George Pataki: ‘Wrong and Stupid,’ Indeed

It’s no secret that Governor George Pataki’s third term has been an unmitigated disaster, as he and his staff have failed to deal with several of the critical issues facing the state: uncontrollable growth in Medicaid spending, the need to adequately fund schools in New York City, and the lack of a long-term source of funds for the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Mr. Pataki has also done severe damage to the state Republican Party, by failing to encourage new leadership in onetime G.O.P. bastions like Nassau and Westchester counties. With the notable exception of Michael Bloomberg, not one intelligent new face has appeared on the Republican Party line since Mr. Pataki took office. Just look at how U.S. Senator Charles Schumer won re-election with more than 70 percent of the vote, steam-rolling over the Republican’s sacrificial lamb, Howard Mills. Who? Exactly.

The Governor seems to believe his party can be a one-man band. His narcissistic self-enchantment has also left him deeply ignorant of trends in the nationwide Republican Party. This became all too apparent recently, when Mr. Pataki chastised his long-term political consultant, Arthur Finkelstein, for comments he made about the G.O.P. Mr. Finkelstein told a newspaper that George W. Bush’s re-election showed that the “political center has disappeared, and the Republican Party has become the party of the Christian right more so than in any other period in modern history.”

What was the Governor’s response to Mr. Finkelstein’s accurate diagnosis? Mr. Pataki said the comments were “wrong and stupid,” thereby confirming his own wrong-headedness and stupidity when it comes to having any grasp of the country’s dominant political trend. Mr. Pataki then added injury to insult by giving the green light to the Republican State Committee to sever its contracts with Mr. Finkelstein and his fellow consultant, Kieran Mahoney. Would anyone be shocked to discover, at some future point, that the committee was caving to pressure from the same Christian-right interest groups which Mr. Pataki denies have any influence?

What planet is George Pataki living on? It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower has been stripped of dignity and virtue, running on hot air, homophobia and a hopped-up, misguided version of Christianity, led by a President who is doing long-term damage to the country’s environment, security and solvency.

Mr. Finkelstein’s remarks were right on the money. By tacking so far to the right, and by inventing its own version of God who smiles beneficently on all of George Bush and Karl Rove’s latest creations, the G.O.P may very well be planting the seeds of its own destruction-presuming Americans wake up and realize that a rigidly held fundamentalist Christian viewpoint, when actualized in the political realm by those who exploit the Bible for their own purposes, makes us more kin than we might like to think to the Islamist militants who plot our destruction.

It is unfortunate that George Pataki seems to have lost the common sense which helped him in his improbable victory over Mario Cuomo 10 years ago. As he ponders running for a fourth term, or national office, he might want to get out a bit more.

… And All Out of Gimmicks For the State Budget

If George Pataki isn’t exactly counting down the days until 2005, it’s easy to understand why.

In Albany, as in state capitals throughout the area, the coming of the new year means the beginning of a new budget season. So in a few weeks, Mr. Pataki will deliver his annual budget message, and he will have little but bad news for New York’s taxpayers.

The state is facing a $6 billion deficit in the 2005-6 fiscal year. Complicating matters, the state needs to increase spending on New York City schools; it has to fund a $4.5 billion health-care program; and it must address the M.T.A.’s fiscal crisis.

Mr. Pataki and the State Legislature have confronted bad budgets in the past, but these things have a cumulative effect. Mr. Pataki and his cohorts, State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, closed previous deficits with dubious gimmicks. This time around, hard decisions are unavoidable. The state can’t issue bonds based on future revenues from tobacco settlements. We’ve done that. The state can’t pass an income-tax surcharge on high earners. We’ve done that.

For two decades, spanning the Cuomo and Pataki administrations, Albany has steadfastly refused to reform state spending practices. When confronted with deficits, the Governor and legislative leaders turned red ink to black by selling off assets or borrowing against future revenues or engaging in some other reckless flimflam. But now the day of reckoning has dawned.

Gimmicks won’t close this gap, because the state has used every gimmick it has-except one. Casino gambling is all the rage in Albany, where some actually are suggesting that Mr. Pataki close the deficit by borrowing against casino revenues-even though the casinos themselves, proposed for the Catskills, haven’t even broken ground yet.

Mr. Pataki and the legislative leaders no doubt will be tempted to find an easy, or less painful, solution to this dilemma. But Albany’s refusal to deal with reality got us in this jam in the first place. The casino-revenue plan is just the sort of gimmick that leads to short-term relief and a long-term headache.

It’s time Albany’s leaders earned their salary by weighing the options, making hard decisions and then explaining those decisions to voters. This novel approach would go a long way towards resolving our permanent fiscal crisis. It might also cause us to reconsider our opinions of the three men who run state government.

Jack Newfield

With the death of journalist Jack Newfield, New York has lost an authentic voice and a tireless champion, while we at The Observer have lost a treasured former colleague. Mr. Newfield’s byline appeared in several city newspapers, including this one, and he left his mark wherever he went. He had that rare combination of compassion and common sense, which made his advocacy for the poor, the disenfranchised and the alienated all the more powerful. He never forgot that he was a kid from Bedford-Stuyvesant, and that there were thousands like him who never made it out of the old neighborhood.

How he cherished this city! His love for New York and its people was matched by his contempt for those who would do us harm, whether they were crooked politicians, ruthless mobsters or unfeeling bureaucrats.

The Observer extends its condolences to his wife, Janie, his children, Rebecca and Joseph, and his legions of friends and fans.

Holiday Wishes

As 2004 draws to a close and families gather for the holidays, New Yorkers have much to be grateful for. Three years after suffering the worst terrorist attacks in world history, the city has made a remarkable recovery. Employment is edging up, tourism is booming, new Broadway shows and restaurants are bustling, and apartment prices are at all-time highs. Thanks to the work of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, crime continues to drop to all-time lows, as New York maintains its distinction of being the safest large city in America. And under the guidance of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, millions of dollars of private money are flowing into the public schools.

Of course, long-term growth will depend on a strong national economy. And New Yorkers are rightly concerned that, with George W. Bush at the helm, the horizon is looking a bit ominous. But this is surely a time of year to put the political aside in favor of the personal, to embrace the local over the global, and to be thankful for the enduring charms and unexpected changes which make New York the world’s most vibrant, satisfying city.

The Observer would like to thank our readers and advertisers, and to extend our wishes for a peaceful, joyful holiday and a very happy 2005.