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
Columbia Law School in 1970.
He received his Master's in 1971.
History and campaigns
Early Political Career
Pataki first won elective office in 1981, as mayor of the Westchester
County city of Peekskill. From 1985 to 1992, he represented a state
Assembly district that included parts of Westchester, Putnam and Duchess
counties. In 1992, Pataki beat incumbent Republican State Senator Mary
Goodhue in a primary and 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.
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 which 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. (It has been said that Pataki was elected by voters
choosing the "ABC" candidate: Anybody But Cuomo.)
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 which 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
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
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 and the State Legislature has not passed a bill to
restore it in a new form.
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 King, as the Chancellor of SUNY.
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 of
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
Larry Silverstein assumed a 99-year lease for $3.2 billion. The
events and initiatives (or lack thereof) regarding the Center have
defined the Pataki governorship.
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.
"Three men in a room"
Pataki campaigned against the practice of having major state policy
decisions be made by "three men in a room" — the governor, the Assembly
Speaker, and the Senate Majority Leader.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
Niagara Falls, and in
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 which 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
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, and at times it appeared Golisano would outpoll
McCall, which did not happen in the end.
A Pataki–Cuomo rematch nearly occurred in the 2002 election. Mario's
Andrew Cuomo announced plans to run. However, he stumbled on April
17 and ultimately withdrew before the primary at the urging of his
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
Pataki's troubles with the World Trade Center development began
almost immediately in the third term.
Although the LMDC was not the property owner (the Port Authority was)
or lease holder (Larry Silverstein was), it announced a contest to
create the master plan for the site to restore all 10 million square
feet of lost space and build a memorial. In late 2002, LMDC picked a
plan dubbed Project THINK. Pataki intervened to support a plan put forth
Daniel Libeskind entitled
Memory Foundations. LMDC backed down and gave the commission to
Libeskind who had never designed a tall building.
Although eventually most of Libeskind's plan was to be ignored it
established two concepts that will define the Pataki legacy (if they are
built) at Ground Zero -- the placement (and name) of the 1,776 foot high
Freedom Tower and the concept that the memorial be below street
level. A symbolic cornerstone (with Pataki's name) for the Freedom Tower
was laid on July 4, 2004, and after numerous design changes,
construction commenced in May, 2006.
Other LMDC decisions were to give Pataki WTC headaches. Although the
LMDC had no plans to actually own and operate a memorial (it designated
World Trade Center Memorial Foundation to do that), in 2003 LMDC
conducted a national contest to build the memorial. The winning memorial
Reflecting Absence by
Michael Arad threw out the restriction of LMDC's own master design.
The design was remarkably simple as it was devoid of any above ground
ruins or monuments. However, the memorial's main feature waterfalls
falling into a 30 foot deep pit of the approximately the footprint of
the towers have proven to be remarkably expensive to construct with
estimates of its cost now approaching $1 billion making it by far the
most expensive memorial ever built. Pataki has passed along nearly $200
million in federal grants for it.
The LMDC also saddled the Foundation with fundraising
responsibilities for a Performing Arts Center, a Drawing Art Gallery and
a think tank dubbed the
International Freedom Center. The Freedom Center drew particular
heat from WTC family members who said it would not have a proper focus
at Ground Zero and that it potentially could criticize American
policies. After the Drawing Center voluntarily withdrew (following
criticism of its exhibits elsewhere), Pataki intervened and pulled the
plug on the Freedom Center in 2005.
While Pataki has been heavily criticized for the snail pace of
development at Ground Zero,
New York City enjoyed a building boom elsewhere in the city which
has dramatically changed the city's skyline.
2004 Republican Convention in New
Pataki was instrumental in bringing the
2004 Republican National Convention to
Madison Square Garden in
Manhattan. 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. New York City, which normally votes overwhelmingly
Democratic (the Democrat Presidential candidates carried 78 percent of
the city vote in both 2000 and 2004),
had never hosted a Republican Convention.
In the 2004 elections, not only did Republicans' hope of Bush
carrying the state fail to materialize, but Senator
Charles Schumer, a Democrat, won 71% in his reelection bid when he
trounced the pro-choice, little-known Republican nominee, Assemblyman
Howard Mills. Mills' Senate campaign attracted little statewide
attention or money, and it is reported that he agreed to run for the
Senate only after Pataki's request to run was turned down by several
other candidates. Mills was defeated in the largest landslide in state
In addition, Democrats picked up one Congressional seat, gained seats
in the state legislature, and in many local races across the state. Many
Republicans, such as Congressman
Peter T. King, blamed Pataki and what they viewed as his aimlessness
as causing the rout. Pataki replaced some advisors and the state party
Alexander Treadwell. In 2005, Pataki enjoyed some positive publicity
when the state passed its first on-time budget in twenty-one years, but
he continued to suffer from low approval ratings, as well as Republican
losses in local races that November, especially on
Long Island, which was key to Pataki's three victories.
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 incumbants. 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