During and after 9/11, then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani set the gold standard for leadership in a crisis. The secret, he said later, was faith and determination.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Giuliani visited New Orleans to lend support and to volunteer the services of a company in which he is a principal -- Sabre Technical Services -- to help clean up faith-based and nonprofit institutions that were devastated by the storm.
Gambit Weekly caught up with him just long enough to pose some questions about the role that mayoral leadership can play in New Orleans' recovery.
Q: A lot of people have made a comparison between Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. Do you think that's a fair comparison?
RG: No, I don't. I think they're two different things. One was a terrorist attack, and the other was a natural disaster. One affected a definable area that was terribly destroyed with tremendous loss of human life, but this is a much greater area of land with much more disruption, and the rebuilding process has much greater dimension. So I don't think the comparisons work. ... I think the right comparison should be what kind of attitude should you have about it afterwards. I think the attitude that you have to have about it afterwards is that these are two great American cities -- New York and New Orleans -- and it's not just in the interests of the people of New York and New Orleans that they be rebuilt, but it's also in the interests of America.
Q: Do you think New Orleans is getting that message out?
RG: I think New Orleans is getting its message out. This is an overwhelming, horrible thing to happen. When you drive through the neighborhoods and see how extensive it is, how vast it is, how much is affected by it, you get a sense that this is something that really overwhelms the human spirit. Yet it hasn't, and it can't. And the reality is that there's just no choice: New Orleans has to be rebuilt.
Q: Is there something else that New Orleans needs to do?
RG: I think America has to embrace New Orleans. This is an American problem. It isn't just New Orleans. New Orleans is a great American city. It has contributed a tremendous amount to our history. It has contributed a tremendous amount to our future. It's critical to our energy needs. It's critical to our social structure and our society. So this is an obligation of all Americans, not just the people of New Orleans, to make sure that it's rebuilt.
Q: What do you think you did after 9/11 that made New Yorkers and all Americans respond so well?
RG: The only thing that I can think of that really gets you through a crisis is, one, faith in God. ... And the second thing is, you just have to be determined. There are times during which, driving through some of the neighborhoods today, I had the same feelings I had sometimes when I would go down to Ground Zero. ... It can really make you feel like, how can we rebuild this? You can't let that happen. You have to replace those feelings with defiance, determination, optimism, whatever you want to call it -- faith in God.
Q: Do you think there's anything that the city leadership could be doing differently right now?
RG: When I was the mayor, everybody from the outside had a much better way to do things than I did. I just have tremendous empathy for everybody who's in a position of leadership here. They're all trying very, very hard -- and they need our help and support, not somebody from the outside who doesn't know as much about it telling them what to do.
Q: How important is it that leaders from opposing parties work closely together during times such as this?
RG: This is not a party thing. I had the benefit of that when I was mayor of New York City on September 11. I got the benefit of bipartisan cooperation in a way that was indescribable -- Republicans, Democrats, the president. ... This is not about somebody's political party. It's about rebuilding a city with a tremendous number of people who need help and who deserve it.
- Cheryl Gerber
- "You get a sense that this is something that really overwhelms the human spirit. Yet it hasn't, and it can't." Rudy Giuliani