When I first arrived back in the United States after nearly sixteen years abroad (three in Israel, two in Australia, eleven in the United Kingdom), my wife and I rejected New York City as a home and settled comfortably into New Jersey because, wanting to see the occasional tree and blade of grass, we had no idea that we were moving into a sprawling petrochemical plant. Now I know that living in Jersey is something that one seeks to conceal for fear of being permanently ostracized in intellectual circles. Moreover, this shame of being a resident of the Garden State (strange euphemism indeed) has only grown since September 11, when New Jersey increased its notoriety as the state that harbors terrorists, mails anthrax, and has the worst airport security this side of Beirut (can't New Jersey ever get a break?). So I rather quickly joined the ranks of those who do not live in New Jersey, but rather live "just outside New York." Becoming a New Yorker entailed two irreducible elements: first, looking down at people from New Jersey. And second, having a strong opinion on Rudy Giuliani.
Everywhere I went Giuliani's name was on people's lips, nearly as much as Sharon's is in Israel. There was a wide range of opinion. My artsy bohemian friends from the Village positively loathed the man. "He got rid of the street vendors and made the city such a boring place. He tried to censor that artist at the Brooklyn Museum who put elephant dung on the Virgin Mary. What a fascist!" This excoriation continued with my politically liberal Jewish friends for whom any Republican is just one step above a resident of New Jersey. "Giuliani is a bully whose conservative policies are robbing the poor of their dignity and their homes," they complained. But most vitriolic of all were my African-American friends. "Shmuley, stop defending this man," they told me. "His police have orders to shoot any black man in the back if he so much as picks up a broom handle."
Then, of course, came September 11, and everything changed. Giuliani has now been voted Time Magazine's Person of the Year and is celebrated throughout the United States as "America's Mayor." Time even included the extraordinary statistic that 94 percent of Americans agreed that Giuliani had done "a good or very good" job responding to the terrorist attacks. (Giuliani was also one of Beliefnet's 10 Most Inspiring People of the Year.)
But there is still one issue that, in my opinion, prevents this extraordinary man from ascending the final peak of greatness: his treatment of his wife during their highly acrimonious separation. This is an issue that I simply cannot overlook. It's just too personal for me. I was the youngest of five children raised by a divorced mother. I know the pain of a woman when she loses a husband, whoever is to blame, and is charged with starting a new life in a world that esteems men in their fifties and devalues women of the same age.
To be sure, divorce is never pleasant, and sometimes, tragically, cannot be avoided. But there is simply no excuse whatsoever to unleash one's lawyer, in this case the celebrity divorce attorney Raoul Felder (whom I once debated on the BBC on the subject of infidelity), and allow comments in one's name- "uncaring mother," "twisted motives"-about one's marital partner of sixteen years and the mother of one's children.
But it got much worse. Felder said Donna Hanover was "howling like a stuck pig" and that the next mayor would have to drag her out of Gracie Mansion "from the chain of the chandeliers." For a few weeks, Felder continued in that vein as he sought to portray Ms. Hanover as an unfeeling wife who remained in a loveless marriage to further her acting career.