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Pataki ready to be underdog once again (NY Blade, 8.5.05)

Pataki ready to be underdog once again
Governor’s gay-friendly record could hurt a potential presidential run
By James Withers
New York Blade News
August 5, 2005

After months of speculation, Gov. George Pataki made it official last week and announced he would not seek a fourth term. Instead, many political experts expect Pataki to make a run for the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 2008.

“In New York, there is no better opportunity to serve than to serve as your governor,” Pataki said. “You have given me that privilege three times over, a job that I love, a responsibility I have embraced, and an office that I have been honored to hold for the last 10 1/2 years. Your help, your dedication, your trust has given me the tremendous honor and privilege to serve as your governor. I thank you for that honor, and I thank you for that privilege.”

Pataki, who previously served in the Legislature and was the mayor of Peekskill, N.Y., came to prominence in 1994 when the Republican beat Democratic incumbent Mario Cuomo. Since winning the office Pataki has had an easy go when he ran for reelection in 1998 and 2002.

“George Pataki did what many considered to be impossible, not once but three times. Despite running in a state that has millions more Democrats than Republicans, he defeated Mario Cuomo in 1994, and was returned to office in 1998 and 2002 by historic margins,” said state GOP chairman Stephen Minarik in a written statement.

“Gov. George Pataki is a very brilliant tactician when it comes to politics,” said Bill Schmidt, second term gay Republican City Councilman from Peekskill and a long-time friend of the governor’s. “From mayor of Peekskill all the way up to governor he has unseated an incumbent.”

Deciding not to run for a fourth term might be another example of political acumen because if the polls are correct, Pataki’s numbers are down. This past May, even after a state budget was passed on time, Pataki’s approval ratings according to a Quinnipiac University poll was only at 36 percent.

Pataki did not say what was next for him, but one of the worst-kept secrets in New York is he’s considering a run in 2008 for the GOP presidential nomination. Pataki recently delivered a number of speeches in Iowa and elsewhere outside New York to raise his national profile.

However, a national run presents challenges because Pataki is viewed by many as an ally on gay equality. Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, was unequivocal in his defense of Pataki.

“It is fair to say the George Pataki is the best governor gays and lesbians have had on their issues,” Van Capelle said. “If anybody was looking at specific accomplishments Gov. Pataki has delivered and matched those when compared with anyone else who has been there in Albany before him. He has the best record on LGBT issues when compared to any other New York governor.”

Van Capelle pointed to Pataki’s signing of the Sexual Orientation Nondiscrimination Act (SONDA) in 2002 and his support of other legislation, such as the hate crime bill and domestic partner rights, as examples of the Pataki record.

Tom Wahl, director of the Log Cabin Republicans in New York State, agrees and thinks Pataki should get credit for being a leader in pushing the gay rights agenda.

“I think his tenure has been extraordinary for those of us in the state,” Wahl said. “He has been extremely progressive and inclusive in his administration.”

“I think he has come a long way during his tenure on this issue. His crowning achievement will always be the passage of SONDA,” said Patrick Murphy, presently an openly gay GOP candidate for District 4 (Upper Eastside).

Despite this, Pataki has not announced any support for same-sex marriage. Schmidt does not believe that should be held against him. “He has not been a leader on marriage, but very few governors, Democratic or Republican have used political capital on marriage so I can’t fault him there,” Schmidt said.

“I think people look at the issue of marriage and get hung up on that issue,” Van Capelle said. “Maybe that is going to be the legacy of Pataki. He is an enigma. He is a conservative in some issues, but on others he is a progressive. However, at the end of the day, he has done things for gays and lesbians and we’re better for it. He has pushed the envelope and has allowed others to go farther.”

It would be unfair to say all New Yorkers give Pataki glowing reviews.

“I think Pataki’s reputation on LGBT concerns rests on two bills he signed into law: the hate crimes bill and SONDA. Unfortunately neither had explicitly transgendered language,” said Pauline Park, chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy.

While Pataki might have earned some political capital here in New York it remains to be seen how his gay-friendly vision will work in a party where social conservatives carry most of the clout when it comes to the national scene.

“It would be difficult for our governor to be nominated as presidential candidate because the current structure of the party is a bit more conservative than his moderate and reasonable views,” Wahl said.

Pataki’s decision not to run leaves the state GOP at a slight disadvantage with no one stepping foward to challenge State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, whom has announced his decision to seek the office and is favored to win the Democratic nomination. Wahl wants someone just like Pataki to get the nod.

“We are hopeful the Republican Party will endorse someone who will be as big tent-oriented as George Pataki has been,” Wahl said.

photo caption:

Gov. George Pataki announced last week that he would not be a candidate for reelection. Pataki hasn’t announced his future intentions, but indications are he is considering a presidential run in 2008. His gay-friendly record could help him on the national stage with moderates, but may hurt him in the primaries with social conservatives.

This article originally appeared in the 5 August 2005 issue of the New York Blade News, which is now defunct.

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