Our Choices: Pataki, Hevesi And Eristoff

It’s hardly a secret that New York State’s short-term economic future looks bleak. Albany is looking at massive shortfalls in revenue-some estimates put the impending deficit at $10 billion, a frightening sum. Political leaders in Albany will face tough decisions next year that are bound to affect us all. Such times require experience, wisdom, steady hands and an utter rejection of ideologically driven politics.

Governor George Pataki, State Comptroller candidate Alan Hevesi and State Senate candidate Andrew Eristoff all have the qualities New York will need in the tumultuous months and years to come. They are pragmatic, problem-solving leaders who are bound by neither dour political dogma nor unrealistic partisan platforms.

After eight years in office, Mr. Pataki is seeking a third term based more on his performance in the past than his plans for the future. That’s wise, because in such times, candidates will find it difficult to deliver on promises made on the campaign trail. And more to the point, no candidate really knows precisely how he’ll deal with next year’s budget, simply because we don’t know just how bad it will be. It would be foolish-although perhaps not completely unexpected-for candidates to make bold pronouncements about new programs or spending proposals or tax reductions when revenues are about to plummet.

Mr. Pataki’s Democratic opponent, outgoing State Comptroller Carl McCall, has spent decades in public service and in the private sector. Unfortunately, he has not run the sort of vibrant, ambitious campaign voters should expect from a major-party nominee.

On the other hand, maverick businessman Tom Golisano, running for Governor for the third time on the Independence Party line, has run an ambitious and expensive campaign. What a shame he has chosen to spend about $50 million of his own money on an absurd exercise in sheer vanity. Had he donated that money to the homeless, he would have been hailed as a civic hero. Instead, he threw away millions simply to get his name and face on every television channel in the region. Mr. Golisano is an unattractive, savvy blowhard who knew how to create the right business at the right time. But his never-ending vanity campaigns are offensive, pointless and wasteful.

Through his first two terms, Mr. Pataki has balanced his commitment to lower taxes with a devotion to issues like the environment, education and health care. It’s no wonder that his opponents have had such a hard time laying a rhetorical glove on him. He has displayed terrific judgment over the last eight years, and he has shown time and again why he is one of the country’s most underestimated political leaders.

Now is not the time to change administrations in Albany. Mr. Pataki and his team have a troubling assignment ahead. Let’s hope he is up to the task.

Just a year ago, Alan Hevesi was being escorted to the Home for Washed-Up Politicians. Luckily, he managed to escape the fate of so many ambitious candidates who lose the race of their lives. After getting buried in last year’s Democratic Mayoral primary despite years of preparation and anticipation, Mr. Hevesi has dusted himself off and re-entered the political fray.

This year, Mr. Hevesi, the supposed has-been, is running for State Comptroller, the job Mr. McCall is vacating to run for Governor. Talk about experience-Mr. Hevesi is running for Albany’s version of the job he did so well in the city through the 1990′s.

As the City Comptroller from 1994 to New Year’s Eve 2001, Mr. Hevesi put together a low-key but highly professional office to keep watch over New York’s finances, monitor its investments and keep a sharp eye out for fiscal flimflam. He demonstrated a distinct aversion for silly photo ops and grandstanding-a characteristic that probably hurt his Mayoral ambitions, but one that makes him an outstanding candidate for State Comptroller.

Mr. Hevesi was the city’s fiscal watchdog through eight prosperous years. But as State Comptroller, he will face far more difficult times. Cooperation, not confrontation, will be required to guide New York through the downturn. As it happens, Mr. Hevesi has demonstrated that he can work with members of the opposite party. Mr. Hevesi was an Assembly member before he became City Comptroller, so he understands Albany and its unique culture.

Mr. Hevesi’s Republican opponent, John Faso, is ambitious and smart, but simply not experienced enough.

Republican Andrew Eristoff, onetime City Council member and a finance commissioner in the Giuliani administration, is trying to unseat incumbent State Senator Liz Krueger in the 26th Senatorial District, which encompasses most of the Upper East Side. Ms. Krueger won her seat earlier this year in a special election called when longtime incumbent Roy Goodman resigned.

Ms. Krueger is a liberal ideologue who is far to the left of her Democratic colleagues in Albany. Mr. Eristoff, on the other hand, is a moderate Republican who would, if elected, work with the Senate’s majority during next year’s policy and budget battles.

Mr. Eristoff was an effective Council member and commissioner. He would be an important voice in Albany, and would better represent the views of Upper East Side residents than Ms. Krueger.

New York as a whole would be better off with Messrs. Pataki, Hevesi and Eristoff. That said, it’s hard to be envious of the task ahead of them. They will have tough decisions to make-the kind that may make them few friends and many enemies.