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Calgary firefighter Rod Patrick is flanked by fellow firefighters at the reception before Giuliani’s speech.
Вen Li/The Gauntlet

A leader comes to town

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Rudy Giuliani is a man who by many standards can speak with great authority on a host of issues, from adversity to humanitarianism to leadership. As Calgary's business and social elite filled a hall in the Roundup Centre on Aug. 28, 2002 they were ready to hear what promised to be an insightful speech on many fronts. As the mayor of New York during the largest and most significant terrorist attack on American soil during the country's existence, Giuliani carved out a name for himself that won't soon be forgotten. And through a presentation entitled "Leadership in Difficult Times," he hoped to offer onlookers a glimpse of where his reputation came from, including why he was recently named Time magazine's Man of the Year.

The Man

Certainly, to those in the crowd, he was a man who needed no introduction. A face familiar from television, newspapers and magazines alike, Giuliani's was one of accomplishment and triumph. No longer the saddened visage of a leader thrown into a world of difficult decisions and harsh realities, Giuliani took an extraordinary situation and pulled it together. This was, by all appearances, a man who faced more than most of the leaders in the audience could dream of. Most importantly, he came out on top, with the city of New York right along with him. He had every right to look as though he had something to be proud of.

Introduced by local tv anchor Darrel Janz as "a man who was thrust upon the public stage a year ago," Giuliani is the grandson of Italian immigrants, and grew up in a working-class family in Brooklyn, New York. He attended high school in the Bronx and graduated from New York University Law School in 1968. From there, he prosecuted criminals in New York, and then in Washington, d.c. as Associate Attorney General. Before taking his first run at mayor in 1989 and subsequently losing, Giuliani served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, spearheading successful campaigns cracking down on drug dealers and organized crime. With these successes, he captured the 1993 mayoral race, locking himself in for what would be an eight-year term--the maximum allowed under New York civic law--ending with the tragic events that played out last September.

Had Giuliani won in '89 and carried out a full term, his legacy would be much less memorable. Staking a claim to drastically lowering crime in a city defined by its crime rate and significantly improving the economy in a city that by and large drives the U.S. dollar, are accomplishments in and of themselves. However, Giuliani's footprints now hold a much greater significance.

To be fair, Giuliani's part in September 11 was one of circumstance. Whoever sat in the leader's chair that morning would be remembered as having a significant role in how New York survived the disaster. But Giuliani did more than just hold on for life as his city was brought to its knees. Through preparedness, resourcefulness and tremendous leadership abilities, Giuliani was not only able to make it through unscathed, but come out with his city on top, as it had been mere weeks before.

The Event

Not surprisingly, the evening, dubbed "An Evening Honouring Rudy Giuliani," wasn't everything it could have been. It could have been a story of what happened on and since September 11 in New York. It could have been a eulogy, for those who lost their lives and, more tragically, those who perished trying to save them. It could have been a moral, revealing insight on humanitarianism and the sacrifice made by Giuliani and others. It could have been much more than it was.

It was essentially a motivational speech on how to be a good leader, taking pages from his extensive experience. But it didn't forgo the importance of the man or his message. In fact, what we did get, as small a picture as it was, probably had a tremendous impact on the audience, both as Calgarians and, for the most part, leaders themselves.

"We just look at what people would fit into Calgary," said Grant Doyle, ceo of Calgary Renaissance, the organization behind this event, and others like former U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit last year. "With Rudy Giuliani being one of the key leaders in today's world, we thought he was a natural person to bring to Calgary."

Doyle argued this was especially important because of recent leadership changes in Calgary, from a new mayor to the University of Calgary's appointment of a new chancellor.

"I think [the audience] was looking at how they could become bigger and better leaders," said Doyle, adding that a conscious effort was made to concentrate very little on the events of September 11. "It wasn't something we wanted to focus on. We wanted to give somewhat of a 9–11 feel, but we're also a year after the event occurred. We wanted to look at the lessons and some of the changes in the community since then."

By those standards, Doyle and the audience were given exactly what they paid for, although Doyle would not disclose Giuliani's appearance fee. Giuliani made a conscious effort to relate most of the themes to business and political leadership, bridging the gap that might exist between himself and the audience.

There were people in the audience who were expecting more, however. They weren't looking for an effect on their own lives, but on those of the people sitting around them. Attending the reception and sitting in the audience was a small delegation from Calgary Fire Department. They hoped these 1,200 business men around them would gain, among other things, an appreciation for emergency workers.

Rod Patrick, one firefighter present, had expectations quite different from Doyle's.

"You know what these guys are going through, not knowing what they're going to face. When the building came down, I just couldn't imagine," said Patrick empathetically. "Maybe people can get more respect for people who don't do top level jobs. Just because you're not at the top doesn't mean you're not important."

These sentiments were echoed by Calgary Police Service Deputy Chief Steve Dongworth, who was among the officers escorting Giuliani into the hall.

"I think we need a recognition of the tremendous work the emergency medical personnel do on a daily basis and the high price these people pay," Dongworth said, adding that he also would like to hear Giuliani talk as an experienced leader. "We lost a lot of our firefighting family and Mayor Giuliani was one of the key figures in what happened after that."

At the end of the day, as one attendee told me, what he got, perhaps even more important then the message, was a social experience. While there were 1,200 people there, these were a tightly knit group of people, familiar with each other from functions and galas from the rest of the year. The "Circus Minuscule" theme, complete with balloons, streamers and servers wearing top hats, was meant to "give it a Coney Island feel." There were signs announcing the sale of hotdogs, pretzels and beer. There were New York souvenirs and, at the entrance of the hall itself, a human portrait of the Statue of Liberty, standing as still as possible, barely looking alive. It was, all in all, a good time. And with a host of live entertainment after dinner, it was the party to be at.

"The biggest thing is that when you get that group of people together, it's a tremendous networking opportunity from them," admits Doyle, adding that regardless of this intent, he walked away with something for himself. "I think the biggest thing that I had learned was to continue on, to dream big and stay with what your decision is. Too often we see leaders flip-flop because there's pressure on them. With Giuliani, he stayed the course; and he proved to be right."

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