ROCKVILLE, Maryland — Jerry Katzoff admires Rudy Giuliani for reducing crime and improving the quality of life in New York City as mayor, but before the presidential candidate addressed a synagogue in this Washington suburb on Tuesday, the Silver Spring resident told me he had some reservations.
“I personally am a little concerned about his views on the federal government,” said Katzoff, who has been a federal civil servant for 37 years.
He was referring to Giuliani’s pledge to replace only half of the 42 percent of federal employees who are scheduled to retire over the next 10 years, a move that would trim the government’s workforce by 20 percent, and — according to Giuliani’s estimates — save $70 billion a year. During the question and answer session, Katzoff had the opportunity to confront Giuliani on his proposal.
“Do you really believe that such a diminished federal workforce can respond to the increased domestic and foreign demands placed upon it over the next several years?”
While some politicians may have responded by thanking Katzoff for his service, or launching into an ode to government employees, Giuliani responded in his typically direct manner. “I have no doubt that we will not only be capable of doing it, but we will do it better,” he said. Giuliani used the example of how he improved the New York City hospital system while reducing the workforce by 12,000 to back up his point. “To say that you’re going to look for something like a 20 percent reduction over 10 years in the size of the massive workforce, what it means is you’re going to force your managers to become more efficient. You’re going to force them to figure out the simple proposition that every American business has to figure out: How can we do more with less?”
What struck me about Giuliani’s response was not that I had never heard it before, but that I had — at a speech he delivered to the Heritage Foundation last month. In fact, his remarks to the conservative audience at Heritage touched on many of the themes that he addressed to a largely Democratic Jewish audience at Rockville, Maryland’s B’nai Israel Congregation.
During both speeches he reiterated his pledge to stay on offense against terrorism, reconstructed the history of the 20th century to emphasize the danger of not recognizing threats early enough, blasted Democrats for living in denial about the threat of terrorism, praised Ronald Reagan repeatedly, and warned against withdrawing from Iraq. Earlier in the day, he addressed Pat Robertson’s Regent University, in a highly anticipated speech to evangelicals, and his remarks were quite similar, according to news accounts.
This made one thing abundantly clear: Giuliani is running his campaign with his eyes on the White House, not just on capturing the Republican nomination. While Mitt Romney is tailoring his message to appeal to conservative voters in early primary states, Giuliani is developing a message that can win him the nomination in such states as Florida, New York, New Jersey, and California, and easily carry over into the general election.
“YOU’VE GOT TO BE REALISTIC if you want to lead,” Giuliani said at the event sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, criticizing Democrats for being in denial about the nature of the threat we face. “You have to lead from cold, hard facts, not fantasy. If you can’t say the words, ‘Islamic terrorist,’ then you have a hard time figuring out who is our biggest enemy in this world.”
Moving on to current events in the Middle East, he said that “What happened in Gaza, I believe, is a microcosm of what will happen in Iraq if we listen to the Democrats and we precipitously leave with a staged, timed, planned in advance withdrawal.” Since Israel withdrew from Gaza, he said, a civil war ensued and the territory became controlled by a radical terrorist group. In Iraq, a U.S. withdrawal would lead to a Sunni-Shiite civil war that would spread to the entire region.
As for dealing with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he said that America should heed Reagan’s admonition to trust, but verify. “We should try with a sense of steely realism and not such a great desire for peace that we’ll agree to anything,” he said. That was the mistake the Clinton administration made when it negotiated with Yasser Arafat, Giuliani said, drawing applause when he reminded the audience of when he booted Arafat from Lincoln Center in 1995.
Giuliani also suggested that America should deliver the following message to Iran: “We’re going to use sanctions, we’re going to use negotiations…we’re going to use new ways to pressure you from becoming a nuclear power. But here’s the bottom line: You are not going to be allowed to become a nuclear power. No how, no way, it’s just not going to happen.”
BENJAMIN GILMAN, A FORMER Republican congressman from New York who retired in 2002, attended the event, sporting an “I’m with Rudy” button. “I like his attitude on terrorism and I like what he’s saying about Israel,” Gilman said. “I think he has the kind of demeanor and the qualifications that will make a great president.”
When he was reelected mayor in 1997, Giuliani received about 70 percent of the Jewish vote against Ruth Messinger, and if he is the nominee, he has a chance to do better among Jews than any Republican candidate since Reagan, which could mean the difference in Florida and New Jersey, and make him competitive in New York and California.
The reaction of this Maryland crowd suggests an opening exists, but he’ll face his share of hurdles.
“He did a wonderful job, and I thought he was extremely charismatic,” said Sandra Handloff, who along with her husband Barry is a Democrat who would consider voting for Giuliani. However, they had hoped he would talk more about other issues, such as healthcare and education.
Another woman, who said she had lived in New York City when Giuliani was mayor, said before the speech that she was not a big fan. “I wasn’t very thrilled with him when he was mayor,” she said. “He was very authoritarian and he alienated many communities in New York City….He favored very harsh police tactics, always defended them against any opposition, any criticism.” She declined to provide her name.
At that point, a man in the row in front of her jumped in, imploring me to be fair and balanced. “I am a registered Jewish Republican, so I am a rarity in this room,” said the man, Marc Barinbaum of North Bethesda, who is still undecided but sympathetic to Giuliani. “Rudy gets it on terror. Rudy knows there is a War on Terror. Many people in this room I know don’t get it that there is a War on Terror. Rudy cleaned up New York. Rudy will continue to keep this country safe.”