Rude Rudy returns

Meekness gone, his temper flares as everybody wonders: Will he or won't he?

Published May 12, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

So, is he in or is he out?

As if that question hadn't been asked enough during the two weeks since New
York Mayor/U.S. Senate contender Rudy Giuliani announced he had prostate
cancer, the viability of his candidacy now seems more tenuous then ever.

With Giuliani's pronouncement on Wednesday that he is seeking a separation
from his wife, Donna Hanover -- and Hanover's subsequent announcement that
their marriage had failed in part because of his relationship with his
former press secretary -- rumors of Giuliani's political death have reached a fever

Despite his seemingly imminent demise, however, two Republican elected
officials said they received calls from Giuliani's campaign Thursday insisting that the mayor will remain in the race. One of the officials is Rep. John Sweeney, former executive director of the state's Republican Party and a close confidant of state Republican Party Chairman William Powers.

The speculation about Giuliani's future came on a day when the mayor denied
several news reports that he was leaning toward dropping out of the race.
"I haven't made up my mind if I have the energy and the capacity to run,"
he said Thursday in the lobby of an East Village elementary school jampacked with reporters and television cameras. "I made no decision yet to drop out of the Senate race," he said. "I didn't discuss that with anyone. I didn't say that to anyone.

"Rumors of my demise," he later added with a chuckle, "are greatly exaggerated."

Despite his comments, other potential candidates for the Republican
nomination are circling. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told the Associated Press that he "would seriously consider running."

"I've been making some phone calls and doing some television appearances
to get my name out there," said King. "If there's some significant support,
I'll definitely go."

In addition, Rep. Rick Lazio, King's fellow Long Island congressman, and Wall Street financier Theodore Forstmann have said that they would consider running if Giuliani withdraws.

State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, whose comments a day earlier that
Giuliani needed to resolve the issues in his marriage seemed to push
Giuliani to finally announce his separation plans, said Thursday: "I expect
him to stay in the race."

But New York's top Republicans may have reason to worry about Giuliani's ultimately being their Senate candidate. Bruno controls only a slim majority of Republicans in the state. A battered U.S. Senate candidate at the top of the party's ticket in the fall could hurt local legislators running for reelection and cost the Republicans their state Senate majority -- as well as the considerable patronage, contracts and other assorted goodies that go along with it.

As one longtime local political operative explained: "You're a conservative
Republican from upstate. You hate Hillary, you hate the Clintons. You say,
'OK, Rudy's from the city, but I'm still going to vote for him.' Then you
read about all this stuff and there's a feeling in the pit of your stomach
that this is not what you're going to elect, and you're not going to vote
for Hillary, so you say, 'Fuck it. I'm not going to vote at all.' And if you
don't vote for him, you don't vote for the lesser people on the ticket either.

"For Bruno to have made those comments the other day shows that he's very
worried," he added.

In contrast to his performance of a day earlier -- when the mayor was
uncharacteristically open about his decaying marriage to Hanover and his
close relationship with drug company executive Judith Nathan -- Giuliani
pointedly refused Thursday to answer questions raised by Hanover about
his relationship with his former press secretary, Cristyne Lategano. For
years, the mayor denied rumors that he was having an affair with the
much younger Lategano, now 35.

Indeed, on Thursday he appeared to be very much the old, testy Giuliani.
"Don't you guys have the slightest bit of decency?" he asked. "Do you
realize you embarrass yourself doing this in the eyes of just about

Reporters on Thursday attempted several times to ask him whether he had had an
affair with Lategano, but he swatted them away each time, offering the
explanation that he had already responded to the question in the past.

While the mayor's relationship with Lategano may seem like fodder for
the supermarket tabloids, the details present genuine ethics issues
for the Giuliani administration. First, Lategano was a city employee, not
merely -- as the mayor has referred to his new lady friend -- a "civilian."
Second, she received a promotion -- from press secretary to communications
director -- and a sizable pay increase, despite near unanimity that she
was genuinely awful at what she was being paid to do: respond to questions
from the press.

Finally, Lategano was hand-delivered a golden parachute of sorts upon
exiting City Hall: She was appointed head of NYC and Co., a private
organization that promotes tourism in the city but that receives about 40 percent
of its funding from the city. (The previous head of the convention bureau
was also a former high-ranking Giuliani administration official foisted
upon the group by City Hall.)

But the mayor would have none of it when questioned on Thursday. "I think you're trying to dredge up history that was covered a long, long time ago," he said. "You've all covered this many, many times. You've all asked me about it. I've answered it. And it has no bearing, no relationship, not the slightest bearing or relation, to what's going on right now. I think that what's going on right now has to do with Donna and me. And what you're trying to do is a backdoor way of trying to dredge this all up so you can write more salacious stuff."

While Hanover did not make any more public statements on Thursday, the
usual talking heads fear that her accusations about her husband on Wednesday -- "I made a major effort to bring us back together ... He chose
another path" -- could injure his candidacy.

"What Donna Hanover's statement did was tell everyone that Rudy is not
'Rudy the Good,'" said Democratic political consultant Henry Sheinkopf, who
had predicted Wednesday that Giuliani would be helped by the
announcement of his separation -- until his wife's statement later in the
day. The "Rudy who said he was going to protect his family was not protecting
his family. He was reckless. The person he had made himself out to be was
not who he was. The moral messenger was not very moral at all."

The impact of these recent events on the decisions of voters may be
overblown. Indeed, there is virtually no history to guide Giuliani or his campaign. But in a tightly contested race
with Hillary Rodham Clinton, attacks on Giuliani by his wife could hurt him with crucial swing voters.

"It's going to resonate with suburban women, who are going to walk away from
him," said Sheinkopf. "It's going to resonate with upstate voters, who didn't know much about him anyway. They knew that he was Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York with an Italian last name who has cancer.

"Now he's Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York with an Italian last name
who has cancer [and] who cheats on his wife."

By Jesse Drucker

Jesse Drucker covers politics for Salon from New York.

MORE FROM Jesse Drucker

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

Hillary Rodham Clinton Rudy Giuliani