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Crisis meetings show Giuliani at his best

September 17, 2001

Immediately after the bombing of the World Trade Center eight years ago, then Police Commissioner Ray Kelly appeared on television with the head of the FBI's New York office.

With his close-cropped Marine haircut and his bull-like physique, Kelly's mere presence provided a sense of calm and purpose to a shocked nation.

Now the person providing that sense is Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The mayor has not only appeared in charge on national television, but he has been in complete control behind the scenes, a top city official pointed out.

"The mayor has at all times been calm and focused," the official said. "And he looks in charge ... He always appears fresh and clean-shaven."

Since Tuesday's attack, the official said, the mayor has conducted a series of meetings from two command centers at locations that authorities have asked not to be revealed for security reasons.

Each meeting has moved with precision and has included about 100 staffers and department from the city, state and federal governments.

Even though Gov. George Pataki has attended many of them, seated across from the mayor at a long oval table, "There is no question the mayor is in charge," the official said.

To the mayor's right sits Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and to Kerik's right Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota. To the mayor's left is Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen and to his left Richie Sheirer, the head of the city's Office of Emergency Management. Barry Mawn, the head of the FBI's New York office, has also attended a number of meetings.

During the meetings, Giuliani will call on participants, who raise their hands to speak.

When one city official complains of a problem in his department that the mayor considers trivial, Giuliani answers patiently.

"I know this is important to you," the official quotes the mayor as saying, "but it is something you can solve among yourselves. Let's focus on the big picture."

Each meeting has a specific agenda. The early meetings discussed such operational issues such as how to bring in the heavy equipment to the World Trade Center site. Another meeting was to discuss an economic package.There, the mayor gathered the city's top business leaders to discuss reopening the Stock Exchange and Broadway shows to give the semblance of a return to normalcy.

A third meeting involved the clergy and an attempt to bring the victims' families together for a service, which was held at the 28th Street Armory. A later meeting is to include psychiatrists and psychologists to tend to citizens' emotional and psychic wounds.

The mayor has also met with political leaders, including former Mayors Ed Koch, with whom he has feuded, and David Dinkins, with whom the mayor refused to meet in the past. He has also brought in the current mayoral candidates. Only Mark Green did not join. A Green campaign official said Green was attending a religious service at the time.

City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, who is also a mayoral candidate, has regularly attended these staff meetings. Vallone has also appeared on television with the mayor more than any other candidate. Vallone was the only mayoral candidate not to criticize Giuliani during the campaign.

Another person attending the staff meetings has been the mayor's former press secretary, Cristyne Lategano-Nicholas, who now is president of the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau. Lategano-Nicholas, who was publicly accused by Giuliani's wife, Donna Hanover, as being the subject of the mayor's love interest, appeared on television after one of the meetings, praising the mayor as effusively as she had when she was the mayor's press secretary.

Where Have You Gone, Joe Valiquette?
The FBI may be heading the investigation into the World Trade Center attack, but what has happened to its New York office? It used to be located at 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan. Since the office's phone lines - like all the phone lines in lower Manhattan - were knocked out, the staff has virtually vanished.

Police officials say the office has been relocated to an undisclosed location, which appears to be on the Intrepid, the World War II aircraft carrier berthed on the Hudson, considering that five shotgun-toting agents were seen outside it yesterday. Saturday, the FBI released two phone numbers for its press officer, Joseph Valiquette. But calls to both those numbers went unanswered over the weekend.

Staff writer Graham Rayman contributed to this story.

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© 2001 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.