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THE NATION : THE JAUNDICED EYE

A Wronged-Wife Face-Off

May 28, 2000|Bruce McCall | Bruce McCall is a regular contributor to the New Yorker and Vanity Fair

NEW YORK — Empowered by what psychologists term the "woman-scorned syndrome," Donna Hanover, the estranged wife of New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, has sent boyish would-be replacement Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) packing and declared herself the GOP candidate for the Senate seat pursued until recently by her husband. The move pits Hanover against First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic candidate, in the first major electoral contest to be fought between two ambitious but inexperienced and marriage-challenged women whom almost nobody actually likes.

Hanover, speaking from her temporary office in the mayor's unused bedroom at their New York apartment, moved quickly to scotch any concern that her campaign might seek sympathy by casting her as the long-suffering victim of a philandering spouse. "There are enough real issues at stake," she said, "not to drag in my ordeal as a loyal helpmeet betrayed every night for years by a two-timing cheese-ball creep with a bad comb-over who was always 'working late,' unquote."

Hillary Clinton reacted quickly to her new opponent's sudden entry to the fray. "Bill and I, particularly me, have only emerged from crisis stronger and more crazy in love than ever," she said. "But those who can't keep their hubbies, and don't have the first clue about why, deserve our pity. Donna Hanover has mine. Inclusiveness, after all, is at the core of this campaign: There's room in our hearts even for total losers, down to the last pushy, aging ex-babe with a bad dye job."

Hanover campaign strategists ignored the taunt and instead announced that their candidate's campaign will take the high road, "thus eliminating any chance of being confused with Hillary." For example, a typical Hanover TV spot never even mentions Clinton by name and omits any word of criticism. All it shows is a blindfolded Hillary look-alike strolling through a harem. Another slowly pans along a shelf lined with books all titled, "It Takes a Village Idiot."

Clinton, nabbed by a reporter the morning after the Hanover bombshell while practicing smiles with her friendliness coach, expressed a wary respect for her 11th-hour adversary. "Washed-up actresses should never be underestimated," she purred. "Look at Eva Peron."

The Hanover camp, taking the jibe in stride, responded with assurances that even if insistent rumors about Bill Clinton "putting the moves on" Hanover at a New York charity ball were true, the incident would have no place in their candidate's campaign. "We feel Hillary's pain," a spokesperson chuckled. "Living in her state of pathological denial with an even more pathological satyr for a hubby is punishment enough."

The unflustered candidate who calls herself simply "Hillary" shrugged off the Hanoverian crack. "The poor thing is struggling every minute of every day with her weight problem," she clucked. "It's a tragically easy step into wacko fantasies when you're suddenly denied your usual early-morning box of cherry-center chocolate bonbons."

Hanover gave only a strained smile on hearing of this remark. "I always thought Hillary Rodham Clinton was just a dowdy little mouse," she beamed. "I hadn't realized she was studying to be a rat."

The sparring candidates were due to meet today for a joint appearance on "the Sunday Morning Snooze" TV show for a question-and-answer session and met in the backstage green room shortly before air time. Clinton offered her opponent a cookie from a trayful she claimed to have baked earlier that morning.

"Sorry," Hanover said, declining the treat. "I don't like my cookies burned black." Hillary, her sang-froid unruffled, merely gazed at her adversary for the U.S. Senate seat before burbling, "Suddenly, I understand Rudy a lot better." This got Hanover out of her chair and leaping toward the first lady with fire in her eyes. "Career cuckold!" she snaked. "Never-was trying to be a has-been!" retorted Hillary.

The ladies' subsequent debate was held too late to be reported in this edition, but pundits are already predicting a lively next few months, especially if, according to insistent scuttlebutt, Giuliani's former assistant and good friend Cristyne Lategano enters the race as an independent on the Home-wrecker ticket.

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