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George Pataki: The Man Who Defeated a Political Icon

November 9, 1994 GMT

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ George Pataki loves pizza, beer and the Rolling Stones. He’s even inhaled.

But make no mistake, the 49-year-old Pataki is an old-line Republican. He grew up on a farm, went off to Yale University and then on to Columbia Law School. It was in college that he tried marijuana. He didn’t like it and stuck with beer.

During his campaign for governor of New York, Pataki pledged to cut income tax rates by 25 percent and hold state spending below the rate of inflation. He also vowed to sign legislation to reinstitute the death penalty.


It was a message that seemed to play well against Gov. Mario Cuomo, a liberal icon for more than a decade.

On Tuesday, Pataki won 49 percent of the vote to defeat Cuomo, who had 45 percent. Four other candidates split the rest.

″Tonight the people of this state spoke loudly and clearly that they want change,″ he said. ″As your governor, you are going to get that change.″

On the campaign trail, Pataki’s message about Cuomo was simple: ″Too liberal for too long.″

Cuomo indeed has been around. Governor for 12 years, he was lieutenant governor for four years before that and New York’s secretary of state for another four.

A year ago, Pataki was an unknown first-term state senator. Despite an eight-year career in the state Assembly, he had an undistinguished legislative record. He had been mayor of the small Hudson River city of Peekskill for three years before entering the Assembly.

But all that was before he was anointed by Sen. Alfonse D’Amato as the best hope to bring down Cuomo. D’Amato raised money for Pataki, ramrodded his nomination through the state party convention and lent him top campaign aides.

Cuomo sought to use the D’Amato link against his opponent.

″I will be an independent governor,″ Pataki insisted as the campaign wound to a close.

There are those who believe Pataki won’t hesitate to distance himself quickly from D’Amato, even if he does owe him. In 1992, Pataki won his state Senate seat after ousting veteran Republican state Sen. Mary Goodhue in a GOP primary. He had once served as her legislative counsel.

″We were friends. I had helped him,″ Goodhue recalls with bitterness.

Goodhue, among others, questioned not only Pataki’s loyalty, but also the depth of his beliefs. They point to his campaign claim of being a supporter of abortion rights and his record of voting for 10 straight years against Medicaid funding for abortions.

Following his stint as mayor of Peekskill, Pataki parlayed a series of real estate deals into a small fortune. His net worth has grown to just under $1 million and he is selling off half the old family farm in a deal that could net him another $500,000.

For Pataki, the run for governor had a simple purpose.

″Young people don’t have optimism about the future of this state,″ he said recently. ″Parents don’t tell their kids this is where the future is, this is where you can build a career and have a family and come back, and this is where to settle. ... We are going to change that.″