Share this article

print logo


No one who watched New York City's nightmare unfold last week could have missed the lesson in leadership provided by Rudolph Giuliani, a physically weakened and politically battered mayor who emerged instantly as the leader this terrible tragedy demanded: shaken but resolute, a man intent on shaping the situation instead of merely enduring it.

Giuliani's constant presence at the heart of the disaster scene and his decisive, reassuring command of a crisis in all of its details emerged as a bright spot in the darkness of lower Manhattan during the worst week in New York City history.

Although there were greater heroes -- including scores of firefighters, police officers and other rescuers who gave their lives by charging into the stricken World Trade Center to save others -- Giuliani emerged as the unquestioned leader. From the moment he arrived at a disaster scene command post, through the moment he abandoned it just before one of the twin towers collapsed upon it, to all the moments he sought out suffering New Yorkers and repeatedly returned to rejoin rescue workers, Giuliani left the citizens of his city with no doubt there was someone at the helm.

In the earliest stages of this crisis, in fact, Giuliani looked more presidential than the president. By week's end, though, President Bush had begun his transition from a low-key leader focused on domestic policies to wartime commander. While his tests of leadership will be far more complex and far less clear-cut than those facing New York's mayor, his slow start has given way to a growing sense of command.

In the days ahead, Bush -- hopefully with the continued bipartisan backing of Congress -- must marshal not only America's resources but international support for a sustained military campaign against terrorism. The actions America must take will inevitably put its soldiers, sailors and air crews at risk. Bush's primary task, now, is to rally the people of America to sacrifice.

In declaring the week's terrorism attacks "acts of war" and in warning that America will make no distinction between terrorists and those who harbor them, Bush showed some of the steel that task will require -- and effectively countered the absurd criticism of his absence from Washington, at the urging of the Secret Service and the advice of Vice President Cheney, during the attacks. The last thing America needed during the assault on American symbols was the assassination of its president.

Meanwhile, in addition to the mayor and president, others rose to the occasion that called for calm but certain hands. Gov. George E. Pataki was quick to respond and quick to voice the needed resolve to emerge from this tragedy even stronger and better than before. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver -- whose home district included the World Trade Center -- and State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno also deserve credit for instantly abandoning the season's acrimonious state politics in favor of unity. Pataki's stirringly determined speech to an extraordinary session of the Legislature met an equally notable response when Silver turned from the podium to tell his frequent adversary, "I pledge to work with you."

That kind of cooperation will be needed at the state level in the days ahead, as New York moves beyond the horror of this attack and tackles the job of rebuilding. It will be needed even more at the federal level, where Bush has rightly redirected his administration into a war against terrorism.

Leadership emerged during the past week. And it's a good thing, because in the days ahead, city, state and country are going to need it more than ever.

There are no comments - be the first to comment