George Pataki Enters Presidential Contest

By John Celock

Sticking to themes similar to his three terms in Albany, former New York Gov. George Pataki formally entered the Republican presidential race Thursday.

Pataki, who left the governor’s mansion in 2007, highlighted his record – including serving as governor on Sept. 11, 2001 – along with themes of smaller government and a strong foreign policy as he kicked off his long shot bid for the White House. Pataki’s entry into the presidential contest comes as no surprise, as he has been moving towards the race during multiple trips to New Hampshire in recent months. Pataki made his formal entrance into the contest during a rally in Exeter, N.H. Thursday following the release of a video announcement Thursday morning.

“I have never been one to dwell on problems, I am a solutions guy,” Pataki said in his speech. “When you grow up on a farm, when you have a problem you don’t ask government for a solution, you solve it.”

Pataki spent much of his speech discussing his background including growing up on a farm in Peekskill, N.Y. and his work as governor. He highlighted his low standing in the polls by saying that he would not be daunted by his current standing in the far flung GOP field, based on what was his long shot 1994 bid for the governorship, when he unseated three term Gov. Mario Cuomo (D).

Pataki used his speech to take shots at the other New York candidate in the race, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton. He said that he and Republicans represented the middle class, while saying that Clinton’s recent high paying speeches show that the Democrats are not the party o the middle class.

“She speaks for the middle class?” Pataki said. “They are the party of privilege, we are the party of the middle class.”

Pataki and Clinton share a long history, with her first term representing New York in the U.S. Senate overlapping with the second half of Pataki’s governorship. Clinton won her Senate seat in 2000 defeating then U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio (R), who was backed by Pataki.

Pataki highlighted a need for less government, along with more secure borders and a stronger military. Pataki said that the country needs to be welcoming to immigrants, while also ending illegal immigration. Pataki highlighted his family’s roots in Hungary in his speech, a familiar theme during his gubernatorial campaigns.

Sticking to one of the main themes of his 2002 reelection campaign for a third term, Pataki highlighted serving as governor during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks during his speech and on the video. The video showed footage of Pataki in the days after the terrorist attacks, including him and his wife, Libby, escorting then President George W. Bush, then first lady Laura Bush and then New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg during a memorial event. The video also showed images of the World Trade Center memorial site in Lower Manhattan and Pataki at the newly built World Trade Center buildings.

“It was a horrible time for us and I am sure for all of you as well,” he said in his speech.

Pataki had launched the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site, a process that stretched out for over a decade following the attacks, being bogged down in cost overruns and other delays.

Pataki has practiced law since leaving the governorship in 2007. Prior to his 12 years in the governor’s mansion, Pataki served as Peekskill’s mayor, as a state assemblyman and one two year term in the state Senate. He launched a long shot bid for the governorship in 1994 that gained steamed after his endorsement by then U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato (R-N.Y.), who helped secure GOP backing for Pataki. Pataki narrowly defeated Cuomo following a campaign marked by Pataki’s support for the death penalty against the anti-death penalty Cuomo and the Republican’s push for tax cuts.

Pataki’s 12 years as governor were highlighted by signing a death penalty bill into law, tax cuts and a push for environmental and land conservation programs. Pataki also oversaw the creation of Indian casinos in Upstate New York, including in downtown Niagara Falls, and a decrease in welfare recipients in the state. Pataki’s administration was also known for frequent conflicts with students and faculty at the State University of New York, following higher education budget cuts. Pataki did push the creation of Centers for Excellence at SUNY campuses in Upstate New York in an effort to push economic development.

Pataki’s first term was marked by a long running feud with his then lieutenant governor, Betsy McCaughey Ross. McCaughey Ross had been elected on Pataki’s ticket in 1994 but became a Democrat following Pataki dropping her from his 1998 ticket. She would then lose a 1998 bid for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Pataki’s New Hampshire rally included brief remarks in Spanish, a frequent part of his 2002 reelection campaign, when he made a push for GOP outreach to the Hispanic community. In 2002 he launched the Amigos de Pataki campaign statewide. He also tapped the first Latina to seek statewide office, Dora Irizarry, to run for state attorney general on the 2002 Republican ticket. Irizarry lost in a landslide to Democratic incumbent Eliot Spitzer and now serves as a federal judge in Brooklyn.

Libby Pataki, now the tourism director in Putnam County, N.Y., used her remarks introducing her husband, acknowledging the uphill nature of the coming contest.

“Are we concerned that this might be an uphill battle, understandably,” she said. “Are we prepared for a struggle and an uphill battle, absolutely.