In what used to be the shadow of the World Trade Center, it was hard to find much sympathy for former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as he exited the presidential race.
“People liked him back in the day. But it’s over,” sidewalk salesman Irving Puryear declared, standing on the same patch of Broadway where he was forced to run from a cloud of debris and dust following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
That fateful day made Giuliani a household name around the planet. But it didn’t carry him as far as some political observers expected in the crowded race for the Republican presidential nomination.
On Tuesday, he suffered yet another disappointing primary finish — this time in Florida, the state where he had staked his whole, unconventional candidacy.
New Yorkers treated the occasion like a wake for one of their larger-than-life political figures. “I think Rudy overplayed his hand. It was ‘all-9/11, all the time,’ ” Puryear said. “He gets what he deserves.”
The 9/11 attacks might have turned Giuliani into “America’s Mayor,” an icon of defiance and Time magazine’s Man of the Year for 2001. But he was a polarizing figure in his own hometown — before, during and after the tragedy.
Some, like furniture installer David Miller, 21, of Queens, remember him as the law-and-order mayor who cleaned up the city and made it safe.
“If he could do half of what he did across New York City across the whole world, you’ve got it set,” Miller said, taking a coffee break on Liberty Street, a couple blocks from the crater of Ground Zero. Before his election as mayor in 1993, “New York was a trash dump,” Miller said.
On the presidential trail, Giuliani touted his record slashing city spending, fighting crime, opposing new taxes and pushing welfare reform. But his administration also was remembered for alleged heavy-handed tactics hassling panhandlers, the homeless and unlicensed street vendors.
“Now today is his day,” snarled Oliver Bush, 67, who was selling colorful socks out of a shopping cart in Harlem on Tuesday. “What goes around comes back around.”
As an economic conservative who was moderate on social issues, Giuliani always faced an uphill battle in the national GOP contest. Fearing a flop with orthodox conservatives in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, he mounted only token campaigns there, tried to build a Florida “firewall” and hoped to survive until Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.
Despite his attempts to portray himself as a pro-business champion, tax-fighter and the man who would win “the terrorists’ war on us,” he struggled to overcome the perception that he was a one-trick pony, riding a reputation he gained on one fateful day.
One former Democratic presidential contender, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, famously quipped that Giuliani was incapable of speaking without uttering “a noun, a verb and 9/11.”
Giuliani also got mixed reviews of handling those events.
“Did he stop any terrorists on 9/11?” asked Pete D’Angelo of Brooklyn. “He handled the clean-up crew.”
He might have had more to his campaign than 9/11, but that didn’t get through to average voters.
Standing outside the wreckage of Ground Zero, where construction crews are laying the foundation of a new Freedom Tower, tourist Kristal Narkiewicz, 22, of Pennsylvania lamented Giuliani’s departure from the White House race.
“I liked him because I knew he did a good job here,” she said. “In all his speeches he said, ‘9/11, 9/11.’ I kind of wanted to know what else he’d do for the country.
“Since he never got his point across, I’m not going to cry over it.”