Saturday, July 21, 2007

From Team Giuliani, a New Willingness to Tiptoe

Published: July 21, 2007

As the politician previously known as Rudy Giuliani, fearless maverick, trudged through primary states this week, he added a group of conservative lawyers to his virtual entourage, a Justice Advisory Committee.

Their job, it appears, is to smother traces of the politician who once declared a “Roe v. Wade 25th Anniversary Day” and offered to help Bill Clinton pass tough national gun licensing laws.

Looking back — not that his campaign encourages doing so without supervision — there was a time when Mr. Giuliani would not have been seen onstage with people holding views like those of some of his new justice advisers.

For instance, during the 1993 mayoral race, the National Abortion Rights Action League of New York tried to organize a forum for candidates, but hit a snag. In the maneuvering, the incumbent mayor, David N. Dinkins, insisted that a candidate from the Right to Life Party be allowed to take part.

Mr. Giuliani would not hear of it.

“He said, ‘I would never accept a Right to Life candidate at this forum,’ ” said Kelli Conlin, the executive director of the abortion rights group. Instead of endorsing Mr. Dinkins, a Democrat who was also a vigorous supporter of abortion rights, the group stayed neutral. Mr. Giuliani showed his gratitude.

“He felt we were dealing honestly with him, and he rewarded me by putting me on his transition team,” Ms. Conlin said. “How passionately he believed in this.”

He appointed leading advocates of abortion rights to the city’s Board of Health. He spoke at a Naral luncheon in 1997. A year later, he welcomed Ms. Conlin and her group to City Hall for the declaration of “Roe v. Wade 25th Anniversary Day,” marking the Supreme Court decision that lifted many restrictions on abortions.

“He warmly gave me a kiss and a hug,” Ms. Conlin said.

That was 1998, when the theater of his political life was New York State, where any hesitancy in support for abortion rights is practically a disqualification from statewide elected office.

Asked recently about the prospect of Roe v. Wade being overturned, Mr. Giuliani skipped the warm hug. “It would be O.K. to repeal,” he said. “Or it would be O.K. also if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as a precedent.”

He still supports abortion rights, Mr. Giuliani says, but actually hates abortion, an antipathy that he is now revealing to the abortion opponents who will be voting in the Republican primaries.

“He made his reputation on being forthright,” Ms. Conlin said. “Well, at least he’s standing in unreceptive crowds and saying, ‘I am pro-choice.’ ”

New Yorkers who thought they were familiar with what appeared to be Mr. Giuliani’s views after his two decades in public life are now discovering that some of his other passions have cooled.

In February 1997, after a man shot seven people on the observation platform of the Empire State Building, Mr. Giuliani spoke urgently about the need for national gun control laws.

That particular fever has also broken.

“You have a personal right to carry arms, to have arms,” he said at a recent town hall meeting. “That personal right is as strong as the right of free speech.”

Each state, he now says, should regulate guns as it sees fit.

But back in 1997, when the Empire State gunman established residency in Florida by staying in a motel for a few days, long enough to legally buy a .380-caliber Beretta semiautomatic handgun, Mr. Giuliani said Florida’s law was “absurd.”

Most guns used in New York crimes were bought in Southern states, so the country needed national regulation, Mr. Giuliani said in 1997.

“The United States Congress should have the courage to pass uniform licensing for everyone carrying a gun,” he said. “A gun is more dangerous than an automobile. You have to go through a rigorous test in order to drive an automobile. You should have to go through an even more rigorous test before you get a gun, much less an automatic weapon.”

Sure, he sounds a bit different these days. But as his campaign Web site explains, “Rudy understands that what works in New York doesn’t necessarily work in Mississippi or Montana.”

Or as Groucho Marx is believed to have said: “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”