George Elmer Pataki (born June 24, 1945) is an American politician who was the 53rd Governor of New York serving three consecutive four-year terms from January 1, 1995 until December 31, 2006. He is a member of the Republican Party and was seen as a possible 2000 and 2008 Presidential candidate.
Family and education
Pataki's paternal grandfather was János (later John) Pataki (1883–1971) of Aranyosapáti
, who came to the United States in 1908 and worked in a hat factory. János had married Erzsébet (later Elizabeth; 1887–1975) around 1904. Their son, Pataki's father, was Louis P. Pataki (1912–1996), a mailman
. Pataki's maternal grandfather was Matteo Laganà (born in Calabria
in 1889), who married Agnes Lynch of County Louth
around 1914. Their daughter, Margaret Lagana, is Pataki's mother. He has an older brother, Louis. George Pataki can still speak a little in Hungarian
Pataki married Elizabeth Rowland in 1973, and they have four children: Emily, Teddy, Allison, and Owen.
Pataki won a scholarship to enter Horace Mann School in Riverdale, a section of The Bronx. He then entered Yale University in 1964 on an academic scholarship, and graduated in 1967. While there he served as chairman of the Conservative Party of the Yale Political Union. He received his J.D. from Columbia Law School in 1970.
History and campaigns
Early political career
While practicing law
at Plunkett and Jaffe, P.C. in Peekskill, Pataki became friends with Michael C. Finnegan
, who would go on to be the architect of Pataki's ascendancy to power. Finnegan would go on to manage Pataki's campaigns for Mayor, State Assembly
, State Senate
, and the Governorship. Finnegan was then appointed Chief Counsel to the Governor in 1995, and played the key role in developing and negotiating nearly all of Pataki's early legislative success.
George Pataki first won elective office in November 1981. He was elected Mayor of the City of Peekskill, which is located in the Northwestern part of Westchester County. Pataki defeated the Democratic incumbent Fred Bianco Jr., winning 70% of the vote. In November 1983, Pataki was re-elected Mayor, winning 74% of the vote.
In November 1984, George Pataki was elected to the New York State Assembly, (91st district), by defeating the one-term Democratic incumbent, William J. Ryan, winning 53% of the vote. In November 1986, Pataki defeated Ryan in a rematch, capturing 63% of the vote. Pataki won a third term in November 1988, winning 74% of the vote. Pataki won a fourth and final term in November 1990, winning over 90% of the vote, as he only faced a minor party candidate.
From 1983-1992, the 91st Assembly district included parts of Westchester, Orange, Rockland, and Putnam Counties. However, in 1992, Assembly Democrats substantially redrew the district boundaries, placing the newly renamed 90th Assembly district entirely within Westchester County. Instead of running in the newly redrawn district, Pataki decided to challenge seven-term incumbent Republican State Senator Mary Goodhue in a primary. Pataki won the primary by a 52-48% margin. However, Goodhue was still going to appear on the November ballot on a minor party line. In November 1992, George Pataki won election to the New York State Senate in a 4-way race. Pataki served one term before running for Governor.
First term, 1995–1998
Pataki was a first term state senator from Westchester County
when he launched his bid for the Republican nomination for governor in 1994. He said he launched the campaign because of his frustration in the Senate regarding how Albany worked and on tax issues. He was little known statewide and his campaign received a boost when he was endorsed by U. S. Sen. Al D'Amato
. He received the party's endorsement at the spring state convention and easily defeated former State Republican Chairman Richard Rosenbaum in the September primary. Pataki was considered an underdog from the start since he was running against three term Gov. Mario Cuomo
and that Pataki had little name recognition statewide. D'Amato reportedly backed Pataki because of a poll that showed a pro-choice
, fiscal conservative from the New York City suburbs could win statewide for governor. The poll also showed a female running mate for lieutenant governor
would help the ticket, thus leading to the selection of academic Betsy McCaughey
as Pataki's running mate.
The polls had Gov. Cuomo up by as much as ten points going into the final two weeks, but they then narrowed at the end. In reality, however, Pataki remained neck and neck with Cuomo during the entire race, focusing solely on the issues of tax cuts and the death penalty during the campaign. In addition he made an issue of Cuomo seeking a fourth term as governor and pledged to serve only two terms in office. Cuomo was helped late in the race by the endorsement of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In the end, Pataki narrowly defeated Cuomo in the general election.
Pataki made up for a softer performance in New York City and Long Island by running up a decisive margin north of the city, especially among upstaters disenchanted with Cuomo. Pataki was the first governor elected since Franklin D. Roosevelt to not come from one of the five boroughs of New York City.
Pataki has long been regarded as an environmentalist and he has made the environment and open space preservation a top priority of his administration. He has long cited that Theodore Roosevelt
is his political hero for his work as a conservationist. Pataki has conserved more land statewide and has pushed bond issues in referendums that provided more money to preserve land and clean up the state's rivers and lakes. He has been a long standing advocate for cleaning up the Hudson River
and in pushing stricter environmental regulations and penalties.
Polls showed that the majority of New Yorkers wanted the state's death penalty
laws restored. A bill to restore the death penalty passed the Legislature several years in a row, only to be vetoed
by Cuomo. Pataki made the issue a top priority of his and when the bill reached his desk he signed it into law in 1995. The state's Court of Appeals later ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in the form in which it was written (in the case of People v. LaValle
), and the State Legislature has not passed a bill to restore it in a new form. During Pataki's 12 years as governor, not a single person was executed in New York State.
Pataki has long vetoed increases to spending at the State University of New York
and City University of New York
. In addition he has vetoed increases to funding for the state's tuition assistance program and equal opportunity program. His higher education policies have included calling for laws to limit the amount of time a student can receive state tuition assistance while in a public university, which he says will increase the rate of graduation in four years. He has also appointed more SUNY and CUNY trustees who are against open enrollment and remedial education policies and who have pushed for a stricter core curriculum program in the public universities. Pataki was criticized for appointing his close friend and former budget director, Robert L. King
, as the Chancellor of the State University of New York
Tax cuts and spending cuts
Pataki has been a long-time advocate of tax cuts during his administration and his time in the state legislature. He signed and sponsored several tax cuts during his first term in office and in addition made spending cuts to the budgets he proposed. This has included a push for privatization of state entities.
During the first years of Pataki's administration, he began to institute the major spending cuts, which he has advocated for most of his career. Among the cost cutting initiatives was a push to privatize the World Trade Center from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The New York City governor's office for more than 20 years had been in the center. The privatization effort took effect a few weeks before the September 11 attack when Larry Silverstein assumed a 99-year lease for $3.2 billion.'''
While Pataki campaigned against the New York State practice of not adopting an ontime budget by the start of the April 1
state fiscal year for over a decade, Pataki's first 10 years in office did not see the adoption of an ontime budget.
Second term, 1999–2002
Pataki was considered the frontrunner from the start of the 1998 campaign for governor. He was unopposed for the Republican nomination and paired with a new running mate, Judge Mary Donohue
. The Democrats faced a primary battle between New York City Council Speaker Peter Vallone
, Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross
, and former Transportation Commissioner James LaRocca
. Vallone captured the Democratic nomination, with Thomas Golisano
running as the Independence nominee and McCaughey Ross as the Liberal Party nominee. Pataki was easily reelected to a second term in office.
Policy and political work
In 1999, Governor Pataki signed into law comprehensive health care
legislation that provided health insurance coverage, under Family Health Plus
, to lower income adults who do not have health insurance through their employers. In 1999, Pataki explored a possible bid for the Presidency. In 2000, Pataki was also mentioned as a possible candidate for the U.S. Senate
against First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
In July 2000, Pataki's name surfaced on the short list to be the running mate for Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush
, along with the names of Governor John Engler
of Michigan, Governor Tom Ridge
of Pennsylvania, former Senator John Danforth
of Missouri, and former U. S. Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole
of North Carolina. Bush eventually selected the man who was in charge of scouting vice presidential candidates, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney
. Pataki had strongly campaigned for Bush including an unsuccessful effort to keep John McCain
off the New York primary ballot (which Bush ultimately won).
September 11 terrorist attacks
Pataki's New York City office had moved out of the World Trade Center in the months before the September 11, 2001 attacks
to new offices on Third Avenue.
Pataki and Giuliani appointed the LMDC to distribute nearly $10 billion in federal grants and to oversee the construction of a memorial, though as of September 2006 the latter has not begun. Giuliani had to step down because of term limits and Pataki took the lead on the building process, though the Port Authority is a state-run agency and thus Giuliani had very little control in the rebuilding effort anyway.
Native American casinos
Pataki has been a long advocate for Native American casinos in upstate New York. He has proposed the creation of several casinos throughout upstate with the revenue being shared by the state, tribe and municipal government. In the 1990s he was able to secure the creation of one casino on an Indian reservation outside Syracuse
. His plans to create new casinos were blocked by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
until after the Sept. 11 attacks, when Silver was persuaded that more money could come into the state government. Pataki soon signed an agreement to create new casinos in the Catskills
, Niagara Falls
, and in Buffalo
. The Seneca Niagara Casino
opened in Niagara Falls in January 2003.
Niagara Falls casino money fight
As a part of the creation of the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, an agreement was reached to give a percentage of the slot machine
revenue to the City of Niagara Falls each year to spend on local tourism projects and projects relating to hosting the casino. Money was allocated for 2003, but disputes have come up since then. Part of the dispute is a claim by Niagara County
to receive a share of the money for county government projects and another part had to do with restructuring the local commission charged with allocating the money. Pataki has called for the money to be given to a state entity he created to spur economic development in Niagara Falls, thus leaving the money under his control, a decision that is opposed by local leaders.
Third term, 2003–2006
Pataki was considered a strong contender for a third term. He ran again on a ticket with Lt. Gov. Mary Donohue and the Democrats faced a primary battle between State Comptroller Carl McCall
and former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo
. Pataki emphasized his previous work and the need to have continuity following Sept. 11.
Pataki sought the nomination of the Independence Party in his bid for a third term as well. He faced Thomas Golisano, the party's founder in his bid for the nomination. Pataki ran an active primary campaign and lost to Golisano. Donohue did win the primary for lieutenant governor and was both the running mate of Pataki and Golisano in the general election.
Pataki faced McCall and Golisano in the general election, during which he continued to empashize his past work for the state. He easily defeated the two.
A Pataki-Cuomo rematch nearly occurred in the 2002 election. Mario's son Andrew Cuomo
announced plans to run. However, he stumbled on April 17
and ultimately withdrew before the primary at the urging of his mentor Bill Clinton
when Cuomo was quoted in the media as saying (regarding Pataki's performance post-9/11):
- "Pataki stood behind the leader. He held the leader's coat. He was a great assistant to the leader. But he was not a leader. Cream rises to the top, and Rudy Giuliani rose to the top."
World Trade Center legacy
The Port Authority owns the WTC site and Larry Silverstein is the site lease holder. Governor Pataki effectively controlled development at the WTC site by the power to appoint half the Port Authority commissioners and half the LMDC board members. In late 2002, the LMDC picked a plan dubbed Project THINK to replace the of lost space and build a memorial. Pataki intervened to support a plan by Daniel Libeskind
entitled Memory Foundations
. When offered a choice between the Libeskind or THINK plans, the official LMDC poll showed that the public preferred "Neither".
Although eventually most of Libeskind's plan was to be ignored it established two concepts that will define the Pataki legacy at Ground Zero the placement (and name) of the high Freedom Tower and the concept that the memorial be below street level. A symbolic cornerstone for the Freedom Tower with Pataki's name was laid on July 4, 2004, and after numerous design changes, construction commenced in May, 2006.
The much-vaunted open and inclusive process never acknowledged public support for rebuilding the Twin Towers, including the Belton-Gardner Twin Towers II design, which drew national attention when it was sponsored by real estate developer Donald Trump in May 2005, and is favored by many 9/11 family-members.
In the spring of 2006, Attorney General Spitzer was quoted as saying the redevelopment was "an Enron-style debacle", and stated the LMDC was "an abject failure" that "violated its duty to the public". However in February 2007 as the new governor he unenthusiastically decided to proceed with Pataki’s plans.
United States Senate Republican Primary of 2004
In 2004, Pataki and New York GOP
Chairman Sandy Treadwell
faced controversy after naming moderate Assemblyman Howard Mills
the party's nominee for the U.S. Senate
against Senator Chuck Schumer
over conservative Michael Benjamin
, who held significant advantages in both fundraising and organization. Benjamin publicly accused Treadwell and Pataki of trying to muscle him out of the senate race and undermine the democratic process. Mills went on to lose the election in the largest landslide for a Senate seat in the history of New York.
2004 Republican Convention in New York City
Pataki was instrumental in bringing the 2004 Republican National Convention
to Madison Square Garden
, New York City, which normally votes overwhelmingly Democratic (the Democratic Presidential candidates carried 78 percent of the city vote in both 2000 and 2004), had never hosted a Republican Convention. He introduced President George W. Bush
. A year prior, Pataki had boasted Bush would carry the state in the 2004 elections; Bush lost New York 58–40 to John Kerry
. Pataki notably orated, "This fall, we're going to win one for the Gipper. But our opponents, they're going lose one with the Flipper.
Voter anger with state government
In 2004, there was a growing voter dissatisfaction with how the state government conducted business. Two decades of late budgets and decision making by three men in a room on key issues led to voter anger and the defeat of several legislative incumbents. Pataki started to hold open sessions with legislative leaders on budget issues, and including the minority leaders of the Senate and Assembly in these discussions. In addition he encouraged the adoption of an ontime budget and in 2005 and 2006 the state budget was adopted on time.
State budget powers
Pataki's term had been marked with annual debates with the State Legislature over the powers allocated to the Executive and Legislative Branches on the adoption of the state budget. Pataki argued that the state constitution and court rulings gave him the power to submit a budget that allocated revenue and set policy. Pataki said the Legislature could then only change the numbers but could not change any policy decisions made in the budget document. Pataki and the Legislature ended up in court and the courts ruled in Pataki's favor, giving him more budgetary power. In 2005, the Legislature placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allocate more budget power to them. Pataki led a successful public information campaign to defeat this provision and to retain his budget authority. In 2006, Pataki vetoed a large part of the budget adopted by the Legislature because of these rulings.
Upstate economic development
Pataki had been criticized for not doing enough on the issue of upstate economic development. He created a series of Empire Zones statewide, which served to spur economic growth in cities by providing tax incentives for businesses. In addition, he used the state's banking laws to create banking development zones to entice banks to settle in upstate cities. Pataki considered casino gaming an economic development program for upstate and he sponsored the creation of an Indian casino in Niagara Falls and in Buffalo to spur economic development. He also promoted tourism practices for the upstate economy and created centers for excellence in the sciences in several upstate cities to spur economic growth.
Liberal Republican legacy
In 2003 Pataki made a controversial budget proposal in which he proposed several tax cuts, despite the state's rising deficits. He also made cuts in education and health care funding, which, some say, may close emergency rooms
and turn non-profit hospitals
into for-profits. Pataki argued that new taxes would drive businesses out-of-state, reducing jobs, further compounding the deficit.
Pataki has always been liberal on social issues. However by his third term, many conservative Republicans simmered over his continued support of abortion rights, and his heavy lobbying in favor of a gay rights bill that had languished in the state Senate for many years due to the opposition of Senate Leader Joseph Bruno. In 2003, Bruno finally gave in; the bill passed the senate and was signed into law by Pataki.
On July 27, 2005, Pataki announced his intention not to seek a fourth term as governor in 2006.
Campaign for Fiscal Equity
Pataki's tenure had been marked with the long-standing Campaign for Fiscal Equity
suit regarding the state's funding of public education. The CFE sued in order to get more state money for the New York City public schools and to guarantee a sound education for all students. Pataki fought the lawsuit, saying that the state should not pay for the increased funding and that the state constitution only guaranteed a sound education until 8th grade. Pataki filed several appeals for the decisions and the final decision will be made after he leaves office.
As a part of the CFE lawsuit, education advocates tried to seek state support and funding for mandatory pre-kindergarten classes in the state's public schools. Pataki blocked this measure, which had support from legislative leaders and was a pet issue of former Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross.
Pataki suffered a burst appendix
and had an emergency appendectomy
on February 16, 2006 at Hudson Valley Hospital Center. Six days later, he developed a post-surgical complication (bowel obstruction
caused by adhesions
) and was transferred to New York-Presbyterian/Columbia Medical Center
for a second operation. From there, he was discharged on March 6
. Doctors advised rest at home since his conditions could last up to a month. On the week of March 20–24, 2006, he appeared at a public press conference looking fit and thinner to comment on the progress of the annual budget and the recent Campaign for Fiscal Equity
CFE ruling from the New York state court. During Pataki's two surgeries, when he was under anesthesia, power officially transferred to Lt. Gov. Mary Donohue, making her the state's acting governor. Pataki came under criticism when it was revealed that he and his staff did not inform Donohue that she was acting governor the first time, until after Pataki had woken up and resumed power.
State Comptroller Alan Hevesi
In October 2006 Pataki named a special counsel to investigate the allegations that State Comptroller Alan Hevesi
had misued state resources when he had a state driver chauffeur his wife around. Pataki's counsel was studying whether Pataki could recommend to the State Senate
that Hevesi be removed from office. Pataki's special counsel recommended that Hevesi could be removed, but Pataki declined to recommend removal, saying that it would only apply for Hevesi's term expiring at the end of 2006 and not for his new term starting in 2007. After Hevesi's December 2006 resignation, Pataki briefly considered naming an interim comptroller to serve until the State Legislature named a new comptroller.
Evaluations as Governor of the state of New York
Prior to Pataki's departure New York Post
political writer Fred Dicker
authored a scathing critique of Pataki's tenure, accusing the Governor of broken promises, inattentiveness to his duties, and a focus on maintaining power. It was entitled "Good Riddance
On Pataki's final day in office, The New York Times ran an editorial evaluating his twelve years as governor. The Times praised his work on health care and the environment. He was criticized for the lack of tangible reform and the consolidation of power under his watch. The Times was conflicted about his record on crime and the state budget.
During his 1994 campaign, Pataki criticized Cuomo's use of state airplanes and said he would not use the planes as governor. In January 2007, Acting State Comptroller Tom Sanzillo
announced that he was declining to pay a bill Pataki submitted to the state to lease a private plane to fly to Virginia in December 2006. Acting Comptroller Sanzillo said Pataki could have used a state plane to make the trip. Pataki flew to Virginia on state business in order to inspect steel to be used in the Freedom Tower. The bill was forwarded to the Office of Gov. Eliot Spitzer
for consideration. Spitzer's office ruled that Pataki's campaign committee needed to pay the bill for the private plane, since a state plane could have been used.
Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross
Pataki's 1994 running mate for lieutenant governor
was Betsy McCaughey
, an academic best known for her critique of the Clinton health care
plan. McCaughey was selected because of her work on the Clinton health care plan. It is reported that Pataki choose McCaughey over sofa bed heiress Bernadette Castro
for the spot. Castro was nominated for the U. S. Senate in 1994.
McCaughey faced problems with Pataki and Pataki's staff from the start. It is reported that Pataki did not like McCaughey's relationship with the press or her public discussion of policy differences the two had. McCaughey also lost support from Pataki when she said that D'Amato had made suggestive comments to her.
In April 1997, Pataki announced that he was dropping Lt. Gov. McCaughey Ross from his 1998 reelection ticket. McCaughey Ross said she would seek elected office in 1998 either as lieutenant governor, governor or to the U. S. Senate. In September of that year, she became a Democrat and unsuccessfully sought the governorship in that party's primary. She was on the 1998 general election ballot as the nominee of the Liberal Party for governor.
Lt. Gov. Mary Donohue
After dropping McCaughey Ross from his 1998 ticket, Pataki considered several replacement running mates. In the spring of 1998 he announced his choice of State Supreme Court Justice Mary Donohue
for lieutenant governor. It is reported that Pataki also considered State Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro, Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples
and State Sen. Mary Lou Rath
for the lieutenant governorship as well. Naples would later join Pataki's Cabinet as State Motor Vehicles Commissioner.
In office, Lt. Gov. Donohue had been relegated to projects outside the governor's inner circle. She worked on school violence prevention, local government, small business, and homeland security issues. Many of her duties consisted of delivering speeches to groups around the state or filling in for Pataki at ceremonial events. Lt. Gov. Donohue has kept a generally low profile around the state.
In 2002, it was reported that Pataki considering dropping Lt. Gov. Donohue from his ticket and asking her to run for state attorney general instead. It is reported that he considered Secretary of State Randy Daniels and Erie County Executive Joel Giambra for lieutenant governor. Pataki decided to keep Lt. Gov. Donohue on as his 2002 running mate.
Donohue did not run to succeed Pataki in 2006. In December 2006, Pataki appointed Donohue to be a Judge of the New York Court of Claims.
After leaving the governorship, Pataki joined the law firm Chadbourne & Parke
in New York joining their renewable energy practice. He continued to flirt with a possible bid for President. After ruling out a presidential campaign, Pataki retained his political action committee
, which he could legally use to further his own views and other political interests. In addition, Pataki has formed an envonmental consulting firm with his former chief of staff John Cahill, the Pataki-Cahill Group and work with the Council on Foreign Relatons on climate change
issues. In the climate change issue, he is working with former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack
. Pataki has announced that he has no interest in joining the Cabinet of President George W. Bush
In September 2007, President Bush appointed Pataki as a United States delegate to the 2007 United Nations General Assembly
session. In this capacity, Pataki attends various meetings of the UN General Assembly and GA committees on behalf of the United States, during the annual GA session. When he was appointed to the post, to which he was confirmed by the United States Senate
, Pataki announced he was planning on focusing on climate change and terrorism issues while at the UN. The UN post lasts for the length of the annual GA session.
State tickets on which Pataki has run
1994 Republican, Conservative and Freedom Party
of New York Tickets