NEW YORK (AP) â€” Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, his political ambitions derailed by prostate cancer and a nasty split with his wife, abandoned his Senate campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday.
``This is not the right time for me to run for office,'' Giuliani told a City Hall news conference, ending his campaign before he ever officially announced its start. The stunning decision ended three weeks of intense speculation over his viability as a candidate.
``I used to think the core of me was in politics. It isn't,'' he said, the normally combative mayor introspective, wistful and at times self-critical during his afternoon announcement.
``I've decided that what I should do is to put my health first,'' he said.
Questions about whether Giuliani, 55, would quit the Senate race almost instantly followed his April 27 disclosure of prostate cancer. Giuliani had said that his candidacy would be contingent on his choice of treatment options.
But Friday he said he had not yet decided what the treatment would be, adding he had found the whole process of deciding his future much more difficult than he expected. He said he made his decision on the Senate only hours before the announcement, following a sleepless night.
``A lot of good things come out of this. I think I understand myself better,'' he said.
``You confront your limits, you confront your mortality, and you realize that you're not a superman,'' he said.
``I thank God that it gives me really another 18 months to be the mayor of New York City,'' he said. In those 18 months, Giuliani said, he hoped to heal any divisions created during his six years in City Hall. Term limits prevent him from running for a third term as mayor
His candidacy for the Senate took another hit last week with his announcement of plans for a legal separation from his wife of 16 years, Donna Hanover. Hanover retorted with her own bombshell, publicly accusing him of having had an affair with a former staffer. The mayor denied that but acknowledged having a relationship with a third woman, Judith Nathan.
The first lady, campaigning in Brooklyn, offered no comment when made aware of reports that the mayor was backing out. ``I have no control or say over what happens on the other side,'' she said. After Giuliani made his announcement, she said that she had called him and wished him a speedy recovery.
George W. Bush, the likely GOP presidential nominee, said Giuliani telephoned him to break the news he was dropping out. Bush took the call during a campaign stop in Hopkinsville, Ky.
``I told Rudy that I understood,'' Bush told reporters later. ``It was a very difficult decision for him to make, but our prayers were with him, that he understood that he was my friend, whether he's a candidate or not.
Republican leaders will have to scramble to come up with a replacement candidate. The state GOP nominating convention is May 30 in Buffalo.
But Republican leaders, including Gov. George Pataki, had passed the word that if the mayor bowed out of the race, their favored candidate to take on the first lady would be Rep. Rick Lazio of Long Island.
The 42-year-old Lazio, now in his fourth term in Congress, had said that he would make no statement about his intentions until Giuliani made his decision. The congressman, who has about $3.5 million in his campaign bank account, had been preparing to run for the Senate until August when Pataki endorsed the mayor's bid and asked Lazio to suspend his effort. Lazio did so.
Calls to Lazio's offices in Washington and on Long Island today were not immediately returned.
Rep. Peter King and Wall Street multimillionaire Ted Forstmann had also expressed interest in running if Giuliani dropped out.
EDITOR'S NOTE â€” Associated Press Writer Marc Humbert in Albany and AP Political Correspondent Ron Fournier contributed to this report.