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Pirro Mania

"If he's convicted, you have to see how much involvement she had, if any," says Geraldine Ferraro, whose own husband's tax troubles killed her 1992 Senate bid. "No doubt about it, when you get spouses in business, they are ripe pickings."

It won't be the first time Al Pirro's troubles have tainted his wife's career. In 1986, Jeanine's bid for lieutenant governor lasted just two days; she withdrew -- embarrassing the GOP -- rather than face questions about Al's stake in a Connecticut carting company with alleged mob ties. Six years later, a former Yonkers planning official claimed Al Pirro gave him a $5,000 bribe to push through a multiplex theater. Al Pirro said the money paid for work on a Rye development. Later, he said he befriended the official, Michael Calvi, because Calvi served as a Yonkers ward boss -- and could help Jeanine politically. Despite separate state and federal investigations, nothing ever came of the charges.

But Al's problems don't all involve money and influence. There is also sex and infidelity. In 1995, an Indiana woman named Jessica Marciano slapped Al with a paternity suit, saying he fathered her now 16-year-old daughter during a tumultuous three-month affair in Florida. "He told me he had left his wife," says Marciano, a paralegal who met Al for trysts in a model home at a condominium project they worked on. "He told me she was so career-oriented and he wanted to have a family. That was their major squabble." Jeanine was childless at the time.

For three years, Pirro denied the claim, even tarring Marciano as a "convicted felon," citing her 1983 arrest for theft. (He also claimed the service of a private detective he used in the suit as a business deduction.) A court-ordered DNA test last June confirmed Marciano's claim. Pirro has publicly accepted responsibility for the girl and established a trust fund, with a $10,000 initial contribution. Marciano is still seeking half a million dollars in past child support.

With each embarrassing revelation, Jeanine's supporters have circled the wagons. They say she wouldn't be subjected to such scrutiny if she were a man whose wife had the same legal difficulties. "Because of the alleged sins of her husband," says Geraldo Rivera, on whose show she frequently appears,"one of the most effective, intelligent, determined, and compassionate prosecutors in the country is being mugged by the media. Jeanine Pirro deserves better. She's a true and sincere public servant."

Meanwhile, in the whispering outback of New York politics, no one is quite sure what Servant Pirro wants -- or when she plans to go for it. While her oratory packs the punch of a centrist stump speech, railing against the harsh Rockefeller drug laws and urging her listeners to support a hate-crimes bill, she claims a fierce loyalty to her current job. "No, I'm not running for anything," she laughs, waving off a Smithie who inquired. Later, Pirro tells me: "I've always wanted to be in this job and do this work. And I'm not done."

Republican moderates, like state senator Nicholas Spano, head of the Republican Party in Westchester, love that talk. With a profile of tough prosecutor, sensitive to domestic violence, pro-choice, pro-Brady Bill, Pirro has the markings "of a real winner," says Spano. "I think she's destined for statewide office. But a lot of water has to go under the bridge between now and then." If Pirro does run for higher office, and if she can shake the Gerry syndrome, as political consultant Norman Adler puts it, the field is hers. "There are very few Republican woman stars, and fewer in New York," he says. Importantly, Pirro is well regarded by conservative Democrats; she fights for women's and children's rights -- and she hasn't used the death penalty. All things considered," says Adler, "Jeanine looks pretty damn good."

The last time I saw Jeanine Pirro, nearly ten years ago in the Westchester County Courthouse, where she would one day preside over 118 assistants and a $15 million budget, she was an A.D.A. heading up the domestic-violence unit, tearing down the hall in Reeboks and a trademark short skirt, bulging files clutched to her side. Her hair was teased, and her fingernails looked like they could slice cheese. She was in court that day to hear an incompetence ruling on a Port Chester mother who had killed her four children; I was there to write about it.

By then, Pirro had earned a reputation as a firebrand for battered women, having shaped the domestic-violence unit, moved spousal- and child-abuse cases out of family court and into the tougher criminal courts, and drafted legislation strengthening orders of protection.