NEW YORK - A downcast Mayor Rudolph Giuliani disclosed Wednesday that he and wife Donna Hanover are moving toward legal separation - his first acknowledgment of trouble in his marriage after years of rumors and recent tabloid photos of his ''mystery brunch pal.''
It was the second personal announcement in the last two weeks for the often stern Republican Senate candidate who guards his privacy zealously. Giuliani announced on April 27 that he is fighting prostate cancer.
''For quite some time, it's probably been apparent that Donna and I lead in most ways independent and separate lives,'' Giuliani said at a news conference. ''It's been a very painful road and I hope we'll be able to formalize that in an agreement that protects our children, that gives them all the security and protection that they deserve.''
Giuliani, 55, and Hanover, 50, a TV personality who has also appeared in movies and soap operas, have been married for 16 years and have two children. This is the second marriage for both. They have not appeared in public together in years, although she made the point of issuing a statement of support after Giuliani's cancer diagnosis last month.
After Giuliani's comments Wednesday, Hanover summoned reporters to Gracie Mansion, the mayoral residence, and said the marriage had been strained for years. She referred to a relationship the mayor had with a staff member whom she did not name.
''Today's turn of events brings me great sadness,'' she said, her eyes welling with tears. ''I had hoped that we could keep this marriage together. For several years, it was difficult to participate in Rudy's public life because of his relationship with one staff member.''
In 1997, Vanity Fair magazine reported there was a romantic link between the mayor and his communications director, Cristyne Lategano. Giuliani and Lategano denied the report, and it was never confirmed. Lategano has since left City Hall and gotten married.
Earlier this year, a reporter asked Giuliani why he had stopped wearing his wedding ring. He responded, ''I respectfully suggest that that's none of your business,'' emphasizing the last four words.
Recently, newspaper photographs have shown Giuliani about town with a 45-year-old divorced woman, Judith Nathan. The New York Post called her the mayor's ''mystery brunch pal.''
The mayor said Wednesday he had ''tremendous respect'' for Hanover, whom he called ''a wonderful woman (and) wonderful mother.'' He went on to describe Nathan as ''a very, very kind person.''
''She's been a very good friend to me,'' said Giuliani. ''I rely on her and she's helped me a great deal. And I'm going to need her more now than maybe I did before.''
Giuliani said his disclosure of the separation has nothing to do with politics and he does not expect his announcement to harm him in his Senate race against Hillary Rodham Clinton. Giuilani has already said that he may rethink his candidacy, depending on his course of treatment for cancer.
''I don't really care about politics right now,'' he said. ''I'm thinking about my family, the people that I love and what can be done that's honest and truthful and that protects them the best.''
He added: ''It will all work itself out some way politically.''
Later, campaign aides said Giuliani is staying in the race and planned to attend a fund-raiser Wednesday night in suburban Westchester County, a key area in the Senate battle.
When asked about Giuliani's marriage by reporters at an event in Syracuse, Hillary Clinton replied, ''I don't have anything to say.''
Giuliani revealed a side that he has never shown before publicly - and that contrasted sharply to the upbeat manner in which he announced that he had cancer. Looking wan and weighing each word with caution, Giuliani spoke of the pain his troubled marriage has created and in part, blamed the media.
''I'm motivated by all the tremendous invasion of privacy that's taken place,'' he said. ''My family's, Judith Nathan's family. This is something that had developed over some period of time and it is something between Donna and me, not anyone else.''
Republican political consultant Jay Severin said the mayor's announcement doesn't automatically translate into a political loss, but it can only help Clinton.
''Remember, we have a president serving out his second term who was literally caught with his pants down in the Oval Office, so the mayor's announcement needn't be a disqualifying event,'' Severin said. ''But politics is a zero-sum game. Nothing bad happens to one candidate that doesn't benefit another.''