|53rd Governor of New York|
January 1, 1995 – December 31, 2006
|Preceded by||Mario Cuomo|
|Succeeded by||Eliot Spitzer|
|Member of the New York Senate
from the 37th district
January 1, 1993 – December 31, 1994
|Preceded by||Mary B. Goodhue|
|Succeeded by||Vincent Leibell|
|Member of the New York State Assembly
from the 91st district
January 1, 1985 – December 31, 1992
|Preceded by||William J. Ryan|
|Succeeded by||Vincent Leibell|
|Mayor of Peekskill|
January 1, 1981 – December 31, 1984
|Preceded by||Fred Bianco|
|Succeeded by||Richard E. Jackson|
|Born||George Elmer Pataki
June 24, 1945
Peekskill, New York, U.S.
|Children||4, including Allison Pataki|
|Residence||Garrison, New York|
|Alma mater||Yale University (B.A.)
Columbia Law School (J.D.)
George Elmer Pataki (//; born June 24, 1945) is an American lawyer and Republican politician who served as the 53rd Governor of New York (1995–2006). An attorney by profession, Pataki was elected mayor of his hometown of Peekskill, New York and went on to be elected to the State Assembly and the State Senate. In 1994, Pataki ran for Governor of New York against three-term incumbent Mario Cuomo, defeating him by a margin of more than three points as part of the Republican Revolution of 1994. Pataki would himself be elected to three consecutive terms, and was the third Republican Governor of New York elected since 1923 (the other two were Govs. Thomas Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller). As of February 2018, Pataki is the last Republican to serve as Governor of New York and the last Republican to hold statewide office in New York.
In early 2015, Pataki began exploring a candidacy for the Republican nomination for President of the United States in 2016; he announced his candidacy on May 28, 2015. On December 29, 2015, Pataki ended his campaign before the Republican presidential primaries had begun.
Pataki was born in Peekskill, New York. Pataki's paternal grandfather was János (later John) Pataki (1883–1971) of Aranyos-Apáti, Austria-Hungary, who came to the United States in 1908 and worked in a hat factory. János had married Erzsébet (later Elizabeth; 1887–1975), also Hungarian-born, around 1904. Their son, Pataki's father, was Louis P. Pataki (1912–1996), a mailman and volunteer fire chief, who ran the Pataki Farm. Pataki's maternal grandfather was Matteo Laganà (born in Calabria, Italy in 1889), who married Agnes Lynch of County Louth, Ireland around 1914. Their daughter, Margaret Lagana, is Pataki's mother. Pataki has an older brother, Louis. George Pataki can still speak a little Hungarian today, as well as Spanish, French, and German.
After graduating from Peekskill High School, Pataki entered Yale University with George W. Bush in 1964 on an academic scholarship, and graduated in three years. While there Pataki served as Chairman of the Conservative Party of the Yale Political Union. Pataki participated in debates. He received his J.D. from Columbia Law School in 1970.
While practicing law at Plunkett and Jaffe, P.C. in Peekskill, Pataki became friends with Michael C. Finnegan, who would go on to be the architect of Pataki's ascendancy to power. Finnegan would go on to manage Pataki's campaigns for Mayor, State Assembly, State Senate, and the governorship. Finnegan was then appointed chief counsel to the governor in 1995, and played the key role in developing and negotiating nearly all of Pataki's early legislative success.
George Pataki first won elected office in November 1981. Pataki was elected Mayor of the City of Peekskill, which is located in the Northwestern part of Westchester County. Pataki defeated the Democratic incumbent Fred Bianco Jr., winning 70% of the vote. In November 1983, Pataki was re-elected Mayor, winning 74% of the vote.
In November 1984, George Pataki was elected to the New York State Assembly (91st D.), by defeating the one-term Democratic incumbent William J. Ryan, winning 53% of the vote. In November 1986, Pataki defeated Ryan in a rematch, capturing 63% of the vote. Pataki won a third term in November 1988, winning 74% of the vote against Democratic candidate Mark Zinna. Pataki won a fourth and final term in November 1990, winning over 90% of the vote, as he only faced a minor party candidate. He was an assemblyman in the 186th, 187th, 188th and 189th New York State Legislatures.
From 1983 to 1992, the 91st Assembly district included parts of Westchester, Orange, Rockland, and Putnam Counties. However, in 1992, Assembly Democrats substantially redrew the district boundaries, placing the newly renamed 90th Assembly district entirely within Westchester County. Instead of running in the newly redrawn district, Pataki decided to challenge seven-term incumbent Republican State Senator Mary B. Goodhue in the Republican primary by criticizing her for taking her grandchildren to Disney World and missing a vote in Albany. Pataki won the primary by a 52% to 48% margin. However, Goodhue was still going to appear on the November ballot on a minor party line. In November 1992, George Pataki won election to the New York State Senate in a 4-way race. Pataki served in the Senate of the 190th New York State Legislature, and ran for governor at the next election.
Pataki was a first term state senator from Westchester County when he launched his bid for the Republican nomination for governor in 1994. He said he launched the campaign because of his frustration in the Senate regarding how Albany worked and on tax issues. He was little known statewide and his campaign received a boost when he was endorsed by U.S. Sen. Al D'Amato. He received the party's endorsement at the spring state convention and easily defeated former State Republican Chairman Richard Rosenbaum in the September primary. Pataki was considered an underdog from the start since he was running against three term Gov. Mario Cuomo and because Pataki had little name recognition statewide. D'Amato reportedly backed Pataki because of a poll that showed a pro-choice, fiscal conservative from the New York City suburbs could win statewide for governor. The poll also showed a female running mate for lieutenant governor would help the ticket, thus leading to the selection of academic Betsy McCaughey as Pataki's running mate.
The polls had Governor Cuomo up by as much as ten points going into the final two weeks, but they then narrowed at the end. He made an issue of Cuomo seeking a fourth term as governor and pledged to serve only two terms in office. Cuomo was helped late in the race by the endorsement of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In the end, Pataki narrowly defeated Cuomo in the general election. Many, including George Pataki himself, believe Howard Stern's endorsement of Pataki was a major reason for his win. As a result, Stern was present at the podium with Pataki during his inauguration.
Pataki made up for a softer performance in New York City by running up a decisive margin outside of it, especially among upstaters disenchanted with Cuomo. Pataki won all but one county outside the Five Boroughs. Pataki was the first governor elected since Franklin D. Roosevelt to not come from one of the five boroughs of New York City.
Pataki was considered the frontrunner from the start of the 1998 campaign for governor. He was unopposed for the Republican nomination and paired with a new running mate, Judge Mary Donohue. The Democrats faced a primary battle between New York City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross, and former Transportation Commissioner James LaRocca. Vallone captured the Democratic nomination, with Thomas Golisano running as the Independence nominee and McCaughey Ross as the Liberal Party nominee. Pataki was easily reelected to a second term in office.
Pataki was considered a strong contender for a third term. He ran again on a ticket with Lt. Gov. Mary Donohue and the Democrats faced a primary battle between State Comptroller Carl McCall and former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo. Pataki emphasized his previous work and the need to have continuity following Sept. 11.
Pataki sought the nomination of the Independence Party of New York in his bid for a third term as well. He faced Thomas Golisano, the party's founder in his bid for the nomination. Pataki ran an active primary campaign and lost to Golisano. Donohue did win the primary for lieutenant governor and was both the running mate of Pataki and Golisano in the general election.
Pataki faced McCall and Golisano in the general election, during which he continued to emphasize his past work for the state. He easily defeated the two.
A Pataki-Cuomo rematch nearly occurred in the 2002 election. Mario's son Andrew Cuomo announced plans to run. However, he stumbled on April 17 (and ultimately withdrew before the primary at the urging of his mentor Bill Clinton) when Cuomo was quoted in the media as saying, regarding Pataki's performance post-9/11:
|The Pataki Executive Chamber|
|Lieutenant Governor||Betsy McCaughey||1995–1999|
|Secretary to the Governor||Bradford J. Race Jr.||1995–2002|
|John P. Cahill||2002–2007|
|General Counsel||Michael C. Finnegan||1995–1997|
|Communications Director||Zenia Mucha||1995–2000|
|Director of State Operations||James Natoli||1995–2007|
|Chief of Staff||Tom Doherty||1995–2003|
|Office of the Attorney General||Dennis Vacco||1995–1999|
|Office of the Inspector General||Roslynn R. Mauskopf||1995–2002|
|Office of the Comptroller||H. Carl McCall||1995–2003|
|Department of Agriculture and Markets||Donald R. Davidsen||1995–1999|
|Nathan L. Rudgers||1995–2005|
|Department of Banking||Neil Levin||1995–1997|
|Department of Civil Service||George C. Sinnott||1995–2004|
|Daniel E. Wall||2004–2007|
|Department of Corrections and Community Supervision||Glenn S. Goord||1995–2007|
|Department of Environmental Conservation||Michael D. Zagata||1995–1997|
|John P. Cahill||1997–2001|
|Education Department||Richard P. Mills||1995–2007|
|Department of Health||Barbara DeBuono||1995–1998|
|Insurance Department||Edward Muhl||1995–1997|
|Gregory V. Serio||2001–2005|
|Howard Mills III||2005–2007|
|Department of Labor||John E. Sweeney||1995–1997|
|James J. McGowan||1997–2000|
|Department of Motor Vehicles||Richard E. Jackson||1995–2000|
|Raymond P. Martinez||2000–2006|
|Department of Military & Naval Affairs||Michael Hall||1995–1997|
|John H. Fenimore V||1997–2001|
|Thomas P. Maguire||2001–2006|
|Joseph J. Taluto||2006–2007|
|Department of Public Service||John F. O'Mara||1995–1998|
|Secretary of State||Alexander Treadwell||1995–2001|
|Department of Taxation and Finance||Michael H. Urbach||1995–1999|
|Arthur J. Roth||1999–2003|
|Department of Transportation||John B. Daly||1995–1997|
|Joseph H. Boardman||1997–2005|
|Thomas J. Madison Jr.||2005–2007|
Pataki has been a long-time advocate of tax cuts during his administration and his time in the state legislature. He signed and sponsored several tax cuts during his first term in office and in addition made spending cuts to the budgets he proposed. He also pushed for the privatization of state entities.
In 2003 Pataki made a controversial budget proposal in which he proposed several tax cuts, despite the state's rising deficits due to drying up tax revenue from the once boom to now bust dotcom sector, and resulting tech layoffs. He also made cuts in education and health care funding, which some alleged would close emergency rooms and turn non-profit hospitals into for-profits. Pataki argued that new taxes would drive businesses out-of-state, reduce jobs and further compound the state deficit.
During the first years of Pataki's administration, he began to institute major spending cuts, which he has advocated for most of his career. Among the cost cutting initiatives was a push to privatize the World Trade Center from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. For more than 20 years, the governor's New York City office had been in the World Trade Center. The privatization effort took effect a few weeks before the September 11 attack when Larry Silverstein assumed a 99-year lease for $3.2 billion.
Despite Pataki campaigning against the New York State practice of not adopting an ontime budget by the start of the April 1 state fiscal year for over a decade, Pataki's first 10 years in office did not see the adoption of an ontime budget.
Pataki's term had been marked with annual debates with the State Legislature over the powers allocated to the Executive and Legislative Branches on the adoption of the state budget. Pataki argued that the state constitution and court rulings gave him the power to submit a budget that allocated revenue and set policy. Pataki said the Legislature could then only change the numbers but could not change any policy decisions made in the budget document. Pataki and the Legislature ended up in court and the courts ruled in Pataki's favor, giving him more budgetary power. In 2005, the Legislature placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allocate more budget power to them. Pataki led a successful public information campaign to defeat this provision and to retain his budget authority. In 2006, Pataki vetoed a large part of the budget adopted by the Legislature because of these rulings.
There was growing voter dissatisfaction with how the state government conducted its business. Two decades of late budgets and decision making by three men in a room on key issues led to voter anger and the defeat of several legislative incumbents. Pataki started to hold open sessions with legislative leaders on budget issues, and including minority leaders of the Senate and Assembly in these discussions. In addition, he again encouraged the adoption of an ontime budget, and in 2005 and 2006 the state budget was adopted on time.
Under the Pataki Administration, New York's credit rating was increased three times by Moody's Investors Service, a fact that he highlighted often before his critics. During his three terms in office, he introduced and approved more tax cuts than any of his predecessors. Following through on a campaign promise, Pataki led a push to cut both the individual and the corporate tax rates in New York. New York's infamously high income tax rate dropped by 20% on average, but an economic downturn following the attacks of September 11 and increasing state spending caused Sheldon Silver and Joseph Bruno to coordinate an effort to roll back a number of these cuts in 2003 over Pataki's veto power.
The STAR and STAR-Plus programs were also introduced during his governorship. The STAR program introduced tax relief for New York's homeowners and landowners on their school taxes. The STAR-Plus program was later introduced when relief was diminished by increasing school taxes, increasing spending and State Aid. In his third term Pataki challenged the Speaker of the Assembly, resulting in two Court of Appeals decisions sustaining the powers of the governor to formulate a statewide budget. These decisions have been used by Governor Paterson and Governor Cuomo to rein in legislative budget initiatives beginning in 2010. The Cato Institute gave Pataki a C for his fiscal policy during the three terms in office, saying that he wasn't the fiscal conservative that he originally claimed to be and that he had become a "big spender".
Pataki created a series of Empire Zones statewide, which served to spur economic growth in cities by providing tax incentives for businesses. In addition, he used the state's banking laws to create banking development zones to entice banks to settle in upstate cities. Pataki considered casino gaming an economic development program for upstate New York, and he sponsored the creation of an Indian casino in Niagara Falls and in Buffalo to spur economic development. He also promoted tourism practices for the upstate economy and created centers for excellence in the sciences in several upstate cities to spur economic growth.
Pataki's tenure had been marked with the long-standing Campaign for Fiscal Equity suit regarding the state's funding of public education. The CFE sued in order to get more state money for the New York City public schools and to guarantee a sound education for all students. Pataki fought the lawsuit, saying that the state should not pay for the increased funding and that the state constitution only guaranteed a sound education until 8th grade. Pataki filed several appeals for the decisions and the final decision will be made after he leaves office.
As Governor of New York, Pataki received grades of A in 1996, B in 1998, B in 2000, B in 2002, B in 2004, and D in 2006 from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, in their biennial Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors.
Pataki has been a long advocate of Native American casinos in upstate New York. He has proposed the creation of several casinos throughout Upstate with the revenue being shared by the state, tribe and municipal government. In the 1990s he was able to secure the creation of Turning Stone Resort & Casino on an Indian reservation outside Syracuse. His plans to create new casinos were blocked by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver until after the Sept. 11 attacks, when Silver was persuaded that more money could come into the state government. Pataki soon signed an agreement to create new casinos in the Catskills, Niagara Falls, and in Buffalo. The Seneca Niagara Casino opened in Niagara Falls in January 2003.
As a part of the creation of the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, an agreement was reached to give a percentage of the slot machine revenue to the City of Niagara Falls each year to spend on local tourism projects and projects relating to hosting the casino. Money was allocated for 2003, but disputes have come up since then. Part of the dispute is a claim by Niagara County to receive a share of the money for county government projects and another part had to do with restructuring the local commission charged with allocating the money. Pataki has called for the money to be given to a state entity he created to spur economic development in Niagara Falls, thus leaving the money under his control, a decision that is opposed by local leaders.
He heavily lobbied in favor of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, a gay rights bill that had languished in the state Senate for many years due to the opposition of Senate Leader Joseph Bruno. In late 2002, Bruno finally gave in; the bill passed the Senate and was signed into law by Pataki. Bruno also admitted in the spring of 2009 (while out-of-power and facing trial on corruption charges) that he personally favored same-sex marriage but never brought it the floor of the State Senate because the majority of his conference was against it, stating "This is America, and we have inalienable rights... Life is short, and we should all be afforded the same opportunities and rights to enjoy it."
Polls showed that the majority of New Yorkers wanted the state's death penalty laws restored. A bill to restore the death penalty passed the Legislature several years in a row, only to be vetoed by Mario Cuomo. Pataki made the issue a top priority of his and when the bill reached his desk he signed it into law in 1995. The state's Court of Appeals later ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in the form in which it was written (in the case of People v. LaValle), and the State Legislature has not passed a bill to restore it in a new form. During Pataki's 12 years as governor, not a single person was executed in New York State.
Being tough on crime was a major plank of Pataki's campaign for governor. In 2011, the administration touted statistics that illustrated that crime had steadily reduced during the 11 years Pataki had served as governor, bringing New York from the 6th most dangerous state in the nation to the 7th safest. During his time in office, he signed into law over 100 new bills to change New York’s criminal statutes. In 1995, Governor Pataki was able to uphold a campaign promise by reinstating capital punishment in New York with the Sentencing Reform Act. The reinstatement of the death penalty was later suspended by the New York Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) in a 4–3 decision. In 2000, Pataki helped lead the legislature in passing some of the then-strictest gun control laws in the country. Numerous aspects of the bill had been put forward by members of the Democratic-controlled Assembly but had never made it through the Republican held Senate. With numerous mass shootings in recent public memory, he urged a number of Republican Senators to support the bill, eventually passing it in a bipartisan effort. His administration also launched programs such as SAF-T (Statewide Anti-Fugitive Teams) and the 100 Most Wanted. The initiatives were aimed at disseminating descriptions of criminals who were evading law enforcement officials to promote the ability of average citizens to help aid in their capture. Versions of Megan's Law and Kendra's Law were integrated into New York's laws under the governor as well as a number of reforms to the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The changes to the Rockefeller laws were largely focused on inmates' ability to appeal for an early release from sentences that were passed on them under mandatory minimum sentencing statutes.
Under the Pataki Administration a number of new health care programs were created focusing on expanding care to the state's poorest citizens. In 1999, Governor Pataki signed into law comprehensive health care legislation that provided health insurance coverage, under Family Health Plus, to lower income adults who do not have health insurance through their employers. Child Health plus greatly expanded coverage for poorer families with children under 19 who did not qualify for Medicaid. By 2001, 530,000 children had been enrolled in the program. Family Health Plus would expand insurance coverage even further, offering free insurance to families and single adults who had too much income to be covered by Medicaid but could not afford insurance. Pataki also increased the affordability and availability of medication for seniors under New York's EPIC program by lowering fees and expanding eligibility. New York's 2003 ban on smoking in public places was passed and signed into law under the Pataki administration in the hopes that it would promote better health in New York and reduce health care cost overtime. Accessing his twelve years in office, The New York Times ran an editorial praising his work on health care.
Pataki has long been regarded as an environmentalist and he has made the environment and open space preservation a top priority of his administration. Pataki has conserved more land statewide and has pushed bond issues in referendums that provided more money to preserve land and clean up the state's rivers and lakes. He has been a long-standing advocate for cleaning up the Hudson River and in pushing stricter environmental regulations and penalties.
In 2005, Bloomberg Businessweek placed George Pataki among the 20 individuals it commended for their personal efforts to combat global warming, citing his Greenhouse Gas Task Force and efforts to increase New York's usage of renewable energies. In 1996, Pataki oversaw the creation and passage of the Clean Water/Clean Air Environmental Bond Act. The act put forth $1.75 billion for over 2,200 environmentally minded projects throughout the state. Projects were focused on improving drinking water quality, closing landfills, investing in recycling programs, cleaning up New York's polluted waterways, funding cleanup of Brownfields and clean-air projects. During his tenure, Pataki added over 1 million acres to the entirety of the protected open spaces of New York. He also worked to protect the drinking water of millions of New Yorkers through the Catskill Watershed Agreement. Through the agreement, the numerous small communities that surround the 19 reservoirs that provide drinking water for New York City received $1 billion in aid to assuage environmental issues and promote local development in return for accepting higher standards of environmental regulations to better protect the reservoirs. On Pataki's final day in office, The New York Times ran an editorial evaluating his twelve years as governor and praised his work on the environment.
Pataki has long vetoed increases to spending at the State University of New York and City University of New York. In addition he has vetoed increases to funding for the state's tuition assistance program and equal opportunity program. His higher education policies have included calling for laws to limit the amount of time a student can receive state tuition assistance while in a public university, which he says will increase the rate of graduation in four years. He has also appointed more SUNY and CUNY trustees who are against open enrollment and remedial education policies and who have pushed for a stricter core curriculum program in the public universities. Pataki was criticized for appointing his close friend and former budget director, Robert L. King, as the Chancellor of the State University of New York.
As a part of the CFE lawsuit, education advocates tried to seek state support and funding for mandatory pre-kindergarten classes in the state's public schools. Pataki blocked this measure, which had support from legislative leaders and was a pet issue of former Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross.
Pataki heeded mounting desire to allow New York to join numerous other states in the growing movement for Charter Schools. Over the course of his terms in office, Pataki would expand the availability of charter schools in New York City and raise the state's cap on the independent schools to 250. In coordination with Mayor Guilliani, Pataki pushed to begin disassembling the reputation of City University of New York system as a group of remedial schools. Starting in 1999, CUNY colleges would be required to drop their remedial courses over a 3-year period and restrict students who could not pass entry exams in an effort to deliver a higher quality college education through the city colleges. Pataki also put forth legislation that would lend mayors in New York's five largest cities greater control over their education systems. Through negotiations this authority was only awarded to the mayor of New York City as an attempt to overcome a system of school boards that many considered to be hampering efforts at reform.
Looking over his tenure, The New York Times ran an editorial that criticized Pataki for the lack of tangible political reform and the consolidation of power under his watch. Prior to Pataki's departure New York Post political writer Fred Dicker wrote a scathing critique of Pataki's tenure, accusing the Governor of broken promises, inattentiveness to his duties, and a focus on maintaining power. It was entitled "Good Riddance".
Pataki's New York City office had moved out of the World Trade Center in the months before the September 11, 2001, attacks to new offices on Third Avenue and Fifth Street.
Pataki and Giuliani appointed the LMDC to distribute nearly $10 billion in federal grants and to oversee the construction of a memorial, which was completed in 2011. Giuliani had to step down because of term limits and Pataki took the lead on the building process, though the Port Authority is a state-run agency and thus Giuliani had very little control in the rebuilding effort anyway.
The Port Authority owns the WTC site and Larry Silverstein is the site lease holder. Governor Pataki effectively controlled development at the WTC site by the power to appoint half the Port Authority commissioners and half the LMDC board members. In late 2002, the LMDC picked a plan dubbed Project THINK to replace the 10,000,000 square feet (930,000 m2) of lost space and build a memorial. Pataki intervened to support a plan by Daniel Libeskind entitled Memory Foundations. When offered a choice between the Libeskind or THINK plans, the official LMDC poll showed that the public preferred "Neither".
Although eventually most of Libeskind's plan was to be ignored, it established two concepts that will define the Pataki legacy at Ground Zero – the placement (and name) of the 1,776-foot (541 m) high Freedom Tower and the concept that the memorial be below street level. A symbolic cornerstone for the Freedom Tower with Pataki's name was laid on July 4, 2004, and after numerous design changes, construction commenced in May, 2006.
Pataki's 1994 running mate for lieutenant governor was Betsy McCaughey, an academic best known for her critique of the Clinton health care plan. McCaughey was selected because of her work on the Clinton health care plan. It is reported that Pataki choose McCaughey over sofa bed heiress Bernadette Castro for the spot. Castro was nominated for the U.S. Senate in 1994.
McCaughey faced problems with Pataki and Pataki's staff from the start. It is reported that Pataki did not like McCaughey's relationship with the press or her public discussion of policy differences the two had. McCaughey also lost support from Pataki when she said that D'Amato had made suggestive comments to her.
In April 1997, Pataki announced that he was dropping Lt. Gov. McCaughey Ross from his 1998 reelection ticket. McCaughey Ross said she would seek elected office in 1998 either as lieutenant governor, governor or to the U. S. Senate. In September of that year, she became a Democrat and unsuccessfully sought the governorship in that party's primary. She was on the 1998 general election ballot as the nominee of the Liberal Party for governor.
After dropping McCaughey Ross from his 1998 ticket, Pataki considered several replacement running mates. In the spring of 1998 he announced his choice of State Supreme Court Justice Mary Donohue for lieutenant governor. It is reported that Pataki also considered State Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro, Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples and State Sen. Mary Lou Rath for the lieutenant governorship as well. Naples would later join Pataki's Cabinet as State Motor Vehicles Commissioner.
In office, Lieutenant Governor Donohue was relegated to projects outside the governor's inner circle. She worked on school violence prevention, local government, small business, and homeland security issues. Many of her duties consisted of delivering speeches to groups around the state or filling in for Pataki at ceremonial events. Donohue kept a generally low profile around the state.
In 2002, it was reported that Pataki considering dropping Lt. Gov. Donohue from his ticket and asking her to run for state attorney general instead. It is reported that he considered Secretary of State Randy Daniels and Erie County Executive Joel Giambra for lieutenant governor. Pataki decided to keep Lt. Gov. Donohue on as his 2002 running mate.
Donohue did not run to succeed Pataki in 2006. In December 2006, Pataki appointed Donohue to be a Judge of the New York Court of Claims.
In July 2000, Pataki's name surfaced on the short list to be the running mate for Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, along with the names of Governor John Engler of Michigan, Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, former Senator John Danforth of Missouri, and former U.S. Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina. Bush eventually selected the man who was in charge of scouting vice presidential candidates, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. Pataki had strongly campaigned for Bush including an unsuccessful effort to keep John McCain off the New York primary ballot (which Bush ultimately won).
Pataki and New York GOP Chairman Sandy Treadwell faced controversy after naming moderate Assemblyman Howard Mills the party's nominee for the U.S. Senate against Senator Chuck Schumer over conservative Michael Benjamin, who held significant advantages in both fund raising and organization. Benjamin publicly accused Treadwell and Pataki of trying to muscle him out of the Senate race and undermine the democratic process. Mills went on to lose the election in the largest landslide for a Senate seat in the history of New York.
Pataki was instrumental in bringing the 2004 Republican National Convention to Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. New York City, which normally votes overwhelmingly Democratic (the Democratic Presidential candidates carried 78 percent of the city vote in both 2000 and 2004), had never hosted a Republican Convention. He introduced President George W. Bush. A year prior, Pataki had boasted Bush would carry the state in the 2004 elections; Bush lost New York 58–40 to John Kerry. Pataki notably orated, "This fall, we're going to win one for the Gipper. But our opponents, they're going lose one with the Flipper."
Pataki suffered a burst appendix and had an emergency appendectomy on February 16, 2006, at Hudson Valley Hospital Center. Six days later, he developed a post-surgical complication (bowel obstruction caused by adhesions) and was transferred to New York-Presbyterian/Columbia Medical Center for a second operation. From there, he was discharged on March 6. Doctors advised rest at home since his conditions could last up to a month. On the week of March 20–24, 2006, he appeared at a public press conference looking fit and thinner to comment on the progress of the annual budget and the recent Campaign for Fiscal Equity ruling from the New York state court. During Pataki's two surgeries, when he was under anesthesia, power officially transferred to Lt. Gov. Mary Donohue, making her the state's acting governor.
After leaving the governorship, Pataki joined the law firm Chadbourne & Parke in New York joining their renewable energy practice. He continued to flirt with a possible bid for President. After ruling out a presidential campaign, Pataki retained his political action committee, which he could legally use to further his own views and other political interests. In addition, Pataki has formed an environmental consulting firm with his former chief of staff John Cahill, the Pataki-Cahill Group and work with the Council on Foreign Relations on climate change issues. In the climate change issue, he is working with former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. He also serves as the Vice-Chairman of the board of directors for the American Security Council Foundation.
In September 2007, President George W. Bush appointed Pataki as a United States delegate to the 2007 United Nations General Assembly session. In this capacity, Pataki attended various meetings of the UN General Assembly and GA committees on behalf of the United States, during the annual GA session. When he was appointed to the post, to which he was confirmed by the United States Senate, Pataki announced he was planning on focusing on climate change and terrorism issues while at the UN. The UN post lasted for the length of the annual GA session.
The Governor George E. Pataki Leadership and Learning Center, located in Peekskill, New York, is designed to educate schoolchildren on government using Governor Pataki’s public service as an example. Charles Gargano, Pataki's former economic development chief, led the effort to create the center. On August 14, 2008, the New York Times announced that the center’s sponsors had "filed paperwork with the State Department of Education and are trying to raise $500,000 for a start-up fund so they can open the center in the fall." The center held Governor Pataki’s official portrait, which was moved to Albany at the end of 2009. The center has three directors: David Catalfamo, the governor’s former communications chief; Kimberly Cappelleri, Libby Pataki’s former chief of staff; and, Amy Holden, former executive assistant to the governor.
On February 19, 2009, the Associated Press reported that Pataki had been approached by Sen. John Cornyn, head of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, about a possible 2010 run for the U.S. Senate seat to which Kirsten Gillibrand had been appointed. On November 4, 2009, George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC News This Week, claimed "Pataki has told at least one major GOP donor in private that he is not interested in becoming a senator at the age of 64 and would rather run for president in 2012". On November 5, the Queens Village Times reported:
At the state level, there is increasing speculation that former Republican Gov. George Pataki will be challenging U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who was appointed to fill out the term of now-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Several weeks ago Pataki...gave the impression of being a man beginning a serious political comeback. If that contest takes place, we will have a former three-term governor running for a U.S. Senate seat. ...Pataki will be running as the Republican and Conservative candidate in addition to possibly obtaining the nomination of the Independence Party.
On April 13, 2010, Pataki confirmed that he would not run against Gillibrand.
In November 2009, Pataki traveled to Iowa, sparking speculation. Ending months of speculation, Pataki announced on August 26, 2011, that he would not run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Pataki announced in April 2010 that he was creating a nonprofit organization, Revere America, that would advocate repeal of the recently enacted United States Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which he said was a "horrific" and costly bungle. As of 2014, the organization is defunct.
On May 28, 2015, Pataki formally announced his campaign for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. After having considered, but deciding against a run in both 2008 and 2012, the 2016 election was Pataki's first federal-level campaign.
Pataki's run failed to gain traction. He failed to make the main stage in the candidate debates, being relegated to the undercard debates or being excluded altogether. His national poll numbers stayed in the one percent range. As of December 17, 2015 Governor Pataki had missed the filing deadlines for Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. On December 29, 2015, Pataki ended his campaign, and endorsed Florida Senator Marco Rubio. After Rubio's withdrawal he endorsed Ohio Governor John Kasich before the New York primary.
After video of Donald Trump making lewd comments about women emerged on October 7, 2016, Pataki said that the Republican nominee's candidacy was, "a poisonous mix of bigotry & ignorance." Pataki also said that he needed to step down.
A former Yale debater with an easy public demeanor, he supports abortion rights and pushed as governor for anti-discrimination rules protecting gays. He invokes Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican environmentalist and crusader against corporate power, as a political hero.
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1994, 1998, 2002
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