Mayor’s Team: We Got Stiffed In Pataki Deal

Since taking office a year ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has invested a huge amount of capital-political and otherwise-in his fellow Republican, Governor George Pataki. Mr. Bloomberg refused to discuss tax hikes during Mr. Pataki’s re-election bid last year, sacrificing some of his own credibility to provide the Governor with political cover. The Mayor gave hundreds of thousands of dollars of his personal fortune to help finance Mr. Pataki’s campaign, and lent the Governor his mansion and private jet for fund-raisers and political trips.

This largesse, Mr. Bloomberg’s advisers privately suggested, would result in great dividends for the city upon Mr. Pataki’s re-election, perhaps in the form of a revived commuter tax or even a generous state aid package for the city.

But the Mayor’s investment has yet to pay off, and some senior Bloomberg administration officials are growing angry with the Governor, accusing him of breaking what was a tacit deal between the two men.

“After a year of Mayoral loyalty, the Governor has left the Mayor completely hanging,” one senior Bloomberg administration official told The Observer on condition of anonymity. “He’s provided no support in real terms, by restoring the commuter tax or providing other aid. And he’s left the Mayor hanging on his decision to raise property taxes. He could have said, ‘Times are tough, the Mayor has done the right thing.’ He’s provided no help at all. The Mayor kept his side of the bargain and the Governor hasn’t kept his.”

Mr. Pataki has refused to consider a restoration of the city’s commuter tax, which brought in about $400 million in annual revenue until it was abolished in 1999, and has offered only the most general assurances of imminent state aid. Perhaps most galling, Mr. Pataki, who has strong credentials among fiscal hard-liners, has failed to offer any effective rhetorical defense of the Mayor, who is under fierce assault from conservatives for raising property taxes.

“The Mayor paid him one of the great political favors of all time by not discussing raising taxes during the election,” the senior Bloomberg administration official continued. “There’s been no similar political payback. The Mayor has made a tough decision on taxes, going up against the right wing, and the Governor has provided him no cover at all.”

To be fair, there’s still time for the state to come through with financial help for the city in its forthcoming executive budget. And according to informed sources, state officials are close to securing a deal between the city and the Port Authority that would deliver the city hundreds of millions of dollars in back rent for the airports.

Still, Mr. Bloomberg could use extensive help on other fronts. The Mayor is plummeting in the polls, largely because of his decision to raise property taxes; a New York Times poll recently placed his approval rating at an abysmal 31 percent. As it happens, Mr. Bloomberg’s slip in popularity can in part be traced to the huge amount of political fallout he has absorbed for the Governor. Mr. Bloomberg has gone to great lengths to help Mr. Pataki, even when it meant embarrassing himself in the process. His refusal to discuss tax hikes during last year’s gubernatorial election virtually insured that he would be pilloried for reversing his stance when he abruptly called for them after Mr. Pataki’s reelection.

Now that the election has passed, Mr. Bloomberg has yet to reap similar political assistance from the Governor. Unlike the Mayor, who has steadily painted the most dire of fiscal portraits, Mr. Pataki continues to be studiously evasive about the depths of the crisis gripping the region. This has effectively forced Mr. Bloomberg to deal with the fiscal crisis alone, stranding him in the lonely role of persistent bearer of bad news, an image that was best summed up by a recent New York Post headline: “Gloomberg.”

There’s a reason Mr. Pataki is unwilling to be candid on fiscal matters. It makes it easier to hold the line on taxes, which he must do in order to keep his conservative base happy and protect his rumored aspirations to join the Bush administration. But it also has further isolated Mr. Bloomberg, directly undercutting the Mayor’s insistence that tax hikes are necessary to extricate the city from the worst financial crisis it has faced in a generation.

One senior Pataki administration official shrugged at the idea that Mayoral supporters had hoped to be rewarded with new taxes after the election.

“Maybe there were people who thought the Governor was saying things with a wink and a nod and would change his mind after the election,” the senior official said. “Now they’re finding out that he really did mean it, and perhaps they are disappointed. Clearly, they just don’t know this guy.”

Another Pataki administration official was more blunt. “It’s clear and simple: George Pataki is a Republican, and Mike Bloomberg is a liberal Democrat. Why would a Republican want to support a liberal Democrat’s addiction to taxing and spending?”

They’re Still Pals

To be fair, relations between the Mayor and Governor are in many ways stronger than they have been in decades, despite rumblings from some Bloomberg administration officials. And Mr. Pataki is facing (whether he admits it or not) a huge fiscal crisis on the state level, making it tough to deliver a generous aid package for the city without provoking cries of jealousy from other localities. Mr. Bloomberg, ever the diplomat, tends to downplay future expectations from the state and focuses on past assistance from Mr. Pataki, pointing out that the Governor delivered on the Mayor’s request to be given control of the schools.

“The Mayor has had and continues to have a strong and productive relationship with the Governor, and knows that he has been and will be there when we need him,” said Ed Skyler, the Mayor’s press secretary, adding that any complaints within the administration about Mr. Pataki were merely “off-the-record sniping.” And Michael McKeon, a spokesman for the Governor, added: “The Governor and the Mayor have an excellent working relationship.”

Still, there’s no question that the relationship has generated far greater returns for the Governor than it has for the Mayor. For starters, there’s money: In just the past year and a half, Mr. Bloomberg has donated $1.2 million to Mr. Pataki’s campaign and to the state G.O.P., which is controlled by the Governor and provided the machinery for his re-election victory.

Mr. Bloomberg gave the state G.O.P. $500,000 on Oct. 3, a year after donating $705,000 to the party’s housekeeping committee. He also gave Mr. Pataki’s re-election campaign a donation of $12,500. Mr. Bloomberg also lent Mr. Pataki his East 79th Street mansion for a fund-raiser with President Bush last spring. At around the same time, he lent Mr. Pataki his private jet for a political trip to Washington, D.C., where the Governor attended a pro-Israel rally.

While these gifts might not constitute an extreme sacrifice for a man of Mr. Bloomberg’s wealth, he has been no less generous with his political capital, which is in considerably shorter supply. Mr. Bloomberg ceded the leading role on lower Manhattan redevelopment to Mr. Pataki-until it became clear that this role was becoming a political liability for the Governor. At that point, Mr. Pataki seemed to vanish, his hologram-like image replaced by that of Mr. Bloomberg, who stepped forward to assume the position of front man.

And when subway and bus workers were threatening to strike in December, Mr. Bloomberg stepped up and took the full brunt of the heat and the blame. This constituted another huge favor for Mr. Pataki, who was so absent from the proceedings that many New Yorkers forgot that it’s the Governor, not the Mayor, who controls the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Now Mr. Bloomberg’s advisers can only hope that Mr. Pataki will assemble some sort of assistance package that will allow City Hall to argue that the political hits the Mayor has taken on the Governor’s behalf were worth it all along.

“For more than a year, Bloomberg did all the political heavy lifting while Pataki shielded himself,” said Democratic political analyst Richard Schrader. “Now Pataki’s political need to hold the line on taxes has led him to deny the Mayor any kind of clear-cut political achievement in Albany. He’s not providing Bloomberg with a shred of political help-effectively reducing him to the role of supplicant in Albany.”

-Additional reporting by Josh Benson .