At Giuliani Pad, Towels Say ‘His,’ ‘His’ and ‘His’
Howard Koeppel greets a visitor at his posh Upper East Side apartment, with its million-dollar views of midtown Manhattan.
“Welcome to Gracie Mansion annex,” he says with a grin. “I’m the first lady.”
He’s only half-kidding. In a turn of events tailor-made for this city’s tabloid headlines, Republican Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani separated from his wife, Donna Hanover, and then did something that has even many I’ve-seen-it-all New Yorkers baffled:
He vacated the mayoral mansion to become roommates with a gay couple and their pet Shih Tzu, Bonnie.
Since June, Giuliani and his bodyguard have taken residence in the elegant 3,000-square-foot home of old friend Koeppel, a 64-year-old Queens car dealer, and his 41-year-old partner of 10 years, Mark Hsiao.
Traveling with the lightness of a soon-to-be divorced man, Giuliani brought only a few suits and some toilet articles to the residence. He sleeps on a bed laden with throw pillows, one proclaiming: “It ain’t easy being king.”
“He hasn’t exactly moved in,” Hsiao says. “We prefer to call it ‘crashing.’ He makes his own bed, takes away his dirty laundry and tiptoes in when he comes in late at night. Sometimes I feel like I have two husbands.”
The unlikely living situation has opened a window into the world of a mayor often seen as distant and contentious. Giuliani left Gracie Mansion after a judge ruled in May that he could no longer bring his girlfriend, Judith Nathan, to the mayor’s official residence as long as his estranged wife and their children continued to live there.
While Giuliani has declined to speak publicly about his new living arrangement, Koeppel and Hsiao candidly offer intimate, day-to-day details about living with a politician whom appointment-seekers sometimes must wait weeks to see. (They do, however, keep Giuliani’s bedroom door closed when he’s out to protect his privacy.)
Many nights, the roommates watch television together in the three-bedroom, five-bath apartment furnished with Chagall paintings and a life-size David statue. Giuliani prefers such HBO shows as “The Sopranos” and the New York-based comedy “Sex in the City” to what he calls the more morbid fare of “Six Feet Under.”
So what does the mayor of New York City prefer to eat at breakfast?
“I don’t know; we’ve never asked him,” Koeppel says. “He has no choice. He eats what we put in front of him.”
When Giuliani dives into his morning cereal, the three discuss everything from opera to selling cars in Queens, Koeppel says. “He thinks my business is a good barometer for what’s going on in the city.”
Koeppel sometimes jokingly asks the mayor what time he’ll be home. And Giuliani has been known, after bidding goodbye to a growling Bonnie, to kiss both new roommates on the cheek.
“It’s an Italian thing,” offers the no-nonsense Koeppel, who counts among his close friends comedian Jackie Mason.
Adds Hsiao, a Juilliard-trained pianist who works at the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs: “It’s also a gay thing.”
Longtime Democrat Koeppel met then-U.S. Atty. Giuliani in 1989 before his first bid for the mayor’s job. He was so impressed with the man that he switched parties and helped elect him New York mayor in 1993.
“I took an immediate liking to him,” recalls Koeppel, a Brooklyn native who serves in several posts in Giuliani’s administration, including a spot on the board of trustees at Carnegie Hall and one on the city’s economic development board.
“I like his style. It’s like, how do you describe a good piece of chocolate? He’s just so delicious. I could listen to him all night. I inhale what he says. Rudy is never boring.”
Friends with Giuliani through the 1990s, Koeppel and Hsiao saw signs of trouble in the mayor’s marriage. “But he never said anything, and we’d never ask. Just like he’d never ask: ‘So, how are you and Mark getting along?’ We didn’t really know things were so bad until it hit the papers,” Koeppel said.
After discussing the matter, the pair invited Giuliani to move in. And after considering the offer for two months, he accepted.
Gay activists say that the arrangement has shown a positive side to both Giuliani and to gay relationships.
“This is the mayor who introduced the law making domestic partnerships legal in New York,” says Christopher Lynn, 51, a gay attorney who works in the Giuliani administration. “His attitude toward gays is only unusual for people who don’t know Mayor Giuliani’s record.”
Jeffrey Soref, an activist in New York’s gay community, says the publicity surrounding the live-in arrangement also has highlighted some healthy lifestyle values.
“First, these two men have played a supportive role for a friend in need who happens not to be gay,” he said. “And it gives people a glimpse behind the door to what is essentially a long-established, loving relationship between two gay men of very different backgrounds.”
Koeppel says the mayor accepts his new roomies for who they are.
“Even though he’s a devout Catholic, he doesn’t see us as a gay Jew and a gay Chinese guy,” Koeppel says. “He’s never said to me: ‘Couldn’t you find a nice Jewish man?’ Something my own relatives might have said.”
Although yet to endorse same-sex marriages, Giuliani has promised his roommates that if he ever changes his mind, they will be the first couple he marries.
Koeppel jokes with the mayor that if things don’t work out with girlfriend Nathan, he can “come over to our side.” This, Koeppel says, is where Giuliani blushes and promises to think about it.
The three have taught one another things about their worlds.
Koeppel and Hsiao taught Giuliani that his residency there qualifies him as a “friend of Dorothy,” a term derived from the gay obsession with Judy Garland--which they explained means he’s gay-friendly.
And Giuliani has weighed in on their life.
When Koeppel complained to the mayor about his partner’s fetish for throw pillows, Giuliani listened patiently and then gave him a short lecture, pointing to three newspapers on the coffee table.
“He told me that each day there are at least five stories that bug him,” Koeppel says. “He said he has to deal not only with his prostate cancer but running the events of the city, and so I should just cool out.
“After our little talk, the pillow thing didn’t seem so bad.”
Giuliani has a bodyguard who stays awake in the living room at night and another who waits in a car outside. The mayor usually arrives home after the couple has gone to bed.
Koeppel and Hsiao enforce two semi-serious rules: When they’re away, no red wine, which stains the furniture. And no wild parties.
One day, the mayor brought both hosts into his room. “See,” he proudly said, “I’m no jerk. I can make a bed.”
Still, Hsiao neatly remakes the bed each day after Giuliani leaves.
So, how long before a visiting mayor wears out his welcome?
“I’d begin wondering after the first of the year,” Hsiao says.
Adds Koeppel: “No, it’s more simple. When he stops making his bed.”