03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

No Mere Gossip: Giuliani's Rivals Hit Back On Regan/Kerik Flap

Campaigning in Iowa, Rudy Giuliani parried questions from reporters on the lawsuit filed by former HarperCollins publisher/Bernard Kerik paramour Judith Regan by dismissing the story as "gossip." "I don't respond to the story at all," he said, "I don't know anything about it. And, it sounds to me like a kind of gossip column story more than a real story."

Yet, it is a real story and though, some, like MediaBistro's FishbowlNY, find it to be "bats**t insane," it is a real lawsuit, and not likely to have the mayfly-like lack of longevity of a typical Page Six item. And Giuliani is a center figure in it -- a messy web with strands including his friends, his decisions, his 9-11 legacy, and with the central accusation that Regan was fired over a powerful media conglomerate's pro-Giuliani position.

Giuliani's rivals have already begun to press for an advantage. The New York Observer finds one unnamed "aide" to McCain working Giuliani on both the high and low roads. The problem, writ large, according to the aide, is: "Obviously there are some very serious charges involved for a guy who was his protege and one of his closest friends. And for Rudy to go out and say this is not worthy of discussion when it directly involves him and his decision making." The same aide runs a little gossip game later on in the Observer's piece, offering the inquiry, "What's going to happen when the discussion turns to Rudy's friend...Alan Placa," as the latest attempt to jumpstart that very discussion in the media.

One of Romney's people, spokesman Kevin Madden, piled on: "Voters grow very weary of story after story after story having to do with public officials who have not adhered to higher ethical standards."

And, with fortuitous timing comes yet another one of those wearisome stories, this time from Time's Michael Duffy. Titled "Rudy Giuliani's Kerik Problem," it presents Kerik's rise to prominence as a cop-turned-confidant, as well as his fall from grace amid mobbed-up dealings and a famous flameout as a nominee for the top job at Homeland Security. On the latter incident, Rudy's comes across as singularly out-of-touch with the need to have a clean candidate at DHS: "Giuliani seemed mystified by all the fuss. 'Everything seemed pretty normal...at least by Washington or New York standards.'" And, on the former point, the average reader is going to wonder how a guy who brags about his law-enforcement acumen and his use of "intensive questioning" on mobsters could have even tolerated being around a shady character like Kerik.

Furthermore, Duffy relates one strange Sopranosesque scene from the life and times of Rudy Giuliani and Bernard Kerik that manages combine gossip column salaciousness, ominous Mafioso power-brokering, and otherworldly creepiness in one remarkable scene:

Then Giuliani gave Kerik the news: He would announce the next day that he was appointing Kerik deputy corrections commissioner. The promotion would make Kerik the No. 2 man at the agency overseeing the city's prisons and lockups. Kerik balked, worried about his qualifications, but Giuliani insisted. "Just do this," the mayor said. "Do what I'm telling you." Relenting, Kerik agreed, but as he tells the story in his autobiography, what happened next was a little creepy. "In this dark sitting room, one by one, the mayor's closest staff members came forward and kissed me. I know the mayor is as big a fan of The Godfather as I am and I wonder if he noticed how much becoming part of his team resembled becoming part of a Mafia family. I was being made. I was now a part of the Giuliani family, getting the endorsement of the other family members, the other capos."

With so much "real story" to disturb, Giuliani may, in fact, be much better off responding to the gossip.