It seems Hizzoner Rudolph Giuliani, bane of the mob and scourge of street hoods, is himself the son of a stickup man and the nephew of a mobster.
The revelations, contained in "Rudy!," a new "investigative biography" of New York's once-fearsome mayor, are another curious turn in a curious year for him. He has prostate cancer and a girlfriend and a wife who is just a little bit bitter. And, no, on second thought, he's not going to run for the Senate against first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
So a public man's life becomes Shakespeare meets Freud as rendered by Mario Puzo.
His father's past
Giuliani always has woven a moral hair shirt out of his life's work. As U.S. attorney and mayor, he took on the mobsters and beat back the predators. And always, he mocked anyone who gainsayed him. He was Sin City's Mr. Clean, out to restore New York to its technicolor 1950s heyday. It was a vision he credited to his old man, Harold Giuliani, the janitor and Brooklyn barkeep who instilled in him a reverence for working hard and keeping his nose clean.
Now, according to author Wayne Barrett, a longtime investigative reporter for the Village Voice, a rather different father emerges. It seems the mayor's dad was a 5-foot-11, big-knuckled man who wore Coke-bottle glasses and made a living as "muscle." Which, in Brooklyn at that time, meant working as a debt collector for a loan-sharking operation. He swung a mean baseball bat and was a skilled craftsman.
The book says Harold Giuliani "shoved people against walls, broke legs, smashed kneecaps, crunched noses. He gave nearby Kings County Hospital a lot of business. 'People in the neighborhood were terrified of him,' said a frequent customer at Vincents," the Giuliani bar.
He enjoyed signing his love letters to his future wife "Your Savage."
The mayor has had little to say about the book, although there's no indication he contests the findings. It's not known if he was aware of his father's criminal past. Recently, he said his father, who died in 1981, "was the finest man I ever knew ... the most generous and kindest and most charitable man I ever knew."
In 1934, his father took a step further over the line, according to the book. He and an accomplice grabbed a milkman in the stairwell of an apartment building on East 96th Street (seven blocks from Gracie Mansion, where the mayor lives) and stuck a gun to his stomach. The two men forced the milkman to drop his pants and began to bind his feet when a police officer came running in.
Giuliani was sentenced to two to five years at Sing Sing prison in New York.
Harold Giuliani lied about his name, age, address and occupation when he was arrested, which perhaps explains why his arrest and conviction went unnoticed by reporters and political opponents during the past two decades of Mayor Giuliani's very public life.
"Twenty-five years in public life with everyone out to get him, and they didn't know his father was a stickup man?" says Mitchell Moss of New York University's Taub Urban Research Center. "Who says you can't keep a secret?"
When Harold Giuliani arrived at Sing Sing, he received a psychiatric examination. Reading it today -- the document is posted on the Web site TheSmokingGun.com -- is like reading a cross-generational X-ray, with the father bearing more than a passing temperamental similarity to the son.
"He is a personality deviate of the aggressive egocentric type," the 1934 report reads. "This aggressivity is pathological in nature and has shown itself from time to time even as far back as his childhood. He is egocentric to an extent where he has failed to consider the feelings and rights of others."
As late as 1962, when Rudolph Giuliani was in college, his father engaged in a shootout with a Mafia thug, Barrett's book claims.
Always in the news
The mayor will say but one thing: His father's past died with him.
Which seems to strike many New Yorkers as reasonable. The revelations have been front-page news in the tabloids and prominent on television. But the reports are, after all, about his father (and the mayor's mother, who is revealed to have harbored an affection for Benito Mussolini).
If it turns out that an uncle and a cousin or two were mobsters or associates or goombah hangers-on, and if a few of said mooks caught a bullet or two, well ... there's absolutely no evidence Rudy Giuliani had anything to do with them.
Maybe it even makes a larger-than-life mayor a bit larger.
"He marries his cousin, then he has another wife and a girlfriend, and now this," said Moss, who is just a bit impressed. "He's not even running for the Senate, and he's still dominating the news cycle."