COLUMBIA — Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani told a standing-room-only crowd on Wednesday that, if elected, he will make the United States “safer and more prosperous” before he leaves office.
Giuliani was about an hour-and-a-half late arriving for a scheduled town-hall meeting at the Holiday Inn Select, at 2200 I-70 Drive S.W.
But it was his comments on illegal immigration that generated the most positive response from the 250 people crowded into the ballroom.
“We have to stop illegal immigrants before they get in,” Giuliani said, as the crowd cheered and applauded. “Cities and states aren’t supposed to handle it. Give them a tamper-proof ID, fingerprint them, let them in so they can work and pay taxes, and if they want to become U.S. citizens, then they have to be able to read, write and speak English.”
Giuliani, who was scheduled to speak at 2:15 p.m., said he was late because one of the engines on the plane he was traveling in had failed, forcing him and his staff to drive from Kansas City.
At about 2:50 p.m., a contingent of Missouri legislators, including Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, and Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, announced that Giuliani’s entourage had reached the hotel. The candidate went ahead with a scheduled interview with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer before kicking off the event with a two-minute introductory video. After an introduction by U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, Giuliani was welcomed with a standing ovation at about 3:50 p.m. Giuliani cracked a couple of jokes and thanked the crowd, which included former MU basketball coach Norm Stewart and NASCAR driver Carl Edwards, for being patient.
Columbia residents Terry and Dorthamae Patrick said they came out to hear Giuliani because they’ve always admired him, but had yet to make up their minds whom to vote for in the Feb. 5 Missouri primary.
“If Fred Thompson was 10 years younger, I would vote for him,” said Terry Patrick, the kitchen supervisor at MU Hospital.
The couple said they wanted to hear what Giuliani had to say about energy prices, illegal immigration and Medicare.
“If you can run New York City, you can run anything,” Dorthamae Patrick, an antique dealer, said. “He seems quite capable, intelligent and strong, like a leader (even) under duress.”
Former New York City resident Michelle Proctor, a horticulturist in Columbia, lived in the New York when Giuliani was mayor.
“He made it safe to walk the streets again,” she said. “He banned boomboxes.”
However, Proctor said she was worried about how Giuliani will maintain his “moderate stance” while campaigning against more conservative opponents for the Republican nomination. She noted that Giuliani said he believed marriage should be restricted to a man and a woman, while failing to mention that he supports civil unions for gays and lesbians.
“You have to do that to get elected,” Proctor said. “I just hope he goes back to his moderate stance when he’s campaigning against Democrats.”
In his Brooklyn accent, Giuliani said America faces serious issues and problems, but that the country has the strength, resources and people to overcome them. He said while his experiences as mayor of New York represented a different set of challenges, he tried to model himself after former President Ronald Reagan. Giuliani said he wants to be a bold and visionary president who will turn the nation over to the next president “safer and more prosperous.”
“Being a leader is about flexibly dealing with mistakes,” he said. “Sixty to 70 percent of Americans think the U.S. is going in the wrong direction. You have the solutions. It’s the job of the government to energize, not solve the problems for you.”
Labeled “America’s mayor” by Rep. Steve Tilley, who was in attendance, Giuliani said America must stay on the offensive against Islamic terrorism. Giuliani, who said Sept. 11, 2001, was the worst day of his life, wants a much bigger military, better intelligence and a stronger Patriot Act. He said he believes in “intense questioning, but not torture.”
After Giuliani departed the ballroom, Columbia resident Tom McCray said that the next president needs to respect the contributions of other peoples of the world, including Muslims. “We’re not going to win this war just with the military,” McCray said. “Weapons are important, but words are just as important.”
Giuliani was asked by one woman how he would connect with rural and small-town America.
“I relate to everyone. All people have the same problems,” he replied. “I don’t see barriers like that. I’d like to be everybody’s president.”
After hearing Giuliani, Jed Smock, known around MU as the preacher Brother Jed, said he was impressed with the candidate. He said he and his wife, Cindy, a homemaker who also homeschools their children, will support whoever wins the Republican nomination, but that they think Giuliani has the best chance to beat a Democrat in the race for the White House
“People called Reagan ‘the Great Communicator,’” Cindy Smock said. “Maybe they’ll call Giuliani ‘the Second Great Communicator.’”
Missourian reporter Molly Frankel contributed to this report.