With his good friend George W. Bush in the White House,
Governor George Pataki figures to be the man to see if you’re an ambitious
Republican lawyer from New York with ideas about a federal appointment.
After all he went through for the President-getting hammered
in the press for trying to wire New York’s Presidential primary for Mr. Bush,
schlepping down to Florida during the re-count to express outrage, steadfastly
singing the praises of a man who lost New York big time on Election Day-Mr.
Pataki might very well feel entitled to a little payback from Mr. Bush. But
there are no New Yorkers in the Bush cabinet, no high-profile appointments. The
Governor is said to be pressing hard to win jobs for two old friends-Charles
Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, and Michael
Finnegan, his former counsel. But the posts are ceremonial: Mr. Gargano wants
to be ambassador to Italy, and Mr. Finnegan is in the running for ambassador to
Ireland. Nice jobs, but they don’t come with patronage and raw political power.
Still, the Governor’s allies insist that payback is, in
fact, at hand. Mr. Pataki expects to have the President’s ear when it comes to
recommending appointees to federal judgeships and U.S. Attorney posts,
selections traditionally proffered by the state’s U.S. Senators.
“The Governor has a great relationship with the President
and his senior staff,” said Zenia Mucha, Mr. Pataki’s recently departed
communications director. “They have sought his advice and recommendations.” She
said that he would have a great say in filling “the most important
positions-the ones that have a direct impact on New York.”
But Mr. Pataki may be in for a new and unexpected headache.
Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat, is preparing to challenge the Governor’s
assumption that he, and he alone, will recommend candidates for judgeships and
U.S. Attorney posts. Mr. Pataki already has put forward the name of his former
lead counsel, James McGuire, to replace U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, a Clinton appointee,
in New York’s Southern District. By most accounts, Mr. McGuire is well-liked
and is likely to be confirmed as soon as Ms. White has concluded the office’s
unfinished business. Mr. Schumer, however, has moved to block any further
attempts to fast-track Mr. Pataki’s choices for other U.S. Attorney jobs in New
York. In a letter to President Bush dated Feb. 8, Mr. Schumer argued that the
state’s other U.S. Attorneys ought to finish out their terms.
A quarter of a century ago, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan
began a tradition of dividing up nominations for judicial and U.S. Attorney
posts in New York. Although the longest-serving Senator from the President’s
party actually forwarded recommendations to the White House, one out of every
four posts were given to the state’s other Senator. For example, when Alfonse
D’Amato and Presidents Reagan and Bush were in office, Mr. D’Amato allowed Mr.
Moynihan a chance to nominate 25 percent of the federal judicial and
prosecutors’ posts. When the Democrats took the White House in 1992, Mr.
Moynihan extended the same courtesy to Mr. D’Amato. But Mr. Moynihan and Mr.
D’Amato are gone, the President is a Republican, the Governor is a friend of
the President and the state’s two Senators are Democrats. Still, Mr. Schumer believes
that as the state’s senior Senator and a member of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, he ought to have a meaningful say in the selection process.
“There are only three people with a Constitutional role in
this process,” Mr. Schumer told The
Observer . “The President and the two Senators from each state. I expect to
have a great deal of input as to who the judges are. I’ve been talking to the
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, and we would like to come to an
accommodation with the President where some of the judges are his nominees and
others are the Senators’ nominees.”
Mr. Pataki’s supporters find the idea of an accommodation
between the President and New York’s Democratic Senators to be laughable. Mr.
Schumer’s junior colleague, after all, is one Hillary Rodham Clinton. As one
Pataki ally put it, “They’re nuts if they think they’re going to have anything
to say about Bush’s appointments after they worked so hard to defeat him.”
The Governor’s spokesman, Michael McKeon, put it a little
more diplomatically. “While we welcome input from all comers,” Mr. McKeon said,
“the Governor will be sending his recommendations to the White House for these
An indignant Charles Schumer may only be part of Mr.
Pataki’s problems; the Governor also faces growing dissent within his own
party. The Governor’s people were taken aback in January when New York’s senior
Republican U.S. Representative, Ben Gilman, announced that he would be taking
over responsibility for coordinating the state’s federal appointments. A
spokesman for Mr. Gilman graciously noted that Mr. Pataki would be allowed to
participate in the process “as a courtesy.”
The Governor’s aides reacted with alacrity. In a direct
rebuke to Mr. Gilman, they sent a memo to Republican members of the New York
Congressional delegation stating that the Governor would be playing the lead
role in vetting federal judicial and U.S. Attorney appointments. Undeterred,
Mr. Gilman insisted that ultimate responsibility for naming candidates “falls
on [his] shoulders,” as he told one reporter, but that he was sure that he and
the Governor could come to some amicable arrangement.
Hard feelings, however, remain. One political operative with
close ties to Mr. Pataki said that the Governor privately threatened to exact
retribution against Mr. Gilman in the upcoming round of Congressional
redistricting, which he oversees along with the state legislature.
Yet Mr. Pataki stands to gain little from a fight with the
78-year-old Mr. Gilman, a 28-year incumbent and a Republican fixture who wins
reelection by large margins in his otherwise unpredictable district in Rockland
and Orange counties. He is a courtly
and inoffensive man who rides around in a mobile home that serves as his
district office. He was, until this year, chairman of the House International
Relations Committee, where he was one of Israel’s strongest supporters in
The intra-party skirmish between Mr. Gilman and the Governor
has already raised eyebrows among some of the Congressman’s colleagues. “I
think the Governor is trying to consolidate his power,” said Republican
Representative Peter King of Long Island. “Pataki probably feels like he’s the
top Republican in the state. But Ben is the dean of the Republicans in the New
York delegation. It’s not as if he’s making a power play here-some of us think
it would make sense for him to be the guy who coordinates the patronage and
And Mr. King said that Republicans in Congress were well
aware of the dangers of losing Mr. Gilman to retirement. “He’s one of the only
Jewish Republicans left in Congress; he was chairman of a prominent committee;
and although he always wins reelection by big margins, his district could go
either way if he retired,” Mr. King noted. Democrats, of course, will be
looking to recapture the House in the midterm elections of 2002. Brooklyn
Democrat Anthony Weiner agreed that Mr. Gilman is a valuable asset to the
G.O.P. because, he said, “he gives the Republicans a moderate face in a
It remains to be seen if New York’s elected officials can
create an amicable process for selecting candidates. “[James] McGuire is
Pataki’s guy, but I think a problem could develop when it comes to the
judgeships and other appointments,” said Mr. King.
Problems? They’re nowhere to be seen, according to Mr.
Pataki’s friends. They’re convinced that the George-George relationship will
serve them and the state Republican Party well. “Pataki got where he is by
being a very loyal guy,” said Ed Hayes, a lawyer and friend of Mr. Pataki. “He
held things together for Bush under the harshest of circumstances, and now he’s
getting his reward.”