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Giuliani Won't Run for Senate

Politics: Cancer fight is first, N.Y. mayor says. Rep. Lazio to enter race.

May 20, 2000|JOSH GETLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Showing a vulnerable side New Yorkers rarely see, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on Friday dropped out of the U.S. Senate race against Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying the pressures of dealing with prostate cancer would prevent him from devoting his full attention and energy to the campaign.

"I've decided what I should do is put my health first. . . . This is not the right time for me to run for office," Giuliani told an overflow crowd at City Hall. His announcement capped three weeks of suspense and indecision, further complicated by the public unraveling of his marriage.

As speculation swirled, U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio, a 43-year-old Long Island Republican, indicated he would join the race and quickly emerged as the likely heir apparent to Giuliani in a campaign that has become a priority for both major political parties. New York GOP leaders have 10 days in which to decide on a candidate before their May 30 nominating convention in Buffalo.

The usually combative mayor, sounding introspective, acknowledged his personal shortcomings and pledged to "do a better job" of helping New Yorkers who have not yet benefited from the city's economic boom. Giuliani has 18 months left in the mayor's job and is prevented by city law from seeking a third term.

"You confront your limits, you confront your mortality, and you realize that you're not a superman," he said in a 20-minute news conference that was frequently interrupted by applause from his aides. The 55-year-old mayor, noting that he had been agonizing over the proper course of treatment for his cancer, said he still had not decided on the right option. "This is all I am wrestling with now."

Opinion was sharply divided on how Giuliani's sudden exit will affect the first lady's chances. Some observers believe she may have an easier time campaigning against Lazio, who is not widely known, but others said he has less baggage than Giuliani and will be able to target her more effectively as a carpetbagger consumed with ambition.

Last week, the mayor disclosed that he and Donna Hanover, his wife of 16 years, are seeking a legal separation. Hours later, the city was stunned by Hanover's accusations that he had had an affair with Cristyne Lategano, a former press secretary. Just days earlier, the mayor acknowledged he has spent time with Judith Nathan, an Upper East Side divorced woman whom he called "a very good friend."

Although polls indicated that most New Yorkers do not hold Giuliani's private life against him, a host of political strategists suggested the revelations could harm him with conservative upstate and suburban voters. "Mr. Control had lost control," said Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "It's like he self-destructed."

Mrs. Clinton, speaking on the campaign trail in New York City, said: "I called [the mayor] to wish him well, to tell him that I knew this was a difficult decision. And I certainly hope and pray, as I know all New Yorkers do, that he will have a full and speedy recovery."

After fielding a phone call from Giuliani during a campaign swing through Kentucky, Texas Gov. George W. Bush issued a statement recognizing "the very difficult decision" Giuliani had made.

"I reminded him that he needs to be proud of the job he has done as the mayor of New York City," said the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, who managed to work in a dig at Mrs. Clinton. "Now that it's time for our party to move on, I'm confident the New York Republican Party will nominate a New Yorker who will be able to win the United States Senate race this fall."

Once Republicans settle on their nominee for the seat being vacated by Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan--and most observers believe Lazio is all but certain to win the nomination--he will need to raise the $20 million to $25 million that many believe is required for the race, likely to be the most expensive U.S. Senate campaign ever waged. Gov. George Pataki and other high-ranking Republicans have pledged to help the eventual nominee compete equally with Mrs. Clinton, who has raised $12 million, and many are casting an eye on Giuliani, who had raised $19 million, of which $9 million is on hand.

"He has to contribute some of those funds to the new nominee because it's really not his money," said Michael Long, head of the state's Conservative Party, noting that Giuliani tapped thousands of donors across the nation in the name of defeating Clinton. "He has a moral obligation to return that money or give it to Republican committees."

Asked what he plans to do with his war chest, Giuliani said only that it is "a complex legal and ethical decision" he will soon confront. Under federal law, the mayor can keep the money, return it to donors or give it to GOP committees, which in turn could pay for the new nominee's TV advertising campaign or other election-related costs.

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