When Prosecutors Bring Brash Habits to Political Office

In the guessing game about Mitt Romney’s choice for a running mate, received wisdom is that the sun no longer shines on Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor in a perennial huff. We on this side of the Hudson River could have seen it coming. We on this side of the Hudson have experience with someone cut from the same fabric bolt. His name is Rudolph W. Giuliani, our former mayor. His act didn’t play so well on the national political stage, either.

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

Mr. Christie and Mr. Giuliani have an important detail in common besides being Republicans and besides sharing an inability to suffer not only fools but also wise people gladly. Both are former prosecutors: United States attorneys, in fact.

Prosecutors, especially the showboats, are in the habit of flexing their muscles and getting their way. That can lend them an aura of strength. But the line between being strong and being abusive is a fine one, and it is easily erased. Something about these prosecutors, particularly from the rough-and-tumble New York region, might make them unappealing to the American general public, no matter what their successes at the local level.

“Part of the prosecutorial method is bullying,” said Ross K. Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University. “Cross-examinations are some of the most brutal things a person can undergo, especially at the hands of a trained prosecutor. Basically, it amounts to psychological waterboarding. I think there’s a tendency on the part of prosecutors to adopt a bullying and intimidating tone to get what they achieve.”

Nor is the aggression limited to dealings with political equals. Once in elective office, both Mr. Christie and Mr. Giuliani often violated a cardinal rule of the schoolyard: You don’t pick on someone weaker than you.

Each has been known to call people “idiots” for committing the sin of expressing disagreement. A notable gust of Christie hostility was his run-in this month with a man on the Jersey Shore, an encounter caught on video.

Mr. Giuliani regularly lashed out at New Yorkers who called in to his weekly radio show with complaints, like a man in 1999 who was unhappy with a municipal ban on pet ferrets. Granted, this fellow’s preoccupation with ferrets was unusual. But rather than shrug it off, the mayor told him on the air that “there is something deranged about you,” and advised him to see a shrink.

That form of bullying, said Douglas A. Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College, ultimately “doesn’t play in Iowa.”

“It’s a certain violation of the cultural norms — that you don’t violate people’s psychological and physical space the way Christie does,” Professor Muzzio said. “He violates their sense of space.”

Troubles for prosecutors-turned-politicians go at least as far back as Thomas E. Dewey, who before he became New York governor and then a thruway was a federal prosecutor and Manhattan district attorney. As the Republican nominee in the presidential elections of 1944 and 1948, he lost both times.

“And Tom Dewey was genteel compared to Chris Christie,” Professor Baker said. “He was much more buttoned-up. Christie is out there in full flower. So is Rudy.”

Professor Muzzio cast the net even wider, to include recent New York State attorneys general nurturing national ambitions. “If you look at the Cuomos and the Spitzers, there’s a certain type,” he said. “They may manifest their behavior differently but, man, they’re in your face — fastball at the head, Roger Clemens. At least Andrew could do a changeup and a curve, where Eliot was just a fastball pitcher. You could look at those guys as examples.”

You could, for that matter, also look at actors who merely pretended to be New York prosecutors, like Fred Dalton Thompson. For several years, Mr. Thompson played the Manhattan district attorney in the “Law & Order” series, then entered the sweepstakes for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. He washed out in nothing flat.

Maybe the only one who’d stand half a chance, Professor Baker suggested, is Sam Waterston, another “Law & Order” alumnus. He, at least, is someone “who probably gives the most benign portrayal of a prosecutor.”

E-mail Clyde Haberman: [email protected]

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Aristotle Onassis on Greek Democracy

Dear Diary:

In the early 1970s, I attended a small dinner party at Mrs. Jacqueline Onassis’ Fifth Avenue apartment.

There were 10 of us, including our hosts, Jacqueline and Aristotle; Ari’s Greek godson and his wife; Jackie’s cousin Nina Steers; Gianni Agnelli and his sister Susanna Rattazzi; and my date, David Frost.

After dinner, as we sat around gabbing about all sorts of things, we eventually landed on the subject of Greece, which was at the time going through one of its never-ending paroxysms of government crises, and seemed a subject that made Ari somewhat annoyed.

Nevertheless, he told some very interesting and amusing stories about the trials and perils of doing business in Greece, seconded and commented on by the godson. The government, he said, like all Greek governments, was essentially useless, as they knew nothing about business or the financial world. In fact, he said, they knew nothing about democracy.

Then, he said, “The Greeks aren’t ready for democracy.”

There was a moment of silent surprise.

I then commented that since I was under the impression that the Greeks had invented it, if the Greeks weren’t ready to govern themselves, who on earth was ready?

There was another silent moment.

Then Jackie, being the good hostess, smiled. Gianni, being a good and knowledgeable Italian, roared. And we all — except Ari — began to laugh.

Nowadays, every time I listen to talk about Greek finances, Greek elections and Greek governments, I see Ari’s good-looking, serious, almost dour face before me and hear him saying, “Greeks, they know nothing about business or finance,” and “the Greeks aren’t ready for democracy.”

Ari loved his country. He always wore two watches, one set to the time wherever he was present physically and the other always on Athens time. But I can’t help think he’d be deeply concerned about his country’s current situation, and I have a guess at what he’d expect the outcome to be.

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In the Rain, Stewards of the Enterprise Can Keep it Dry, but Can’t Catch a Cab

Not even space agency bosses can catch a cab in Midtown Manhattan during a torrential thunderstorm and a cabbie shift change.

Several officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration learned that lesson on Wednesday afternoon when they tried to leave the new space shuttle exhibit at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on the West Side. Just as a press preview of the temporary home for Enterprise, the prototype for NASA’s space shuttles, was wrapping up, thunder boomed overhead and winds whipped the giant tent inflated on the Intrepid’s flight deck.

Rainwater seeped under the tent as camera crews from television networks around the world filmed the Enterprise from all angles. The exhibit, which opens to the public on Thursday, lets visitors walk under the shuttle and climb a staircase for a nose-to-nose view. The museum is charging an additional $6 to buy passes, on top of the museum entry for adults of $24.

Charles Bolden, the administrator of NASA, who awarded the Enterprise to the Intrepid, is expected to attend the opening ceremony on Thursday, along with several former astronauts and city officials. Mr. Bolden’s deputy, Lori Garver, said Wednesday that she was pleased to see how the Enterprise was displayed in the enclosure, which was proving to be weatherproof as she spoke.

“It’s very important to NASA that it be special and Intrepid has helped make it that way,” Ms. Garver said. “So we’re very pleased.”

Before she arrived, one of the Enterprise’s test pilots, Fred W. Haise, recounted what it was like to steer back to earth a space shuttle that had no engine. “As a pilot, it was a great flying machine,” said Mr. Haise, who was at the helm of Enterprise for five test flights in 1977. “It had what we call good handling qualities.”

As for whether it belonged on a retired aircraft carrier tied up near the theater district and a block from a strip club, he said he had no objection. “Maybe it’ll educate some of those people into leading a better life,” Mr. Haise said with a grin.

Museum officials expect to use the exhibit as a launching pad for a fund-raising campaign to pay for a permanent home for the Enterprise, either on the pier next to the carrier or across the West Side Highway. Susan Marenoff-Zausner, the museum’s president, said she did not yet know how much money the museum’s foundation would need to raise.

For now, she said, “We feel very proud that we have excited the astronauts. That’s not easy to do.”

Nor is catching cab at 5 p.m. in Midtown in a downpour. So Ms. Garver and her associates from NASA donned plastic ponchos and puddle-jumped along 46th Street toward their hotel.

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So Much for the Safety of a Traveler’s Check

I was there when the euro began, to the extent that I could be there without ever leaving Times Square, and now I have my own personal euro crisis.

This is different from the euro crisis that has European leaders bickering and everybody else worrying about an economic Excedrin headache. This has nothing to do with Spain’s borrowing costs, Greece’s bailout money, Germany’s austerity or the International Monetary Fund’s warning of a “sizable risk” of deflation.

Those are real problems. This is about a traveler’s check.

Eleven European Union nations began using the single currency on Jan. 2, 1999. That was a Saturday. On Jan. 4, the first real workday of the year, I decided to see who was buying traveler’s checks at a currency exchange in Times Square. I wrote six paragraphs — 191 words.

On a lark, I also bought a €50 traveler’s check. It cost $61.50.

I all but forgot about it as a new century dawned, New York was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, the city went dark in the 2003 blackout and the Mets broke our hearts year after year. The traveler’s check ended up in a box in the basement and remained there until a couple of weekends ago, when I did some housecleaning. There it was.

As investments go, it was not the smartest. The conversion rate was $1.226 on Wednesday afternoon, so my €50 was worth $61.32, 18 cents less than I had paid. That was less disturbing than the numbers I got from a cost-of-living calculator. It said that $61.50 in 1999 dollars had the purchasing power of $84.71 now.

But I don’t have $84.71. I don’t even have $61.32.

Here is why. I decided to cash in the traveler’s check. I walked up Broadway in search of the Thomas Cook storefront where I had bought it.

It is a Travelex now (and a block south of where it was in 1999). Thomas Cook sold its foreign exchange business to Travelex for $631 million in 2000. “They downsized a lot here in New York,” Lorenzo Cesare, who was behind the teller’s window in 1999, told me later when I tracked him down by phone. “Business wasn’t like it was. Before, one person traveling to Europe would buy 10 different currencies. We’d make money on 10 different currencies. Now it was $100 worth of euros, one currency. They let a lot of my staff go, and the management changed above me. It just wasn’t the same.”

But cash the traveler’s check? The people behind the teller’s windows on Tuesday night and again on Wednesday morning said they couldn’t. They said they weren’t sure why they couldn’t, they just couldn’t.

I went to two other currency exchanges in Times Square and a bank branch on Eighth Avenue. The tellers in all three places said they could not cash it, either. (At Travelex, a teller suggested depositing it in a bank account, but he said the money would not be available for several weeks. Calls and e-mails to a Travelex spokeswoman went unanswered.)

A spokeswoman for the Treasury Department said this was a problem for the Federal Reserve; a Fed spokesman said it was a problem for state regulatory authorities because currency exchanges like Travelex are not banks, so they do not fall under the Fed’s jurisdiction. The New York State Department of Financial Services said it had jurisdiction over traveler’s checks in the state and would look into the matter.

It was easier to find out what had happened to the two people I had quoted in 1999. Mr. Cesare said he spent a couple of years with another currency company before joining a property management company. He started his own property management operation four years ago and also runs his own real estate office in Middle Village, Queens.

I also quoted Edward Maher, a baker who lives in Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y. He bought two €50 traveler’s checks that day.

“I spent the euros with no problem,” Mr. Maher said. “I don’t remember what countries I went to. Some took euros and some did not. England, that was an issue.”

He said that on more recent trips, he usually used his debit card to buy currency from a cash machine once he landed.

He also said he wished he had done that on a European trip last year.

“We went to an exchange place rather than an A.T.M.,” he said. “I was charged a 20 percent surcharge. It was put on the bill like a tip. I was taking pasta-making lessons. The girl who was teaching us said: ‘He ripped you off. You should have called the police.’ You live and you learn.”

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