Catharsis or Collapse

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

Like almost everything else about Rudy Giuliani, even his epiphanies can make you mad.

He did a 30-minute press conference to announce his withdrawal from the Senate race last Friday and used the word love 12 times. It was the first time in his mayoralty he'd uttered the word, unless you count when he put tough in front of it and announced a new punishing prescription for poor people.

As often as he talked about how "fortunate" he was to "have very good friends"—another new favorite term of his—"and people that I love and love me," he did not mention his family until near the end of his rambling New Age monologue. And as redundant as he was on the subject of love, he pointedly did not use the term in connection with his family when he finally did mention them. If his brush with mortality, as he described it, taught him what was important in life, family was way down the list.

He invoked memories of his past broken promises to "reach out" to those who felt left out during his administration, and everyone assumed he was talking about minorities, particularly blacks. But when pressed by a reporter, he said he was "just not capable of doing it as a racial, ethnic, religious thing," insisting that "there are people in all different groups" who feel excluded. This left open the possibility that he would assign an even larger share of the city's day care vouchers to Boro Park and call it outreach.


The mayor does his own monologue and says farewell to Hillary.

The only people who thought Rudy was Superman before this crisis were 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.

His new girlfriend, watching on the tube, cried so much during his press conference—which consisted largely of transparently coded messages to her—that she apparently traumatized an eye. The Post reported that she had to go to Manhattan's Eye, Ear and Throat, where the mayor rushed as well, making sure presumably that she could still gaze at him with wide-eyed awe.

As frequently as he and his cheerleaders said he was just being "honest" about all of this, he got away in much of the postdecision coverage with proclaiming cancer the sole cause of his withdrawal. The fact that he announced it the day after Donna hired a tough divorce lawyer was supposed to go unnoticed, and by and large, it did. As close a confidant as Monsignor Alan Placa, a friend for 40 years who married him and baptized his children, said the family crisis was a factor, apparently unaware of Rudy's official line. Giuliani was allowed out the door without accepting any responsibility for forging "the path," as Donna Hanover put it, that led to his demise.

In an hour with Andrea Mitchell and a half hour with Tim Russert, neither Cristyne Lategano's nor Judith Nathan's name ever came up, though the scandal of Lategano is surely as legitimate a news story as Rudy's sudden desire to get the Dorismond voodoo hex off his back. Make no mistake about it—a primary purpose of the pathos bath Giuliani took before and during his conversion conference was to replace the sex-life stories with sympathy sound bites.

We are all supposed to ignore the bizarre nature of Giuliani's three-week, self-proclaimed epiphany. He took Nathan to the hospital on at least one cancer visit, then away with him on an upstate campaign swing right after the public disclosure. Having begun to realize what was important in life, he next had dinner with her two out of three nights and, when questioned, practically announced their affair. To complete this introspective circle, he dropped a preemptive separation strike on his wife without a whisper of warning. Having chased her and his kids out of town, he needed a reflective weekend walk—with his girlfriend and half the photographers in Manhattan.

Only by setting so low a humanity standard for years could this performance actually be seen as the emergence of a kinder king.


Alan Hevesi got Prostate Cancer Four Years Ago.

He consulted physicians and decided on surgery. He called a press conference to announce it. Reporters were solemn and he cracked jokes. He did not turn it into an opportunity for public transubstantiation. A cheering crowd was not bused in from busy cubicles. He did not talk about "very good friends" he loved and who loved him.

He didn't tell us he'd learned he wasn't Superman. He didn't "confront" his "mortality," realize he was "just a human being," or discover his "limits." He just got seriously sick and went off quietly and got well. He was precisely the same age Rudy is now and, in all likelihood, faced the same options, risks, and side effects. He was back at work in four weeks and called no press conference to trumpet his return. His family was clearly his primary support system, and a marriage rumored for years to be troubled appears to have grown stronger because of his illness.

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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