George Pataki turned up in the cornfields of Iowa last weekend, after giving his aides the green light to whisper loudly in reporters’ ears that he was there to test the waters for a 2008 Presidential campaign. Who does he think he’s kidding? The Governor has been sending mixed messages about whether he’ll run for a fourth term in Albany this November, and who can blame him: Polls indicate that his likely Democratic opponent, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, would trounce him. Having bungled his third term as Governor in spectacular fashion, Mr. Pataki’s chances of winning a fourth term are slim. But rather than make a semi-dignified retreat into private life, he now apparently looks in the mirror and hears the opening bars of “Hail to the Chief.”
Mr. Pataki is the type of politician who likes to run for office but is uncomfortable with the task of governing. He is a dangerous blend of affable laziness, a man whose ambition far exceeds his capacity for leadership. Simply put, his reach exceeds his grasp.
Perhaps Mr. Pataki takes his inspiration from the current occupant of the White House, who offers proof that a truly incompetent candidate can be hoisted into the Oval Office. But George W. Bush has something Mr. Pataki does not: a canny political ability and likeability. In addition, Mr. Pataki lacks the support of the far right wing of the party: His pro-gun control, pro-abortion positions make him an outcast among Republican powerbrokers of the 21st century. But that’s not the worst of his problems: Even if the G.O.P. were to pull back from the frothy pronouncements and reckless policies of men like Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and start to embrace moderate candidates, Mr. Pataki would still have to run on his record.
Fortunately for him, as he glad-handed his way through a minor-league ball game and a county fair in Iowa, no one asked Mr. Pataki about his record. No one mentioned that New York State is facing a $6 billion deficit in the 2005-6 fiscal year, and that the current debt load of $49 billion has been projected to rise to $54.6 billion in five years. (It was $27.6 billion in 1995, when Mr. Pataki took office.) Should he run in the Republican Presidential primary, his opponents will surely ask him about those numbers. They’ll want to know why he and his cohorts in the State Legislature consistently turned red ink into black by selling off assets or borrowing against future revenues or engaging in some other reckless flimflam. They’ll certainly be curious to hear why he stood by and did nothing as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority sat on the $570 million that was earmarked for improving security on the city’s subways and commuter rail lines. Furthermore, it’s hard to see how the national Republican Party will shower him with affection, given how he’s damaged the party by failing to encourage new local leadership in onetime G.O.P. strongholds like Nassau and Westchester counties. But Mr. Pataki apparently doesn’t get it. While he’s at it, why doesn’t he propose State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno as his running mate, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as Secretary of the Treasury? That way, all three men could imperil the whole country and not just New York State.
George Pataki lacks what every successful man or woman needs most: an honest friend to tell him when he’s acting like a moron.
Giff’s Gaffe Political campaigns provide a window on the character of a candidate, and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller’s deceptive though probably legal use of $1.6 million in taxpayer funds to mail fliers to potential voters is just a bit too clever and too devious. And apart from any question of motive, one must question Mr. Miller’s intelligence: Didn’t he realize he would be found out? The public doesn’t like it when politicians play fast and loose with their money.
The mailings stirred interest because Mr. Miller hopes to be the Democratic candidate for Mayor this fall. While brochures extolling City Council accomplishments are nothing new, these were notable for the vast scope of the mailing and the prominence given to photos of a beaming Mr. Miller. When initially questioned about the mailing in June, Mr. Miller’s office said it had cost $37,000 and gone to 10,000 New Yorkers. Well, now we know that the actual cost was a bit higher than that—4,200 percent higher, to be precise. It turns out that five million pieces of mail were sent, blanketing city households. One piece, praising the Speaker’s efforts to bring down class size in public schools, cost $439,412 and was sent to 1.2 million homes.
Mr. Miller’s so-called rationale—that he needed to mobilize voters to help him challenge Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget priorities—is simply not credible. Whatever Giff Miller learned at Princeton and as a Council member, it apparently wasn’t how to run for citywide office, when nothing can be hidden from the public.
The Secret to a Perfect Summer Weekend It’s conventional wisdom that New Yorkers will go to any length to escape the city on summer weekends, from sharing a beach house with people they can’t stand the rest of the year, to going deeply into debt to rent or buy their own home in the mountains or by the sea.
But just how happy are they? Take a look at their typical weekend: A great deal of it is spent in traffic that’s worse than Sixth Avenue. First, a traffic jam on the Long Island Expressway, then bumper-to-bumper gridlock in the quaint Hamptons towns anytime they need to go out for a meal—in a crowded, second-rate restaurant—during the weekend. And don’t forget the deer ticks lurking in the bushes. Moreover, because the house is so seldom occupied, nothing works. So after an exhausting day—which includes shopping, cleaning and repairing the plumbing, wiring, heating, air-conditioning, sprinkler system, tennis court and pool—it’s early to bed on Saturday, because they have to get up at dawn on Sunday to beat the traffic back to the city. By the time September comes, they are dog-tired, still as grumpy as they were in May, their bank accounts as depleted as their spirits. Likewise, those who favor weekends upstate or in the Berkshires or Litchfield County or the Jersey Shore must contend with fierce mosquitoes, large black flies and disturbing dining experiences—in other words, lousy food.
Meanwhile, those who choose to spend weekends in the city are having a grand time. The streets are quiet and the stress level is palpably lower. Museums are open for business and theater tickets are easily obtained. For those who crave nature, Central Park offers 26,000 trees, 275 species of birds, 150 acres of lakes and streams, and 58 miles of pedestrian paths. If you get hungry, the top restaurants have tables, and the farmers’ markets are full of fresh produce from the Catskills and Poconos.
But if you have friends who flee the city each weekend, let them go. If they knew what they were missing, they might stick around in the comfort of their air-conditioned apartment, where everything works.