NEW YORK Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said yesterday he is separating from his wife of 16 years, setting off an avalanche of political and personal speculation about how this explosive development will affect the New York Senate race.
The mayor’s wife, Donna Hanover Giuliani, a TV personality who also has appeared in movies and soap operas, counter-punched with accusations of infidelity. She charged that her husband’s relationship with a woman on his City Hall staff for the past few years had been the cause for their estrangement.
Meanwhile, there were unconfirmed reports that Mr. Giuliani would scrap his race for a Senate seat against Hillary Rodham Clinton, possibly as early as this week. The mayor’s office denied the reports and his campaign manager insisted that as far as the mayor’s candidacy is concerned, “all systems are go.”
Yesterday’s revelation was the second in two weeks to rock City Hall. Mr. Giuliani, 55, announced last week that he has prostate cancer and would decide on entering the Senate race in the days to come.
At a news conference in City Hall yesterday, a clearly shaken Rudy Giuliani faced a battery of cameras to say:
“For a long time, it’s been apparent that Donna and I lead very separate lives. It’s been a very painful road, and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to formalize that [separation] in an agreement that protects our children, gives them all of the security and all the protection they deserve and protects Donna. And that’s something we have to work out and we have to strive toward.”
When asked about Giuliani’s marriage by reporters at an event in Syracuse, Mrs. Clinton replied, “I don’t have anything to say.”
The news arrived amid a whirlwind of rumors set off last week when local tabloids reported that the mayor has conducted a relationship with Upper East Side divorcee Judith Nathan for more than a year. Responding to the report, Mr. Giuliani described Mrs. Nathan, 45, as “a very good friend.”
The admission fired furious speculation in the mayor’s inner circle and among media representatives for some time as to where and when the couple had been spotted. But the story remained unwritten.
Along with announcing his split from Mrs. Giuliani, who likes to be known as Donna Hanover, the mayor expanded on his new relationship yesterday. “Judith Nathan is a very, very fine person. She’s been a very good friend to me before I had to deal with the decisions that I have to make about my illness and what to do about it. I rely on her and she helps me a great deal and I’m going to need her more now than I did before.”
The mayor, who described his wife as “a wonderful woman,” added: “It’s between Donna and me. I’m not thinking about politics… . It will all work itself out politically.”
A source close to Mr. Giuliani said that later, in his private quarters after the news conference, the mayor was “really broken up” and close to tears.
Within hours of the mayor’s statement downtown, the mayor’s wife, 50, clutching her hands, reacted to his comments by delivering her own statement in front of Gracie Mansion in upper Manhattan:
“Today’s turn of events brings me great sadness. I had hoped that we could keep this marriage together. For several years, it was difficult to participate in Rudy’s public life because of his relationship with one staff member.
“Beginning last May I made a major effort to bring us back together. Rudy and I re-established some of our personal intimacy through the fall. At that point, he chose another path.
“Rudy and I will now go forward to discuss the possibility of a legal separation. Because of security concerns for at least the next few months, the children and I will continue to live at Gracie. I thank all the people who have sent me their love.”
It was widely understood that the woman referred to by the mayor’s wife the first “other woman” in the drama is Cristyne Lategano, the mayor’s former press secretary. There were published reports a few years ago about a romance between the two, but both of them denied the accusations.
Miss Lategano, 34, left City Hall last May for a job with NYC & Company, formerly known as the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau. She married a sportswriter in February.
Without directly answering the charge, Miss Lategano said yesterday she would not speculate about why New York’s first lady made the comment, but that she was proud to have served in the Giuliani administration.
Last week, the local tabloids reported that the mayor was seeing Mrs. Nathan, a registered nurse who works for a pharmaceutical company. Local tabloids continued to report details of what appears to be a romance, adding that Mr. Giuliani has been seeing Mrs. Nathan for perhaps three years, ever since the mayor and his wife began leading separate lives.
Mrs. Giuliani refused to use the mayor’s last name and took up a career on the stage and television. She recently canceled a planned appearance in the controversial off-Broadway play “The Vagina Monologues” after critics questioned the propriety of appearing in such a play.
An emotional Bruce Teitelbaum, Mr. Giuliani’s campaign manager, told The Washington Times that he was not going to comment on anything the mayor’s wife said.
“I’ve had a very bad day,” he added. “It makes no difference to me what Donna says.”