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Donna's Riskiest Role

While the decision to accept the part was widely portrayed as a passive-aggressive move designed to embarrass her husband, anyone who knows her would find it completely believable that she saw the chance to follow such acclaimed actresses as Glenn Close and Cate Blanchett in the show as simply a smart career move. There is nothing Donna Hanover wants more than to be taken seriously as an actress. "Be sure," she bade me, "to let people know I'll travel for work."

And while Hanover has been remaking herself into an actress, she has also been remaking her appearance. Gone is the chipmunky reporter with the pixieish haircut. Gone are 25 pounds that used to render her almost forgettable. (How did she do it? Diet Coke. Vegetable casseroles. Egg-white omelettes. And, when she's absolutely starving, popcorn and carrots.) She favors Nicole Miller, Ellen Tracy, and Escada -- what she calls "professional clothes."

Hanover works hard at being with her kids, too, making sure she's a focused parent despite an obviously stressful situation. "Shortly after we moved to Gracie, I had a conversation with the kids," she told me, "because I realized I was doing a lot of work during the week and then trying to get organized on the weekends. I said, 'We're not having enough fun.' So every weekend we would have an adventure. Sometimes it was bike-riding in New Jersey. It almost always involved a trip to McDonald's or Burger King. Or we'd go play Laser Tag, or roller-blading, or something. Now that's kind of morphed into we do these wonderful vacations. I took them to Paris in March. Last winter, I took them to Ireland. I took them to Yosemite, and we camped out with my parents."

I asked her if the mayor ever accompanied them.

"Mostly it's me and the children, these big trips," she said. "We've had a couple of brief trips, all four of us."

The most positive things Hanover would say about her marriage concerned what amounted to a noninterference pact with her husband. "I let him speak for himself," she said, "and he respects me enough to do the same."

The strategy clearly backfired on her Vagina Monologues announcement and his apparently unilateral decision to separate. But last fall, she still seemed to feel it was working. "I like the way that that happens," she said. "It's about identity. Because I believe that your work, whatever your work is -- if it's raising your children, that's your work -- is kind of at the center of your soul."

"Is he supportive at all of your work?" I asked.

She thought for a moment.

"He's never created a problem," she said. "You know . . . I do what I do."

The closed doors and shuttered windows of Hanover's Gracie Mansion life were unexpectedly flung open when I asked about the beginnings of her marriage. "I was anchoring news in Miami in 1982," she said, "and I went to a wedding and met someone there who said, 'I have a friend named Rudy who goes to Miami a lot. Would you like to go out with him? And by the way, he'd make a good interview.'

"So somebody from his office called, and I said, 'Well, I thought I was supposed to go out with him, but we'll set up the interview.' But then Rudy himself called and said, 'If you'll go out with me, I'll come the night before.' So we went out to dinner. We went to Joe's Stone Crabs.

"I interviewed him the next day. He was associate attorney general at the time in Washington. Then he came back a couple of weeks later. And within six weeks, he asked me to marry him, and I said yes. It was a whirlwind."

Rudy, she said, was the one with the foot on the accelerator. "He was a little more urgent than I was," she said. "He very much wanted, you know, that we should be in the same city. And he was smart and interesting. And I wanted children. I was 32 at the time. And I fell in love. And he was romantic. He sent me many, many bouquets of flowers." Donna laughed out loud.

"Do you remember when he first told you he loved you?"

"Yes. It was on the telephone." She laughed again.

At that point, Hanover's career was in high gear: "I had sort of made a decision that Miami was a great news town. I thought there was enough pump in the news-business part of it, and I liked the outdoor lifestyle. I didn't feel a drive to get to the Northeast, the way a lot of people do. So I was pretty much feeling that I was going to stay there for a long time."

But Rudy's relentless campaign won her over. Not without regret, she gave notice and moved to Washington, to live with him, in 1982. "That's when I felt I walked down the aisle, when I left that job."

After a few months, Hanover said, she told Giuliani, " 'I've got to get to work. So should I look for a job in Washington? Or are you planning to go to New York?' That's when the opportunity to become U.S. Attorney came up, and he made that decision, and then I started looking for work in New York City, ending up at Channel 11" the following May. In April 1984, after Rudy had worked out the annulment of his marriage to his first wife, Regina Peruggi, they wed.

When we moved back to the present, the shutters were closed once more. The most Donna would do was acknowledge that the pain that was hidden in her life required considerable strength to conquer. Being Donna Hanover -- warm, cheerful, optimistic, tactful -- was, under the unacknowledged circumstances, very difficult.

"Well, Lisa, there have been adversities," she told me, "and you know there have been. But that's for you to observe, and for other people to observe. You face them with as much grace as you can muster, and as much intelligence as you can, and as much kindness as you can -- and that's what I do."

She went on to elaborate -- obliquely, as always -- on her coping strategies: "I'm the type who points out a problem gently and says, 'How about next time we do it differently?' That's been effective for me in my career. I think that's the best way to get action. Not to make people feel horribly, not to make it feel like you're attacking them. And they want to fix it. I am always looking to how to make this happen right in the future."