Exclusive: Rick Lazio Summoned by Mayor Giuliani to City Hall For Secret Meeting

Mayor Giuliani has

summoned his occasional tormentor and onetime rival,

Long Island Representative Rick Lazio, to City Hall for a secret meeting to discuss the tumultuous U.S. Senate race, sources have told The Observer.

The meeting was tentatively scheduled for Monday, but a scheduling conflict has put it off, a source within Representative Lazio’s office told The Observer when asked for confirmation of the meeting. “The schedulers are talking,” said the source.

Mr. Giuliani’s Senate campaign declined to comment.

The meeting’s agenda could not immediately be determined, but it comes as the Mayor prepares to decide whether or not to remain a candidate for the Republican Senatorial nomination. Mr. Lazio is among several Republicans being considered to replace Mr. Giuliani as the Republican candidate should the Mayor pull out of the race. The Republican convention is scheduled for May 30 in Buffalo. The meeting was proposed after Mr. Lazio called Mr. Giuliani on May 5

to wish him a speedy recovery in his battle with prostate cancer. “In that conversation, the Mayor said he wanted to meet with the Congressman,” said the source within the Congressman’s office. “This meeting is a result.”

That the meeting is taking place at all suggests just how much New York’s political world has been turned upside down in recent weeks. Mr. Giuliani has been happy to treat Mr. Lazio, who has made no secret of his desire for promotion from the House of Representatives, as little more than an annoyance. Mr. Lazio, for his part, has advertised his conservative bonafides and has made

it clear that he strongly disagrees with the Mayor on a range of key social issues. Last fall, Mr. Lazio was preparing to challenge Mr. Giuliani for the Republican nomination, raising nearly $3 million for that purpose, until Governor George Pataki threw his support behind Mr. Giuliani and, in essence, told Mr. Lazio to back off.

The Long Islander did as he was told, but recently — even before the Mayor’s health and marriage became campaign issues — he began sounding like a candidate again, at the urging of Conservative Party chairman Mike Long. Mr. Long has made it clear that he will

not support Mr. Giuliani’s Senate bid, and will run his own candidate in the race. Several weeks ago, Mr. Lazio did the political talk-show circuit, criticizing the Mayor and refusing to rule out a Senate bid.

Few at the time took Mr. Lazio seriously. Mr. Giuliani, with his $20 million campaign treasury and high name recognition, seemed invulnerable to a challenge from a little-known Long Island congressman.

But by keeping himself in the news, Mr. Lazio now seems the frontrunner in the replacement game, assuming that Mr. Pataki doesn’t make himself available. His face to face with Mr. Giuliani further raises his profile, and suggests the possibility — unbelievable only two weeks ago — that the Mayor will defer to the Congressman before the Republican state convention.

If Mr. Giuliani does indeed withdraw and throw his support to Mr. Lazio, Republicans may regard it as a bad-news, good-news scenario. The bad news being, of course, that the high-profile, well-finance Mayor would be out of the race; the good news being that Mr. Lazio not only would bring fewer negatives to the campaign, but would repair the potentially lethal rift between the Republicans and the state Conservative Party. While Mr. Giuliani is not acceptable to the Conservatives, Mr. Lazio certainly is. No Republican has won

statewide office without the Conservative line since 1974.