Giuliani stays on the fence

The mayor teases the public with an interview on MSNBC, but still doesn't announce a decision about his political or medical future.

Published May 19, 2000 2:49PM (EDT)

Will he make a decision already?

New York Mayor Rudy
spoke before a crowd of upper East Siders in a nationally
televised town hall forum/interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Thursday
night. But the foremost question on virtually everyone's mind -- Is he in
or out of the U.S. Senate race against Hillary
Rodham Clinton
-- still isn't

Instead, Giuliani again said he was still weighing the various treatment
options and contemplating the personal tumult spurred by the revelation of
his ongoing extramarital relationship and decision to separate from his
wife. The state's Republican convention, at which the party must nominate
a Senate candidate, is a mere 11 days away.

"I kind of approached it as if this was a big case, or
a budget decision, or, you know, one of the millions of other decisions
that I have made," he said of the process of deciding what course of
treatment to pursue and whether to continue with his Senate candidacy.
"This is a different kind of decision. It involves thinking about your
life, mortality, the quality of your life, and the choices are more
difficult than I thought they would be."

Much of the evening featured Giuliani at his masterful best, appearing
calm, highly reasonable, and unlike his prospective Democratic Senate
opponent, not reciting lines as though they were from cue cards stored in
his head. Instead, he knowingly ticked off statistics on the city's low
rates of police shootings and crime, and explained how chopping the
welfare rolls was actually very, very helpful to people. (An annotated
version of his recitation, however, would have mentioned that his
administration has repeatedly and illegally denied welfare benefits to
needy people, according to both the state's highest court and the federal

When asked by an audience member about his frayed relationship with the
city's African-American and Hispanic communities, he talked of the city's
growing economy and offered up the following -- seemingly rational --

"I guess maybe it's the way I approach things. It's different than the way
politics used to be practiced," said Giuliani. "I don't do the 'Here's my
Hispanic program, here's my Italian-American program, here's my
African-American program.'" At this he was interrupted by thunderous
applause from the virtually all-white audience at the 92nd Street Y.

Mitchell didn't ask, and the mayor obviously didn't mention, how a Daily
News investigation revealed that his administration has steered thousands
of day care vouchers to a handful of the city's Orthodox Jewish communities,
which have been consistently supportive of the mayor, and in some
cases bypassed thousands of families on waiting lists. He also didn't
mention that perhaps he has such low standing among African-Americans
because his administration has virtually no black people in
high-ranking positions.

At various moments, however, Mitchell questioned him on touchy subjects and
the mayor wavered a bit. After months of polls showing public outrage at
his handling of the police shooting of an unarmed security guard --
you might recall that Giuliani responded by releasing the man's
juvenile arrest record -- he acknowledged that he had "made a

"I should have also conveyed the human feeling that I had of compassion and
loss for a mother," said Giuliani. "And I think if I could do it over
again, I would try to have balanced it more."

And Mitchell asked him about a Giuliani campaign fundraising letter
sent out earlier this year accusing Hillary Clinton of being
anti-religion. "Do you really believe that this woman, who is a
devout Methodist, an observant religious person ... is waging a war
'against America's religious heritage?'" she asked.

Giuliani first claimed that passage was taken "out of context" and tried to
steer the discussion towards public funding for offensive art. But Mitchell
pressed on: "Do you really think she's anti-religious?"

"No," he hurriedly acknowledged, "I don't think she is."

But the evening's most intriguing exchange may have come with an audience
member. Ryan Mora, an earringed suburban high school senior, asked the
question that so many have wondered aloud and asked in print during the
last week but never articulately put to Giuliani: "We're all wondering how
you will continue to uphold yourself as a moral leader given some of the
events that have occurred in the past few weeks."

There was a smattering of applause from a group of Mora's friends.

Giuliani, who had briefly put on his glasses, took them off and replied: "I
guess I would just ask people to take a look at me and say I'm a human
being." He was interrupted by another round of thunderous applause.

"I've never pretended to be a, I'm not a religious leader," added
Giuliani (whose aforementioned fundraising letter also attacked
Clinton for opposing the posting of the Ten Commandments in public
schools). "And I'm not a, I'm a governmental leader and it's my
public record and my public actions and the things that I do as the
mayor that you should mostly be concerned about. And your moral
concerns, and I say this in the most respectful way possible, should
be with your own private life."

By Jesse Drucker

Jesse Drucker covers politics for Salon from New York.

MORE FROM Jesse Drucker

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

Hillary Rodham Clinton Rudy Giuliani