Dear Hillary,

So you're still trying to decide whether to come right out and admit that you're going to run for the Senate from New York. Your husband told you that "you have to know, you need to know, why you want the job." As a resident of New York City for nearly 30 years and a very liberal Democrat--the kind of Democrat whom so-called centrists (centrist in relation to what?) regard as pass--I don't particularly care why you want the job.

If, as some cynics suggest, you only want to run to show Bill who's the star now, that's all right with me. The need to prove yourself on your own might make you a better senator.

All I really care about is whether you have the guts--the ability to adapt to an unfamiliar political environment--to prevail in what will surely be a bitter contest against your most likely Republican opponent, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. This decision is not just about you (a point that seems to have escaped your fans outside New York) but about the consequences for New Yorkers if you're expecting a coronation instead of a campaign.

New York Democratic leaders did you no favor by initially suggesting that you would be a shoo-in against Giuliani. The conviction that only a celebrity can defeat the well-known mayor reflects not your strength but the current weakness of the state's Democratic Party.

Giuliani is no gentleman, and he will not treat you like a lady. You may think you know everything there is to know about political infighting. But just wait until you see the weird look, a cross between a half-grin and a sneer, that precedes a Giuliani zinger.

"Well, I'm glad she found her way there," was His Honor's response last week when asked what he thought of your rousing commencement speech delivered in Harlem at the City College of New York. As a candidate, you will have to be quick-witted enough to point out that while Giuliani may know the way to Harlem, you have probably spent more time there as a first lady than he has as mayor of New York.

One of the reasons I'd like to see you run is that your appeal is strongest where Giuliani's is weakest--among women, African Americans and the poor.

But I remain ambivalent about your candidacy. While you may be the only person who can beat Giuliani, I think you may also be the only person who can lose to him. He is less popular than he used to be--mainly because of the procession of police brutality cases on his watch--but remains an expert at getting under his opponents' skins. And you are said to be very thin-skinned.

The carpetbagger issue will be raised repeatedly, although I don't think New Yorkers (in the city or the suburbs) care much about it. If we really didn't want people to move into the state and run for office, we'd change the law that allows them to do so.

But you can't handle the carpetbagger accusation by making the classic Clintonian error of pretending to be something you're not. Stop talking about vacationing in the Adirondacks. We know you and Bill prefer a night on the town or in a chic resort to a night in the wilderness.

Your appeal to voters in the suburbs and upstate cities like Buffalo and Rochester will be based not on your camping credentials but on your positions on child care, education, housing and health care. Ironically, your role in the health care reform debacle during your husband's first term may work to your advantage here. With some of the highest medical costs in the nation, we New Yorkers are scared out of our wits by narrowing medical choices. Most of us blame the Republicans, not you.

In my view, your greatest liability is the fact that you have never held public office. You have thus far avoided the whole question, projecting a sense of entitlement that bothers me--as it bothers many women who have made it on their own without attaching their star to a man. You won't be able to sidestep the issue during the campaign, because Giuliani (him again) will raise it over and over.

In spite of my reservations, I've decided you should run because I agree with those who believe that you stand the best chance of keeping Daniel Patrick Moynihan's seat in the Democratic column.

Put us out of our misery and declare your intentions. Be a mensch. You do know what that means, don't you? Right now it means committing your heart--not just your ego and your celebrity--to a very tough fight.

Yours very truly,

A halfhearted fan

Susan Jacoby recently completed a four-generation history of her Catholic-Jewish family, which came to New York in 1849. It will be published next year by Scribner's.