A Kinder, Gentler Rudy?

How Rudy Prepared for His Bad-News Press Briefing

The Rudy Giuliani who revealed his cancer last week hasn't been seen in years. It was the same Rudy who announced his candidacy for mayor in May of 1989—open, warm, responsive, authentic. It was the same Rudy reporters got to know when he let his guard down as U.S. Attorney—more searching than driven, more reflective than rejective.

For a moment, up against a real adversary, he did not look embattled by his own demons. His jaw relaxed. He listened. The unpracticed smile returned—less tooth, more lip. His eyes had a lightness to them. Even the shoulders did not stoop protectively. His new tragedy and test appeared to have surgically removed the distrust and cynicism that ordinarily grip him, and he became, at least momentarily, a whole and engaging man.

It was enough to make those of us who've known him for a couple of decades wonder if he could rediscover himself.

But events surrounding the announcement argue otherwise.

By his own account, he had a physical two and a half weeks before his cancer announcement, and presumably learned shortly thereafter, roughly around April 12, that he had a high prostate-specific antigen (PSA) count. With his father already a victim of prostate cancer, "it sort of started there," as he put it at the press conference. "Just the contemplation of it for the last two weeks makes you think about what's important in life," he said, "and what are the most important things. But, you know, you should be thinking about that anyway."

The doctors put him on an antibiotic before giving him a second PSA test to make sure the initial results were accurate. A full course of antibiotics usually runs 10 days, possibly as few as seven. The second PSA test sounded the same alarm. Then he had a biopsy in the early hours of Wednesday, April 26, and got the final word. While facing the gravest challenge of his life, here's how he lived the two weeks:

April 14: When reporters pressed Rudy for details on what he would do with the federal surplus after Hillary Clinton announced a plan, he exploded: "Oh come on, Mrs. Clinton, Mrs. Clinton. You guys, you're unbelievable. You're, like, knee-jerk, knee-jerk, knee-jerk. Thank you!" He walked toward the door in the Blue Room at City Hall, shouting at reporters: "Join the Democratic National Committee."

Responding the same day to a state supreme court ruling supporting Comptroller Alan Hevesi's challenge to a controversial $104 million Human Resources Administration (HRA) contract, Giuliani said,"Democratic judge. Democratic decision. Jerky decision. He just took Hevesi's brief and wrote it down and signed it."

April 18: He proposed his seventh executive budget at a chart-jammed City Hall press conference. In a year with a gigantic surplus, he slashed almost $5 million from Hevesi's budget, the first time he'd ever proposed such a cut. The cut was obvious payback for Hevesi's opposition to a contract that stinks so bad Prosecutor Rudy would have sent agents with handcuffs to HRA.

That night he hosted a Guiding Eyes for the Blind reception at Gracie Mansion. His wife, Donna Don't-Call-Me-Giuliani, said through a spokeswoman that she couldn't attend because she had a "previous appointment with her kids." She was spotted nearby at Googie's Italian diner with Andrew and Caroline eating burgers. Her last reported sighting at a mayoral reception in her own home was years ago.

April 19: Hillary Clinton said she "supported the kinds of rights and responsibilities that are being extended to gay couples in Vermont." Though Rudy previously backed legalizing gay partnerships, he said he would not comment because "he has not seen" the new Vermont law. Preplanned flip-flops do not strain the prostate.

A new Quinnipiac poll released the same day found only 16 percent of city voters approved of the mayor's handling of the Patrick Dorismond case, and only 37 percent rated his overall performance as satisfactory, the lowest ever. Asked if he was concerned about the fact that 73 percent did not support the way he was handling race relations, he said: "No, it doesn't trouble me. I can see the coverage that you've all sort of engaged in the last two to three months, and I'm surprised the impression of the public isn't even worse."

April 22: To make sure no one missed the point, he called the INS agents who removed Elián González "storm troopers" six times in one visceral press conference. Asked if he was aware the phrase was an allusion to Nazi soldiers, he said: "How could you miss it?" He suggested a comparison with the Nazis was "obvious."

He responded to a Times story detailing the incestuous ties between HRA commissioner Jason Turner and the winner of the contract Hevesi blocked by calling it "all created stuff." The Times, he said, "will write all sorts of stories making it appear they did something wrong, and they will be cleared, and [the Times] won't write all kinds of stories saying we were wrong to malign them." An earlier HRA statement pointed out that Hevesi's brother works at the Times.

Responding for the first time to the tabloid story of the week—Donna's announced performance in The Vagina Monologues—he refused to answer a question about whether he would attend the racy Off-Broadway show. "I think that those discussions will be private discussions about whether I do or don't," he explained. "My wife is independent. She lives an independent life. So do I." It was the first time in almost five years of estrangement that he's used so frigid a formulation to describe his ringless marriage.

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