Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said that on Sept. 11, 2001, he watched a man jump from a window of the World Trade Center to the ground over a hundred stories below.
“I said to the police commissioner, ‘We’re in uncharted territory,'” Giuliani said.
Giuliani spoke about the demands of leadership to a sold-out crowd Tuesday at Southern Connecticut State University. He said that through “relentless preparation,” he was able to handle the attacks on Sept. 11, even though no one expected them.
“My first thought was, we don’t have a plan for this,” Giuliani said. “I realized — that by anticipating everything else you’ll have the answer to the unanticipated.”
Giuliani was invited to SCSU as part of the Mary and Louis Fusco Distinguished Lecture Series, which brings a speaker to the college each year. SCSU President Michael Adanti awarded Giuliani an honorary doctorate from the university.
Giuliani began by saying he disagreed with the belief that America was less safe after Sept. 11.
“I think things are less dangerous than they were,” Giuliani said. “The world is actually safer when you look at reality and you deal with it.”
Speaking about the need for courage in leaders, Giuliani recalled one firefighter who was injured on Sept. 10, 2001, and taken off duty. The next day, he borrowed another firefighter’s gear and drove toward the burning World Trade Center, leaving a note behind to tell his family he loved them.
“He knew he just wasn’t going to another fire,” Giuliani said. “He had to know he was driving into hell and he continued to go.”
Giuliani also said optimism was important for strong leadership.
“Imagine if I had walked out today after getting my degree and said, ‘Things are bad. Things are very bad. They’re just going to get worse, much worse. Follow me,'” Giuliani said.
After the speech, Giuliani answered questions from the audience. He told one audience member he would like to run for public office again but did not say what position he wanted.
One audience member asked what he thought of the plans for rebuilding Ground Zero.
“I think the designs they chose and a lot of the designs fail to capture the significance of the place,” Giuliani said. “You can put office buildings anywhere but there is only one space where [the attacks] happened.”
About 20 protesters gathered outside before the speech, carrying signs with slogans such as “Give Rudy the bootie” and “Heroes don’t jail the homeless.”
Asked about the protest, Giuliani said he thought his “tough love” approach was good for the homeless.
“I think that one of the mistakes [the city] made with the homeless was to ignore them,” Giuliani said. “We should confront them, find out what’s wrong with them and help them.”
Most audience members praised Giuliani’s speech, though some said they did not agree with his policies as mayor.
“He’s a strong leader but I don’t think he deals with social issues as well as political issues,” SCSU social work professor Minou Michlin said. “I don’t agree with what he was saying about the homeless. I don’t think he was providing them services.”
Adanti praised Giuliani and said his presence was an asset to the school.
“I thought [former] Mayor Giuliani was outstanding, clear, to the point, concise,” Adanti said. “I couldn’t be happier that he chose Southern to do this.”
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