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Was Giuliani a Bum on 9/10/01?

Today Peggy Noonan makes a glancing reference to something I've been meaning to write about for a while with respect to Rudy Giuliani:

On 9/10/01 he was a bum, on 9/11 he was a man, and on 9/12 he was a hero. Life can change, shift, upend in an instant.

Noonan is over dramatizing for effect, of course, but a while back I got an email from a self-described liberal in NYC saying much the same thing - namely, that in the mythical afterglow of Rudy's performance on 9/11 people have forgotten that (to paraphrase my emailer's formulation) "on September 10 Rudy couldn't have been elected dog catcher in New York City."

So how much truth is there to the claim that Giuliani was a bum on 9/10? Not much, though I guess that depends on what criteria you use - not to mention taking into account the ideological make up of the registered voters iof both parties in New York City responding to surveys. A general answer is that before 9/11 Rudy was pretty darn well-respected, though not necessarily so well liked.

Six days before September 11, Quinnipiac recorded Rudy's job approval rating among 303 New York City likely Democratic primary voters at 42% approve and 49% disapprove.

Six weeks earlier, on July 25, 2001, Quinnipiac released a more detailed tab of Rudy's approval rating among a larger sample of 913 New York City registered voters:


Quinnipiac notes that Rudy's 50-40 job rating had been "unchanged for months." His favorable/unfavorable rating among all voters in the survey, however, was 39% favorable, 36% unfavorable, and 23% mixed opinion.

Even though it's further back and thus a bit less relevant to the discussion, another Quinnipiac survey in June of 2000 provided an even clearer picture of New York City voters' "respect-but-not-love" relationship with Mayor Giuliani:

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's approval rating has bounced back to 49 - 45 percent among New York City voters, his highest level in more than 18 months and a 24-point turnaround since April, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

The Mayor's highest ever approval rating was 74 - 23 percent in a February 11, 1998, poll by the independent Quinnipiac University. It stood at 60 -33 percent November 18, 1998. By April 19, 2000, his approval was a negative 37 - 57 percent, his lowest ever.

New York City voters approve 53 - 41 percent of the Mayor's handling of crime, and give him a negative 34 - 54 percent for his handling of education. He also gets a negative 21 - 68 percent rating for his handling of race relations.

Life in New York City has gotten better since Giuliani became mayor, according to 62 percent of New Yorkers, while 15 percent say it has gotten worse and 19 percent say it has remained the same.

"Now that he's out of the Senate race, is Mayor Giuliani on the rebound? This is the first positive approval rating for him since the Amadou Diallo case in February, 1999," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

"New Yorkers see their Mayor as a strong leader, and a big majority say life has gotten better since he moved into City Hall, but they still don't see him as a kinder, gentler Mayor."

White voters approve of the Mayor 64 - 30 percent, while black voters give the Mayor a negative 13 - 83 percent rating and Hispanic voters give the Mayor a 40 - 49 percent rating.

Looking at Giuliani's personal characteristics, New York City voters say:

* 80 - 17 percent that he can get things done;
* 27 - 68 percent that he has a likable personality;
* 74 - 23 percent that he has strong leadership qualities;
* 48 - 45 percent that he is honest and trustworthy;
* 26 - 68 percent that he is sympathetic to the problems of the poor;
* 32 - 60 percent that he works well with other political leaders.

Voters give the Mayor a 41 - 38 percent favorability rating, with 20 percent mixed and 1 percent saying they don't know enough to form an opinion. This is up from a negative 35 - 52 percent favorability rating April 19.

On one hand, discussion of what New York City voters thought about Giuliani prior to 9/11 is irrelevant to trying to speculate how folks in Iowa or New Hampshire will view him as a post 9/11 presidential candidate. On the other hand, despite ideological differences there is some universality to human nature, and history does often provide clues to the future.

Furthermore, in some ways this quick look back at Giuliani's past bolsters his over all case to both Republicans and to the country at large which is, in a nutshell: "you don't have to like me or even necessarily agree with me, but I'm a sonofabitch who gets things done." Then again, glancing at Rudy's past does make you question, as a prominent Democratic strategist said to me the other day, whether Giuliani's tough, pugilistic, New Yorker attitude is going to wear well over a long campaign with caucus goers in a place like Iowa.