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Mayor, Lategano acted as a team

May 15, 2000

It was this very column of June 19, 1995, that disclosed the existence of Cristyne Lategano's "newly converted basement office that is connected to the mayor's office through an inner door." That disclosure ended Lategano's relationship with One Police Plaza Confidential.

Four months before, this column had parted ways with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, following his firing of Deputy Police Commissioner John Miller and his denigration of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Those actions were this reporter's first glimpse of the mayor's public policies spurred by personal vengeance.

In both, Lategano played a central role.

In light of Donna Hanover's remarks last week that "it was difficult to participate in Rudy's public life because of his relationship with one staff member"-whom her press secretary later identified as Lategano-let's examine these incidents to see how the mayor and Lategano performed as a team.

We begin with Lategano's relationship with Miller, which, according to their friends, bloomed in 1994 after Giuliani became mayor and Miller became Bratton's spokesman.

As Lategano, then 29, had limited experience with the media, Miller regarded her as an ingenue and took her under his wing. He introduced her to people. They spent part of the summer together in the Hamptons, training for the marathon that fall, then ran it together.

Three former top police officials recalled Miller's appearing at City Hall that fall and Lategano's running out of her office to embrace him while Giuliani watched in stony silence.

By the beginning of 1995, however, Miller had cooled toward her. It was then, say Miller's friends and police sources, that she turned toward the mayor. By February, Miller's job as Bratton's spokesman was history.

On Feb. 9 that year the mayor publicly criticized him for not properly managing the Police Department's public information office. Lategano called the office "bloated" because its 38 employees outnumbered those in the mayor's press office. Miller was ordered to fire two-thirds of his staff, including his office's commanding officer, Capt. Tom Fahey, so that it numbered no more than 17 - one fewer than the mayor's press office. Miller's status, said Lategano, depended on "on how he adapts" to the cuts.

On Feb. 22, Lategano publicly criticized Bratton, who had been lauded the month before in a New Yorker magazine profile (with nary a mention of the mayor).

"Public relations was put before any kind of substance," she told reporters. "When you put glamor over fighting crime, it leads to serious problems. We're here to fight crime, not to be Hollywood stars. This is real-life cops, not 'NYPD Blue.'"

Now, if there is any doubt that the mayor acted for personal, not substantive, policy reasons, consider this: The number of cops in the Police Department's public information office is virtually the same now as it was before the mayor fired Miller. City Hall is so sensitive about the issue it ordered the department not to release the exact figure. (If that's not public information, what is?)

The office's commanding officer is again Fahey, now a deputy chief. The person who appeared on "NYPD Blue" was not Bratton but his successor, Howard Safir, who played himself as police commissioner of New York City. And speaking of putting glamor over fighting crime, which commissioner was caught last year on television at the Oscar award ceremonies in Hollywood after having said that a "scheduling conflict" prevented him from attending a City Council hearing the next morning on the Amadou Diallo shooting?

Lategano, meanwhile, rose from a $77,000-a-year press secretary to a $140,000-a-year communications director, a position that never before existed at City Hall. When she left in May, 1999, the mayor placed her in her current $150,000 job with NYC & Company, formerly the Convention and Visitors Bureau, a quasi-city agency. She replaced former Liberal Party honcho Fran Reiter, whose contract had been bought out for an undisclosed sum.

Lategano's departure from City Hall coincided with something else Hanover referred to last week. "Beginning last May," said Hanover - who refused to appear with her husband whenever Lategano accompanied him - "I made a major effort to bring us back together. Rudy and I re-established some of our personal intimacy through the fall."

Both the mayor and Lategano - who is now married - have denied they were lovers. She reiterated it last week. The mayor fell back on past denials, apparently choosing not to directly contradict his wife.

Lategano, through this town's pre-eminent spinmeister, Howard Rubinstein, told One Police Plaza last week: "Why bother rehashing your old stories? Why don't you write about how much you miss me?" This coquettish in-joke, readers, equaled anything The Rubmeister himself might have offered.

What she was referring to was an item in this column, Oct. 25, 1999, titled "The Ladies," which reported that Lategano's successor, Sunny (The Silent) Mindel, had tangled with Miller's successor once removed, Marilyn (I Have Nothing for You) Mode. The item concluded with these words: "Where are you, Cristyne Lategano?"

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© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.