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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Voters Have Right to Know if They're Being Told Truth

May 19, 2000|Mike Downey

Aletter to the editor in the New York Times a few days ago, from a reader in El Cajon, Calif., asserted that if actress Donna Hanover really cares about her husband, Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York, she "should realize how important it is for a cancer patient to have as little stress in his life as possible."

This was the reader's apparent way of objecting to Hanover's public confirmation on May 10 that she and the mayor were indeed having a few problems with their marriage.

Never mind that Giuliani himself had just--at a very public news conference, four days before Mother's Day--sprung the announcement that he would be seeking a legal separation from his wife and the mother of his children.

(No stress there.)

Never mind that Giuliani himself would not only continue to serve as New York's mayor, but had not yet ruled out a run against Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Senate.

(No stress there.)

Never mind that His Honor would continue to do the town with another woman, his "very good friend," with a wedding ring no longer visible on his finger.

It was the mayor's wife, in the reader's opinion, who shouldn't contribute anything detrimental to Rudy's delicate mental state.

Meaning that once again, a woman publicly humiliated by a man who holds public office is supposed to keep her mouth shut in public.

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Donna Hanover was entirely justified in doing the very thing that Hillary Clinton herself would have been justified in doing, after the way her husband not only cheated in private but lied about it in public.

There is no good reason for a woman such as Hanover to hide behind closed doors inside a mayor's mansion and keep mum. Not when her husband of 16 years is out of the house espousing religion and morality, while attending $1,000-a-plate dinners to raise some funds for these causes.

For no matter what anyone says about a public official's affairs being "a private matter between him and his wife," the fact is that a double standard does exist for a man whose supporters have every right to know if he practices what he preaches, and if the time and money they have invested in him have been well spent or squandered on a man whose true character they don't really know.

After all, it was not in private but quite publicly that Rudolph W. Giuliani took exception to Hillary Clinton's apparent reluctance to post the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms. The mayor went so far as to mock her as being opposed to "America's religious traditions," another of which, in case Giuliani has forgotten, being the bonds of holy matrimony.

Ms. Clinton has made a Herculean--no, better make that Hera, goddess of marriage--kind of effort to keep her "till death do us part" vows, whereas Mr. Giuliani, perhaps rattled by the specter of his own mortality with his cancer fight ahead, has become the one to leave his family in a time of personal crisis. So he would be wise not to wave biblical tablets at anybody.

"Are you having a midlife crisis?" a New York reporter recently asked Giuliani, 54.

"That's an interesting way to put it," the mayor replied. "I don't know exactly how I would describe it."

An argument has long raged that private foibles do not affect performance in office. This is valid, provided a voter is unconcerned over a politician's possible hypocrisy. Giuliani's qualifications may not have changed, but if New Yorkers prefer a leader who champions family values, they should be sure they've got the right champ.

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It was last autumn, according to his wife, that Giuliani "chose another path" in their marriage. But the people of New York are only hearing about it now, a week and a half before the state's Republican convention names its senatorial candidate.

No one is owed nitty-gritty details. Voters do need to know how a former aide of the mayor's got her $150,000 job as New York's tourism director, just as they need to know how Giuliani is holding up under all this personal stress.

"My emotional state is, I'm very sad," he said recently.

At a news conference last Saturday, the mayor looked a little happier. Of course, he was having his face licked at the time by a 7-month-old black Labrador puppy.

His wife was in California meantime, visiting relatives. Donna Hanover had just done what anyone living in any public official's residence should do. She told the truth.

*

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. E-mail: mike.downey@latimes.com

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