Pataki’s Payback: What Does He Get For Bush Loyalty?

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

positions.”

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

Congress.

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

these appointments.”

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

loony-right caucus.”

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.”