Time to downsize Rudy 9/11 myth



The images and their accompanying story line are, by now, the stuff of legend, seared into memory. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a lame-duck local pol, becomes the take-charge, already prepared leader of a stunned city and nation on Sept. 11, 2001, striding through the streets of lower Manhattan with his top commanders to rescue, rally and reassure the populace.

Five years later, Giuliani is a pop-culture superhero ("I didn't have time to be afraid, Oprah") and has unabashedly converted 9/11 into wealth, fame and a shot at the White House.

But a new exhaustively researched and unsentimental peek behind the mythology strongly suggests that Giuliani and his top deputies committed many errors that did grave, even fatal, harm to citizens, emergency responders and recovery teams before, on and after that terrible day. Investigative reporters Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins, the co-authors of "Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11," think the time has come for the public to trade in myth for some hard, uncomfortable truths.

They could be wrong: Given a choice between a well-told heroic tale and a catalogue of faults, humans instinctively choose fable over facts. But Barrett and Collins hammer away at Giuliani and leave his mythic armor dented.

They tell the story of 9/11 failures like Giuliani's decision to locate the city's command center on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center over the objections of police and fire brass. The bunker went unused, and its 6,000 gallons of fuel may have destroyed the building.

Operational shortcomings like the FDNY's famously obsolete radios get reviewed in detail, along with low-tech communications failures like the creation of separate police and fire command posts at Ground Zero on 9/11, which prevented firefighters from sounding a Mayday evacuation order even after cops saw the south tower fall and began evacuating the north tower 25 minutes before it, too, collapsed.

Giuliani's top team comes in for criticism: Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik essentially served as Giuliani's personal bodyguard on 9/11 instead of running the NYPD. "I don't know who was directing. I literally don't," current Commissioner Raymond Kelly told the authors.

Those failures, perhaps understandable in the chaos of 9/11, are compounded by much less forgivable decisions in the attack's wake. Construction workers and firefighters were allowed to work and eat meals in the still-smoldering ruins without protective respiratory gear despite dire warnings - and as the Daily News has reported, thousands of Ground Zero veterans are now afflicted with upper respiratory illnesses.

Equally inexcusable is Giuliani's rewriting of history to hide his failures. Barrett and Collins describe forum after forum in which the mayor, relying on his mythic glow, says that even obvious mistakes - from the siting of the emergency bunker to the creation of separate police and fire posts on 9/11 - represented wise, intentional strategy. Already, the legend is beginning to fray: The chairmen of the 9/11 commission recently expressed regret at letting America's Mayor off the hook too easily. There will be more such second looks in the future, as America amends the moral of the Giuliani fable to read that even heroes need not be perfect - or pretend to be.