What Made Giuliani Jump Ship

It was a bombshell fit for a snappy tabloid headline: "Rudy to GOP: Drop Dead." On Oct. 24, New York City's Republican Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani stunned Gotham with an unpardonable act among party stalwarts: He endorsed a Democrat for governor over Republican George Pataki. Not just any Democrat, mind you, but the nemesis of conservatives everywhere: unrepentant liberal Mario M. Cuomo, who is locked in a tough struggle for a fourth term.

Is Hizzoner a hero, an ambitious political climber, or just plain nuts? Tongues were wagging. "This was one of the stupidest political maneuvers of my lifetime," fumes GOP strategist Anthony Fabrizio. "Giuliani could become the loneliest Republican in New York State."

CLEAR WARNING. Behind the scenes, political pros see far-reaching consequences in Giuliani's bold gambit. "For Republicans, this was a betrayal of the first degree. It's huge," says New York GOP consultant Jay Severin III. But he adds with a twinkle, "I don't see any downside. The upside? He's trying out a new political doctrine." True, Giuliani is making enemies of state Republican pols. But there's a clear warning for the GOP in his Cuomo endorsement: Unless Republicans propose solutions to end partisan gridlock, any gains from a 1994 backlash against President Clinton and Congress will be short-lived. "Giuliani is defining a new national role for a big-city Republican," says GOP pollster Frank I. Luntz. "He's endorsing policies, not people."

Witness the impromptu press conference called by Giuliani--a former prosecutor, the darling of Republicans, and a popular drawing card on the GOP circuit ever since he ousted incumbent Democrat David N. Dinkins a year ago. Giuliani mixed advocacy for his urban constituents--mostly Democrats at heart--with vitriol for Pataki's 10-year record in the state legislature of nonsupport for aid to the city. Giuliani blasted Pataki proposals designed to please suburban voters, such as a 25% cut in state income taxes over four years. The mayor argued that such cuts would lead to even less aid for his city.

The political fallout from Giuliani's announcement spread quickly. On Oct. 25, a Connecticut GOP lawmaker disinvited him from a local fund-raiser. And New York Republican partisans geared up for internecine warfare. Giuliani's visceral dislike of Republican New York Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, who hand-picked the bland Pataki for the nomination, is well known in GOP circles, and the feeling is mutual. "D'Amato's a vindictive S.O.B.," snickers L. Brent Bozell III, executive director of the Conservative Victory Committee. "It'll be interesting to see who calls for an investigation of whom first."

In New York, Giuliani's popularity is on the rise again (chart) because he is seen as having the guts to tackle the city's fiscal woes. There are plenty to tackle, too. Debt-service costs are expected to climb from $2.5 billion this year to $3.8 billion in 1998, as principal comes due on bonds sold during the 1980s to pay for repair of the city's long-neglected infrastructure. And spending keeps soaring: New York City has a colossal social-services caseload and a tradition of providing expensive services. And now, with Wall Street hurting, the city's economy threatens to trail the rest of the nation's even more than before.

LOW RISK. Giuliani, however, shows no signs of swerving from his "tough love" budget-slashing. Last May, to close a $2.3 billion deficit in the city's budget, he cut 15,000 jobs. That wasn't enough. So on Oct. 25, he announced an additional $1.1 billion in savings through spending cuts and by axing 7,600 more city jobs through buyouts and attrition. Municipal workers' unions have gone along, preferring the plan to layoffs. And the Democratic-run City Council signaled it will work with Giuliani on a compromise.

As savvy pols see it, Giuliani risks little in dissing the GOP, even if Pataki wins: Backing the party candidate wouldn't stop the mayor and Pataki from tangling. And if the endorsement helps Cuomo squeak through? It's a chit to call in from a grateful governor.

Of course, Giuliani may be helping his own career, too. If he wants to run for governor as a Republican, he'll have a better shot if Pataki is defeated. And he's letting D'Amato know that he might choose instead to take on the senator in 1998. But for now, his only campaign theme is, "I love New York." And New Yorkers are returning the sentiment.

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