By Grant McCool and Mark Egan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Had it not been for the September 11 attacks, neither Rudy Giuliani nor Michael Bloomberg would have such high profiles on the American political stage.
If Giuliani is always remembered as the 9/11 mayor of New York City for his leadership in the days of fear that followed, then Bloomberg will be recalled as the mayor who cajoled New Yorkers to focus on the future after the worst tragedy in their history.
"Michael Bloomberg had no political future; without 9/11 he would be running Bloomberg LP with no possibility of becoming mayor," said political analyst Professor Douglas Muzzio of Baruch College in New York. "Rudy becomes the sainted one and endorses Mike who uses his money to play that endorsement in ads over and over again."
Multibillionaire Bloomberg left the media company he founded to run for office in the 2001 elections, switching to the Republican Party after being a life-long Democrat. He is now an independent in his third four-year term.
Giuliani, a divisive former prosecutor who had become unpopular as mayor before September 11, 2001, won the accolade of "America's Mayor" for showing his more compassionate side in the aftermath of the attacks.
But his attempts to transfer that capital to a national role have so far failed -- in 2008 he spent $15 million and won just one delegate to the Republican convention to nominate the party's presidential candidate.
But he may yet make a lasting impact on the national political stage. In recent weeks, he has been mentioned as a potential vice presidential running mate of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who announced on August 12 he was running for president.
REPUTATION AS LEADER
"After 9/11 he had a nationwide reputation as a leader. Why he didn't make it, I honestly don't know," said Ed Koch, a former mayor of New York who criticized Giuliani's style but nevertheless voted for him twice.
"It was more his campaign than himself," Koch said.
Bloomberg's name has also been mentioned as a possible third-party presidential candidate, but the mayor currently looks likely to return to a private life of philanthropy when his tenure ends. ("I'm not going to run for president, period," he told CBS News' Katie Couric last December.)
Muzzio and other political analysts said Bloomberg deserves credit for being a good manager in the aftermath of September 11.
Bloomberg was sworn in as mayor by Giuliani two minutes after midnight in Times Square on January 1, 2002 with the city still coming to terms with the loss of life and ruins of the World Trade Center's 110-storey twin towers.
The new mayor oversaw further reductions in crime and violence that were a huge part of Giuliani's legacy.
As several September 11 anniversaries have come around, Bloomberg has urged New Yorkers to move on from the attacks.
"That's part of his psyche -- don't look back, but it also reveals a real lack of introspection and self-analysis," Muzzio said. "He doesn't feel your pain and he doesn't want to."
Bloomberg spent $260 million of his own money on three mayoral campaigns. His third term ends when the next mayor is sworn in on January 1, 2014.
Critics say he used the influence of his wealth to push through legislation allowing him to run for a third term.
"He is going to leave the city in terrible fiscal shape and he only got three terms because he bought it," said Fred Siegel, professor of history and the humanities at Cooper Union and the author of the Giuliani biography "The Prince of the City."
With or without the spotlight of a tragedy such as the 9/11 attacks, New York City mayors have in recent decades struggled to reach for the presidency or the U.S. Senate.
"New York mayor is typically a graveyard for people who want to seek higher national office," said Robert Polner of New York University's Public Affairs department.
Polner, who edited "America's Mayor, America's President?" about Giuliani's record, said New York "is a very special national state of its own and it does not always lend itself to the issues, politics and the political spectrum beyond it."
(Reporting by Grant McCool and Mark Egan; Editing by Arlene Getz and David Storey)