Assessed By Critics As A Big- Time Spender
Setting a precedent, the New York State Conservative Party for the first time gave George
its endorsement and support when he ran against and defeated incumbent Mario Cuomo in 1994 to become the state's 53rd governor.
Twelve years later, as Pataki pondered seeking a fourth term, the Conservative Party, which had also endorsed him in two previous re-elections, let it be known that he would not be getting its support.
As it turned out, this was a major factor in Pataki's decision, announced in April 2006, that he would not seek re-election to a fourth term.
By early 2006, it was clearly evident from polls showing then Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's soaring popularity throughout the state, as well as his ability to raise huge amounts of campaign funds easily, that he would be very difficult to defeat.
These two factors, then- a strong Democratic challenger plus the loss of Conservative Party support- convinced Pataki that he should not run for a fourth term.
Instead, the 61-year-old, three-time governor started to test the waters for a possible campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
In trying to assess Pataki's success or failure as the state's chief executive, the end of his warm relationship with the Conservative Party must be given serious consideration as it indicates a clear shift from right to left on the political spectrum.
Another strong factor that must be considered is Pataki's weakened position as the leader of the Republican Party in the state.
When Pataki decided to bow out of a race against Spitzer, a race in which all forecasts pointed to a king-sized drubbing for the incumbent, the political picture in the state also showed clearly that Democratic statewide candidates- United States Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Comptroller Alan Hevesi and the leading attorney general candidate Andrew Cuomo- were all heavily favored to win their contests.
The Republican Party had grown so moribund on Pataki's 12-year watch that there was not one credible candidate to oppose the Democrats' fearsome statewide quartet.
(Eventually, Hevesi was forced to resign as comptroller after he won re-election over Callaghan.)
Efforts by Pataki's handpicked state GOP chairman, Stephen Minarik, to get a consensus candidate for any of these races showed how indisciplined and fractured the organization had become.
Another telling indication of how Pataki's power had withered while he was in office was his loss of state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno as a dependable ally. Frequently, in the latter years of Pataki's reign, Bruno was setting his own legislative agenda and reporting it openly to the media before Pataki was informed of it.
Bruno's priority during this period was preserving the Republican majority in the senate and his own power by any feasible means.
When the 1994 gubernatorial election year rolled around, incumbent Governor Mario Cuomo was looking forward to running for a fourth term.
But Republicans, and even some Democrats, saw Cuomo vulnerable on the state's lagging economy, especially upstate, high crime rates and liberal social policies.
At this time, Pataki had been mayor of Peekskill, his hometown, and was in his second year in the state senate after serving eight years in the Assembly. He offered himself as a candidate for governor on a generally fiscally conservative platform, committed to cut taxes and rein in crime.
Under the guidance of then Republican Senator Alfonse D'Amato and backed by the Conservative Party, Pataki defeated Cuomo in a close contest. The Conservatives' support in New York City helped turn the election to Pataki.
In his first term, true to his campaign promises, Pataki cut the state's top income tax by a whopping 25 percent, reduced capital gains and inheritance taxes and cut government spending, according to Stephen Slivinski, director of budget studies at the Cato Institute think tank. Those actions came within his first two years in office.
Political writers assessing Pataki's record in office generally agreed that the conservative tone of his nascent administration in 1994 disappeared before the end of his first term. It is also alleged that the governor, as leader of the Republican Party, was also responsible for its demise during his time in office.
One of his harshest critics has been George J. Marlin, who in his teens became an active Conservative growing up in Ridgewood and in 1993 was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of New York City. A year later, recognizing the support Marlin and his party gave to Pataki's successful bid for governor, Pataki appointed him executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Marlin, whose background was in the financial industry, is now an investment banker and writer. He spent two years in the Port Authority job.
In a recent book titled Squandered Opportunities: New York's Pataki Years (St. Augustine Press, 2006), Marlin writes that Pataki, after his first three years in office, forgot all about fiscal responsibility.
Pataki had morphed into a huge spender, Marlin says, in order to reward political supporters of all sorts, and labor unions to win their support, which they provided in two successful re-election bids.
In a Jan. 11, 2007 article in the New York Post, Marlin wrote:, "Overall, statesupported debt nearly doubled in the Pataki years, from $28 billion in 1995 to $51 billion in 2006." Much of the increase (35 percent), Marlin added, resulted from the sale of Personal Income Tax (PIT) bonds. PIT bonds are backed by the state income tax which was never sanctioned by voters, as required. The revenues from the sale went toward paying off the debt they created, not funding the state's dayto day operations, as they should.
Stephen Slivinski of the Cato Institute, previously cited, also wrote last October that Pataki, starting with his second term, became a tax-and-spend adherent, so much so that, "The state budget exploded, growing by 76 percent since his first day in office- almost twice the growth of population plus inflation."
On the other side of the ledger, Pataki emerged as a tough law-and-order governor. He enacted a death penalty law, later found unconstitutional, and he ordered some sex offenders to remain incarcerated after serving their sentences. This was also thwarted by the courts.
One accomplishment he has often cited is his success in preserving millions of acres of public lands.
In a recent interview, Pataki, in stating his philosophy of governing, said he looked for "positive solutions for the problem that people face", and that he tried to "set an agenda that a middle class family could say, 'Yeah, that's a good thing for my family,' or 'That's a good thing for my community'".
Perhaps future historians will be better able to tell whether Pataki succeeded or failed in his 12 years at the helm of New York State government.