Exit Stage Right, Rudy

Rudolph Giuliani loves opera—big, lush, over-the-top opera, with sobbing clowns and jubilant courtesans. And this makes sense because Mr. Giuliani is a very emotional man. He thinks about the city, about the Yankees and the subways and the people and parades, in an emotional way.

He doesn’t just fight crime, he acts a whole drama out for you. When he thinks some downtown guys broke the law he doesn’t call them in, he handcuffs them on the trading floor and hauls them away in shackles. When the police do something wrong he defends them stoutly, hotly, because they put their lives on the line for us every day. His critics aren’t just wrong, they’re people who better go home and take their medicine and get over it. When reporters get on his nerves he bickers with them and calls their editors and yells. He has so many big fights because everything is important and life is a battle and everything is so, so emotional.

This makes Rudy a pretty good fit for New York. Ed Koch was emotional too, and he was also a big success for a long time. Still, it is ironic that in the ongoing Senate campaign the man painted as cold and dry has proved himself once again this week to be anything but.

[Header] Being Opera

Sometimes you become what you love. And I was thinking this week, after the mayor’s announcement that he and his wife would separate, which was followed by her pained aria, all of which came to a head after the death of their friend, Cardinal John O’Connor, and all of it reported with the real life-and-death issue of the mayor’s cancer looming in the background as starkly as that stately old set, Gracie Mansion—I was thinking that the mayor now not only loves opera, he is opera.

But at least not the kind we’ve all grown used to. Wednesday’s dramatic statements that Mr. Giuliani was separating from his wife, Donna Hanover—and Ms. Hanover’s pained reaction—weren’t coolly planned and calculated. They were unscripted, more like blurts than announcements, and all involved seemed nothing if not forthcoming. There was no finger wagging, no calling this lady a stalker and that one a liar, no perjury, no sending out a wife and appointees and aides to divide and conquer. It was all more ragged and human than that.

Much of it springs, no doubt, from the fact that the mayor whose father died of prostate cancer is now suffering from the same disease, which would be challenging for anyone under the best of circumstances. In the midst of all the roiling, a friend tells me, the mayor hasn’t even had a chance to choose what kind of therapy, radiation or operation or chemotherapy or a combination, to undergo for his illness.

He is in a crisis in his life. But it is a political crisis, too.

Sometimes things reach a tipping point, a moment of negative critical mass. Rudy Giuliani’s Senate campaign has reached the moment at which a viable candidacy becomes wounded beyond repair. It’s not the lady, or the wife. It’s not the cancer, or “The Vagina Monologues” (in which Ms. Hanover was planning to star), or the other lady, or the history of intemperate statements, or the pugilistic personality. It is all of these things rolled up in one big snowball and rolling inexorably down the hill. Its speed will increase, not slow, with time.

This candidacy isn’t going to work. And one senses Mr. Giuliani knows it, and those around him do, too. He’s in the kind of mess that needs time and space and a quiet area in which to play itself out.

One hopes the mayor will step up like a gent and step down. He should get out now, while others can still get in. He should stay on as mayor, and keep pushing the levers he’s always loved pushing. It really is the job he was born to do. And in this way his municipal achievements will not be slowly and quietly undone by his would-be successor, Democrat Mark Green, the city’s No. 2 elected official.

A Giuliani departure, of course, would leave the Republican Party in the lurch, and in need of rescue. And the best candidate for rescuer would be New York Gov. George Pataki. Ol’ sleepy George is smart and smooth and intelligent. He would make a formidable candidate against Hillary Clinton, and would probably beat her. Unlike her, and the mayor, the governor actually has a legislative personality. He would do well in the Senate. And as a big, tall, moderate New York Republican who saved us from Hillary, he’d be on the Republican leadership’s list of people to please. Moreover George Bush, who may be the next president, likes him a lot. They went to Yale together.

Mr. Pataki would be an important senator just by showing up and filling the Moynihan seat.

Mrs. Clinton meanwhile—has anyone noticed this?—is moving forward each day, making progress, pushing through and claiming new ground like a tough little tank, as if she were Hillary Rommel Clinton. In the past few days she got free airtime for a full hour on Rosie O’Donnell, a full hour on the “Today” show, and a full hour on Joan Hamburg’s radio show—all successful and supportive appearances in which Mrs. Clinton was friendly, funny and down home.

She has changed her accent—she’s lost the mild Arkansas twang she adopted in 1982, when her husband ran for re-election—and now sounds more clipped, with a slightly higher and more youthful pitch, like a Westchester mom. She has a new voice now to go with her new look and her new approach, intense one-on-ones with supportive interviewers and small groups of women. The men aren’t noticing, but her numbers among white women will be up next time there’s a new poll, maybe dramatically. Slowly but surely she’s winning.

[Header] Jump In, George

There’s only one candidate who can probably beat Mrs. Clinton at this point, and that is Gov. Pataki. The problem, though, is that he is happy as governor. He likes the job. He doesn’t aspire to the Senate. He’s just the perfect candidate for it. Unlike Long Island Rep. Rick Lazio, he will not have to be introduced throughout the state. Unlike wealthy businesman Ted Forstmann, he has held office, and successfully. I wrote a speech with him once, a few years ago, and, though I could not call myself a friend, I did see him enough to know that he is intelligent and serious. These are good things in a candidate.

Gov. Pataki would give Mrs. Clinton a real challenger, a tough one, and help bring down the numbers of the Democratic ticket, which is topped by Al Gore.

This could actually make New York competitive on the presidential level. Gov. Bush is a friend of Gov. Pataki’s, and has his home number. One hopes he also has an itchy dialing finger.