According to the secret grumblings of top Albany insiders, the last
place Gov. George Pataki intended to be on June 3 was the New York
Sheraton, where two newly declared enemies of the state were throwing a
fund-raising bash for the Republican Party’s state committee. Mr.
Pataki reportedly was boycotting the event because James Ortenzio and
Georgette Mosbacher, two of the state’s most prolific Republican
fund-raisers, are helping Mayor Rudolph Giuliani raise money for his
prospective U.S. Senate campaign.
If you’ve been following the continuing story of George and Rudy,
the one entitled: “Only One of Us Gets Out of Here Alive,
Sucker,” you know that there are people in Albany who are not
particularly enthusiastic about the Mayor’s Federal ambitions. And
they told the New York Post ‘s Fredric U. Dicker, whose Inside
Albany column is the Daily Racing Form of state politics, that Mr.
Ortenzio and Ms. Mosbacher had been placed “on Mr. Pataki’s new
‘enemies list'” because of their efforts on the Mayor’s
behalf. The insiders gleefully noted that Mr. Pataki, or somebody close to
him, had declined to let the state G.O.P. committee use his name in
soliciting contributions for the Sheraton event, and that neither Ms.
Mosbacher nor Mr. Ortenzio had been invited to Mr. Pataki’s much-hyped
endorsement of Gov. George W. Bush of Texas for President.
An uproar ensued, for Mr. Ortenzio and Ms. Mosbacher are no ordinary
hustings-hustlers. They are two of the most influential Republican
fund-raisers in the state (Ms. Mosbacher once raised $15 million in a
single night) and they helped lift George Pataki from obscure state
legislator to potential vice president-in-waiting. Ms. Mosbacher said that
Mr. Ortenzio, who is chairman of the Hudson River Park Conservancy,
received more than 100 voice-mail messages from furious allies and friends
expressing outrage over his supposed banishment. Mr. Ortenzio declined to
Ms. Mosbacher, in an interview with The Observer , said she
hadn’t realized she was being punished for helping Mr. Giuliani.
“There was one meeting I wasn’t invited to,” she said.
“Big deal. I still don’t feel punished.”
With political insiders yapping about a major fissure in state
Republican ranks on the eve of campaigns for President and U.S. Senate, Mr.
Pataki apparently realized his absence would make matters worse. Sources
familiar with the event said the Governor decided at the last minute to
show up at the Sheraton on the appointed date, and, in full view of
disgruntled and gruntled alike, he gave his supposed enemies a flat-out,
back-squeezing hug. Mr. Ortenzio and Ms. Mosbacher squeezed back. “He
treated me as he always does,” said Ms. Mosbacher of Mr. Pataki.
“I didn’t sense any problem whatsoever.”
Some observers recalled a famous betrayal that was preceded by a peck on
the cheek, but Mr. Pataki’s gesture seemed genuine to at least one
witness. “I was two steps away,” said a Republican insider. The
source said there were no signs of tension between the Governor and the two
Political insiders, never shy about adjusting their analyses when new
gossip presents itself, now are whispering that Ms. Mosbacher and Mr.
Ortenzio provoked the wrath not of Mr. Pataki, but of forces aligned with
former Senator Alfonse D’Amato, an erstwhile Giuliani foe in whose
image the current state Republican Party was created. “Alfonse wants
as much power in the state as he can get,” said one Republican source
familiar with the situation. Mr. D’Amato didn’t return calls
seeking comment, but sources close to the parties involved said they
believe the former Senator or his well-placed allies in state government
circulated the stories about Mr. Pataki’s supposed anger with the
fund-raisers. According to the sources, the D’Amato allies were hoping
to send a message to other would-be Giuliani supporters seeking to stay on
good terms with the state Republican machine.
“They were trying to make an example of Ortenzio,” said one
Republican insider. “It didn’t work. It backfired.”
A Flurry of Calls
The Dicker column apparently embarrassed the Governor and prompted
him to place several reassuring telephone calls, including one to Mr.
Ortenzio. “I know for a fact that [the Governor] is trying to mend
some fences,” said one close ally of Mr. Pataki. “You can’t
make enemies over nothing. I know Pataki himself was on the phone trying to
make everything right.”
While the Governor’s peacemaking gesture in the Sheraton sent a
message about his continued affection for Mr. Ortenzio and Ms. Mosbacher,
the turmoil was yet another indication of high-level tensions between the
Pataki and Giuliani camps. The rivalry, Ms. Mosbacher conceded, has not
exactly helped the cause of party harmony. “It’s petty infighting
that doesn’t help anyone except Hillary Clinton [the presumed
Democratic candidate for Senate],” Ms. Mosbacher said. “But
people do believe this will blow over.”
Some government professionals are not so sure. They say the
Pataki-Giuliani divide is on their mind whenever they try to do business
with either the state or city governments. “Everyone who is dealing
with the state understands the perils of doing business with the Giuliani
administration,” said one top lobbyist. “You know not to be too
praiseworthy [of the Mayor] in print.”
The Mayor’s people are convinced that Mr. Pataki’s people are
working behind the scenes to make life uncomfortable for people like Mr.
Ortenzio and Ms. Mosbacher, who work both camps in the interests of
promoting New York Republicans. “It’s palpable at City
Hall,” said one Giuliani fund-raiser. “There’s a sense that
Pataki is trying to hurt them in a variety of ways.”
Chief among those hurtful ways is the Governor’s presumed support
for, or at least encouragement of, Representative Rick Lazio of Long
Island, who may challenge Mr. Giuliani for the Senate nomination next year.
The Giuliani fund-raiser conceded that there was great concern about the
damage Mr. Lazio could do to Mr. Giuliani even if the Mayor wound up
winning the nomination. The ghost of Ron Lauder, the perfume heir whom Mr.
D’Amato recruited to run an expensive kamikaze campaign against Mr.
Giuliani in 1989, has yet to be exorcised, and probably never will be. Mr.
Lauder’s negative campaign against Mr. Giuliani during the ’89
Republican primary campaign very likely contributed to David Dinkins’
narrow victory over Mr. Giuliani that year. “Lazio could hurt Rudy
like Lauder did in 1989,” the mayoral fund-raiser said.
A Republican consultant familiar with New York politics noted that Mr.
Pataki’s aides, particularly those associated with Mr. D’Amato,
are “obsessed” with Mr. Giuliani and his probable campaign for
U.S. Senate next year. Among the strongest anti-Giuliani operatives is the
Governor’s outspoken communications director, Zenia Mucha, a former
operative for Mr. D’Amato.
Sources close to the Republican infighting are convinced that Mr.
D’Amato is trying to find a way of reasserting the authority he lost
when voters turned him out of office last November. They saw his hand, or
the hand of somebody close to him, in the strange attacks on Mr. Ortenzio
and Ms. Mosbacher.
Several argued that it was unlike George Pataki to order a public exile
of two loyal–and valuable–friends like Mr. Ortenzio and Ms.
Mosbacher. Indeed, theassertion that they were on the Governor’s
“enemies list” was jarring, if only because the genial Mr. Pataki
carefully nurtures his image as a tolerant and inclusive bridge-builder, an
antidote to Mr. Giuliani’s famously assertive tactics. The notion of
even-tempered, well-adjusted George Pataki wielding an enemies list rang
false, almost like asserting that Charles Dickens actually was a
self-absorbed philanderer who cruelly left his wife and copious number of
children for another woman.
Or, er, something like that.