To the outside observer, it looked as if Roger Stone was merely running Independence Party candidate Tom Golisano’s campaign for Governor. Actually, lots of insiders think Mr. Stone was carrying out a $50 million revenge fantasy against Governor Pataki. Mr. Stone, the former Nixon hand who is the brains behind Mr. Golisano, says that revenge has nothing to do with his efforts on behalf of the Rochester billionaire. Still, he doesn’t dispute that he has long harbored a desire to do as much damage as possible to Mr. Pataki and members of his inner circle.
Either way, Mr. Golisano handed Mr. Stone the ultimate weapon against Mr. Pataki: a seemingly endless sum of cash to spend on ads that he used to bludgeon the Governor on a multitude of fronts. Thanks to Mr. Stone’s handiwork, Mr. Pataki was struggling to stay over 50 percent on Election Day, an embarrassing performance that may have demolished whatever hopes Mr. Pataki may have had of being considered as a replacement for Vice President Dick Cheney in 2004.
“It’s enjoyable,” Mr. Stone told The Observer via cell phone from Mr. Golisano’s headquarters in Rochester. “Let me just say that I’m not unhappy with the byproduct. Any idea of him as a potent political powerhouse that could have helped carry New York State in 2004 is effectively dashed by this election. A candidate who gets less than 51 percent is never going to be the Vice Presidential nominee.” Mr. Pataki may wind up with slightly more than that figure, but Mr. Stone believes his point has been made.
Not, of course, that Mr. Pataki ever had a chance to be Vice President in the first place, Mr. Stone added. “The only people who seemed to believe he had a political future beyond Governor are the people on his staff. He’s essentially a liberal Democrat who has embraced higher taxes and spending. Perhaps he should seek the Vice Presidential slot on the Democratic ticket. He’d feel more at home.”
To hear Pataki partisans tell it, Mr. Stone played Mr. Golisano for a sucker, getting him to fund a multimillion-dollar bid that was never about anything except doing Mr. Pataki as much damage as possible. They say that Mr. Stone is still enraged by the fact that a state commission controlled by the Governor ruled that he had set up an unlawful lobbying front group for Donald Trump, his client at the time–a severe embarrassment to Mr. Stone.
“It’s obvious that Roger Stone was just looking for a horse in this race to settle old political scores,” said Kieran Mahoney, a senior Pataki adviser, noting that Mr. Stone had tried to run former Giants wide receiver Phil McConkey against Mr. Pataki before joining Mr. Golisano.
“He duped Golisano into spending good money after bad,” Mr. Mahoney said. “Golisano thought he was spending the money to become Governor, but it was just Roger Stone looking for revenge.”
Mike McKeon, the Governor’s spokesman, echoed Mr. Mahoney’s anger as results were trickling at the New York Hilton on Election Night. “Tom Golisano will go down as the biggest pigeon in the history of politics,” Mr. McKeon said. “He got his pocket picked by Roger Stone, who sold him a bill of goods. The great thing about America is that you don’t have to be a genius to be a billionaire, and Tom Golisano proved it.”
Mr. Mahoney charged that Mr. Stone kept the consulting fees coming by deceiving Mr. Golisano about his prospects.
“How do you keep Golisano writing more and more checks?” Mr. Mahoney asked rhetorically. “You tell him he has a chance to win, which was never true.”
Mr. Stone, for his part, maintains that Mr. Golisano did have a chance, and said that Mr. Pataki had benefited from a political press that went soft on the Governor. Referring to the endorsements of Mr. Pataki by The New York Times and the New York Post, Mr. Stone said: “It’s perfectly fine for The Times to endorse Pataki. But they should have included a disclaimer in their editorial saying the New York Times Company got $79 million from the state for a plush new corporate headquarters. Just disclose it, that’s all. The Post got $15.9 million in economic grants–a gift from George to Rupert [Post owner Rupert Murdoch].”
Mr. Stone dismissed any suggestion that he was motivated by revenge: “I just have a low regard for George Pataki. He’s not that talented.”