Rudy Giuliani to separate from his wife

Battered by cancer and the breakup of his marriage, the tough New York mayor shows his vulnerable side -- but his wife strikes back.

Published May 10, 2000 12:00PM (EDT)

Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday that he plans to seek a formal separation from his wife of 16 years, Donna Hanover. It was the latest twist in a bizarre two-week period that has included Giuliani's disclosure that he has prostate cancer and a tabloid feeding frenzy over revelations that he appears to have a girlfriend. The drama isn't over: Hours after
Giuliani's announcement, his estranged wife blasted him over another
alleged affair.

"I don't think I'm saying anything that you haven't, um, that you haven't all written," Giuliani told a group of captivated reporters. "Over the course of some period of time, in many ways, we've grown to live independent and separate lives," he said of his marriage to Hanover. "And we should probably strive toward formalizing it."

While few can recall the last time a candidate for a major office disclosed a serious illness in the middle of a campaign, fewer still could also recall a candidate announcing the end of his marriage in the middle of a campaign. The impact of this pronouncement on his bid for the U.S. Senate is unclear.

The mayor's latest pronouncement about his personal life came on the rooftop of the Bryant Park Grill on a blustery spring afternoon just after he delivered remarks at a Jewish heritage event in the park below. Giuliani's pronouncement came after Elisabeth Bumiller, the New York Times' City Hall bureau chief, asked him whether he had any response to published comments by Republican State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. In Wednesday's New York Post, Bruno said Giuliani's apparent extramarital affair with divorcee Judith Nathan, an upper East Side sales manager, could affect his Senate run.

"I do," said Giuliani, gripping the sides of his mayoral lectern, his eyes downcast. He assumed an unusually vulnerable mien and launched into a long series of reflections about the state of his marriage, appearing unsure at times of what he would say. "I, um, this is very, very painful. Um, for um, quite some time I, it's probably been apparent that Donna and I, uh, lead, um, ind -- in many ways, independent and separate lives. It's been a very painful road and I'm hopeful that we'll be able to, um, to formalize that in, in an agreement that protects our children, that gives them all the security and all the protection they deserve, and protects Donna. And that's something we have to work -- that's something we have to work out, we have to strive toward."

His eyes remaining downcast, he continued. "I'm a public person. I'm elected to public office. I do my job, I think honestly and effectively and as well as I can and I, y'know, I realize that my private life is open to everyone. I just watch what's going on and I just wish that you'd maybe respect it a little bit more. But in any event, we'll do the best that we can to make the decisions that we have to make that are consistent with our own lives and our children."

Giuliani praised Hanover throughout the press conference, calling her a
"wonderful person." But his estranged wife was considerably less
charitable. In a
prepared statement read at the Gracie Mansion, the mayor's residence, on Wednesday, she made
reference to
Giuliani's long-rumored affair with his former communications director,
Cristyne Lategano.

"Today's turn of events brings me great sadness," said Hanover, her eyes
filling with tears. "I had hoped that we could keep this marriage
together. For several years, it was difficult to participate in Rudy's
public life because of his relationship with
one staff member," she said, apparently talking about Lategano. "Beginning
last May, I made a
major effort to get us back together, and Rudy and I reestablished some of
our personal intimacies through the fall.

"At that point, he chose another path," she said.

Back at the press conference, Rafael Martinez Alequin, the gadfly-ish editor of an infrequently published free political newspaper, asked whether Hanover would be moving out of Gracie Mansion.

"Nobody, nobody, nobody is moving anywhere," Giuliani responded, as music from a tambourine-heavy band in the park down below rang out loudly. "Everybody is secure and safe. What I said is that we should try to work out a separation agreement ... A separation agreement is not a divorce."

Giuliani said Bruno's statements did not motivate him to finally announce what had seemed inevitable to political observers for years. "I'm motivated by all of the tremendous invasion of privacy that's taken place in everyone's life," he said. "In my family's, Judith Nathan's family ... this is something that has developed over some period of time and it's something between Donna and me. Uh, not anyone else and really not even the whole world, just between Donna and me."

Last week, the New York Post published photos of Giuliani leaving a restaurant with Nathan, whom the mayor subsequently described as a "good friend." That revelation has in turn led to an almost daily spate of stories, columns and editorials about Nathan and the mayor.

Only when asked if he had to explain those Post photographs to his children -- who are 10 and 14 years old -- did Giuliani come close to resembling the mayor who normally has such combative relations with the press. "I wouldn't tell you that, in a million years," he said, his eyes narrowing. "I wouldn't tell you what I say to my children, you have no right to know what I say to my children, any more than I have any right to know what you say to your children."

"This is damaging and painful and very, very difficult, for everyone," he said. Later he added: "But you have to deal with it honestly and directly. You can't pretend or hide."

A reporter asked if the media had caused the damage that Giuliani said had taken place. "No!" he quickly responded. "The media makes the damage much worse, but they didn't cause the damage. I take responsibility for everything that I've done and you have every right to ask me, and then I have a right to answer or not answer, and that's how I think we can have a respectful relationship with each other."

Another reporter then asked whether his marriage and relationship with Nathan was affecting his decision about whether to continue his Senate race.

"I hadn't thought about it yet in that context," he said. "Maybe I will. I've been thinking about it more in the health context. Judith Nathan is a very, very fine person. She's been a very good friend to me, before I had to deal with the decisions that I had to make about my illness and what to do about it. And I rely on her and she helps me a great deal. And I'm going to need her more now than maybe I did before. These are decisions that I have to make at a very difficult time."

Martinez Alequin then asked whether Nathan had been more supportive than Hanover. "Donna Hanover is a wonderful woman," responded Giuliani. "And she's a wonderful mother. She's someone that I respect tremendously. The fact that we've grown independent, that we've grown more separate over the years, who knows why those things happen? But she is a very, very fine wonderful person and she's an extraordinary mother. And I have tremendous respect for her."

"What's your emotional state right now?" another reporter queried.

"My emotional state is I'm very sad, and I feel terrible," said Giuliani.

He later added, "I need to have some zone of privacy of people that I can talk to confidentially. You would need that, too."

A television reporter asked when he would get the separation resolved. "Pretty soon," said Giuliani. "I'd like to get it resolved pretty soon."

Finally, Rachel Donadio, a reporter for the Forward, a Jewish weekly, broke the tension, asking whether Giuliani supported normalizing trade relations with China, a question that prompted laughter from both him and the assembled reporters.

After answering that, he took a few more questions about his marriage, and declared that the public, ultimately, would judge him on the basis of his performance as mayor.

"If you go back and look at my quotes about President Clinton or about anyone else that's been involved in exploration of their personal life, I don't believe that the public ultimately is nearly as interested as the media," said Giuliani, his band of deputy mayors and advisors standing a few feet to his right.

"Everybody leads their own lives, they have their own pains, their own difficulties, their own tortures and their own joys in life. What [the public is] really interested in of public officials is how well do you do your job. And if you're doing your job well, then, you know, they're happy with you and if you're not, they disapprove of you ... I think they have a much more common-sense approach to evaluating these things."

Finally, he was asked again how he felt. "Physically, I feel pretty good. Emotionally, I'm a little upset," he said. His voice cracked, although it was unclear whether this was an emotional reaction or due to congestion in his throat. He asked for water, and eventually took a swig from a half-empty bottle handed to him by a reporter for WWOR-TV, an offer that provoked laughter from the crowd. He talked about the availability of free prostate-cancer screenings at public hospitals, then ended the press conference and walked away, his entourage in tow.

Asked about the mayor's announcement, Senate rival Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday, "I don't have anything to say."

"In all honesty, it's just being overwritten," said Republican consultant Roger Stone of Giuliani's marriage. "He's just written the last chapter, now it's over. Let's move on and talk about other issues."

But Stone couldn't resist seizing the moment to take a swipe at Giuliani's Senate opponent. "It means that his relationship is different than the Clintons. The difference is that Rudy's will be a legal separation and the Clintons are a de facto separation. They're both separated from their spouses. The difference is that one lies about it and the other doesn't."

By Jesse Drucker

Jesse Drucker covers politics for Salon from New York.

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