Columbia, S.C. Rudolph Giuliani launched into a California campaign speech recently with an opening line the crowd surely didn't expect - his husky-voiced impersonation of Don Corleone in "The Godfather."
"Thank youse all very much for invitin' me here tuh-day, to this meeting of the families from different parts'a California," Giuliani said, recycling his old New York gag to laughter and scattered applause.
Then this week, Giuliani used the reference again, invoking the mob's code of honor to explain why reporters should lay off his wife. "I am a candidate. She's a civilian, to use the old Mafia distinction," he said.
Other Italian-American politicians have shunned references to organized crime, fearful of being tarred unfairly by anti-Italian stereotyping. Not Giuliani, who has in the past embraced such talk to remind voters he helped bust up the New York mob as a federal prosecutor. Plus, he's an unabashed "Godfather" fan.
But some political analysts are puzzled why a man seeking to become the first Italian-American president would dabble so blithely with the darkest stereotypes of his heritage, especially before voters really get to know him.
And a leader in the nation's largest Italian-American organization said this week that Giuliani should drop his Corleone impersonations because they are insensitive to Italian-Americans trying to dispel the linkages between being Italian and being in the mob.
"It's unfortunate for him to make light of a stereotype that creates a lot of discomfort for millions of other Italian-Americans," said Dona De Sanctis of the Order Sons of Italy in America. "We would hope that Mr. Giuliani would try to find humor in other aspects of his candidacy rather than his Italian heritage that way.
"We don't think it's funny. We stopped laughing a long time ago."
Giuliani's campaign has issued a statement that did not address the Sons of Italy directly. "Mayor Giuliani is proud of his Italian heritage and has a record celebrating the country's culture and the important contributions Italian-Americans have made to New York City and the United States."
Giuliani's comments didn't bother Joseph Scelsa, president of the Italian American Museum in New York and the Coalition of Italian American Associations. He called himself a Giuliani supporter and said the mob references were "in jest. ... He's done more to advance the image of Italian-Americans."
So far, Giuliani's heritage - he is the grandson of Italian immigrants - has not been in an issue in the campaign, seemingly because so many Americans already know him and his record in New York City and on Sept. 11.