It was not that long ago that Michael Bloomberg and George Pataki seemed determined to protect their relationship from the tensions that invariably come between a New York Mayor and a New York Governor. The two Republicans looked extremely comfortable with each other in their many public appearances, and seemed to understand that their futures were very much intertwined. They even shared a girlfriend, sort of-the Mayor’s companion, Diana Taylor, works for the Governor as the state’s Superintendent of Banks.
But now all that is forgotten. The Mayor and the Governor are reviving comparisons to the frosty relations between John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller, or Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo. Now their public appearances are brief and perfunctory, like the one earlier this month at the opening of the Millennium High School in lower Manhattan. The two stood together because they had to, then the Mayor left without taking questions while the Governor faced a scrum of reporters. Before he left, the Mayor tried to make light of their differences-he noted, in mock-serious tones, that he and Mr. Pataki were working out a “very serious and well-publicized state-city problem.” Mr. Bloomberg had expressed his wish to march in a parade with Jennifer Lopez, but, he said, “the State Superintendent of Banks”-that would be Ms. Taylor-”thinks J. Lo should be marching with the Governor instead of me.”
Yuks all around. The Mayor then mumbled a promise to “come to a resolution” on the problems bedeviling the two Republicans and their staffs.
The laughter died quickly-and right now, there seems to be no resolutions of any sort on the horizon. The Mayor’s advisers note that Mr. Bloomberg has gone from denying the existence of any disagreements to carrying them on in public. “He has learned this is different from business,” said one City Hall staff member. “It’s not in his interest to keep everything private and behind closed doors. If you air these things in public, the public becomes your ally. You can bring them to the negotiating table.”
The Mayor’s supporters see it this way: The Governor is taking deliberate political shots at the Mayor-blowing a half-billion-dollar hole in the budget days after the Mayor said the city had turned a corner, and setting up a state commission to reform education without any input from the Mayor. The Bloomberg people think the Governor is trying to put the Mayor in his place.
But the Governor’s people express a range of emotions, from confusion to fury. They say they have no idea why the Mayor reacted as he did to the Governor’s position on refinancing city debt from the 1970′s. “Why won’t he just settle?” asked a senior Republican strategist. The dispute, which concerns the Governor’s attempt to block the refinancing scheme, is now in court. As for the Governor’s education panel, Mr. Pataki’s aides say the Mayor jumped the gun, that the plan was to include him all along.
“We’re going to be adding more people to [the education panel] from the city and across the state as we go forward,” the Governor said at Millennium High School. “We’re going to be reaching out to every interested group to get their ideas and input.”
Some of the Governor’s people believe that the Democrats in Mr. Bloomberg’s administration are out to make the Republican Governor look bad. And they complain that the Mayor continues to do business with the Governor’s public enemy No. 1: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat.
Relations between Albany and City Hall have been deteriorating since the spring, when the Governor refused to give the Mayor his coveted commuter tax. Then, in the summer, Mr. Pataki blew up the bond deal that would have given the city $500 million a year in budget relief for the next five years. Tensions continued through the blackout, when a state agency ordered Con Edison to turn on the juice upstate first-until the Mayor threatened to sue. And then, of course, there was the education panel.
The bond-sale dispute was a sure sign that the two men were at odds. It played out like a campaign, complete with late-afternoon, surprise e-mailed press releases, ambush-like court appearances and private spin sessions.
Yes, the Governor had long complained about the deal, under which the state would pay $170 million for 30 years to pay off $2.5 billion in debt left over from the 1970′s fiscal crisis. But he also complained about lots of things in the budget-and then looked the other way as they went through. Not this time.
The Mayor’s people were furious. To them, the bond-sale gambit was a direct attempt by the Pataki people to screw up the Mayor’s political comeback. They point out that it came within days of a well-publicized Bloomberg speech in which the Mayor argued that the city had made it through its darkest hours. One Bloomberg ally-who once was a fan of Mr. Pataki-now foams at the mouth when the subject of the Governor comes up.
The Mayor’s reaction to the education panel solidified the impression that city-state relations are not what they were a year ago. The panel includes no members of the Bloomberg administration or his Department of Education. Even so, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, an advocacy group whose lawsuit prompted the need for statewide education reform, reacted mildly. Not so the Mayor.
“There is just no way the Governor could have not involved or informed the Mayor by mistake,” said one member of Team Bloomberg. “He is way too smart for that. So that means he did it on purpose.” To them, this is war-that is, a war over policy. They continue to insist there is nothing personal.
But the Governor’s people seem genuinely perplexed. They say the panel isn’t just about the city; it’s about the whole state-schools structure. And they say perhaps the Mayor has forgotten this.
The clock is ticking now: The Republican National Convention is just 12 months away. National G.O.P. officials are absorbed with George W. Bush’s problems right now and have little time for tensions between the host city’s Mayor and the host state’s Governor, both of them Republicans.
But they may have to consider an intervention.