In September of last year, when the state Court of Appeals ruled that Richard Ravitch could legally assume the role of lieutenant governor, the decision was hailed as a huge victory for the Paterson administration and, perhaps, for the citizens of the state.
Ravitch was an expert on fiscal crises, helping rescue New York City from the brink of bankruptcy in the 1970s, and there was more than a little hope that he could hatch a plan to close the state’s massive budget gap.
It didn’t turn out that way.
“I feel very badly that I really have accomplished very little,” Ravitch lamented this morning in a breakfast conversation with former Mayor Ed Koch, co-hosted by The Observer, law firm Cozen O’Connor, accounting firm Marks Paneth & Shron, lobbying firm The McCaffrey Group and the Women Builders Council.
“I believed that the stated reason that they asked me to fill the role of the lieutenant governor was because everybody knew we faced fiscal problems and I had considerable public experience addressing them,” he said.
After six months of studying the problem, followed by a package of austere recommendations, the only support Ravitch could muster was from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “[The recommendations] were rejected by the governor–and by the attorney general, I might add. And the Senate had difficulty focusing on anything,” Ravitch said.
“There were occasions in which I helped various commissioners solve problems or individual members of the Legislature,” he said, “but I can’t pretend that I accomplished anything significant.”
Ravitch’s inability to sell his budget plan didn’t diminish him in the eyes of Mayor Koch. “There is no one that I know who knows as much about good government as does Dick Ravitch,” Koch told the moderators, Ken Fisher and Observer editor Kyle Pope. Koch recommended Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo make Ravitch one of his first hires. (Ravitch said later he had not been offered a job in the new administration, and doesn’t plan to seek one.)
In fact, Koch had plenty of advice for the incoming governor. He suggested Cuomo–the scion of the state’s Democratic politics–take a few lessons from his Republican neighbor to the south.
“The Governor of the state of New Jersey–he’s a poster boy!” Koch said of Chris Christie. “I just read an article in one of the papers, that wherever he goes, he’s lauded because he tells the truth. I mean, the truth is so important and people recognize it. You have the ability to say: ‘This is where I stand. And you don’t like it? Shove it!'” Koch said.
“And that’s what he does! And he gets applauded. That’s how Andrew should conduct himself, and every other official at every other level of government.”
In his remarks, Ravitch declined to pin the state’s problems on the much-maligned Legislature. The problem, he said, falls squarely at the feet of the public.
“The first problem is us,” he said. “I still think of myself–lieutenant governors have absolutely no vote and no power to do anything–so I still view myself as a citizen, which I will be formally again in a couple of weeks.”