Giuliani divorce electrifies N.Y.

Squabble: New Yorkers take sides as the mayor's rancorous breakup plays out in the tabloids.

May 18, 2001|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK -- From the city that treats "rude" like a compliment comes a divorce case befitting its reputation -- a very public squabble between the mayor and his estranged wife that rivals "The Producers" as the hottest show in town.

The case that has stunned New Yorkers with its rancor pits Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani against his soon-to-be ex-wife, Donna Hanover, over their living arrangements at the official mayoral home, Gracie Mansion.

Hanover filed for a restraining order this week to keep the mayor's girlfriend, Judith Nathan, away from the mansion, a city landmark where Giuliani and his wife live in separate quarters.

In court filings, Hanover's lawyers accuse Giuliani of parading Nathan in the home shared by the couple's two children, Caroline, 11, and Andrew, 15. The attorneys say they want to deny "paramour access" to Nathan, who has accompanied the mayor to official events at the mansion despite his wife's presence there.

As Giuliani's camp fights back with allegations that Hanover has been indifferent to the mayor's yearlong battle with prostate cancer, the case has begun to air all manner of intimacies.

New Yorkers have learned, thanks to the mayor's champions and the tabloids, that Giuliani's treatment has left him temporarily impotent, that he has yearned for a "wifely presence" at Gracie Mansion to help clean up when the anti-cancer drugs have made him vomit up to eight times a night, that he wakes exhausted at 5 a.m. when his actress-wife begins exercising on the floor above.

Now, like the audience at a Jerry Springer taping, New Yorkers are weighing in.

There's Team Rudy: "Giuliani have girlfriend -- it's good!" says Russian immigrant Yury Poretsky, 55, taking a Danish break in Manhattan. "His personal life? Up to him. He's strong guy. As long as he does his job, good for him."

And Team Donna: "That's like me getting divorced and flaunting a girlfriend in front of my baby here," says David Collins, 27, a transit worker eating lunch with his wife at Grand Central Station. "Rudy should at least show Donna respect."

In a New York Post poll this week, readers overwhelmingly faulted Giuliani for what has been called a get-tough strategy against Hanover.

The poll came after Mother's Day name-calling by Giuliani's lawyer, Raoul Felder, who called Hanover an "uncaring mother" and accused her of using the divorce to advance her acting career.

Felder also has faulted Hanover for getting her hair done for a court appearance as though it were a publicity shoot, accused her of "howling like a stuck pig" over the divorce and said she would leave Gracie Mansion only if she were pried "kicking, scratching and screaming" off the chandelier.

Giuliani, 56, filed for divorce from Hanover, 51, in October on the grounds of "cruel and inhuman treatment," but details did not hit the papers until this month, when the court refused to impose a gag order. Giuliani's lawyers have asked a judge again this week to require both sides to halt their public statements.

While Giuliani has silenced his lawyer this week, domestic troubles continue to dog him as he awaits the court's ruling on Hanover's request to bar Nathan from the mansion. A decision is expected as early as Monday.

At a Shea Stadium event for city kids Wednesday, Giuliani waited for the inevitable questions about his divorce, staring dourly at 16 television cameras as the Mr. Met mascot romped on the infield.

"I would suggest that you not be overcome by the frenzy" created by the story, Giuliani told reporters.

Yesterday, the mayor defended his relationship with Nathan amid inquiries about her appearance on the cover of People magazine under the headline: "The Mistress."

"I feel very bad about [the cover] because my relationship with Judith Nathan is an adult one," he said, according to the Associated Press. "It's a mature one."

Giuliani's critics wonder why the mayor, with eight months left before he leaves office because of a two-term limit, has allowed such an embarrassing melodrama to unfold in the first place.

"This is loony behavior," says former New York Mayor Ed Koch, a Giuliani critic who wrote the book "Giuliani: Nasty Man."

Adds Koch: "How can you ever in your own head justify attacking your current wife who you're divorcing but who you have two children with? I think Rudy has been a good mayor, but he'll be remembered for loony tunes."

After presiding over a strong economy and a dramatic reduction in city crime, Giuliani seems destined to spend his final months in office trying to protect a legacy that the current unpleasantness threatens to taint.

"The way you leave is the way people remember you," says Xavier Cutter Cartier, 32, general manager at a Manhattan restaurant. "Giuliani has been a very harsh critic to a lot of people and very insensitive to a lot of situations, and now he wants our sympathy and he's not going to get it. What goes around comes around."

But Giuliani supporters say this is simply how a hard-charging fighter gets divorced.

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