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Donna's Riskiest Role

Even before the press conferences, Donna Hanover and Rudy Giuliani were the closest of strangers. As her marriage was crumbling, Hanover spoke about her life as a virtual single working mom at gracie mansion.

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"For several years, it was difficult to participate in Rudy's public life because of a relationship with one staff member" -- Donna Hanover

The strange thing about this whole drama is that we knew. The mayor's relationship with Cristyne Lategano was, if not a matter of public record, at least one of common knowledge. The bigger mystery was Donna Hanover herself. Behind her blonde hair and her camera-ready smile, she was a cipher. We felt for her without knowing -- indeed, without even being able to imagine -- how she felt.

I'd known Hanover casually for a number of years, and last spring I approached her about profiling her for this magazine. Her interest was in a piece that would give her exposure as an actress and journalist, as a woman whose career was gaining momentum. I was interested (as was New York) in understanding this woman who was the mayor's wife and not his wife.

Talking to Donna Hanover can be a spooky experience. On one level, she's as bland and cheerful as any TV anchor. You sense that she wants to be liked and will like you back if she can. But on another level, she's supremely, even obsessively, guarded. In lengthy negotiations for our interviews, she ruled out discussing the mayor, the Senate race, or anything political. And almost any question that could be remotely construed as personal could flip a switch. ("What was your maiden name?" I asked her at one point. "I'm trying to think if there's any reason to not tell you that for the article," she responded.)

A couple of years ago, it was widely noted that Hanover had stopped using the surname Giuliani. Now she seemed averse to even speaking his name. When she talked about the future, "we" referred to Donna and her children, Andrew and Caroline. There was never a mention, in hours of conversation, of "the mayor," "my husband," "the kids' father," etc. If I prodded her to talk of the man she's been married to for sixteen years, she'd do it reluctantly. For Donna, whose demeanor tends to be unerringly pleasant, saying the name Rudy appeared to require some effort.

In fact, the portrait Donna painted of herself was of a hardworking single mother, much like many others in the city, juggling her career and her two children, determined to acquit herself honorably on both fronts. The fact that she lived at Gracie Mansion as the city's First Lady was almost incidental.

"Is he supportive of all your work?" I asked. She thought for a moment. "He's never created a problem. You know . . . I do what I do."

As a mom and morning-show correspondent for Fox's First Edition and Good Day New York, Donna has to be highly disciplined. Her wake-up calls are at 3:30 or 4 a.m.; then it's straight to the treadmill, where she runs about four miles a morning, watching taped episodes of The West Wing and Chicago Hope that she misses in the evenings. "I often go to bed at the same time as my children do," she told me. "Nine-thirty or ten at the latest."

Being home for the children as close to six nights a week as possible is a priority for her. When she's doing the morning shows and has to leave the house before they're up, she will sometimes come home between First Edition and Good Day, even if it's just for fifteen minutes, to give them "a hug and a kiss." If she's working and can't be there, she'll try to give them a wake-up call. "They really prefer it if my voice is the first voice they hear. They like that very much. So when I can, I do that."

"Do they see their dad in the morning?" I asked.

"Often they do. Often they do. They'll say good morning to him. But I'm the caregiver, and if I'm not there, then I'll have my babysitter."

I asked her if the mayor joined them for family dinners.

"Occasionally we will -- maybe once every two weeks -- have a family dinner," she said.

But her career is also a high priority for her, and a part of her strategy for handling her publicly eroding marriage.

"I think of myself as a professional person," she said carefully. "I think of the whole combination of things that I do -- journalism and mothering and acting -- as multitasking. People have learned how to do more than one thing at a time and found that it's a good way to live. Because whatever is going wrong, something is going right in your life if you have a lot of things going on -- generally speaking."

Over the past year, Donna has been juggling episodes of In Food Today on the Television Food Network, Good Day New York, occasional articles for Good Housekeeping magazine, acting jobs, and a weekly acting class. Last fall, she added another gig, hosting chores on House Beautiful, a new syndicated program on A&E. She has made guest appearances on The Practice, Ally McBeal, and Family Law. In 1999, she earned $239,450, a third more than the mayor.

"You're always kind of thinking, Okay, is there going to be enough work for me to do in the next six months, in the next year, so that I can take care of my children?" I asked whether, by that, she meant financially. "Yes," she said.

Her acting career seemed poised to take off in 1996 when Milos Forman, a friend from the Czech community, cast her as Ruth Carter Stapleton in The People vs. Larry Flynt. The film, and her performance in it, were widely praised (though the movie isn't likely to be among the mayor's favorites). Her numerous acting roles have been pretty much under the radar since then -- until she was cast in The Vagina Monologues (a show whose title is in fact the only thing provocative about it).


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