He arrived in town in the dead of night to avoid the media mob, then cruised the city in a police-escorted armored motorcade. But former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani sounded less like a celebrity hired gun than an appreciative tourist Tuesday in expressing hope that the streets of this crime-beleaguered capital could somehow be made safe to walk at all hours.
For a $4.3-million fee, Giuliani and a team of 15 associates have spent the last three months talking with Public Security Secretary Marcelo Ebrard and other officials to develop recommendations for combating Mexico City's crime problems and reforming its ill-reputed police force and justice system. The newspaper El Universal reported last fall that a group of businesses may pony up the money.
Giuliani's visit Tuesday, after four meetings that have taken place in New York, was his first to this chaotic megalopolis of 20 million where killings and robbery are regarded as grim facts of life, much as they were in New York during the debt-ridden 1970s and crack-addled '80s.
After arriving at Mexico City's international airport at 3 in the morning, Giuliani and his cadre of advisors and Mexican officials spent the next few hours meeting with precinct commanders and cruising some of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods. They were trailed by a growing swarm of television reporters in helicopters and on motorcycles.
About 1 p.m., Giuliani, Ebrard and former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik arrived at a news conference in the city's historic center, where the former mayor pronounced the capital "beautiful" and its people "kind" and "generous," then acknowledged, "This is still the beginning of a long process."
Giuliani said he plans to present recommendations in three months, but news of his hiring already has prompted skepticism from some Mexico City business leaders, journalists and rank-and-file police. Mexico's technologically and financially strapped police officers earn an average of $6,500 annually.
"Everything he told us we already know, but we lack the economic means," said one police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, who met with Giuliani in the morning.
Having experienced New York's bad old days of soaring crime rates and rampant police corruption, to say nothing of the events of Sept. 11, the tough-talking former mayor said, he can identify with local residents' anxieties.
"I can empathize with lack of safety and security," he said. "I have lived through that in my life." He spoke of the 65% drop in New York's crime rate during his tenure in the 1990s.
But Giuliani acknowledged that significant cultural and political differences make it impossible to solve Mexico City's crime problems with a Manhattan template.
"There are things that are transferable and that will work, and there are things that won't," he said.
"Whatever the differences in culture and background and law, the objective for all decent societies is the same, and that is protection and safety for people as a fundamental human right," he said.
Wearing a dark suit and a bright blue tie, Giuliani spoke in a low-key tone, stressing that he and his advisors are consultants, not implementers of new policy.
Indeed, Big Apple brashness appeared to have met its match in this city's incessant push-and-pull personality. "Yo! Everybody back!" one security agent shouted with a New York accent as journalists surged toward officials issuing media credentials.
Realizing that his cause was hopeless, the agent shrugged his shoulders and walked away.