Today in NYC History: The Last Days of Senator Rudy Giuliani (2000)

Hillary v. Rudy in 2000 SenateRudy Giuliani has been making the news recently for his crazed attacks on President Obama’s patriotism, a sad chapter for the former mayor, who became a national hero for his response to the September 11th attacks. His leadership during that period erased local memory of his disastrous campaign for the U.S. Senate against then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. On March 2, 2000, a Quinnipiac poll gave Rudy one of his biggest leads of the 2000 election.  Very soon thereafter, things started to unravel.

Rudy had spent most of 1999 leading Hillary in the polls. Hillary was a stiff campaigner, and had to overcome considerable carpetbagger concerns. Meanwhile, with crime continuing to drop in New York City, Rudy was drawing significant cross-over support from Democrats, while crushing Hillary outside of the city. In the March 2 Quinnipiac Poll, Rudy led Hillary among independents 49-35%, suburban voters 59-31% and Jewish voters 48-38%. If not for Hillary’s staggering 90-4% lead among black voters, the race would be a blowout.  (The poll also asks about mostly-forgotten, three-term Republican governor George Pataki, who performed very well among all voters halfway through his Albany reign.)

Yet, insiders recognized that the tide was turning that winter. Hillary’s much-mocked “listening tour” of upstate New York was appearing to work, in part because of Rudy’s total disdain for upstate campaigning, the same problem that had dogged Mayor Ed Koch when he had run for governor in 1982. When a hapless campaign staffer accidentally played “Captain Jack” instead of “New York State of Mind” on the PA system before Hillary’s official announcement, Rudy blisteringly denounced Billy Joel’s lyrics and Hillary supposed endorsement of drug use, which made him look unhinged.

On March 16, the NYPD shot and killed Haitian security guard Patrick Dorismund. In a city boiling over from the very recent acquittal of Amadou Diallo’s shooters, Rudy’s statement that Dorismund was “no altar boy” (in fact, he had been an altar boy at Rudy’s old high school) and public release of his juvenile record turned city voters sharply against Giuliani. Ed Koch observed, “Giuliani cannot help himself. He’s like a scorpion. Why does a scorpion sting? It’s the nature of scorpions. Why does Giuliani do these bizarre things? Because it’s his nature.”

Things really started to spiral for Rudy in early April. First, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. A few days after his surgery tabloids began asking Giuliani, married with two children, about his new girlfriend, Judith Nathan, an issue that wouldn’t go away, despite his obstinance. At the same time, a Conservative Party candidate jumped into the race, creating a new headache for Rudy on his political right. Meanwhile, he continued to anger upstate voters by skipping a large rally in Rochester to watch the Yankees home opener.

Giuliani eventually held a surreal press conference on May 10 in which he not only admitted to a year-long affair with Nathan, but announced that he was divorcing his wife of 16 years, Donna Hanover. Shockingly, he did this without telling Hanover first.

Hillary had already taken her first significant lead of the campaign in April, and the Nathan scandal sealed the deal. On May 20, Rudy dropped out of the race, and Hillary easily defeated Republican Rick Lazio in the November elections. One interesting alternative history is playing out what would have happened if Rudy had won. Public Advocate Mark Green would have become the interim mayor, and had he comported himself properly, probably would have won a special election, and been serving during 9/11.

Today, Rudy stumbles from one Fox newsroom to the next, desperately seeking a receptive audience. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner for President of the United States in 2016. Conservatives petrified in 2000 that her New York Senate run was a stepping stone to the presidency were right. We’re sure to see Hillary on the campaign trail next year, and who knows what Rudy will have to say about that, or if anyone will care.

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