Married to the Mob
Rudy Giuliani Comes Home
At this point, Trump being indicted is old hat. But several people have noted the rather delicious irony of Rudy Giuliani, who once “pioneered” RICO prosecutions against the Mafia as a crusading U.S. attorney and then transferred the strategy to chasing corporate criminals like Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken, coming himself under a RICO indictment in Gerogia.
“When I started, I thought RICO was one of his relatives,” Tony Soprano’s shrink Dr. Melfi once reflected. But RICO is not anybody’s cugine; quite the opposite: the acronym comes from the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law passed in 1970 specifically to target the mob. It is an extraordinarily sweeping law: it makes it illegal to engage in or to conspire to engage in a criminal “enterprise” and allows prosecutors to pursue targets with a past “pattern of racketeering activity,” meaning previous offenses that are considered racketeering predicates, like blackmail, extortion, money laundering, or trafficking in obscene materials. You may have heard mobsters on TV or in movies complaining about getting prison time “just for talking on the phone.” It’s true that RICO is so broad and so powerful it raises First Amendment issues of speech and association.
Of course, none of those issues bothered Giuliani or anybody else when he successfully used RICO to targeted the so-called “Commission,” the central committee of the New York’s Five Families in 1985. Nor when he took down insider traders or corrupt politicians. But now it turns out the guy who was once teased as “Mr. Clean” in the New York press might be a little bit of a racketeer himself. Is this little irony just the final piece of Rudy’s fall from grace? Well, I think there were kind of always two Giulianis: there was Rudolph W. Giuliani, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and then there was Rudy.
A few years ago, HBO made a documentary about the mob in the 1970s and 1980s. It featured a lot of interviews with Giuliani. One things he said stuck with me. One was something to the effect of “Could I have grown up to be a wiseguy? Maybe.” Giuliani was referring to his childhood in East Flatbush. Had his parents not moved out to the suburbs, who knows what could have happened? As a matter of fact, his father Harold was a more than a bit of a wiseguy. He had done time for armed robbery and then got a job at Vincent’s, a local joint that was really front for a loan-sharking a book-making operation. He didn’t just work the bar, he gave delinquent accounts a working over with a bat.
Under the watchful eye of the Christian Brothers at Bishop Laughlin High School and then Manhattan College, Rudy became a model of an integrated Roman Catholic. His were Jack and Bobby Kennedy. When Bobby Kennedy ran for New York’s Senate seat, Rudy defended him from the charge he was a carpetbagger in the college newspaper: “Let us hope that cosmopolitan New Yorkers can rise above the ridiculous, time-worn provincial attitudes that has so disunited our nation.” Rudy was also leaving behind his own provincialism, his own “local and sectional pressures:” He chose the liberalism of the age: rational, competent, orderly, and universalistic, with a law-an-order edge, like Bobby the A.G., Bobby the Inquisitor going after the mob. Instead of the Brooklyn way patronage, pay-offs, the rackets, the numbers, all the hugs, kisses, slaps on the backs, the smoke filled rooms where ex-prizefighters became politicians, and politicians doled out beatings as well as jobs, there would be the Law.
Giuliani modeled himself on Thomas Dewey, the clean-as-a-whistle prosecutor who went after Lucky Luciano and Dutch Schultz and then became a Reform, liberal Republican governor of New York. In 1989, he ran for mayor, not long after pulling the Machiavellian trick of setting the U.S. Attorney’s office on the city’s (admittedly, extremely corrupt) Democratic Party and mortally wounding Ed Koch. But late 80s New York wasn’t all that impressed. He was mocked in the press: He garnered comparisons to Savonarola, the puritanical Dominican friar who denounced corruption but established a tyrannical rule over Florence; he was called “stiff,” “awkward” and “uncomfortable” on the trail, rarely taking his jacket off, or mingling with crowds. “Can we live with a mayor who detests all sins, including the Seven Deadly Ones with which we comfortable had lived with so long and so contentedly?” coyly asked Murray Kempton in Newsday. “…Rudy, I don't know how to break it to you, you're not the most popular Italian in this town. That's right, baby. John Gotti runs rings around you. Great dresser, great voice, great charisma,” ad wizard Jerry Della Femina told the papers. Cleaning up white collar crime, smashing the mob? Eh, who cared anymore? And for some going after the mob didn’t sit well. On Arthur Avenue, they even threw tomatoes at him. He narrowly lost his first run to David Dinkins, the first black mayor of New York.
Next time around, Rudy underwent a bit of a makeover. He made peace with Senator Alphonse D’Amato, who had a adversarial relationship with Rudy because he was essentially in the pocket of the Wall Street slicks Giuliani was after. He also got close to Phil Caruso’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. This required him to make nice to Mario Biaggi, a former cop and Bronx congressman he once threw in jail, calling him “blatantly corrupt” and “a thug in a congressman’s suit.” He was spotted shaking hands with Biaggi on a yacht. Then to cap it all off, there was the infamous City Hall Cop riot, which Giuliani helped egg on. A rowdy mob of ten thousand drunken off duty cops, angry about corruption investigations and the proposal for a civilian review board, laid siege to City Hall, shouted racist epithets, and blocked off the Brooklyn Bridge. Giuliani gave a speech to that crowd that was deemed “obscene” by the press at the time. The New York Post dubbed him the “Human Scream Machine.”
Giuliani’s campaign vulnerability study urged him to repudiate the actions at City Hall and return to his liberal, reform, fusion Republican image. He mostly ignored the advice. He felt the power in that crowd. This was a city that had just worshipped John Gotti as a folk hero. He knew then he would have to be at least a little bit of a mob leader, a little bit of a demagogue, a bit of a gangster. He couldn’t just be Mr. Clean, the G-Man. He got close to the obscene core of power and apparently liked it. That he later fell in with Trump is hardly surprising. You can see the full expression of this obscene undercurrent now with his recent sexual harassment suit, where he’s been caught talking like a gangster:
MR. GIULIANI: These breasts belong to me. Nobody else can get near these, okay? I don't care if they're flirting or they give you business cards. These are mine, you got it?
MS. DUNPHY: Yes.
MR. GIULIANI: Understand? I'm very f****ng possessive. I've gone easy on you.
And now he’s under RICO indictment. Could he have grown up to be a wiseguy? Well, you could say he kind of did.
Is this all just the hypocrisy of the rich and powerful? Perhaps. But there’s one more story Giuliani recounted in that HBO doc that stuck with me. He’s talking about the behavior of two Mafia dons at the Commission trial. The press was mobbing the courtroom steps. Down comes Paul “Big Paul” Castellano, stately head of the Gambino family. “Mr. Castellano! Mr. Castellano! 60 Minutes! Could we speak to you?” Upon hearing the name of the prestigious show, Castellano turns around, and makes a big show of gentlemanly aplomb, flourishing a business card. Meanwhile, Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, chief of the Genoveses, is getting into his car. “Mr. Salerno! Mr. Salerno! Can we get a comment?” Salerno: “Yeah, go fuck yourself.” Giuliani approved of Fat Tony’s performance. To Giuliani, Castellano was pretentious, a phony, while Fat Tony knew exactly who he was: a thug. Was Giuliani deep down always a gangster at heart and the rest was pretense? No, they are all just roles he learned to play and inhabit. For Rudy, it’s all histrionics.