Why Won't Giuliani Aim for Albany? Washington Still Sounds Nicer

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As another election season approaches, Rudy Giuliani has once again reprised his Hamlet routine — an ironic role for a politician who wrote a book about the value of decisive leadership. The former mayor's latest hand-wringing is over the question of whether he will run for governor. The last couple of weeks have seen a surge in interest about a Giuliani candidacy, speculation that's driven more by Republicans than by Giuliani, who has left even his closest friends and advisers in the dark about his intentions. So what's he thinking?

The general consensus among Republicans and conservatives around the state is that Giuliani probably won't enter the race, which most Democrats and Republicans are confident will feature Attorney General Andrew Cuomo at the top of the Democratic ticket. Republicans are urging Giuliani to take the plunge, but they have yet to see signs of commitment. "If he's running, he's not taking a lot of warm-up laps," says one close observer. Mike Long, the state Conservative Party chairman, says, "If he's running, he'd be moving around the state, and he doesn't seem to be doing that."

It would seem that the source of Giuliani's hesitation is Cuomo, who has a nine-point lead over the former mayor in a recent poll. Giuliani's lurch to the right, his $3 million presidential-campaign debt, the political baggage sure to come out of the upcoming Bernie Kerik trial, and questions about his business associates are all obstacles that could spoil a gubernatorial candidacy. But they aren't the biggest factors weighing on Giuliani, admit advisers, who say Cuomo barely comes up in their conservations with the former mayor.

What's clear to them is that Giuliani wants to be a contender. He may not be in fighting shape (a Republican noted that you're more likely to find him holing up in the exclusive Grand Havana Room cigar club or golfing in the Hamptons than doing political spadework upstate), but he's intent on mounting a comeback. While the chance to crack the whip on a backward state government intrigues him, Giuliani allies say he hasn't lost sight of his larger ambition in Washington.

The question, then, is whether Albany is the right staging ground for a resurrection. That's doubtful. What worries Giuliani isn't so much the risk of going toe-to-toe against Cuomo (an irresistible lure for the political media), but the consequences of winning. Giuliani can run for governor or run for president in 2012, but he probably can't do both.

If he wants to win votes in a blue state, Giuliani will have to accept an inevitable slide away from the right-wing tack he took during his previous presidential campaign. But the biggest downside is the job itself. For one, there's the time factor. Unlike being a U.S. senator, the job of a first-term governor is too demanding to accommodate the disruptions of a national campaign. But more than that, Albany isn't the most propitious setting for a political rebirth.

As any recent governor will tell you, it's the place where political careers go to die. For Giuliani, the prospect of banging heads against Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and other legislative leaders is enough to give him pause. "He was concerned about what kind of relationship he would develop with the leaders of the Senate and Assembly," says Guy Molinari, the former congressman and Staten Island borough president, who met with Giuliani two weeks ago. "It would require him to believe that the state needed him and there was no one else who could serve those needs." (Molinari, personally, thinks Giuliani could get along with Silver. "I would set up a meeting between the two guys. They could be fast friends, just like Reagan was with Tip O'Neill.")

And while Giuliani surveys the bleak landscape in Albany, he has his eye on the shifting ground in Washington. President Obama appears to be vulnerable, and the Republican field in 2012 is open. "Do you go to Albany in a thankless job, or do you take another shot nationally?" asks a close observer of Giuliani. "He's aware that the Obama administration is falling apart much more quickly than anybody imagined."

That may mean another run at the White House. Or Giuliani may be envisioning a role of vice-president or as a senior figure in a Republican administration. Republicans suspect Giuliani's calculations are not so different than Mayor Bloomberg's. "What's going on here is going on in New York City. It's about two mayors who want to stay current because they want to run for president. They see the writing on the wall about Obama, and it doesn't look good," says a longtime Republican operative.