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To fight his cancer, Giuliani drops candidacy

N.Y. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani says his health, not a Senate race against Hillary Rodham Clinton, comes first.

Beset by cancer and marital strife, a contrite-sounding Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Friday that he would drop out of the race against first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for U.S. Senate.

"I've decided what I should do is to put my health first, and that I should devote the focus and attention that I should to being able to figure out the best treatment, and not running for office," Giuliani said. "This is not the right time to run for office."

The 55-year-old mayor said that because of the cancer, he did not have the confidence that he could be the kind of candidate he would want to be.

"My concentration isn't going to be there," he said.

Republican leaders, including Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki, united quickly behind Rep. Rick Lazio, a four-term Republican from Long Island, as a replacement for the mayor. And within two hours of Giuliani's announcement, Lazio said he would seek the nomination.

Another Long Island Republican, Rep. Peter T. King, said he also would like to run, but acknowledged that Lazio had the support of the governor.

Clinton, the Democratic nominee for the Senate seat, said she had called Giuliani after his remarks to wish him well, and he had thanked her.

"I hope and pray, as all New Yorkers do, that we all wish him a full and speedy recovery," Clinton said. She turned aside questions about how his withdrawal would affect her campaign, saying, "Today we all ought to just wish the mayor the very best."

Addressing reporters, Giuliani spoke reflectively of wrestling with the "most difficult decision" of his life, spending a sleepless night and then calling friends and Republican leaders Friday morning to tell them of his decision.

In one of the most remarkable turns for a supremely self-confident politician who rarely backed down and routinely dismissed his critics, Giuliani said his illness had taught him a sense of compassion.

Along with continuing to devote himself to his job as mayor, Giuliani said he would strive "to overcome maybe some of the barriers that maybe I placed there, and figure out how to overcome them."

Giuliani did not specify what he would do to overcome those barriers or even what they were, but said, "It means I'm going to try to reach out to more people, to try to help more people."

"It doesn't mean there's going to be a new Rudy," the notoriously combative mayor said. "I think that's silly. . . . I think there's going to be a different _ maybe somebody who grows from the fact that you confront your limits, you confront your mortality, you realize you're not a superman and just a human being."

The state Republican Party will meet May 30 in Buffalo to nominate its Senate candidate. But Pataki, as the state's leading Republican, will have the strongest voice in making the choice.

"I know we will unite behind a strong candidate who will beat Hillary Clinton and her belief in big government," Pataki said in a written statement Friday afternoon. "Rest assured, the Republican Party will not need to import a candidate."

Giuliani's decision to drop out came after a tumultuous three-week period. Giuliani first announced he had been diagnosed with the early stages of prostate cancer and then said he was seeking a separation from his wife, Donna Hanover, after 16 years of marriage. At the same time, Giuliani has increasingly been seen in public with an Upper East Side woman he described as a "very good friend."

The announcement jolted a political career that began with Giuliani's stint as a sharply aggressive and high-profile federal prosecutor in New York in the 1980s and brought him to the mayoralty of the nation's largest city. He will continue in that job, while facing treatment for prostate cancer and dealing with his separation from Hanover.

Giuliani's rejection of a Senate run set off speculation on his future and on how his departure will affect Clinton's chances.

His current second term as mayor ends on Dec. 31, 2001, and term limits prevent him from seeking another term.

Giuliani has often said how much he has enjoyed his job running the city, where he has been credited with bringing a drop in crime, cleaner streets and other improvements in the quality of life. And he has frequently made it clear that his major political interest is to be an executive leader.

Giuliani has shown his openness to an eventual gubernatorial run, telling a radio show caller who made the suggestion, "What you say is certainly a reasonable, rational analysis and people have privately offered me the same analysis."

He could have a ready-made war chest _ the $9.2-million that he had raised for his anticipated Senate run, which federal campaign financing laws would allow him to keep for any future political race. But holding on to the money could alienate donors and Republican leaders, who will surely pressure Giuliani to shift all or much of the money he has raised to the party. Federal law bars him from transferring the dollars directly to a replacement candidate. Giuliani, however, could pass on the money to a state or national Republican Party committee, which in turn could spend it on behalf of another candidate.

Other options are to return the money to donors, or give it to charity.

When asked at the news conference if his political career was over, Giuliani said, "Right now, I'm thinking No. 1, let me have a little room to think about medical treatment."