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Drawing fire, Judith Giuliani gives her side

It has not been an easy few months for Judith Giuliani. Her rollout to the public received rocky reviews from the political class, Republicans included. So it was perhaps no surprise that at a recent lunch in downtown Manhattan, Mrs. Giuliani offered this self-assessment: “When it comes to politics, I’m new to this.”
Judith Giuliani, at a Southampton driving range, shoots about a stroke below her husband, on average.
Judith Giuliani, at a Southampton driving range, shoots about a stroke below her husband, on average.Chris Livingston for The New York Times
/ Source: The New York Times

It has not been an easy few months for Judith Giuliani. Her rollout to the public received rocky reviews from the political class, Republicans included. A series of negative articles about her shopping habits, marital past and supposedly testy relations with campaign staff followed. Her appearances alongside her husband, Rudolph W. Giuliani, grew suddenly scarce — and some analysts suggested that she keep it that way.

So it was perhaps no surprise that at a recent lunch in downtown Manhattan, Mrs. Giuliani offered this self-assessment: “When it comes to politics, I’m new to this.”

Over the course of a two-hour interview, Mrs. Giuliani, 53, talked for the first time about how she met Mr. Giuliani, 63, and about their first date. (He asked her out, she said.) But she returned again and again to her inexperience as a political wife, saying, “It’s a learning curve for me.”

“I’m sure that’s something that can get one into, you know — ” She did not finish the thought, but allowed her hands to flutter cautiously before going on. “But I try to remain me. And again, part of that is not doing anything more than I have to in terms of making myself in any way a distraction from what my husband is trying to do for America.”

Not becoming a distraction to her husband, a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, appears to be an elusive goal. A daughter of small-town Pennsylvania, a former nurse and working mother who struggled to raise a child on her own, she cuts a figure that Mr. Giuliani’s aides say will appeal to Republican voters. Husband and wife agree that Laura Bush is a model for Mrs. Giuliani.

But Judith carries some distinctly un-Laura baggage. Like her husband, she has been married twice before. They also had a secret affair for a year before Mr. Giuliani announced it to the world — and to his second wife, Donna Hanover — at a news conference.

Her relations with Mr. Giuliani’s children by Ms. Hanover are by all accounts deeply strained, despite her efforts at rapprochement. And his son and daughter, ages 21 and 17, have said they do not plan to campaign for their father.

Sharply critical articles, most recently in Vanity Fair, have described Mrs. Giuliani as an imperious striver who shops extravagantly, demands a separate seat on the campaign plane for her Louis Vuitton handbag and has compiled a hit list of campaign aides she wants fired.

Now, with his wife’s public role scaled back, at least temporarily, strategists are asking dueling questions: Can he win over socially conservative voters if his wife is not by his side? Can he win them over if she is?

To Mrs. Giuliani’s husband and friends, the scrutiny and criticism have been quite unfair. And largely in response to the spate of bad press, both Mr. Giuliani and his wife made themselves available in recent weeks to present their side of her story. In coordinated but separate interviews, the couple talked in detail for the first time in months about their relationship and the complications it poses for his campaign.

In one of his interviews, Mr. Giuliani acknowledged that his wife was a political neophyte whose background has “not been every day having a press conference.” But he described her as an effective fund-raiser and trusted sounding board for his policies, particularly on health care, because she holds a two-year nursing degree and once sold pharmaceuticals. (He praised her mastery of “the way a surgical procedure is done or the way in which you seal a Level 1 trauma center off for a biological agent.”)

He also said that she has good relations with people inside his campaign, and he rejected descriptions of his wife as high-handed or high society. “Judith loves to go out and loves to be with people,” he said. “But she is not one of those people that constantly has to socialize.”

While Mr. Giuliani stopped short of saying he would invite her to cabinet meetings — as he told Barbara Walters on “20/20” in March — he said she does attend “about a quarter” of the campaign’s political discussions and advises him on major personnel matters because she has “great instincts for being able to judge people.”

She participated, for instance, in Mr. Giuliani’s interview with Michael DuHaime for the position of campaign manager. And she concurred with the decision to hire him, Mr. Giuliani said.

“She’s involved, but she’s not overly involved,” he said. “She’s usually involved when I ask her to be — and in things that she has an interest in.”

But when asked how visible he expects his wife to be on the campaign trail, Mr. Giuliani hesitated, then managed a noncommittal reply.

“I’d say reasonably visible?” he said.

Pepsi 400
DAYTONA, FL - JULY 07: (R-L) Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani walks with his wife, Judith, in the garage area prior to the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 7, 2007 in Daytona, Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images for NASCAR) *** Local Caption *** Rudy Giuliani;Judith GiulianiDoug Benc / Getty Images North America

Judith Nathan became a part of Mr. Giuliani’s life in 1999, not long before his prostate cancer was diagnosed. The circumstances of their meeting have been the subject of much contention, with some critics suggesting that she aggressively pursued him at a time when he was New York City’s mayor and still living in Gracie Mansion with Ms. Hanover and their children.

Until now, the Giulianis have declined to discuss the matter, calling it “a romantic secret.” But in the interviews, the couple provided their version of their introduction, saying that they met at Club Macanudo, a cigar bar on East 63rd Street, in May 1999. They said they were introduced by Dr. Burt Meyers, a specialist in infectious diseases at Mount Sinai Hospital who was there with Mrs. Nathan and had met Mr. Giuliani when his mother was a patient there.

After chatting for an hour, mostly about her work in the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. Giuliani asked for her phone number, they said. “She gave me a piece of paper to write it on,” he recalled. “One of our other romantic little secrets is I’ve kept it all these years in my wallet.”

After they began dating, Mrs. Giuliani had plans to fly to Hawaii on a vacation awarded to leading sales managers by her employer.

“He said, ‘Please don’t go,’ ” she recalled. “ ‘You’ve already become too important to me.’ ”

Mrs. Giuliani declined to comment when asked how she felt about dating a married man, or the complications involved in seeing him secretly.

Mr. Giuliani said: “I don’t discuss that in detail except to say that, you know, we love each other very much, and we have both found the person that we adore and can live with the rest of our lives. It didn’t happen for either of us young in life.”

Through her spokeswoman, Ms. Hanover, Mr. Giuliani’s ex-wife, declined to comment for this article.

Mrs. Giuliani, whose original name was Judi Stish, grew up in Hazleton, Pa., a coal-mining town, the second of three children. Her father, whose forebears came from Italy — the family’s name had been Sticia — was a circulation manager for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

After she graduated from St. Luke’s School of Nursing in Bethlehem, Pa., she worked for several months as a hospital nurse, then took a sales job for U.S. Surgical, a medical equipment company, where her first husband, Jeffrey Ross, also worked.

Mrs. Giuliani’s second husband, Bruce Nathan, was a wallpaper salesman from Long Island. They adopted a girl, Whitney, lived in Atlanta, Manhattan and Southern California, and split bitterly in 1992. She returned with their daughter to Manhattan, took computer and business classes at night at New York University and eventually moved into the cramped East Side apartment of a psychologist she was dating, Manos Zacharioudakis.

Sometimes, when she could not find a baby sitter, she took her daughter to class. The experience, she said, helped her understand the struggles of working women and single mothers. From 1993 until 2001, she worked her way up in the hospital sales division of Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The Giulianis were married by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in May 2003, on the lawn of Gracie Mansion. Among their 400 guests were Henry A. Kissinger, Yogi Berra, Vera Wang, and Joseph Volpe, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera.

Mrs. Giuliani’s initial period of involvement in her husband’s campaign — she called it “being rolled out publicly” — began with a couple of gentle, staged events in the spring. She was profiled in the March issue of Harper’s Bazaar and photographed wearing a Ralph Lauren Collection jacket, a Celine dress and Graff diamonds. (A caption read, “Judith Giuliani epitomizes laid-back elegance.”)

In late March, she and Mr. Giuliani clasped hands and kissed throughout their interview with Ms. Walters, in which the former mayor said that “to the extent she wants to be,” his wife would be involved in policy decisions and could sit in on cabinet meetings.

His comment drew derision from those who said she lacked the expertise to attend high-level policy meetings, and the remark overshadowed the rest of the interview. The rollout rolled downhill from there.

That same month, The New York Daily News discovered that Mrs. Giuliani had been married twice before — not once, as had been generally believed. The New York Times reported that Mr. Giuliani had become estranged from his children and that Mrs. Giuliani was, in large part, the reason.

A March 14 clip of Mrs. Giuliani going on at length about her own credentials as she introduced her husband at a fund-raiser began circulating on YouTube. And on April 2, The New York Post reported that sales workers at Mrs. Giuliani’s old employer, U.S. Surgical, often demonstrated staplers on dogs that were subsequently put to death.

Although Mrs. Giuliani’s friends say the coverage has been painful, the Giulianis tried to brush off the difficulties. “I don’t want to sit in on cabinet meetings,” Mrs. Giuliani said. “He offered me that because he loves me. You know, he says he respects my intelligence.”

But she remains uncomfortable talking about his campaign. In the interview, she grew most animated when talking about golfing with Mr. Giuliani — she plays, on average, about a stroke below him — and medical subjects. “I’m really happy to talk to you about staphylococcus and streptococcus,” she said.

Mr. Giuliani called her the “rookie of the year” as a candidate spouse. But he candidly acknowledged that his, and her, complicated marital résumés might be liabilities among some Republican voters.

“Any candidate that’s lived a long life is going to have made a certain number of mistakes,” he said. “For some people, this’ll make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to vote for me.”

Russ Buettner and Marc Santora contributed reporting.