Mary Altaffer, Associated Press
NEW YORK — He was the living symbol of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, a hero to a traumatized nation seeking leadership in a time of crisis. Walking miles through the streets of Manhattan, Mayor Rudy Giuliani urged New York and the world to be calm, said the city would survive. With empathy and restraint, he said the number of 9/11 dead would be "more than any of us can bear."
"It was the worst experience of my life. It was the most devastating experience for the city I was responsible for," Giuliani told The Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview.
A decade later, the man most connected with 9/11 — earning the enduring moniker of "America's Mayor" — parlayed his experience into a lucrative security consulting career. But he proved a flop as a presidential contender in 2008, when the heroics of 9/11 didn't translate into a plausible strategy for winning the Republican nomination. And he says he's bothered by suggestions that he profited from his 9/11 fame.
Giuliani says he's considering another presidential bid in 2012. But he's found it hard to reclaim the mantel of greatness he earned on the city's darkest day.
His most searing memory was watching a man fall from the sky.
Giuliani arrived at the World Trade Center the morning of Sept. 11 minutes after a second plane slammed into the south tower. He was headed for the command post beneath the burning north tower when police asked him to look skyward to avoid falling debris.
"I kept looking up and I saw a man, on the 101st floor, put himself right in the window and he just flung himself right out," Giuliani told the AP. "I saw the fire behind him. I just froze and watched him because it was so incomprehensible."
There was no time to stop and absorb what he had seen. He strode through lower Manhattan, flanked by his administration, directing security and rescue efforts, visiting hospitals and trying to prevent the city's operations from falling into more chaos.
"We'd handled everything — airline crashes, building collapses, fires, hostage situations, other terrorist threats," Giuliani says now. "But this was so far beyond what we'd contemplated, there must have been a moment where I thought, we can't handle this."
In the afternoon, he stepped before cameras to describe the breadth of the devastation.
"My heart goes out to all the innocent victims of this horrible and vicious act of terrorism, acts of terrorism," he said. " Our focus now has to be on saving as many lives as possible," Giuliani said.
Asked how many had died, he said, "The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear, ultimately."
With that, Giuliani had become the national spokesman for the tragedy. His reassuring and authoritative presence eclipsed that of President George W. Bush, who had flown out of Florida shortly after the attacks and was kept on Air Force One and out of view for much of the day.
Before the attacks, New Yorkers had seemed eager to be rid of Giuliani, a lame duck weighed down by ebbing popularity and a series of personal crises.
The soap opera-like unraveling of his marriage to second wife Donna Hanover and his relationship with a mistress — his now-wife, Judi Nathan — had begun overshadowing accomplishments as mayor, particularly his widely praised rehabilitation of New York after decades of decline. He was first elected in 1994 and won a second term in 1998.
Giuliani's marital woes, which surfaced as he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, forced him to abandon a likely Senate bid against Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. The turbulence left Giuliani, then 57, facing an uncertain future in the final months of his second term.
But then came the attacks on his city. The plaudits he received that day made him a wealthy man after he left office in early 2002.
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