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Giuliani gets cigar fix in Miami

In the spring of 1996, during a nighttime tour of Jerusalem's old quarter, then-mayor Ehud Olmert offered Rudy Giuliani a Cuban cigar.

Giuliani's aide, a Cuban Jew whose family had escaped Fidel Castro's communist government, grabbed the Dunhill from Olmert's lips and demanded to know how could he support a repressive regime that had backed Palestinian terrorists.

The next day, an apologetic Olmert presented a gift: a Dominican Dunhill.

The New York City mayor had given up smoking. But in the story Giuliani tells, he started dreaming of cigars. He couldn't resist any longer, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Over the next decade, in between mayoral conferences, speaking gigs and most recently, presidential campaign stops, Giuliani wiled away hours in Miami's famed cigar shops. These clandestine trips to Little Havana built relationships with some of the world's best-known names in cigars, mostly Cuban exile families who have grown and rolled tobacco for generations.

The ties were mutually beneficial: Giuliani marched in their parades, supported their charities, and honored their anti-Castro heroes -- he renamed a street after the slain Brothers to the Rescue pilots -- while the cigar families became his top Florida donors. They also shored up his support in the Cuban-American community, a key Republican voting bloc.

He returns to the heavily Cuban city of Hialeah on Thursday, the day of the Iowa caucuses.

Co-hosts of a Giuliani fundraiser last Thursday at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables included Ernesto Perez-Carillo, founder of the coveted Gloria Cubana brand, and Orlando Padron, whose Little Havana factory was bombed more than two decades ago after he was photographed handing Castro a cigar. (He had been negotiating for political prisoners, and Castro asked him for one.)

For most of the clubby community of premium-cigar makers, there's only one presidential candidate, the man who graced the cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine, the one who ends most days on the campaign trail with a stogie.

'This is one of the few industries where if you mentioned an owner's first name, I would know exactly who you are talking about, and the same goes if you were to say, 'Rudy,' " said Christian Eiroa, president of Camacho Cigars in Miami. "He's never been afraid to say he's a cigar smoker, and that makes him a friend of ours."

A Cigar Aficionado column in 2005 similarly praised Giuliani who -- unlike former President Clinton and President Bush -- "doesn't hide behind his celebrity to deny his love of cigars."

"Clinton had to do a lot of public-relations gymnastics to hide the fact that he not only liked to have an unlit cigar in his mouth, but that he liked to light them up, too," the magazine sniffed. "And Bush has been even more circumspect . . . We've never seen a picture of him with a cigar. But trust us. We know."


As for Giuliani, his appearance on Cigar Aficionado's cover was not the classic, posed shot of him chomping a stogie. Why risk riling any voters who consider cigars smelly or unhealthy? The magazine ran a flattering picture of him in a tuxedo, sans cigar, with an article gushing over his post-9/11 exploits.

"He was hyper-aware of his image," said Manny Papir, the cigar-swatting aide who became Giuliani's deputy chief of staff and helped shape the cover story. "You don't know why people vote for you, and you don't want to give people a reason not to vote for you."

Giuliani's campaign refused to comment. But his pro-cigar record speaks for itself.

When New York City banned smoking in bars and restaurants in 2003, Giuliani successfully lobbied the new administration for cigar exemptions. He opposes a proposed hike on cigar taxes to fund health insurance for poor children, saying it would lead to "socialized medicine."

Said Eiroa of Camacho Cigars: "We understand now that in order to protect our businesses, we must be more involved politically. . . . Giuliani listens to us."

Many of his introductions to Miami's cigar elite were made by Papir, a North Miami Beach High School graduate who frequently protested at the Cuban mission in New York City before he joined Giuliani's 1993 campaign.

At that time, Giuliani had quit cigars at the urging of his second wife, Donna Hanover, a former TV newscaster in Miami. (He met his current wife, Judith Nathan, years later at a cigar bar.)

"As a Cuban, I was duty-bound and honor-committed to get him back on cigars," Papir quipped.

(Giuliani fired Papir in 2002 after he called Nathan a "princess" behind her back. But Papir speaks fondly of working for Giuliani and is not working for any campaign.)


Their Little Havana excursions were like shopping on Fifth Avenue, Papir said. Along with two bodyguards, they would slip into shop after shop and leave with boxes of fine cigars.

"He was the proverbial kid in the candy store," Papir said. "We would walk into the on-site humidors where there were literally thousands of cigars and just breathe deep."

"He comes to the factory just as a regular guy, to buy cigars, share a smoke, drink some Cuban coffee and talk," said Orlando Padron's son, Jorge.

Giuliani's favorite cigar is said to be the prized Fuente Fuente Opus X. One of the Dominican puros can cost $100.

To many exiles, smoking a Cuban cigar is tantamount to stroking Castro's beard. So when Giuliani tells of being offered a Cuban by the man who is now the Israeli prime minister, he adds a sure-fire applause line like: "And I made sure I never touched a Cuban cigar again."

The story went over well at a June fundraiser hosted by Diego Suarez of the Cuban Liberty Council. "There was a lot of laughing and clapping," said Radio Mambi host Ninoska Perez Castellon.

Campaign reports show Giuliani has raised at least $75,000 from the cigar industry. One high-profile supporter is Cigar Aficionado publisher Marvin Shanken, whose celebrity-studded magazine helped fuel the cigar craze of the 1990s.

Giuliani is a fixture at Cigar Aficionado's annual "Night to Remember" dinner, which has raised more than $15 million over 15 years for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Giuliani was treated for the disease in 2000.

He's also a regular at the magazine's annual "Big Smoke," which it has described as having "all the elements of the good life: premium cigars, gourmet food, high-end spirits, fine cars and the type of women one might find accompanying a sultan."

The event held not long after 9/11 had a more somber backdrop. Giuliani brought hundreds of firefighters and police officers from Ground Zero to the Marriott Marquis Hotel ballroom, where some of the world's finest cigar-makers handed out cigars as tokens of appreciation.

"The most moving event of my life," said Carlos Fuente Jr., who lives in Miami when he's not at his family's Dominican plantation. "He's my hero."

Miami Herald database editor Rob Barry contributed to this report.