Newly Engaged Cristyne Lategano, No Longer Rudy’s Right-Hand Gal

In many ways, Cristyne Lategano, 34, has long resembled a cross between a sorority girl and a drill sergeant. During her tenure as the Mayor’s communications director, her ability to make reporters and powerful politicos quake with fear seemed incompatible with her delicate frame and reserved demeanor.

After six years’ labor on behalf of Rudolph Giuliani, the woman whom former Police Commissioner William Bratton once described as “Madame Lafarge” finally has a chance to explore her tender side. Next spring, the soon-to-be president of N.Y.C. & Company, formerly known as the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau, will marry Nicholas S. Nicholas, a 39-year-old golf reporter with the Myrtle Beach, S.C., Sun News .

During her time as the woman behind the Mayor, Ms. Lategano especially enjoyed riding around the city in Mr. Giuliani’s green van and having friendly chats with newspaper editors about the finer points of headline writing. She once confessed to an interviewer that the only time she parted company with her beeper and cell phone–the tools that kept her in constant contact with Mr. Giuliani, her boss, mentor and professional obsession–was during her early morning jog in Central Park.

Ms. Lategano’s engagement surprised political observers, who were especially pleased to see that her summer leave of absence from City Hall has left her looking tanned and fit. The other day, she paid a surprise visit to City Hall and showed off her engagement ring to the tough-talking reporters of Room 9 who once sparred with her daily.

After joining Mr. Giuliani’s mayoral campaign in 1993, the Brooklyn-born Ms. Lategano, who once worked in an Upper East Side sneaker store, quickly became the Mayor’s confidante. As the Mayor’s communications director, Ms. Lategano was more than just another political flack. Most City Hall insiders considered her the second-most-powerful person in the building, powerful enough, it was said, to elbow aside one tough political consultant, David Garth, and the Mayor’s longtime friend, Peter Powers, as Mr. Giuliani’s alter ago and most trusted adviser.

But the woman who missed holidays with her relatives because of her single-minded devotion to the Mayor said now she is looking forward to starting a new life of domesticity with, of all things, a member of the press, albeit one who covers games on the golf course, not in the halls of government.

In a conversation with The Observer on Sept. 6, Ms. Lategano said she expects to feel no sense of nostalgia as she watches Mr. Giuliani make his anticipated bid for the U.S. Senate next year, despite the critical role she undoubtedly would have played in what promises to be a memorable campaign. “I’m still living in New York City, so I’m going to be a part of it, so I’m going to be, you know, able to see it firsthand,” she said, moving adeptly on to the subject of her new position. “This is the role that I want, and this is the role … [in which] I feel I can be most effective right now.”

Though she described her leave of absence, which began in mid-June, as a time for “vacation” and the meeting of “personal family obligations,” it’s clear that Ms. Lategano spent at least a few hours this summer on the horn to New York. By early September, when she was spotted at City Hall for the first time in months, Ms. Lategano had lined up a formidable list of professional engagements: the nomination to head N.Y.C. & Company; a teaching gig at Baruch College and a possible role as on-air political commentator for the Fox News Channel.

Throughout her tenure at City Hall, Ms. Lategano was dogged by rumors that her relationship with the Mayor was more than just professional. While her new job and new life will quell such speculation, Ms. Lategano said the sniping never bugged her in the first place. “You know what’s true, and you just do your job despite it,” she said. “So I don’t think it bothered me. It didn’t consume as much time for me as it did for people who didn’t have as much to do. The devil makes work for idle hands, so you do your job, you hope to do it well.”

“The knock on her used to be that she was too close to the Mayor,” Deputy Mayor Randy Levine said. “But it’s clear that the Mayor turned around tourism in New York, and she was a part of that. She’s been selling New York very successfully for six years.”

Neither Ms. Lategano nor her fiancé, Mr. Nicholas, would answer specific questions about their engagement or wedding plans. (“He’s a wonderful man and I’m lucky to have met him,” Ms. Lategano said. Mr. Nicholas said, “We’re going to try to keep everything sort of private, you know?”) At first glance, however, the couple has two things in common: Myrtle Beach–where her parents, Joseph and Mary Lategano, reside–and golf, a game enjoyed not only by Mr. Nicholas and Ms. Lategano but by her father and Mr. Giuliani, who took up the sport within the last year or two and has been known to steal away to Silver Lake Golf Course on Staten Island for a quick round.

You Call This Golf?

Ms. Lategano said her learning curve on the course is pretty steep. “I don’t know if you would call what I do golf. It’s called chasing a ball and trying to find it while Nick’s not looking,” she laughed.

Mr. Nicholas, for his part, has been a sportwriter for 18 years. He has written almost exclusively about golf during his four years at the Sun News . Raised in Owensboro, Ky.–population 54,000–he attended the University of Kentucky, graduating in 1983 with degrees in business education and communications. In 1996, he obtained the first interview with former Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor after Mr. Taylor was caught in Myrtle Beach buying $100 worth of crack cocaine. Sitting on the grass outside his hotel, Mr. Taylor told Mr. Nicholas that he had considered suicide. “I didn’t know what to say,” Mr. Nicholas wrote at the time. “I then said killing himself wouldn’t solve anything. He agreed.”

To those accustomed to viewing Ms. Lategano as the Mayor’s constant companion, her engagement and departure from City Hall’s inner circle seemed to come out of nowhere. Ms. Lategano had what every low-level political aide dreams about: unlimited access to her boss, giving her so much clout that many City Hall insiders regarded her as the equivalent of a deputy mayor.

But now she’s turning her back on all of that. She said she doubts that she will have a role in advising the Mayor, even unofficially. “He’s got [Deputy Mayor] Randy Levine, Peter Powers and [Deputy Mayor] Joe Lhota. [Press Secretary] Sunny Mindel is doing a great job,” she said. “So I don’t think he needs my advice, but if he wants it, I’m here to give it. I would be happy to give him advice, but I don’t think he needs it right now.”

On Sept. 15, the board of N.Y.C. & Company will vote on whether to approve Ms. Lategano as president. Should Ms. Lategano win the position, she will report to the bureau on Sept. 30, following in the footsteps of Fran Reiter, a former deputy mayor who became president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau in January 1998. (Ms. Reiter, who is contemplating a mayoral run in 2001, resigned last month.)

A Brazen Move?

Ms. Lategano’s career move has met with some criticism, most notably an Aug. 30 editorial in Crain’s New York Business that described Ms. Lategano’s nomination as a “brazen” move considering that the mayoral aide was “without a day of professional experience in the tourism industry.” Still, Tim Zagat, the chairman of N.Y.C. & Company, was upbeat. “I really think she’s going to end up being a very good person in this job,” he said, pointing out that although Ms. Lategano was short on industry experience, she was long on the organizational and communications skills necessary for the job. “Our view is that if you raise the water level, all ships float higher,” he added.

In recent weeks, Ms. Lategano also has had talks with officials at Baruch College about a teaching position to begin in late November. According to a college spokesman, Ms. Lategano is likely to teach a once-a-week seminar in the executive management program, which teams up faculty members with practitioners in various fields. Naturally, Ms. Lategano’s course will focus on communications. It is slated to meet on Saturdays.

She also has flirted with an opportunity on the other side of the media trenches–that of on-air commentator at Fox News Channel. “There’s been some interest in someone that can speak to the media in New York, or speak about the media in New York, speak about campaigns and women in government,” said Ms. Lategano. “But I’ll let their offices discuss whatever they wish to.” Robert Zimmerman, a spokesman for Fox News, confirmed that Ms. Lategano had had talks with chairman Roger Ailes, but said that no offer had yet been made. Asked whether there existed an ethical conflict between Ms. Lategano’s capacity as a public appointee and possible role as a media commentator, Mr. Zimmerman said, “There’s nothing ongoing with her, so we’re not in a position to comment.”

Additional reporting by Jeremy Mullman.