Waiting for Giuliani


Political prognosis for troubled mayor takes turn for better

`Very much inclined' to run

May 18, 2000|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Just a few days ago, New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani seemed to be out of the U.S. Senate race for good. After a diagnosis of prostate cancer and a slew of soap-opera style personal problems - beginning with a new girlfriend and ending with a separation from his wife - even Giuliani said politics wasn't the first thing on his mind.

And indeed, there he was over the weekend, skipping an upstate campaign trip and playing golf instead - while his tearful wife retreated to California with their two children.

In a move that roused the ire of state Republican operatives, the mayor strolled around the Upper East Side with his new girlfriend and gave her a peck on the cheek while the flashbulbs popped and the tabloids speculated about her heart-cut diamond ring.

The mayor, who canceled a California fund-raising trip, still would not say if he was in the race.

Then another week dawned.

New polls showed that despite the turbulence, he was still virtually dead even with Democratic Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Giuliani showed up at a Monday fund-raiser and said he was "very much inclined" to run.

Even the mayor's estranged wife, actress-TV anchor Donna Hanover, started being nicer to him. Just days after charging that her husband cheated on her, she reported having a "warm" chat with him.

Yesterday, Giuliani aides were sitting in a Buffalo, N.Y., hotel room with state Republican officials, completing plans for the party's nominating convention May 30.

Strategists in the meeting said none of the mayor's aides so much as hiccupped when talk turned to a post-nomination party for the mayor. Organizers have tailored the bash for Giuliani - a celebration in center field at the Buffalo Bisons minor-league baseball stadium, where longtime baseball fan Giuliani would arrive aboard an old-fashioned trolley filled with cheering supporters.

"Giuliani," vowed Erie County Republican Chairman Bob Davis, "is going to be on that trolley."

So goes the wild ride of New York politics, where anonymous sources swear the candidate is through one minute and vow he'll win in November the next. Republican officials say they've heard both versions - sometimes in quick succession - from the mayor's aides and close friends. Only Giuliani seems to know what he'll do.

In coming days - perhaps as soon as today - the 55-year-old mayor is expected to announce his decision about the course of his cancer treatment, and from there determine whether he'll have the time and the strength to run.

Supporters say he could continue to make campaign stops even if he opts to have his prostate removed - a treatment that boasts a high survival rate but requires weeks, or even months, of recovery time. He could stay near home, they say, and beam his appearances around the state via satellite.

If the mayor decides to pull out, Rep. Rick A. Lazio, a Long Island Republican, is eager to step in. New York Gov. George E. Pataki also is mentioned as a possible contender, though he has said he does not want to run.

For weeks, Republicans have been antsy. Not to push, they say, but when is he going to make up his mind?

"The mayor needs to decide now whether he's in or out," says James Cavanaugh, Westchester County Republican chairman. "High anxiety is the [party's] state of mind. You can't run a campaign without a candidate, and right now we don't know if we have a candidate and we don't know who it is."

The optimists see a stronger candidate emerging.

The whirlwind of the last couple of weeks has leavened a personality that for years prompted headline writers to make the leap from "RUDY" to "RUDE." And it has shown another side of a man critics say looks the other way on police brutality cases and dismisses causes such as public libraries and community gardens.

He has admitted to needing a woman he calls his "very good friend" - 45-year-old Judith Nathan, a drug company executive who for months has quietly traveled with him to public events.

"I rely on her, and she helps me a great deal," Giuliani told the Daily News about the single mother with a taste for gym workouts and beach weekends. "And I'm going to need her more now than maybe I did before."

Supporters see the problems of the past two weeks as over and done. All the women in Giuliani's life, they say, are standing behind him.

Sunday, while Hanover sent Giuliani's mom a rhinestone barrette for Mother's Day, an unperturbed Nathan walked her cocker spaniel and pronounced it a "gorgeous" day.

"We don't have to worry about what the definition of `is' is - Mr. Giuliani stood up and said, `Yes, this is a special friend of mine,' and that was the end of it," says Martin Donnelly, Delaware County Republican chairman.

"He had the courage to stand up and face the people and tell them the truth, and people took it very well," Donnelly said.

But others - Democrats, not surprisingly, among them - see lasting damage from the recent turmoil.

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