11/29/2007 07:05 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why Rudy Wasn't in Iowa on Tuesday

Iowa caucus goers will cast their first ballots in the 2008 presidential race in just five weeks, and Rudy Giuliani, trailing rival Mitt Romney in the Hawkeye State, needs to spend every available moment campaigning there.

Yet on Tuesday, Rudy could instead be found in a state whose April primary has for years meant little to the presidential nominating process. He was drawn to Pittsburgh by matters of friendship, loyalty and respect -- concepts seldom broached with focus groups and direct messaging.

"I needed to come here today," he said to me.

Rudy came to the Iron City to honor a friend we had in common, the Honorable Jay C. Waldman, who left this earth at age 58 in 2003 after a battle with lung cancer. Judge Waldman sat on the federal bench in Philadelphia for almost 15 years. He was formerly general counsel to Gov. Dick Thornburgh.

Gov. Thornburgh has since donated his papers to the University of Pittsburgh, where the Dick Thornburgh Forum in Law & Public Policy has been established. Within that facility, Thornburgh honored Judge Waldman with the naming of the Judge Jay C. Waldman Seminar Room, which was dedicated in a private ceremony on Tuesday.

I think the fact that Rudy Giuliani would interrupt his presidential campaign at a time when he is in a dogfight with Romney to pay homage to an old friend who has been gone for more than four years speaks well of Rudy's character. And it offers more insight into to him than any combination of 30-second ads or debate appearances ever will.

Seeing him in this context was a reminder that I had seen the way he supported his friend in the direst of circumstances a few years ago. When our good friend Jay was terribly and fatally ill for several weeks in the winter and spring of 2003, Rudy was there, too.

Even then, he was enmeshed in a schedule that could only be described as world-class, yet he came to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital -- far from the cameras, pollsters and advance men -- to participate in a process for which there is no playbook. Without fanfare, he constantly made himself available and provided comfort, caring and compassion.

I know. I watched. And was touched.

Rudy and Jay met in 1975 when both were young prosecutors in Gerald Ford's Justice Department. They were drawn to one another by their love of law, their intellect and ethics (and probably a little cigar smoke).

Jay was a Pittsburgh native who earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin and his law degree in 1969 at Penn.

He clerked for a state court judge in Pittsburgh before briefly entering private practice. He joined the federal prosecutor's office in Pittsburgh in 1971.

Thornburgh was then the U.S. attorney, and it was in this era that Jay met Rudy.

In 1988, Jay was nominated to the federal bench by a man both he and Rudy admired: Ronald Reagan. And one month before Jay's passing, President Bush nominated him to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

When Jay died, Rudy told the Inquirer that he so valued Jay's political advice that he consulted him before deciding to run for mayor of New York. "I think he had the brightest political mind in the country," Rudy said of our mutual friend.

I remember that one of Jay's dying wishes was to dance at Rudy's wedding. He never got that chance. Only Rudy was more brokenhearted than Jay.

I wish the people of Iowa knew where Rudy was on Tuesday.