No Grace At Gracie Mansion

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What will we tell the children? Republicans liked wringing their hands over that one, adding the bad example set by Bill Clinton to their reasons for impeaching him. So what are G.O.P. leaders thinking as their flagship mayor, Rudy Giuliani of New York City, risks damaging his children by publicly berating their mother and declaring his eternal love for a woman not his wife? On Friday his kids and the other 1.5 million children in the five boroughs awoke to tabloids screaming RUDY AND JUDI 4 EVER after Giuliani defended his girlfriend Judith Nathan in the wake of a PEOPLE magazine story. Giuliani gushed that the "very caring and loving" Nathan "doesn't deserve being treated this way. I feel very bad for her, more than anyone else, because she deserves it the least."

Oh, really? What do Andrew, 15, and Caroline, 11, deserve? A Dad who trashes their mother? After Giuliani's estranged wife Donna Hanover asked a judge to bar Nathan from visiting Gracie Mansion, the official residence (where the family still lives), and argued against a gag order in the case, Giuliani unleashed his lawyer Raoul Felder. Starting on Mother's Day, no less, Felder called Hanover an "uncaring mother" who stayed in a dead marriage for "twisted motives." Though her lawyer Victor Kovner says the couple agreed that Hanover should continue living in Gracie Mansion until her apartment is available, Felder made her sound like the interloper "howling like a stuck pig," who would have to be pulled "from the chain of the chandeliers" to remove her. In an attempt to win sympathy and perhaps absolution from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, Felder volunteered that Rudy wasn't violating the Sixth Commandment because his treatment for prostate cancer had left him impotent.

Does Giuliani think his kids or their schoolyard friends --and enemies--don't read the papers? G.O.P. outrage must be in the same lockbox it rested in when family-values conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde and Dan Burton were found to have indulged in the same conduct for which they were condemning others. Rudy himself is a Morality Czar, trying to shut down strip clubs and block funding for museums he finds offensive to Catholics. He's becoming offensive to Catholics. Can someone shut him down?

Before the Mother's Day massacre, Rudy was poised to leave City Hall on a wave of goodwill, with the door open to future office. Despite announcing the end of his marriage to the press corps before he told his wife, he had garnered a level of public sympathy not usually available to adulterers, perhaps because news of his sickness and "good friend" struck at about the same time. New Yorkers are both practical (grateful to the mayor for reviving the city) and romantic (a man looking the Grim Reaper in the eye should be allowed a second chance at happiness). It helped that Nathan wasn't an intern, that she was taking him in sickness, not in health, and that the mayor was following the first rule of civilized divorce: dwell not on your ex's faults as a spouse but on her virtues as a parent. Back then he praised Hanover as "a wonderful mother."

The marriage had long been a cold affair. Hanover had dropped his name, avoided his company and suggested he might not get her vote. She appeared in the R-rated Vagina Monologues. Overall, she came across less as the wronged wife (see Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton) than as an enabler clinging to the perks of office (see First Lady Hillary Clinton).

When Rudy gets mad, he gets even. Just ask the people he's sent packing. Think of Hanover as former police commissioner William Bratton or as a squeegee man. Hanover doesn't want the kids to meet Judi at Gracie Mansion? Well, then, she's got a warped agenda and "doesn't care what happens to the children." Felder let it be known that Giuliani has to sleep in the den, with the bath down the hall, where he runs as many as eight times a night to vomit while his wife lives like a queen in the master bedroom. But that kind of ghastly candor repelled the public, and Giuliani finally shut down Felder, who explained that his pre-emptive attack was just lawyer's "hardball." Like another famous wife, Hanover does not naturally inspire affection. But like another famous husband, Rudy has engendered it for her. He's making Hanover look so much like a victim that she might consider running for office. Hillary's seat is up in 2006.