All the mayor's wives

Maggie Gallagher
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Posted: Jan 22, 2001 12:00 AM
Look, under normal circumstances, I can think of a lot more enjoyable things to do than discuss the love life of New York City mayors. Like, oh, scrub the fuzz under my stovetop, maybe? But Mayor Rudy Giuliani's aggressive moral defense of his own odd public conduct ought not pass totally unnoticed.

The New York Post broke the story that taxpayers are footing the bill for police protection of the mayor's "very good friend" Judith Nathan. Ms. Nathan became concerned when a man identified her on the street ("You're the mayor's girlfriend," according to the Post) and made a call to someone, Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik confirmed. But he will not say to who, except that it was not the mayor. The Threat Assessment Unit concluded "that it was in fact or could be considered a possible threat."

The result? Two police detectives have been assigned to protect Ms. Nathan. In a city in which women who are stalked by violent ex-boyfriends normally get a piece of paper called an order of protection, other police officials told The New York Times that the reason for this unusually powerful response to Ms. Nathan's fears is that the threats were made because of her relationship with the mayor.

The mayor, for his part, responded with moral indignation: "I think you should be ashamed of yourselves," he scolded reporters. If the media "had any concern for decency, or people's safety, you'd leave it alone."

Gee, I'm just one simple-minded wife and mother here, but let me get this straight: The powerful man who asserts his right to functional bigamy -- to treat his mistress in public as if she were already his wife -- has nothing to be ashamed of. The people who question the propriety of a woman getting special taxpayer-funded goodies because she's sleeping with the mayor -- they ought to be ashamed?

I don't know much about the mayor's family life. But some things are obvious. It must be very painful to the mayor's wife to have Judith Nathan increasingly assume the public position that normally belongs to the first lady. The mayor might have the decency to refrain from inflicting this kind of pain on the mother of his children, at least until the ink on the divorce decree dries. If he lacked the decency, then Ms. Nathan, out of kindness if not propriety, could have begged off taking the very public role that has brought on the unwanted public attention now costing taxpayer dollars. I also know the mayor has two children, who must be learning some interesting lessons about the importance of marriage, fatherhood and family from the mayor's public conduct, and who must also miss their dad a lot now that the time he doesn't spend working must be subdivided between family and girlfriend.

I know the mayor's marital breakdown is not the only one costing taxpayers a lot of money. A report released this summer (available at www.marriagemovement.org) pointed out "Divorce and unwed childbearing create substantial public costs, paid by taxpayers. Higher rates of crime, drug abuse, education failure, chronic illness, child abuse, domestic violence and poverty among both adults and children bring with them higher taxpayer costs in diverse forms: more welfare expenditure; increased remedial and special education expenses; higher day-care subsidies; additional child-support collection costs; a range of increased direct court administration costs incurred in regulating post-divorce or unwed families; higher foster care and child protection services; increased Medicaid and Medicare costs; increasingly expensive and harsh crime-control measures to compensate for formerly private regulation of adolescent and young-adult behaviors; and many other similar costs."

And I also know this: If I had to decide between a New York City in which homeless people don't panhandle on the streets and a New York City in which more fathers were publicly loyal and faithful to the mothers of their children, I'd choose the latter.