Mourning In America

A New York Democrat on politics, journalism, and the Mets

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005
The King Abdicates Big news on the cover of today's New York Times -- "Governor" George Pataki told associates last night that he will not run for re-election next year, apparently preferring instead to cast his lot in the 2008 GOP Presidential primary.

Go ahead, finish laughing. I'll wait.

Better now?

Pataki leaves office as a latter-day Nelson Rockefeller. His spendthrift ways, combined with a mania for cutting taxes on the well-off, leave the state with a crushing debt burden, the full cost of which is unlikely to be felt until he is safely out of Albany. The same can be said about the ineffectiveness of his administration's efforts (and those of his allies in Washington) to steel the state's defenses against future terror attacks. The fact that we have not suffered another attack since 9/11 is not a testament to readiness.

I don't know what his political future holds. Although I guess that it's unlikely (and, indeed, laughable) that a pro-choice, pro-gay rights New Yorker thinks he can win a GOP primary battle, Pataki's appeal has confounded me before.

I do know that his departure can only be good news for those of us who love this state. It is a necessary prerequisite to rooting out the mismanagement, corruption, cronyism, and fiscal nihilism that have infested Albany during his administration.

It won't make the work needed to set the stage for the state's eventual recovery any easier, but at least it can begin.

The question for the future, then, is whether his immediate successor will be a latter-day Carey, who in his first term was a bold leader who made the hard choices necessary to right the ship of state and set it on course for a resurgence in the 80s and 90s, or will they be the next Beame, paralyzed by the enormity of the crises he or she faces.

18 Months of Hell Unfortunately, he still has a year-and-a-half in office during which he can commit uncountable acts of mischief in an effort to buck up his credentials among the GOP's right-wing.

Look for a veto of any progressive social legislation to reach his desk, starting with the bill to allow over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill. Look for "supply side" tax cuts and draconian spending cuts in his next budget. And when the legislature, whose members are planning to outlast him, refuses to accept the bitter pill of spending cuts, look for more misguided borrowing to add to the state's already-crushing debt load.

In the meantime, we'll try not to toss our cookies during the rush of hagiography from the press, starting with this Associated Press report, which, in its celebratory tone and selective use of facts, is more appropriate for an obituary than a news account:

Pataki, 60, brought down Democratic icon Mario Cuomo in 1994 and helped pull New York through the horror of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Melding a liberal social agenda that included support for gay and abortion rights with a tax-cutting, tough-on-crime conservatism, Pataki easily won re-election in 1998 and 2002 in a state where there are 5 million Democrats and 3 million Republicans.

In 1999, Pataki flirted with a possible run for the GOP presidential nomination, but finding few takers he quickly threw his support to George W. Bush.

A year ahead of Bush at Yale University during their undergraduate years, Pataki was included on the Texas governor's short list of potential running mates in 2000.

UPDATE The NY Observer resists re-printing the "Governor's" resume with a well-researched, if overwritten piece into the implications for various pieces of his fundraising empire. Here's some fun stuff:
After more than 10 years in office, Mr. Pataki hasn’t left a clear policy legacy. Taxes are somewhat lower than when he arrived, but state government isn’t substantially smaller. The death penalty has been reinstated, but the laws establishing it were recently ruled unconstitutional by the state’s highest court. His form of Republicanism—not averse to compromise with the left—hasn’t caught on nationally. And as with the man he replaced, Mr. Cuomo, power has steadily flowed from the structures of his political party to the Governor’s office, leaving the state Republican Party little more than the second or third arm of the Governor’s political operation.

“The apparatus that was built up around him did not go into building the party—it went into going out and making money,” a senior New York Republican complained.