Will Rudy Giuliani's marriage hurt his chances?

Vanity Fair's profile of "Don't call her Judi" Giuliani depicts a small-town girl turned diva and an apparent seven-year itch. Can this candidacy be saved?

By Joan Walsh

Published July 30, 2007 8:10PM (EDT)

I've long believed that Rudy Giuliani's personal life will doom his presidential bid. I'm not saying it should: Some of the things that will likely give him problems with Republican primary voters are among the only things I like about him: He's not afraid to dress in drag, and he shared an apartment with a gay couple in between his last two marriages, an openness reflected politically in his comparatively tolerant approach on social issues (by contrast with the rest of the GOP field, anyway). Then there are his three marriages. Personally, I don't think failing at marriage should disqualify someone for the presidency, not even failing twice. But there have long been whispers that Giuliani's third marriage, not his two divorces, could be his biggest personal problem. Today Vanity Fair put its long-awaited profile of Judith (don't call her Judi!) Giuliani on the Web, and the whispers are about to get a lot louder.

Judy Bachrach has written a devastating portrait of a striving, semi-self-made woman from small-town Pennsylvania who climbed up by her bootstraps (and those of her three husbands) to travel by Gulfstream, wear Dolce & Gabbana, and use her entourage to shove Hillary Clinton aside at the first 9/11 anniversary ceremony. ("Who does she think she is?" an angry Clinton told friends.) The third Mrs. Giuliani has rewritten her history multiple times -- having to admit to her own third marriage only a few months ago, and transforming herself from "Judi" to the queenly "Judith," even though her father insists, "Judi is what she was born. I don't think we called her Judith ever." She has insisted that ex-husband Bruce Nathan was a millionaire, even though he tells reporters he wasn't, and further insists his ex-wife used to call him a "rich little kike" and "Jew boy" when they fought about money.

OK, but that's her ex-husband, with whom she had an ugly divorce and custody battle. But according to Bachrach, Judith Giuliani has gone on to alienate not only her husband's two children, Andrew and Caroline, but also key staffers and supporters, many of whom were pressed to lie about the couple's open affair when it began in 1999. And lately she's proven to be a greater political liability to Giuliani. She failed to reveal that a medical-supply company she worked for in the 1970s routinely tortured and even killed dogs in the course of its work, which the media recently dug up. "Think of all the hacks and politicos who sit down and they say to Judi, 'O.K., we've gone through your background, husbands, etc.,'" radio host Ron Kuby told Bachrach. "'Is there any other thing in your background, some crazy little thing, that might catch someone's attention?' It's at that point you should raise your hand and say, 'Oh, you mean when I was killing puppies?'" She recently drew media and GOP ire when she boasted to a group of Republicans that her ability "to pick up the phone as Judith Giuliani" and raise money is unrivaled.

But much of that is old news, even if well told. What's new in the Bachrach story is that the once-happy couple appears to be suffering a seven-year itch. Judith Giuliani is depicted as a diva who demands a separate airplane seat for her Louis Vuitton bag, hectors her staff and, maybe most damaging, her husband as well. Bachrach describes Judith ordering Rudy to leave a heavily guarded car in Mexico to retrieve her health bars, and arguing with him so much on a recent trip to Japan that he switched airplane seats with a staffer. The piece also goes into the rumors surrounding a possible Giuliani relationship with "motivational speaker" Starr Shephard, previously reported by the National Enquirer and picked up by Wonkette. Although Shephard denies an affair when reached by Bachrach, their exchange is intriguing:

"I am not having an affair with Rudy Giuliani. I do not need a political power stick," Shephard told Bachrach. "I believe in his vision and his voice even if I do not believe in his family."

"What do you mean by that?" Bachrach asks.

"Oh, you know, you hear things about his family," she replies.

A close Giuliani friend gives credence to the affair rumors by saying simply: "Does a leopard change its spots?"

What does the Bachrach piece tell us about candidate Giuliani? I don't think Giuliani can survive another unraveling marriage, especially if it comes apart over another affair. His cancer doomed his 2000 Senate bid more than his affair and divorce, but the tawdry unraveling of his marriage to Donna Hanover might have killed his Senate hopes if illness hadn't struck first. His political aides rewrote his extramarital dalliance with Nathan as an inspiring love story that helped him survive cancer, rather than just another affair with a home-wrecker, and he cannot survive another marital meltdown on the campaign trail. Of course, there's no proof his marriage is in mortal trouble, although the willingness of current friends and staffers to trash her to Bachrach was remarkable, and might mean they smell blood.

Clearly, Giuliani's wife is a political liability, and that isn't good. While I don't think bad romantic choices are an indicator that a candidate would, say, make bad personnel choices as president, Giuliani has a pattern of terrible judgment, from promoting the integrity-challenged Bernie Kerik from his driver to police commissioner to (almost) Homeland Security chief to continuing to employ his friend, Monsignor Alan Placa, despite credible accusations he not only helped cover up child abuse in the Catholic Church, he engaged in it. His wife appears to be, at best, another P.R. disaster.

I'm on MSNBC's "Hardball" tonight to talk about this.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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