Giuliani's Cancer Crisis

The first hint that something was wrong came Wednesday morning, when New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was spotted walking briskly into Mount Sinai Medical Center for a visit that wasn't listed on his official schedule. Caught in the act by a lucky reporter, Giuliani confirmed that he had gone for tests but didn't say what the tests were for. City hall and Mount Sinai fended off the media until Giuliani, confronted by rampant speculation about the state of his health, was forced to admit he had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The good news, he said, was that the disease had been detected at a "very, very early stage" and that doctors had several treatment options for "a complete cure."

The bad news, for the state and national GOP, was that Giuliani couldn't say whether he would be able to run for the Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton. The race, a dead heat in statewide polls, is already shaping up as a classic--a tough, high-spending contest between two formidable political personalities. Although he has raised nearly $20 million so far, Giuliani still hasn't officially declared his candidacy and, according to some critics, has yet to show that he is willing to campaign as hard as Clinton. Now that he is faced with an undeniably serious health concern, the theory went, Giuliani may drop out. And even if he doesn't, the aura of uncertainty could hamper fund-raising and unsettle party leaders around the state. "This makes Republicans very nervous," said Mickey Blum, a New York City pollster. "It freezes them--they can't do anything."

Republicans rallied to support Giuliani, wishing him a speedy recovery and insisting that the question of his political future could wait. So did Clinton, who called the mayor to wish him well. (The call lasted only about a minute.) "There's no question in my mind that he'll beat the thing," said veteran GOP leader Guy Molinari, who was treated for prostate cancer three years ago. "He's young, he's vigorous. He picked it up at an early stage, and that's the key." Although leading specialists agreed with that assessment, Giuliani still faces a tough decision. Dr. William J. Catalona, a St. Louis urologist who operated on New York Yankees manager Joe Torre last year, said he would probably recommend surgical removal of Giuliani's prostate and that full recovery could take as much as eight to 10 weeks. That could force Giuliani to limit his campaign schedule through much of the summer.

The mayor went politicking in upstate New York last weekend and aides said his campaign was pushing ahead with nationwide fund-raising and its biggest TV and radio advertising blitz so far--all of which should be taken as evidence that Giuliani isn't dropping out. The critics "have been saying his heart's not in it because Rudy's not running the type of race they want," said Peter Powers, a close friend. "He's still running. He's got to take this timeout to deal with this." Even his detractors said Giuliani handled the bad news with candor and grace last week--and his trademark toughness will be his best weapon in the battle ahead.