Governor’s Team Sees Dirty Tricks From An Old Foe

In a sign of heightening tension in the race for Governor, top supporters of George Pataki are accusing upstate billionaire Tom Golisano and his operative, Roger Stone, of perpetrating a “cruel” scheme to deprive the Governor of support from Conservative Party voters. And in denying the accusation, Mr.Golisano fired a surprisingly bitter volley at the Governor,calling his allies “thugs.”

Pataki supporters say that Mr. Golisano and his advisers have hatched a plan to hijack one of the most revered names in Conservative Party politics-that of the party’s late founder, Dan Mahoney-by running Mr. Golisano on a ticket with a little-known businessman and political dabbler named … Dan Mahony. Coincidence? Mr. Pataki’s allies think not.

In a letter to Conservative Party officials, Dan Mahoney Jr.-the son of the party’s founder and brother of Pataki adviser Kieran Mahoney-charged that “Tom Golisano and his operatives” were deliberately attempting to mislead voters in a Conservative Party primary for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. “Last week, in an effort to gain support from Conservative leaders like you, Tom Golisano announced Dan Mahony would be his running mate for Lieutenant Governor,” wrote Mr. Mahoney, who is a banking executive, in the letter dated May 24. “Tom Golisano and his operatives are using my deceased father’s name to garner support inside the Party he helped create. This is a cruel and insensitive strategy that has shocked and saddened my family …. I urge you not to fall prey to these offensive tactics.”

Mr. Golisano, who is running for Governor for the third time, responded, “That’s ridiculous. I picked Dan Mahony because he’s a member of the Conservative Party who was really cooperative when I reached out to him. It’s not because of his name. It’s not even spelled the same. Tell George Pataki and his thugs that they invented dirty tricks.”

Mr. Golisano’s campaign is about to send out a mailing of its own to Conservative Party members, showing George Pataki morphing into the man whose liberal brand of Republicanism the Conservative Party was founded to combat: Nelson Rockefeller. The mailing, which was obtained by The Observer , talks about the record of “George Patakifeller,” saying that he is “author of the most sweeping gun-control proposal in the nation” and noting that “no convicted murderer has been executed during his governorship.”

Mr. Mahony did not return calls for comment, and Dan Mahoney Jr. declined to comment for this story.

The charges come at a time when Mr. Pataki is enjoying unprecedented popularity. A Marist College poll released on May 28 showed the Governor with his highest approval rating since assuming office, and with a 30-point lead over his Democratic challengers.

Although winning the Conservative nomination could be crucial for Mr. Pataki when the race inevitably tightens up somewhat, Mr. Golisano-who has had virtually no prior involvement with the Conservatives-would seem to pose little threat to Mr. Pataki in a party primary. As for Mr. Mahony, a Conservative Party officer from Manhattan, he has hardly been a political force in the past: His attempts in the 1990′s at running for local elected office never attracted much attention from voters.

What may scare Pataki loyalists, however, is the following scenario: If Mr. Mahony were to win the Conservative nomination for Lieutenant Governor in a primary-not inconceiveable, both because of the power of the Mahoney name in Conservative Party politics and the paucity of genuine enthusiasm for the current Lieutenant Governor, Mary Donohue-it would effectively deprive Mr. Pataki of any votes he receives on the Conservative line in November. Votes on the Conservative line would be for a Pataki-Mahony ticket, and wouldn’t count towards the votes Mr. Pataki received on the Republican line, where he’ll be running on a slate with Ms. Donahue. The Conservative line provided Mr. Pataki’s margin of victory in 1994.

Roger and Out

But Mahoneygate is not the only reason the Golisano campaign has attracted the Pataki camp’s ire: The Governor’s allies are after the man pulling the strings of the Golisano campaign. Enter Mr. Stone, a diminutive amateur bodybuilder who got his start in politics working on Richard Nixon’s infamous Committee to Reelect the President in 1972, and a man whom supporters of the Governor have long portrayed as a vengeful and duplicitous political villain. The Governor’s spokespeople have, on a number of occasions, labeled him a “dirty trickster.”

Mr. Stone does have a history of making trouble for Mr. Pataki. Last year, he tried to organize a challenge to Mr. Pataki by former New York Giants wide receiver Phil McConkey, an undertaking which Mr. Pataki’s spokesman, Mike McKeon, referred to at the time as “Roger Stone’s latest plot to deceive New Yorkers.” The spokesman added that Mr. Stone’s animus toward the Governor stemmed from a $100,000 fine for lobbying violations which the state Lobbying Commission assessed him in 2000.

Conservative Party chairman Mike Long asserted that the drafting of Dan Mahony to run for Lieutenant Governor also was Mr. Stone’s handiwork.

“I have no doubt that he’s the operative behind the whole thing,” Mr. Long said. “He’s just a soldier of fortune, and this is his latest way to try to get the Governor.”

When told of Mr. Long’s comments, Mr. Stone responded with an unprintable quote. Then he put his feelings in more polite terms. “The organization of Mike Long is merely a network of whores,” he said. “The Conservative Party is supposed to put principle over politics, yet they’re looking to nominate George Pataki, a liberal who has chosen to run with Al Sharpton and Dennis Rivera, his new soul mates. I knew [party founder] J. Daniel Mahoney; my guess is he’s spinning in his grave.”

Mr. Stone also rejected the notion that running Mr. Mahony was any sort of trick, and predicted that he would score a victory on the merits. “This isn’t about anyone’s name,” he said. “They just think that voters are too stupid to have a choice, and they’re scared of what’s going to happen if they do. I guarantee you that Dan Mahony will whip Mary Donohue’s ass.”

Whoever’s ass ends up getting whipped, attempting to swipe the Conservative line is hardly the most serious accusation that has been leveled by the Governor’s loyalists against the Golisano campaign. Take, for example, a theory previously articulated by Mr. Pataki’s spokesman, that Mr. Golisano and Mr. Stone are in a secret, unholy alliance with Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo. Such speculation was given new life recently when the New York Post’ s Campaign Buzz column reported that Erick Mullen, a respected Democratic operative, had surreptitiously left the service of Team Cuomo to join the Golisano campaign. Mr. Golisano and Mr. Mullen have a mutual friend in Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon, a Cuomo supporter.

And Mr. Golisano maintains another tie to the Democratic Party infrastructure dating back to 1998, around the time that he was attempting his second run for Governor: The Democratic State Committee hired his company, Paychex, to process the paychecks of its employees.

Some evidence also suggests that Mr. Stone himself has an independent and long-standing relationship with Mr. Cuomo. Erstwhile Stone clients like Mr. McConkey and Donald Trump, both former Republicans, donated money to Mr. Cuomo. And then there’s Laurance Gay, an old associate of Mr. Stone’s, who told the Associated Press last year that Mr. Stone privately admitted helping Mr. Cuomo’s campaign.

Mollie Fullington, a spokesman for the Governor, said that Mr. Stone and Mr. Cuomo were both manipulating the political process. “The evidence linking Roger Stone and Andy Cuomo to more dirty tricks comes as no surprise,” she said. “Frankly, we hope and expect better in this campaign.”

Mr. Stone denies helping Mr. Cuomo, saying that he and Mr. Pataki are “both liberal” and “both wrong.”

Whatever happens, Mr. Golisano is likely to be in this campaign until the end. Even if he loses in the Conservative and Independence Party primaries, he is likely to guarantee himself a spot on the ballot by petitioning to create his own line. “George Pataki is going to face Tom Golisano on no matter what line,” said Mr. Stone. “And Tom will have $75 million in resources to outcommunicate him.