Life goes on

Did Rudy Giuliani say he had cancer last week? You couldn't tell by his campaign schedule -- or his opponents' actions.

Published May 5, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

For a moment last week, news of Rudy Giuliani's prostate cancer seemed destined to turn the New York political world upside down. Surely, the campaigns would have to be put on hold, at least momentarily, until Giuliani announced his intentions. But outside the momentary news bump, little has changed in the New York Senate race.

What appeared to be a political bomb has been treated as little more than a hiccup in many circles. And neither Giuliani nor Hillary Clinton has applied the brakes to America's most-watched congressional race.

Consider this: During the 48 hours after his announcement, Giuliani traveled to a Republican club in upstate Saratoga Springs; he then trekked to an Independence Party forum in Buffalo, where he struck an uncharacteristically pacific stance toward the extremist members of a party whose endorsement he desires.

Nor did the cancer announcement slow other potential Senate contenders. On Sunday, former Republican Rep. Joseph DioGuardi declared he would seek the nominations of the state's Right-to-Life and Conservative parties, a move that could significantly erode Giuliani's support. For months, speculation has run wild over whether Giuliani would pursue the endorsement of the influential Conservative Party.

The first lady showed a more demure side immediately after the cancer announcement. At a press conference in Buffalo the day after Giuliani's announcement, a reporter asked Clinton if she would suspend her attacks on her rival for the Senate post. "I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing, which is to run a campaign on ideas and issues."

But now, even Clinton has ended her cease-fire. On Thursday -- a week to the day after Giuliani's announcement -- the first lady attacked the mayor for demanding congressional hearings into Attorney General Janet Reno's handling of the Elian Gonzalez raid and for supporting North Carolina's arch-conservative senator, Jesse Helms.

"I'm very disappointed the mayor would continue to politicize this little boy's future and this case, which is properly in the courts," she said outside a community college in upstate Plattsburgh. "I do not believe further hearings in the Congress are called for." Such hearings, Clinton added, would be used "to score political points."

Clinton also lambasted Giuliani for declaring at a televised Rochester town hall meeting on Wednesday night that he would vote to keep Helms as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "One of the big differences between me and the mayor is that I would not vote to make Jesse Helms the chairman," Clinton said. "We've had a lot of problems with the chairman pertaining to votes on issues that have been lying dormant in his committee for many years."

Even during a day when Giuliani held back the broadcast of ads to honor the death of Cardinal John O'Connor, he still managed to take a swipe at the Clinton administration's military and foreign policy failings, citing this week's standoff in Vieques, where federal agents removed and arrested dozens of anti-bombing protesters as an example.

Only the state's Republicans -- hoping against hope that Giuliani stays in the race -- have remained mute about lining up alternate candidates should the mayor drop out before the party's convention May 30. State GOP spokesman Dan Allen insisted that party chairman William Powers has not spoken to a single other potential nominee.

"There's a very short list and the only person on that list is Mayor Giuliani," said Allen.

If the list were longer, Gov. George Pataki would surely be on it. So it must have been even more nerve-racking for New York Republicans when the governor announced Thursday that, in the event Giuliani drops out of the race, he would not consider a run.

"I don't like to speculate, but if Mayor Giuliani -- for any reason -- chooses not to run, I will not run," said Pataki. "I have no intention of running for the Senate. As I've said from the beginning, I love the job of governor."

Conservative Party leader Mike Long, who has said he is searching for a candidate to oppose Giuliani and Clinton and whose party unveiled DioGuardi as its first potential candidate on Sunday, defended the timing of his actions.

"Let me say this: I want the mayor to get well, and I mean that," said Long. "But let's remove ourselves for a minute here. The world has to go on. There's an election coming up. The party has to go on. You can't stop the world, you can't stop progress, and I don't mean that in a callous way."

Tom Ognibene, a very conservative Republican councilman from Queens, took measure of the past week's developments and came to, what seemed to him, an obvious conclusion: "This is the real world. She can't let him take advantage of this sympathy angle."

Giuliani's cancer "might have been a little blip on the screen, but everyone is in campaign mode and that's that," said Ognibene.

By Jesse Drucker

Jesse Drucker covers politics for Salon from New York.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Cancer Hillary Rodham Clinton Republican Party Rudy Giuliani