Gov. George E. Pataki (R)|
Last Updated June 4, 2001
term expires Jan. 2003
Born: June 24, 1945,
Education: Yale U., B.A. 1967, Columbia U. Law Schl., J.D. 1970
Marital Status: married
- Political: Peekskill Mayor, 1982-84; NY Assembly, 1984-92; NY Senate, 1992-94.
- Professional: Practicing atty., 1970-89.
Office: Executive Chamber, State Capitol, Albany
518-474-8390; Web: www.state.ny.us.
George Pataki was elected governor of New York in 1994 and 1998; he began the 1990s as a politically obscure minority-party assemblyman and ended it as a major national political figure. He grew up in Peekskill, a small industrial city on the Hudson in northern Westchester County, at the cusp of metropolitan New York City and Upstate New York. His father was the son of Hungarian immigrants, his mother is of Italian and Irish ancestry; his parents had a farm in Peekskill and built it into a business; those years are the primary subject of his autobiography Pataki. Pataki went to Yale and Columbia Law School, where he was an unabashed conservative in the late 1960s; he practiced law with a big Wall Street firm, then moved to a Westchester firm in 1974. In 1982 he was elected mayor of Peekskill, where he converted tax-exempt property to taxpaying housing, held taxes down, opened an industrial plant and approved 1,000 new housing units. In 1984 he ran against an incumbent Democratic assemblyman and won. In 1992, after eight years as a member of a powerless minority, he challenged an incumbent Republican state senator and beat her by 558 votes. In the state Senate he chafed at the leadership of Nassau County's Ralph Marino and voted against the budget--an almost unheard of rebellion in lockstep-party-voting Albany. In all this he showed ambition, ruthlessness, a penchant for cutting government; but few were paying attention.
In 1993, the almost unknown Pataki began running for governor, taking on one of America's best-known politicians, Mario Cuomo. For all his national fame, and his feints at running for president in 1987 and 1991, Cuomo was in trouble in New York: he cut the top tax rates but also created other taxes and increased spending robustly; he claimed credit for a workfare program but tended to support the public employee unions. Pataki provided a clear contrast on the issues, and he also showed political skill. He got the support of Senator Alfonse D'Amato, fresh from re-election in 1992 and in control of the state Republican Party apparatus. Pataki easily won the May 1994 convention and prevented a primary challenge and a Conservative Party candidacy. In the general election, Cuomo attacked Pataki for having raised taxes in Peekskill and Democrats charged that he was a puppet of D'Amato. But Pataki led in polls until New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in late October endorsed Cuomo and bitterly criticized Pataki. Cuomo went into the lead, gaining votes in New York City and in Nassau County, with its revenue-hungry Republican machine. Thomas Golisano, a Rochester businessman, was spending millions as an independent, advised by pro-Perot pollster Gordon Black; Perot endorsed him and polls showed him with 8%. But Golisano's share of the vote fell to 4%, and Cuomo got 45%, about where he was running in polls. Pataki won 49% of the vote, losing New York City 70%-28% but carrying the suburbs 54%-43% and Upstate (where Giuliani's endorsement hurt Cuomo) 59%-32%.
As governor, Pataki showed determination and even ruthlessness in seeking his goals. After the election, he declined to take a congratulatory phone call from Giuliani for three weeks and engineered a coup ousting Marino as Senate leader that was executed while the governor was on vacation in Florida. Pataki proposed cuts in taxes and in spending and, after bruising negotiations with Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, got much of what he wanted. Pataki signed the death penalty into law in March. In 1996 he got reform of workmen's comp. With D'Amato and almost all leading New York Republicans except Giuliani, he endorsed Bob Dole for the Republican nomination; but when the Dole campaign went nowhere in New York he coolly said in November, ''I wasn't involved in the campaign.''
Instead he spent much effort on a $1.75 billion environmental bond issue, citing his longtime admiration for Theodore Roosevelt and gathering support from business, labor and environmental groups. He also switched and supported the partial state takeover of the Long Island utility Lilco, agreeing in early 1997 to issuing $7 billion in bonds. In early 1997 Pataki unveiled his welfare reform plan, cutting benefits to recipients who do not find work by 45% over four years; he called for a three-year phaseout of estate and gift taxes, which send many affluent New Yorkers to Florida; he pushed his STAR school tax relief plan to rebate taxes and give more aid to schools. He stayed aloof from Senate President Joseph Bruno's crusade to end state-wide rent controls, brokering a compromise which left controls intact in Manhattan. Pataki's budgets in 1997 and 1998 had above-economic-growth spending increases; he established who was in control, however, by line-item-vetoing $1.6 billion from the legislature's budget in April 1998. All this left Pataki in strong shape for reelection in 1998. He got the support of Giuliani and former Mayor Edward Koch; potentially strong opponents like then-Congressman Charles Schumer and Comptroller Carl McCall declined to run. The Democratic nomination was won by New York City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, a competent and constructive veteran widely admired in knowledgeable circles. But he was scarcely known outside New York City, and never had a chance against the well-financed Pataki. Pataki won 54%-33%, losing New York City by 60%-33%--a slight improvement over 1994--but carrying the suburbs 62%-29% and Upstate by 64%-18%; 13% of the vote there went to Golisano, running a third-party candidacy.
In his second term Pataki again tightened up on spending and continued to press for tax cuts, but took liberal stands on many issues. He has long supported abortion rights and welfare for legal immigrants. Since 1999 he has proposed changing the Rockefeller drug laws, with their mandatory minimum sentences. In 1999 he passed a Family Health Plus program for those without insurance, financed by a 55-cent increase in the cigarette tax, and criticized the Clinton administration for not granting waivers for it. He also subjected cigarettes to fire-safety laws. He pushed through innovative gun-control laws in 2000, including requiring ballistic fingerprinting of every gun sold. He met a major demand of public employees unions by signing in July 2000 a cost of living adjustment for public employee retiree pensions. He signed a hate-crimes law and set up a DNA review commission in 2000, plus laws for tougher sentences for sex offenders.
Pataki lives in a large house overlooking the Hudson Highlands--some of the most gorgeous scenery in America--and has supported many environmental measures. He imposed strict pollution limits on old power plants and in 1999 signed auto-emissions standards as tough as California's. In 1999 the state purchased an easement on 110,000 acres of the Adirondacks owned by Champion International Company. In 2000 he signed a ban on the gas additive MBTE and called for dredging of the Hudson to remove the PCBs discharged there by General Electric many years ago. He brags that New York now recycles more than 40% of its trash and that sturgeon are now plentiful in the Hudson River.
Through all this Pataki maintains a closed-mouth, lockstep control of his administration and his party, and is not afraid of getting into a scrap. He and New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman had a major disagreement about the bi-state Port of New York Authority, resolved in June 2000 when Pataki agreed to allow a $200 million cargo terminal to be built in Port Elizabeth-Newark in return for $250 million on projects in New York. He has opposed the claims of the Oneida, Cayuga, Mohawk, Seneca and Onondaga tribes on thousands of acres of Upstate lands, and criticized the Clinton administration for giving in to the Indians. His relationship with Giuliani has often been edgy. Pataki has opposed Giuliani's plans for a stadium for the Yankees on the West Side of Manhattan and he signed a bill exempting suburban commuters from the city's income tax. In early 1999 both had half an eye on a presidential race. In May 1999 Pataki endorsed George W. Bush, with Giuliani, who later did so too, pointedly not at his side; in August 1999 he endorsed Giuliani for the Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, brushing aside Congressman Rick Lazio, whom he had earlier encouraged to consider the race. Pataki's Republican chairman used the state's convoluted ballot access laws to try to keep John McCain off the March 7 primary ballot; a court ordered him on, but Bush won anyway, and a few days later Pataki blithely called for reforming the ballot laws.
In 1994 Pataki pledged to serve only two terms, but he reneged on that in 1998, and in early 2001 he was obviously running for a third term. He called for consolidation of state aid to schools--a dicey issue, since legislators have been creating programs to give their constituents special advantages for years--and for more local control, plus property tax cuts for farmers and seniors and a doubling of "empire zones" to encourage investment in high-risk areas. His outlook for 2002 was good at the beginning of 2001. And it appeared that Democrats would have a contentious September 2002 primary. In January 2001 former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo, Mario Cuomo's son, returned to New York and announced he was running for governor; he was to have made the announcement at the apartment of Denise Rich, former wife of pardoned fugitive and accused tax evader Marc Rich, but switched it at the last minute to the flagship store of his brother-in-law Kenneth Cole. A few days later Comptroller Carl McCall announced that he was running; he is the first black elected to statewide office in New York, and appeared to have the support of most Democratic politicians and labor leaders. Cuomo and McCall started off by denouncing Pataki, but their primary contest could become a bitter one.
Highly Competitive. As desire for reform has abated and New York's strong economy slowed down, Pataki's poll numbers have dipped, which suggests a very close race is in the offing. Democrats look headed for a bruising primary between state Comptroller Carl McCall and former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo has good name identification, but there are signs that many of his father's key backers are sitting this one out. Race may also be a factor, since McCall would be the first black major party gubernatorial nominee in the Empire State. Regardless of who wins the nod, the general election will be competitive.
||George E. Pataki (R-C)
|Peter F. Vallone (D-WF)
|B. Thomas Golisano (Ind)
||George E. Pataki (R)
||George E. Pataki (R-C)
|Mario M. Cuomo (D-L)
|B. Thomas Golisano (Ind)
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