Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Not Standing Pat

With a noon press conference, New York Gov. George Pataki calls it a wrap after three terms in Albany.

The fact that this announcement is occurring less than 48 hours after two seemingly unrelated events -- the big AFL-CIO
split and the latest record company payola scandal -- may not be a coincidence.

If any one state shows the growing power of the Service Employees International Union, it's New York. Under the leadership of Dennis Rivera, SEIU Local 1199 has, over the last eight years
negotiated a friendly takeover of George Pataki:
[I]n a masterful display of political maneuvering, Rivera pushed Pataki in 1996 to create additional state health insurance for poor families. When the governor obligingly raided a new $1 billion state health fund this January to provide wage hikes for Rivera's members...the endorsement became a foregone conclusion.
Of course, that was a great deal for Rivera and, in the short-term, for Pataki too. Gone, in short order was the man first elected in 1994 on a fiscal and law-and-order conservative platform that toppled Mario Cuomo. This new political marriage -- a Republican governor with flexible "principles" and a very canny union leader -- has helped contribute to the long-term budgetary nightmare facing the state. Because of his alliance with Rivera, Pataki has expanded family and children's health-care benefits -- thus putting more pressure on a Medicaid system that is already the most generous in the nation.

Local 1199 showed quite clearly that they don't need Democrats (or the broader AFL-CIO structure to get its way) -- just a compliant governor of any party (plus a remarkably dysfunctional legislature). Surely, the national SEIU must have been noting these recent developments.

The payola story, meanwhile, displays the continued rise of New York's Attorney General, one of the most aggressive politicians in the country. Spitzer will be the Democratic gubernatorial nominee next year. As of this writing, he is the overwhelming favorite to be the next governor too. Sure, there are any number of reasons to criticize him for his "sue-and-settle" intimidation technique. Here's one. And here's another. And, he had a rather embarrassing stumble recently when he lost a major case.

But the fact remains that this aggressiveness has given the AG a national profile. And, after 12 years, Pataki has shown that he has nothing new to offer the voters. Spitzer would trounce him.

And so, Pataki sees the writing on the wall and exits -- stage left (wink, wink). He is considering a run for the presidency. Given how he has left the state -- and his other social libeal moves -- it is hard to see how he could get a foothold in the Republican base.

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