, the legendary mayor of New York, used to go to all of the fires. He'd have all of his fire gear laid out and his boots ready to jump in them and go downstairs. So I laid all my clothes out thinking, I might get awakened in the middle of the night.
And when I got into bed, it just happened that an advance copy of Jenkins' then-new biography of Churchill was sitting on my [table.] I had read the first chapter already, skipped ahead to the chapter about 1940, when he was going through the Battle of Britain, because during the day I was trying to think -- My first thought was this is the worst attack America's ever been through, probably going to be the most fatalities we've had, even more than Pearl Harbor, we're not used to this. Who is used to -- in a civilized, Westernized city -- getting bombed? Then it occurred to me, gosh, the people of London were used to it. So I thought if I read that it would give me some idea of how to handle it -- something I could compare what we were going through to so that people could get some confidence.
For me that's always been important; I remember when I went through cancer, it was the same thing. For me it's always important to know if other people have gotten through it, I can get through it. If other people have gotten through it, we can get through it. So this was an attempt to look at what did he do, how did he handle it.
And the way he handled it was, he was very out front about it, he wasn't afraid to go right to the scenes of where the bombings took place. He wasn't afraid to confront what happened, he wasn't trying to hide the fact that bombings were going on. And he challenged the people of Britain to be as strong as they could be: "We're going to fight you in the streets, we're going fight you until the last one of us is dead." He created, essentially, defiance. That I think really rallied the people, so I think I tried as hard as I could in my own context to do that.
Jonathan Capehart: And in that crisis, what did you learn about yourself, as a leader?
Rudy Giuliani: I think in one way I became more humble because I realized that sometimes you think when you're a leader you can control everything, and you can't. A lot of this is out of your hands and you've got to trust it to people. I was very fortunate to have really good people. I sometimes learned who were the really good ones and who were the ones who couldn't quite handle it -- doesn't mean they're not good, but maybe not effective at leadership.
I learned a lot about cooperating. I think one of the best decisions that I made and Governor Pataki made was to put our two governments together, right from the beginning. So the city and the state sat at the center of the table for two months. I remember when I watched New Orleans and Katrina a year or two later, a couple years later, one of the first things I noted was that the governor and the mayor were at separate places and the FEMA director was at a separate place. During September 11th, we were in the same room, and it broke down all those petty jealousies that sometimes go on between a city, a state and a federal government, because we were all sitting in the same place. And to this day I'm not sure [whether] that was my suggestion or George Pataki's suggestion, but whichever suggestion it was, we both agreed with it and it was probably one of the best decisions we made.
Transcribed by Fahima Haque. Special thanks to On Leadership panelist John Baldoni for suggesting the question about Roy Jenkin's book.
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March 10, 2010; 5:59 AM ET
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