New York mayor Rudy Giuliani has been championed as a great
communicator. Jim Edwards finds out about Sunny Mindel, the woman
responsible for delivering his messages.
There can be no doubt that the busiest PR executive in the world right
now is Sunny Mindel, press secretary to New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Since September 11, Mindel has been assisting the mayor as he
communicates with the world's media regarding the terrorist attacks on
the World Trade Center.
Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates, says, "They say that after the
President, being mayor of New York is the number-two job in the country.
If that's the case, then Sunny Mindel has the second most difficult PR
job in the country."
Paul, who is currently working with an unnamed federal agency involved
in the World Trade Center investigation, describes the difference
between Mindel's role and that of her predecessor, Cristyne
"Cristyne was very active in advising the mayor, but they stripped the
role of that" after many government officials became upset with the kind
of power Lategano-Nicholas wielded, Paul explains. "They wanted more of
a messenger - someone who knew the players and got along with
While Giuliani was praised for his communications skills on September
11, Mindel was there helping to organize the briefings. As an
ex-journalist and former director of public affairs for the Office of
Emergency Management, Mindel is used to springing into action. In fact,
she was nearly a victim of the attacks. After the first jet hit the twin
towers, Mindel, who was a few blocks north at city hall, hopped into a
car and rushed to the scene to meet Giuliani. She arrived just before
the second plane hit, and with debris raining down everywhere, Mindel
and Giuliani ran along West Street, looking for a working telephone.
They ended up on Barclay Street.
As the first tower collapsed, a security guard led them through a series
of basement tunnels. They emerged at 100 Church Street, and soon
thereafter held the first press conference of the day, both the mayor
and Mindel covered in dust. They watched the second tower fall before
they moved again - to a firehouse on Houston Street and 6th Avenue.
Since then, the press office has operated from a command center at
Manhattan's Pier 92 at 53rd Street. (Police guarding the base denied
PRWeek access to Mindel, making her unavailable to comment for this
With the communications hurdles of the September 11 tragedy beginning to
recede, Mindel has a new problem: the 2001 mayoral election. Mindel's
own $120,000-a-year job at city hall is surely tied to whether
Giuliani decides to retain control - assuming he's able to despite the
two-term limit. Last week, the New York press was abuzz with the
possibility that Giuliani may somehow remain in city hall.
As with many powerful leaders, being press secretary to Giuliani has
involved the inevitable questions about his personal life. Prior to the
disaster, Giuliani was at the center of stories about his relationship
with drug company executive Judi Nathan, his living arrangements, and
his prostate cancer.
Should Giuliani decide not to seek a third term, Mindel will undoubtedly
be courted by groups that need lobbyists and communicators with
experience at a national level. She can certainly offer one of the most
prized Rolodexes of movers and shakers in New York.
But Paul says her biggest problem on the job is that Giuliani has a
tight grip on the information flow, and that's an issue for the
reporters she deals with. In fact, her reputation among reporters
covering city hall for New York's major newspapers is mixed. Of course,
political spokespeople and the press will always be at loggerheads, but
as one reporter (who asked not be named) says, "Everybody that covers
city hall is frustrated at getting information when you need it." The
source adds, "(She's) just glossing over the facts, (and) she's hard to
Mindel has her defenders, however. "I actually get along with her very
well. She's never been anything but nice to me," says Maggie Haberman, a
political reporter at the New York Post.
Senior political correspondent Joel Siegel of the New York Daily News'
agrees. "She's been fair with me. I've been aggressive at times in
covering the mayor ... I never pulled any punches, and I never thought
she held that against me." He does note, though, that "there are
reporters that have grievances with her." (It should be stated that
Siegel went to college with Mindel at the University of Pennsylvania,
and the two became friendly when she was a city hall reporter for
Mindel appears to inspire a sort of loyalty from those who knew her
before she became the mayor's "pit bull," as The Greenwich Village
Gazette once wrote. Her friends from Highland Park High School in New
Jersey even swap news about her on a Yahoo! bulletin board. "She is a
lot fun, but incredibly intense. Her personality suits her work
perfectly," says one post.
And Mindel rewards those who have stayed on her good side. For instance,
late in the day on September 11, Siegel, with an hour to deadline,
called Mindel and asked her to reconstruct the mayor's day for him. She
talked for 15 minutes. "As a reporter, that's exactly what I need, and
she had every excuse in the world not to help me," Siegel says.
1976: BS, University of Pennsylvania
1977-1996: Various non-PR jobs: city hall reporter for WNYC-TV, writer
for Lifetime cable television, advertising copywriter
1996-1997: Press secretary for the New York Department of Information
Technology and Telecommunications
1997: Chief spokesperson and press secretary for Mayor Rudolph
Giuliani's reelection campaign
1997-1999: Director of public affairs for the New York Mayor's Office of
1999-present: Press secretary to Mayor Giuliani