Thursday, July 13, 2006

America's Awful Mayor

Second perhaps only to John McCain, Saint Rudy gets more scrutiny-free tongue baths from the media than just about everyone. This is all due to the incredible ability he showed on 9/11 to get on TV and appear calm and in charge which, while admittedly welcome after the president failed even that meager test of leadership, said little about his ability to actually oversee the competent management of an emergency. And that's before we even got to his boy Bernie Kerik. A new book might put a wee dent in that narrative, but I doubt it. Zombie Narratives are impossible to kill, and thus Rudy will remain America's Mayor.

Giuliani, for instance, detailed an Office of Emergency Management, but then located its headquarters inside what had long been identified as a prime target—the World Trade Center. It was, the authors write, "the only bunker ever built in the clouds."

The heads of various crisis-management-and-response units were political appointees, most in way above their heads. Giuliani and his subordinates were never able to coordinate communications among various fire, police, dispatch, public-health and other agencies; had they been successful, there's a good chance, the authors maintain, that the civilians who were told to stay in place inside the burning towers would have been evacuated, as the fire chiefs had ordered.

The authors' account verges on indictment when they explore why the firefighters' handy-talkies did not work, a congeries of causes ranging from the technological to the political. Suffice it to say that the Giuliani City Hall seems to have been no stranger to sweetheart deals and patronage, so that the employee in charge of emergency broadband communications had a sister who worked as a lobbyist for the phone provider who just happened to win the lucrative contract. That employee later committed suicide.