Giuliani appeared calm and in control at a news conference soon after the attacks.
(CNN) -- Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a controversial politician known for chasing down mobsters, slashing welfare rolls and jeering at the press, left office at the end of 2001 on a surge of popularity. His parting image was that of a big-hearted hero of the city, credited with lifting spirits and organizing tireless recovery efforts following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
New York's new mayor, Republican Michael Bloomberg, may owe a debt of gratitude to his predecessor. Bloomberg lagged far behind Democrat Mark Green in polls before the November 6 election, but his campaign crested sharply after he was endorsed by Giuliani. Term limits prevented Giuliani from seeking a third term as mayor.
As New York mourned the loss of thousands of lives and cleaned up thousands of tons of debris, Giuliani steadfastly held news conferences, gave interviews and attended funerals and charity functions, spreading his appeal for fortitude, calm and unity.
"Nobody should blame any group of people or any nationality or any ethnic group," he said on the day of the attacks.
New Yorkers -- who haven't pulled any punches with Giuliani in the past -- took to cheering him, shouting "Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!" when he appeared. Although he's a life-long Yankees fan, Giuliani received a standing ovation at a recent Mets game.
"Giuliani is the personification of courage," said CBS "Late Show" host David Letterman, who like many comedians put jokes aside in the days following the attacks.
Queen Elizabeth II conferred honorary knighthood on Giulani, along with the city's police and fire commissioners.
During the last months of his term, he became the first New York mayor in 50 years to address the U.N. General Assembly.
"This massive attack was intended to break our spirit," Giuliani told the U.N. delegates. "It has not done that. It has made us stronger, more determined, and more resolved."
These days it seems hard to believe that Giuliani was the subject of countless negative headlines during the past few years. He was accused of fueling racial tensions in the city for his reactions to allegations of police brutality. His extramarital affair and the ensuing divorce proceedings with his wife of 17 years became daily tabloid fodder.
After he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000, Guiliani announced he would not run as expected for a U.S. Senate seat against Hillary Clinton, making him seem like a man past the pinnacle of his career.
But on September 11, everything changed. In New York's darkest hour, Giuliani became one of its shining lights, showing that he has much more to give to the city.
An invigorated Times Square is one of the legacies of Giuliani's drive to clean up New York's image.
Rudolph William Giuliani was born to a working class family in Brooklyn, New York, on May 28, 1944, the only child of Harold, a tavern owner, and Helen, a bookkeeper.
His grandparents were Italian immigrants and passed on their animosity toward the Mafia to their children. At the turn of the century, Giuliani's grandfather was forced to close several of his cigar stores because he refused to pay protection money to the mob.
"My father saw [the Mafia] as bullies, as people who had to band together in order to have the courage to do things," Giuliani wrote in an autobiographical article published in April 1987 by the New York Daily News.
"There's a very strong family there. Very loving." said Peter Powers, a long-time friend of Giuliani's and first deputy mayor.
Powers met Giuliani when they were students at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn.
"He was very popular. People liked him. There was always that leadership ability there," Powers said.
Young Giuliani was voted "Class Politician," without ever having held an elected office in the student government. He was raised a liberal Democrat and headed the high school's Kennedy-for-president committee.
Giuliani arrived at the disaster site soon after the first plane struck the World Trade Center and he has made frequent return trips to "ground zero" to survey the damage.
After graduating in 1961, Giuliani attended the then all-male Manhattan College, a Roman Catholic school in the Bronx. He pondered becoming a doctor or a priest, before finally deciding to become a lawyer in his junior year.
He graduated magna cum laude from New York University Law School and took a job
as assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. He made a name for himself as a brilliant cross-examiner and moved on to Washington D.C. in 1975, to become associate deputy attorney general under Republican President Gerald Ford.
Giuliani changed his political affiliation to the Republican Party and stayed in
Washington for three years before he returned to New York and began practicing law with the firm of Patterson, Belknap, Webb and Tyler.
In 1981, under the Reagan administration, Giuliani garnered the number three position in the Justice Department: Associate attorney general, handling narcotics law enforcement among other duties.
He then took on the job of U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he prosecuted white-collar criminals as well as mobsters.
"We want people to hear that this city is the most aggressive in fighting against organized crime," Giuliani said.
Giuliani ran for mayor of New York City in 1989, a time when the crime rate was skyrocketing. He lost by a close margin to David Dinkins.
In 1993, the determined Giuliani once again ran for mayor.
"The city was in desperate shape. The economy was kind of wavering. But worse than that, our crime situation was really out of control," said Andrew Kirtzman, a New York journalist and the author of "Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of New York."
Giuliani, the tough-as-nails prosecutor, campaigned on the platform of improving the quality of life, the business climate and education system while fighting crime. He won, becoming the first Republican mayor of the city in 20 years.
Soon after he entered office, Giuliani began to clean up the city, but his harsh methods drew criticism.
"To combat the sense of lawlessness on the street, Giuliani used his police force as an army," said Kirtzman. "And in a very short time, New York started to look a lot better. On the other hand, the tactics they were using started to antagonize people, especially in minority communities."
Giuliani stood behind his methods. "I believe you create a better society by setting higher standards and expecting better behavior from people," he said.
During his first two years as mayor, crime dropped by 30 percent. Murders and
robberies were at their lowest point in 25 years. And the city's welfare rolls were trimmed by more than 100,000.
"At some point Giuliani became almost the victim of his own success," Kirtzman said. "Crime had been cut in half; the city was cleaner; tourists were just flooding the streets of New York. And he was just without an enemy to fight."
But ex-prosecutor Giuliani managed to find some enemies. To many, his "quality-of-life" campaigns against hot dog vendors, jaywalkers, publicly-funded art and cab drivers came dangerously close to trampling on civil rights.
The New York Police Department came under fire in 1997, when Abner Louima, who is black, was sodomized with a broomstick in the 70th Precinct stationhouse. Two white police officers were convicted of carrying out the attack and four others were found guilty of lying about what happened.
Two years into Giuliani's second term, an African immigrant named Amadou Diallo was shot 19 times in the vestibule of his Bronx home by four white police officers.
The officers said they thought he was reaching for a gun. It turned out to be a wallet. Thousands protested at police headquarters, but Giuliani stood behind his officers, who were acquitted in February 2000.
Despite the controversies swirling around him, Giuliani emerged in 1999 as the Republican Party favorite to run against former First Lady Hillary Clinton for New York's U.S. Senate race.
As Giuliani campaigned and dealt with municipal problems, his personal life became chaotic.
In 2000 he announced that he had prostate cancer. The news broke that he was having an extramarital affair with Judith Nathan and he separated from his wife, Donna Hanover. The couple's bitter and very public divorce proceedings included wrangling over custody arrangements for their two children, Andrew and Caroline.
Giuliani eventually said that he would not run for the Senate seat, due to his treatments for cancer.
Rising from the ashes
Giuliani was limping toward the end of his second term as mayor of New York when an airliner crashed into Manhattan's World Trade Center the morning of September 11.
He rushed to the scene of the disaster and was beneath the twin towers when the second plane struck. The mayor met with three top fire department officials at a makeshift command post 10 minutes before the fire officials were crushed by debris.
The explosion of smoke and ash from the first tower collapse engulfed the mayor, but he managed to keep his composure.
Two hours into the tragedy, he was on the phone with CNN trying to give people an update on the condition of the subway system.
"This is a vicious, unprovoked act, a horrible attack on innocent men, women and children. It's one of the most heinous acts, certainly, in world history," he said.
President George W. Bush, meanwhile, was unavailable for comment in the hours immediately following the attacks, as the Secret Service tried to secure a safe haven for him.
"You have to remember that for most of the day, George W. Bush was in flight," said Kirtzman. "It was really Rudy Giuliani who was on the air most of the day, being very decisive and being very reassuring, telling people that we had weathered this extraordinary catastrophe, but that New York was going to be here today, and it was going to be here tomorrow."
Giuliani, who already had a reputation for sleeping no more than four hours a night, outdid himself, seeming to work around-the-clock in the days following September 11.
With access to City Hall blocked by ash and debris, Giuliani set up temporary
headquarters and delivered statistics every few hours as the victim count steadily climbed into the thousands.
Members of Congress and international leaders joined Giuliani on his daily tours of the disaster site. His surprising displays of tenderness included an emotional hug to one-time rival Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Even Giuliani's harshest critics acknowledged he handled the crisis well.
"Since the catastrophe, he has exerted the leadership which he's always had. What was different was that he was sensitive and warm and compassionate and showed nuances with respect to emotion that he never showed before," said Ed Koch, a former New York mayor and Giuliani rival.
But some critics who feel that Giuliani's policies divided the city over the past eight years are taking his emotional epiphany with a grain of salt.
"Maybe if he wasn't perceived to be so insensitive, no one would be paying so much attention to him finally showing sensitivity," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has frequently accused Giuliani of being hostile to African Americans.
Where does he go from here?
Despite some speculation that Giuliani would seek to amend state law so that he could become eligible for a third term as mayor, he did not press for a third term. And his efforts to stay on for an extra three months to make the transition to a new administration more "seamless" were ultimately blocked.
"People begged me to stay, begged me to stay. And I know what that's about. They're afraid," Giuliani said on CNN's "Larry King Live."
He insisted that his efforts to stay on longer had nothing to do with his own ambitions.
"I'm not looking for a job," he said. "I don't need a job."
But speculation is rife about what the future holds for Giuliani.