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For mayor, it’s a wonderful life

December 26, 2000

'Twas the night before Christmas at Gracie Mansion and not a creature was stirring. Not Donna. Not Andrew. Not Caroline. Only Mayor Rudolph Giuliani remained awake. He sat alone before the fire, trying to forget the painful events of the past year. The fire licked. The clock ticked. The mayor's eyes fluttered.

It was then that the face of George Steinbrenner appeared. He and Rudy were in Steinbrenner's box at Yankee Stadium with Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who owns the Los Angeles Dodgers but who knows nothing about baseball.

Suddenly Rudy had an idea. "George," he said, "people have forgotten you were indicted for perjury over Watergate. People have also forgotten you were thrown out of baseball for a couple of years over that ugly Dave Winfield business." (Steinbrenner had paid a gambler $40,000, allegedly to sully Winfield's reputation.)

"Those are dead issues, Rudy," said Steinbrenner. "Why bring them up?"

"Who's Dave Winfield?" asked Murdoch.

"Of course, I would never bring them up again, George," said Rudy. "In return, I want my special day at Yankee Stadium. I want it to be called Rudy Giuliani day. And team player that I am, I want to bring my team."

Fast-forward to Opening Day, 2001. The Yankees were trotting out to the field in their pinstripes. Rudy, too, was in a Yankee uniform. He stood at a microphone at home plate as the crowd roared.

One by one, Rudy announced his team. "Pitching is my ex-police commissioner Howard Safir, the greatest police commissioner in the history of New York City." Safir strode to the mound, accompanied by an 11-man police security detail.

Next, a catcher in shin guards and mask stumbled forward. It was Rudy's counsel, Dennison Young III. "I selected Denny because no one else wanted this job," announced Rudy. "That's why Denny's so valuable to me." Playing second base, Rudy continued, was Safir's successor, Bernie Kerik. "OK, so he doesn't have a college degree and was only a third-grade detective," Rudy announced, "but at least there's nothing wrong with his throwing arm." Out to short ambled First Deputy Police Commissioner, Joe Dunne.

"Joltin' Joe played football at St. Francis College," announced Rudy."But he'll play where I order him to. That's what 31 years and a college degree gets you in my police department." Over at third, loosening her arm, stood Rudy's press secretary, Sunny The Silent Mindel.

"Her moniker isn't due to her lack of offensive power," shouted Rudy. " It's because she won't return reporters' phone calls."

That last remark about reporters excited Rudy. "Now in the outfield, I've got a father and son team that surpasses the Griffeys and approaches the three DiMaggio brothers." Out to center trotted Ray Big Boy Harding. " As head of the so-called Liberal party, Ray's support was crucial to me," said Rudy. " Now, Ray and his law firm are the city's top lobbyists. And to his credit this has nothing to do with his relationship to me.

"And in left and right," Rudy continued, "are Ray's two sons, Robert and Russell. One I made the deputy mayor for economic affairs, the other the president of the city's Housing Development Corp. And I did it strictly on the merits."

Rudy then asked his coaches to step forward. Coaching at third was his boyhood friend Alan Placa, now a monsignor of the Rockville Centre diocese. In 1982, Placa had somehow arranged the annulment of Rudy's 14-year first marriage to Regina Peruggi so that Rudy could marry Donna Hanover.

Coaching at first was Rudy's loyal aide, his former media director and current head of the city's tourist and convention bureau, Crystine Lategano, who to this day maintains she and Rudy never had an affair.

Finally, it was Rudy's turn. After announcing himself as batting clean-up and playing first base, he pointed out he was wearing number 4, a number the Yankees had retired. The number was, of course, that of Lou Gehrig. Unlike Rudy, Gehrig was a true New Yorker, the son of immigrants who grew up in Manhattan, and attended Columbia University before signing with the Yankees and playing in 2,130 consecutive games, a record that stood for 60 years.

Only when dying of paralysis from what is now known as Lou Gehrig's disease, did he tell manager Joe McCarthy he was benching himself "for the good of the team."

As Rudy stood at home plate savoring the comparison, a woman approached. It was his newest love, Judi Nathan. A chant arose from the bleachers. "Ju-di, Ju-di." The entire stadium picked it up, "Ju-di, Ju-di."

Rudy, however, believed the crowd was chanting, "Ru-dy, Ru-dy." Dismissing the events of the past year-his diagnosis of prostate cancer, his withdrawal from the Senate race, his televised repudiation of his marriage to Donna-he now echoed Gehrig's words when all Yankee Stadium had risen to honor him.

"I consider myself," said Rudy, "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

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© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.