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Giuliani Gives Restaurateurs a Pep Talk

New York's ex-mayor, speaking to trade group, says it is important for the industry to thrive in the post-Sept. 11 era.

May 19, 2003|Karen Robinson-Jacobs | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — The nation's restaurateurs, under attack by attorneys and consumers for contributing to Americans' growing girth, got a big pep talk Sunday.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who emerged from the rubble of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to become "America's Mayor," told the capacity crowd gathered here for the National Restaurant Assn.'s annual conference that "both for the economy and for the morale of the city," it was important for restaurants to bounce back.

In the days after Sept. 11, Giuliani encouraged Americans to avoid adopting a bunker mentality and instead continue to patronize the nation's restaurants.

But bouncing back hasn't been easy. Restaurants -- hit hard by the aftermath of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and hit again by the U.S. economic downturn -- have seen more than 250,000 job cuts, an association spokesman said.

But Giuliani remains optimistic.

"People are stopped by the risk of terrorism, which is a lesser risk" than that posed by a drunk driver, he told the crowd of 2,500. "If we don't understand that, we're going to give the terrorists a victory they're not entitled to.

"They try to get psychological victories by these spectacular attacks and we have to try to stop them, interdict them," he said. "Be prepared and then go ahead with our lives because we can't let them take away our freedom."

Giuliani, who took office in 1994 and stepped down at the end of his second term four months after the attacks, came to the convention in large part to give thanks.

"I thank you as an organization and individually for the tremendous contributions you've made to New York City," said Giuliani. "On Sept. 11 and in the days after, this industry fed thousands and thousands and thousands of people: rescue workers, families. I can't think of an industry that did more to pitch in and help."

The industry can use the pep talk since it is facing increasing scrutiny for its role in contributing to America's obesity problem.

In February, a federal court threw out a lawsuit claiming that indulgence in fast food had made one consumer obese. But the industry is bracing for more such suits. A June conference in Boston is expected to focus on legal approaches to counter obesity.

The restaurant association, which calls such litigation frivolous and unfair, was happy to have the jovial Giuliani come out to sing the industry's praises. The crowd gave him several standing ovations to prove it.

"It always helps that people of stature have a positive view of your industry and are willing to stand with you," said Xavier Teixido, the association's chairman, who owns a restaurant in Wilmington, Del.

"He's been a champion of our industry," Teixido said of Giuliani, "and he's an individual who sees the benefits of the employment and sense of community that our industry gives."

The convention drew about 75,000 restaurant owners and suppliers from the U.S. and abroad.

However, most of the former mayor's remarks were not specific to the restaurant industry. Instead, he spoke more broadly about his life, his bout with prostate cancer, and about his "six principles of leadership" -- including having strong beliefs, optimism and courage.

He sidestepped questions about any future political ambitions, focusing instead on the near term.

As the band played "I'm Getting Married in the Morning," the mayor joked about his planned nuptials Saturday to Judith Nathan.

Asked what advice he would have for New York's current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who is to perform the ceremony, Giuliani said: "Conduct my wedding well."

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