It was October of 2000 and New York was a city divided. I stood in Byrant Park, enjoying a free Nathan's hot dog, as passions flared. For the first time in history, the Yankees and Mets were facing off in the World Series. The city was hosting a pep rally in midtown for fans of both teams and Mayor Giuliani was on hand for the festivities. Other mayors might have been impartial by pledging allegiance to both teams. But not Rudy. He ascended to the podium, holding up a hat with a Yankees logo on one half and a Mets logo on the other half. "This is what I call the coward's hat," Giuliani thundered. He tossed it aside. Then, fully decked out in Yankees gear, he led the cheering section for the Bronx Bombers. "We don't accept any of this: 'I root for the Yankees, I root for the Mets, I root for New York City,'" he declared. "You root for the Yankees, or you root for the Mets. That's it." As Rudy Giuliani prepares a run for the White House, this incident illustrates the promise and the pitfalls of his candidacy.
You can't understand Rudy Giuliani without appreciating his love affair with the Yankees. When he ran for mayor in 1993, he took out a TV ad that talked about the perils of growing up as a Yankee fan in a Brooklyn Dodgers neighborhood. At two years old, he said, his father dressed him in a Yankees uniform and sent him out to play with other kids. They threw him in the mud. But he remained a lifelong Yankees fan. In a 2002 interview with Reader's Digest, Giuliani said that the physical attacks he endured as a Yankees fan in Brooklyn taught him how to stand up for his beliefs.
Throughout his two terms as mayor, Giuliani was a fixture at Yankee Stadium. During his abandoned Senate run against Hillary Clinton in 2000, he even canceled campaign appearances to attend Opening Day. In the midst of a rousing speech on terrorism to the 2004 Republican National Convention, Giuliani reminded delegates of the tight battle for first place between the Yankees and the Red Sox. At the time, four and a half games separated the two teams.
Now that he's preparing to run for president, Giuliani has been recounting his decision to root for the Yankees over the Mets to illustrate his integrity. And in South Carolina last weekend, the Website SCHotline asked him if he would become an Atlanta Braves fan to win over voters in the key primary state. Not a chance. He told the interviewer, "I kind of believe you have to be who you are, and you have to state your positions, and then people have to agree or disagree." His answer could just as well have been given in response to a question about abortion, gun control, immigration, or gay rights.
Conservatives admire Giuliani for his record as a crime-fighting mayor and for the steely resolve he showed on Sept. 11. They love the Rudy who unceremoniously and unapologetically booted Yasser Arafat from a United Nations concert at Lincoln Center in 1995, who rejected a $10 million relief check from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal after the Saudi blamed the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. policy in the Middle East, and who sued to evict the Brooklyn Museum of Art when it displayed a portrait of the Virgin Mary smeared with elephant dung. But the same characteristic that wins him many admirers on the right may be the biggest obstacle to his winning the Republican nomination.
"I am what I am," he said to Newsmax in the magazine's November issue. "I hate pandering...have all my life...It's one of the worst characteristics that politicians have -- pandering to people...There's a dishonesty in that that really offends me."
Now, as he seeks the Republican nomination, this disinclination to pandering is complicating his efforts to win over social conservatives. In his appearance on Hannity and Colmes this week, Giuliani made some overtures to social conservatives. For instance, he said he would nominate strict constructionist judges in the mold of Antonin Scalia, Sam Alito, and John Roberts, and that he would support a partial birth abortion ban, which he opposed in the past. But he also uttered the words, "I believe in a woman's right to choose."
Clearly, he isn't banking on everybody's support. He conceded, "There are always disagreements. And then some people just won't be able to vote for you. You got to live with that." What Giuliani is hoping for is that his conservative record as mayor of New York City and heroic leadership in the wake of Sept. 11 will allow people to overlook his liberal social views at a time when Republicans are looking for a wartime leader who can stop Hillary Clinton in the general election. At the same time, he hopes to appeal to voters who may disagree with him on some issues, but respect a politician who sticks to his guns.
Many pundits say that you can write off his chances. But as Yankee legend Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over, till it's over."