In the sublime Paul Auster-scripted 1995 art film Blue in the Face, rock legend Lou Reed sighs, “I’ve been thinking about leaving New York for 35 years now. I’m almost ready.” Rudy Giuliani can sympathize. His two major escape attempts — an abortive Senate campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2000 and a Florida-centric presidential run in 2008 — only landed him right back at Noah’s Ark Deli (grumbling, no less, that he prefers Michael’s in Brookline, Mass). Such is the anhedonia of the lifelong New Yorker: sure it would be nice to finally get out of town, but who can imagine actually living anywhere else? (When gubernatorial candidate Ed Koch told Playboy in 1982 that he’d be bored if he had to move to Albany, voters simply spared him the trouble.) And why move when you’re already a local legend able to make or break candidates like Andrew Sullivan does bloggers?
On his last full day of campaigning Monday, now congressman-elect Bob Turner stood in front of the train station in Forest Hills and pledged, Pat Riley-style, “We are going to win.” The onetime television executive who oversaw production of The Jerry Springer Show had reason to be confident. On his right hand side he had the best seal of approval in New York City politics. He had earned his Rudy beads.
“This is a career Democratic party-line politician” Giuliani wailed of Turner’s opponent David Weprin. “This is another vote for Nancy Pelosi. This is another vote for Barack Obama probably 90 percent of the time.” Do you see what Rudy did there? He got the crowd riled up with rhetoric, then went unscripted and conversational. Probably 90 percent of the time. He sounded so reasonable and off-the-record there, like a guy genuinely trying to make a deal with the voters based on the best estimates he’s got.
It’s that kind of skill that makes the Giuliani Seal so important in New York. Whether stumping for candidates or, through his private consulting firm Giuliani Partners, protecting the endangered but fiscally miraculuous Indian Point nuclear plant from Andrew Cuomo’s blatant corruption, Giuliani has become the most powerful ex-politician in the Big Apple. When construction executive Richard Hanna ran for Congress from the 24th District against Democratic incumbent Mike Arcuri in 2008, he lost by four points. When he ran again in 2010, the tables had turned — he had his Rudy beads. When Giuliani took the podium at a Hanna event at the Hotel Utica to give his typically brilliant unscripted stump speech, the applause was deafening. It resounded all the way into November, with Hanna beating Arcuri by eight points.
The same year, Rudy provided the only major high-profile endorsement to rookie Nan Hayworth as she solidly bumped incumbent John Hall in the 19th. Then he worked his golden touch on retired New Yorkers, as well, endorsing Florida senate candidate Marco Rubio in an unscripted blogger conference call and stumping for him outside a factory (reminding us of his pro-business credentials and how smart his 2008 campaign tax plan, with its focus on reforming rates, seemed to industry). I imagine that in Rubio’s desk drawer in Washington, next to all of his Livestrong bracelets, he’s still got his set of Rudy beads. If Newt Gingrich played Dean to the class of ’94, then Giuliani was the class of ’10’s favorite uncle.
His potency has been proven. Now we’re just waiting for the big endorsement: for Rick Perry. Should Perry need a geographically balanced ticket, he should remember how well Giuliani polled in typically blue states back in 2008, and that as late as September 2007 a Quinnipiac poll foresaw Rudy stealing New Jersey from presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton — no easy feat.
Or maybe Rudy will just keep living the life of a onetime candidate. He seems to be enjoying it. He hosted AMC’s Mob Week marathon, told Jimmy Fallon about his undercover crack purchase as a U.S. attorney, and warned socially conservative Republicans to “stay out of people’s bedrooms.” During a September 6 appearance at the National Press Club, he all but ruled out a second presidential bid and moved closer to a Perry endorsement. “I would have a hard time getting nominated.… I’m a realist and I understand how the primary system works.” Even if he tries to bypass that system again by camping out in Florida, he’d meet a similar fate. Perry is already galvanizing the Florida GOP, with the Miami Herald reporting that so many state legislators showed up to a September 13 Perry fundraiser in Tampa that it was “almost a caucus meeting.”
Rudy’s low national viability as a candidate in his own right isn’t exactly surprising (especially if you listened to any salon gossip after that estranged Harvard daughter of his got arrested shoplifting cosmetics). But while it’s frustrating, on behalf of the red-blue melding cause, to see the media vindicated on his unelectability (you almost wish he’d just jump in as a cultural polarization thermometer), it’s exciting to watch him in his new role as Grand Don of the New York political scene.
Politicians come and go all the time in New York City. But very few guys ever get to actually pick and choose the winners. Maybe staying in New York isn’t so bad after all. As Lou Reed eventually shrugged in Blue in the Face, “At least you can walk around.”