By BRIAN BLOMQUIST
WASHINGTON - Newt Gingrich won't be winning the Mr. Sensitivity Award any time soon.
The former House Speaker and his ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, are in a bit of a dispute over whether Newt knew that she might have multiple sclerosis when he told her on Mother's Day 1999 that he wanted a divorce.
For the ham-handed Newtster, breakups are a touchy issue.
He notified his first wife, Jackie Battley, that he was divorcing her in 1981 after she was hospitalized with cancer.
Marianne's lawyer said Newt knew in September 1998 - eight months before he notified her that he was ditching her - that Marianne had been diagnosed with a neurological condition that might be a "forerunner of multiple sclerosis," according to the Atlanta neurosurgeon who treated her.
But Newt's lawyer, Randy Evans, said yesterday Newt didn't know that Marianne might have had MS when he broke the bad news to her.
Evans said he and Newt learned later - sometime during the divorce case that started in May 1999 and ended in April 2000 - about Marianne's condition.
"His nose is growing," responded Marianne's lawyer and friend, Victoria Toensing.
When Evans was told that Marianne's account differed from his, he said, "That's not my recollection."
But then Evans backtracked and said it was possible that Newt and Marianne discussed her medical situation privately before he learned about it during the divorce case.
Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative neurological disease.
Newt, 57, told Marianne, 48, he wanted to end their 19-year marriage while she was visiting his mother on Mother's Day.
Newt, 57, secretly had been having an affair with congressional aide Callista Bisek, 34, whom he plans to marry next month in Alexandria, Va. That would make the blond-haired Bisek wife No. 3 for the onetime Republican revolutionary.
Toensing said there's no doubt that Newt knew all about his wife's condition at the time she went to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and was diagnosed with possible MS in September 1998, just before Newt announced he was giving up his job as speaker of the House and quitting Congress.
Neurologist Barney Stern said she has responded well to steroid therapy
and there's been no further damage to her nervous system.