Mayor Giuliani May Audition for Role on Larger Political Stage

Facing a term limit, New York's mayor tests prospects for a presidential run.

Looking for a crimebuster to speak at an Iowa political event? Want to educate New Hampshire voters about the perils of jaywalking? Need to raise money for a local candidate and could use a face rarely seen west of the Hudson River?

Who are you going to call?

The answer could be Gotham's feisty, blunt-talking mayor, Rudolph Giuliani.

The New York City Republican, because of term limits, faces his last term in office and is starting to explore a larger political stage. Hiz Honor as senator? No. Mayor Giuliani, his aides coyly suggest, is testing the waters for higher office - like, president or vice president.

Last week, Giuliani traveled to Washington to speak to the board of Empower America, a conservative group associated with Jack Kemp. Then, he participated in a spate of Republican events, including one with big donors. Recently, Giuliani, who raised more than $7 million for his own reelection, traveled to Detroit to help raise money for Gov. John Engler. And, on April 17 he'll jet to Albuquerque to help his old friend Sen. Pete Domenici.

How Giuliani will play with voters way off-Broadway is uncertain. There may be curiosity about the enduring appeal of a two-term Republican in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 5 to 1.

In his sojourns, Giuliani almost always talks about the large drop in crime. It's a subject he well versed on, often holding press conferences here accompanied by large graphs recording the city's 40 percent decline in crime over the past four years.

Last week, in Washington, he told the Republicans, "The fact is that New York City used to be the crime capital of America. It is now looked to as the place that has reduced crime more than any other city in the country."

Giuliani's record on welfare should also resonate well with the GOP. Last month, the city's welfare rolls declined to below 800,000 for the first time in 32 years.

BUT Republican voters would also be meeting a mayor who supports gay and abortion rights. In addition, four years ago he endorsed former Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo. To many in the Republican Party, his loyalty and his "liberal" leanings are suspect.

"It may even cause him problems for a shot as the vice presidential nominee," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He says Giuliani's presidential prospects are remote.

But this hasn't stopped the press - or for that matter almost anyone in the same room with him - from speculating. Last week, comedian Bill Cosby, appearing with Giuliani at a promotional event in a packed ballroom, started off his comments, "Welcome to Iowa and then it's on to New Hampshire."

A few days later, one of the largest rooms in City Hall is decorated with red-white-and-blue balloons. But, it's not a political event ... well not officially. It's a promotional event for Home Box Office, pop singer Janet Jackson, and retired Gen. Colin Powell, whose charity can expect some money from Miss Jackson's coming concert tour.

As he kicks off the PR effort, the chairman of HBO, Jeff Bewkes, turning to look at the mayor, says, "Today, I'd like to announce my candidacy for ...." Everyone laughs, even the mayor. Then, someone asks Mr. Powell what he thinks about Giuliani for president. Still more laughs.

The mayor duels with the press over their fascination about his future. He maintains he has no plans to go to Iowa or New Hampshire, but quickly adds, "I may - I have invitations and I'll accept some of them and decline most of them."

Some states are already stoking the political fires with straw polls and cattle calls. The Iowa Republican Party has extended an invitation to two-dozen potential candidates to meet the local politicians on June 12, just before the state GOP's annual convention.

"It ought to be way too early but tragically it's not," says Mr. Sabato.

Early or not, come June, many of the presidential hopefuls will head for Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"It will be a long evening with lots of speeches, it will let our members compare apples with apples," says Keith Fortmann, executive director of the Iowa Republican Party. "We expect about 3,000 activists, 3,000 reporters, and a few politicians."

Although Giuliani has yet to decide if he'll head for cornfields, Mr. Fortmann is convinced he should come.

"Crime's a growing problem in Iowa," he says. "He might be able to consult a little."

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