Catharsis or Collapse

Did Cancer or Character Kill Rudy's Run for the Senate?

The experience didn't diminish Hevesi's desire to be mayor one whit, nor did it transform a usually fluid public performer into a tongue-tied tease, tantalizing us with talk of visions and reincarnations.

The only people who thought Rudy was Superman before this crisis were the people he paid to think it. They were also the only people who applauded his courage at the end of these three tumultuous weeks of public spectacle, complete with grandstand confessions. Bill Bratton—the police commissioner who got bounced because he hung out across the street from Cronies—used to talk about the Kool-Aid that Rudy's cult had to drink. For the cult to still be celebrating his self-absorption-on-display now, the Kool-Aid has to be spiked.

Rob Polner in Newsday reported that when Rudy was in the middle of his prostate testing, he unveiled a budget that eliminated a $750,000Department of Health program to provide free screenings for the disease for uninsured New Yorkers. It was a City Council initiative, and the mayor who prides himself on his mastery of budget detail let it die while he was rediscovering his softer side.

In fact, though he spoke on Friday about figuring out ways to increase the number of people covered by health insurance because of what he's been through, that's hardly how he felt at his town-hall meeting in Queens the night he announced his prostate cancer in April.

Maurice Pinzon, the chair of the Forest Hills Community House, asked this question:

"Your administration has taken a very active approach towards denying, or diverting, benefits to people on public assistance. In light of what's happened to you today—and I know it's a very personal experience you have to grapple with—can you imagine having a serious disease and not having the health benefits to deal with it? Do you feel personally responsible that you may have put families and their children in danger by denying them benefits?"

The On-His-Way-to-Being-New Rudy responded: "That's really an unfair question. The reality is that what we've done with people on welfare is one of the most compassionate, most wonderful things that's ever happened in NYC.

"NYC has universal health insurance—in case you didn't check—through the public hospital system. Someone can go into a NYC public hospital and be cared for if they don't have money. So the idea that you can't get good care is something NYC solved 90 years ago. It's something we've expanded; it's something we've made better. So every single thing that you said is an unfair impression that comes out of your ideology. In a practical, in a real, in an honest and in an adult sense, we're doing a heck of a lot more for people than the city had been doing for 20 to 30 years."

Since neither Pinzon nor anyone else with a contrary point of view is ever given a chance to rebut a Giuliani fantasy, here are the facts:

Liz Kruger, the city's number one welfare activist, says that the Giuliani administration has "knocked a quarter of a million people off medicaid," dramatically increasing the number of uninsured. It has also virtually ended a onetime half-billion-a-year city subsidy to the public hospital system, laid off hundreds of workers, and tried repeatedly to privatize hospitals at the expense of their willingness to serve the uninsured. "Standing in line at an emergency room," says Kruger, "is the most expensive and worst model of health care. It is certainly not what is meant by health care for all."

There is no doubt that Giuliani's cancer is a personal tragedy. When he revealed it on April 27, he was thoughtful, direct, and authentic. He did not get maudlin or self-indulgent. He was praised on this page. Since then Peggy Noonan, John Tierney, and Tim Russert have taken to commenting about his saga as if it were opera when it has mostly been soap opera. His descent into melodrama has, as always, a calculated cause: get the tabloids off his ass and lay the groundwork for a grandiose comeback.

The truth test in the coming weeks will be if he reaches out for someone besides Judi Nathan. And if they include the hundreds of thousands of people he's left without medical insurance, subsistence payments, or even food stamps.

Research assistance: Jennifer Warren

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