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National Perspective | POLITICS

Giuliani Finds His Personal Baggage Isn't Such a Heavy Load in Campaign

A scandal-weary public is unfazed by media reports linking New York mayor to divorcee.

May 09, 2000|JOSH GETLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — For a candidate who has dumped scorn and ridicule on his opponent in New York's bitter U.S. Senate race, New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani owes a vote of thanks to Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband.

The mayor's personal life has come under intense media scrutiny in recent days, including the revelation that he's enjoyed private weekends in the Hamptons with an Upper East Side divorcee whom he calls "a very good friend." But none of this seems to have turned public opinion against him--just as a scandal-weary public kept backing President Clinton's job performance during the Lewinsky affair.

To be sure, the disclosures about Giuliani's friend, Judith Nathan, coupled with his earlier announcement that he has prostate cancer, have triggered a tide of Big Apple press speculation. There has also been renewed focus on the state of Giuliani's marriage to Donna Hanover, an actress and television journalist with whom he has two children and is almost never seen in public.

But a resounding 77% of New Yorkers couldn't care less about the mayor's new female friend, saying it has nothing to do with his job performance, a weekend poll in the N.Y. Daily News found. "We saw this same reaction with the Clinton scandal, which was covered ad nauseam, and now New Yorkers are saying they don't want to go through the same thing again," noted GOP political consultant Joseph Mercurio.

Not everyone agrees, of course, and local columnists have clashed over the "Gal Pal" story, some blasting the mayor as a hypocrite. (He has said the Ten Commandments should be posted in New York public schools.)

Daily News columnist Jim Dwyer said the mayor's relationship is a legitimate public concern, speculating that police racked up $200,000 in overtime costs and special personnel to guard Giuliani and Nathan in the Hamptons.

The story is not going away. Both the News and the New York Post continue to provide juicy tidbits about the mayor's relationship, and Ed Kosner, the News' editor, said he has no intention of ending the daily coverage.

"Rudy has drawn us into the drama of his life with the prostate cancer story, and the Judi Nathan story also gives us a glimpse into his state of mind these days," Kosner said in an interview. Moreover, he added, if Giuliani raises ethical and moral issues, such as his crusade against an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, then his own personal standards are relevant.

Meanwhile, Hanover has insisted for several years on leading a life apart from the mayor, even to the point of never mentioning his name in public. But during a weekend appearance before reporters, Hanover seemed emotionally distraught, saying, "This marriage and this man have been very precious to me."

Several years ago, the press was filled with stories, which Giuliani denied, that he had an affair with a former press secretary. But the differences between then and now are telling. Back then, in pre-Monica days, a visibly angry mayor denounced reporters who asked if he was straying from his marriage vows. Now, Giuliani has made little effort to conceal his new female companion.

He took Nathan, a registered nurse who manages a pharmaceutical company, to a recent banquet for the working press. They spent New Year's and Thanksgiving together, and the two have been seen dining around town. When reporters asked him about the relationship, a composed Giuliani said he is fair game but asked the press to leave Nathan alone.

The mayor's cancer continues to raise questions about his Senate candidacy; he is still consulting with doctors and has been asked by party leaders to announce whether he will run before the state's May 30 GOP convention. Mrs. Clinton has finished a campaign swing through all of New York's 62 counties and now has a 47%-42% lead, according to the most recent Daily News poll (though that lead falls within the poll's margin of error).

One possible upshot of the Nathan story: Two of America's most polarizing political candidates, Mrs. Clinton and Giuliani, may wind up canceling out each other's personal baggage and actually waging a campaign on the issues.

"Wouldn't that be something?" asked Tom Goldstein, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. "I think, right now, the prevailing mood is, leave the guy alone and let's talk about something that affects the election."

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