Cometh the moment, talketh the man: Giuliani on Sept. 11, and 2012

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Rudolph Giuliani at Milk. (Dan Rosenblum.)
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It was a last-minute change: Until yesterday, the plan was for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be sitting on the black-painted plywood stage across from Time editor Rick Stengel, talking before an audience of about 200 New York influence-mongers about her experience of Sept. 11 and the state of United States foreign policy in the wake of the attacks.

But Washington was having a big night last night, and she had to be with the president. Rudolph Giuliani, whose chief claim to fame across the country is that he was the mayor of New York City ten years ago Sunday, filled in the gap.

The event was a combined premiere for the documentary Beyond 9/11: Portraits of Resilience, a joint project of Time and HBO, timed to launch at the same time as a commemorative issue of Time for the tenth anniversary of the attacks. Media executives, actors and 9/11 survivors mingled in the Meatpacking District’s Milk Studios as attendants served trays of white wine and guests milled around, looking at Marco Grob's portraits, taken from a Time bookazine of portraits that was tied in turn to the magazine and the documentary, and many of which were hanging as prints in the gallery. Sept. 11 synergy.

Former NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker and Cheyenne Jackson, who played Mark Bingham in United 93, posed for photographers from U.P.I. and Hollywood Life. Outside the wide front windows, it was the first night of Fashion Week and groups of well-dressed people grazed 15th Street, walking between galleries, the private parties and restaurants of the Meatpacking District. Media handlers announced each celebrity as they traipsed the red-carpeted corridor for step-and-repeat photos.

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“Hey guys,” said a media rep to the photographers. “Julie Taymor is here!”

Giuliani appeared comfortable, as he often does in these settings. This event had passed almost without notice by the national media; it was a pool-reporting event, meaning reporters following the Secretary of State were meant to share notes gathered by a single reporter, and when Hillary's plans changed so did that of much of the press.

Not that Giuliani has minded his last few days' tour of the cable networks. Declining an invitation from CNN to appear at its Sept. 12 debate was an obvious move for someone who is not running for the Republican presidential nomination, but wasn't he just telling CNN's Piers Morgan Wednesday night that he could beat Barack Obama if the election were held right now?

He talks a lot about Sept. 11, and about his 2012 prospects. But he's not the mayor of New York, and he's not running, even though he is officially at the tail-end of a process of deciding whether to run.

“There’s really no more of an appropriate person to have here than the man on my left, particularly after seeing a remarkable and incredibly moving and powerful documentary that we did together,” Stengel said, introducing Giuliani. “There’s an old English expression: Cometh the moment, cometh the man. The moment was 9/11 and the man was Rudy Giuliani.”

Stengel asked Giuliani about a phrase—“net positive”—Giuliani used to describe some effects of Sept. 11th. Giuliani said though that the day was the worst day in New York’s history, there were positive moments in the aftermath that united people and showed some of the best of Americans.

“President Obama said a couple of years ago—maybe a year and a half ago—he said that if America were attacked again, it could handle it,” Giuliani said. “And so people criticized him for it. They said ‘oh, it’s kind of arrogant’ and I thought it was actually the right conclusion.”

Giuliani said there were some terrible moments, after the attacks, but found some humor during President Bush’s Sept. 14, 2001, visit to New York. Stengel prompted Giuliani to talk about a ride in the limo with President Bush down the West Side Highway.

“He calls it West Side Avenue,” Stengel said, and the audience laughed.

“He probably calls it Yoo-ston Street, too,” Giuliani said.

Back to Bush's visit: “The president was now leaving there. Very emotional. Being there was very emotional," Giuliani said. "And now he was going to go to the Javits Center to meet with many of the family members, which would be more draining and more emotional. So he got in the car and he invited Governor Pataki to get in the car with him. And my police commissioner, fire commissioner and head of emergency services just pushed their way in the car. They just thought they were invited. They thought they were going on a ride. This is the president’s limousine.

"So now, these three big guys—and they’re all big—are sitting in the limo with the president. Everybody’s like jammed in. One of them is sitting on his lap. And everyone is sitting there very solemn, very sad. And we’re all traveling down West End Avenue and there were four, five, six thousand people on the streets. They’re all cheering….The first one to break the ice was the fire commissioner, Thomas Von Essen, who all of the sudden, out of the blue just says - the president said to him, ‘Tom, are you okay? How are you doing?’ And Tom says ‘I’m doing better now. My wife finally came home last night and I got lucky.'"

The crowd laughed and Giuliani continued:

“The president punches his arm. ‘You’re probably the only guy who did.’ The funny thing about President Bush is that two weeks later, the president came to a firehouse in Brooklyn. And the president came in and Tom was there. The first thing he said to him, I remember this, he put his arm around Tom and said, ‘you still getting lucky?’”

Giuliani said 40 or 50 terrorist attempts to attack the United States were stopped by the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, increased intelligence, governmental cooperation and luck. Earlier yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a general warning about a car or truck bomb in time for the anniversary of the attacks.

Stengel asked Giuliani about his insider’s take.

“I am sure that Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly will have their first good night's sleep on Sept. 12,” Giuliani said.

He complemented the Federal Bureau of Investigation on its national law enforcement powers and international contacts, but said it didn’t know New York’s intricacies.

“They haven’t the foggiest idea where Bay Ridge is in Brooklyn,” Giuliani said. “Go to Bay Ridge, they’ll go to New Jersey. The police department doesn’t have that intelligence internationally. There’s nobody else in the world that knows the city better than the New York City Police Department. The single best law enforcement person in the world is a New York City detective.”

Eventually, Stengel asked him about the state of today’s Republican party.

“When you look at the Republican Party and the debate last night, do you think ‘this is a party where I still belong?’” Stengel asked Giuliani. He replied that he worked under Reagan in the U.S. Attorney’s office and considered Reagan a hero.

“I wish he could have been there last night,” Giuliani said of the Republican debate the night before at the Ronald Reagan Foundation. “I think he would have finished by telling all of them—finally Newt Gingrich said ‘stop attacking each other, just start explaining what you would do.’ And I feel comfortable as a Republican because I get to define it the way I want to define it, and that makes it a real hard time getting nominated. I consider myself to be pretty financially and economically conservative, pretty conservative on national security and militarily. But I’m a social moderate and that makes me difficult to get nominated by the Republican Party. Not because there aren’t a lot of Republicans who agree with me, because the Republicans that tend to participate in the primary are the most emotionally one-sided. Like in a Democratic primary, it kind of moves to the left.”

Giuliani, who will deliver a Sunday G.O.P. radio address on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, avoided answering questions into his political future.

‘I’m not thinking about it tonight,” Giuliani said on his way out after being asked about his election plans. “The next couple of days I consider apolitical.”