At Large

Pataki’s Hat Trick

Three endorsements, including one from the Times, which wouldn't want to be caught dead backing a loser.

By 10.29.02

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Now it is official. The lords of public opinion have spoken. New York City's three major dailies -- the Times, Post and Daily News -- have all endorsed Gov. George Pataki for re-election. Actually the endorsements were not unexpected. Whatever their devotion to high principle or their ideological commitments, newspaper publishers see no point in backing losers, and for a while now it has been clear that Carl McCall, a Democrat, would not be New York's next governor. Pataki, it seems, is a shoo-in, so why waste an endorsement on McCall?

Nonetheless the three dailies did strike different notes when they made their endorsements. Mort Zuckerman's Daily News was clearly the most enthusiastic. According to the News, Pataki has reduced crime, improved education, and apparently made the subways run on time. If he has a fault it is that he "has of late made a habit of promising too much to too many -- especially to interests that are sure to demand much in return should their votes help him win re-election."

As an example, the News cited the hundreds of millions Pataki doled out from the state treasury to fatten the salaries of teachers and hospital workers. The News said this had contributed to the $8 billion budget gap the state faced next year. But, as the News serenely added, "We trust he will be able to fill the hole he helped dig."

Rupert Murdoch's Post also credited Pataki with reducing crime, improving education, and other good things. But "regrettably," the Post said, "the governor has been tacking increasingly to port -- a shift, we'd argue, that has caused considerable damage to the state's financial and economic health."

Meanwhile the Post suggested that Pataki was in its debt, and that he owed it. The Post claimed that its hard-hitting reporting was responsible for McCall's demise. In fact, someone tipped off the Post that McCall, as state comptroller, in charge of the state's pension funds, had used official stationery to mention that his wife was looking for a job. The Post then ran with the story, and while McCall was never guilty of anything more than a minor indiscretion, the Post has made the most of it. It said in the endorsement editorial that when it "broke the news of McCall's abuse of his position as sole trustee of the state's $105 billion pension fund to benefit relatives, his poll numbers dropped like a rock down a well."

And finally, and most deliciously, Arthur Sulzberger Jr.'s Times. It said in a page-one story the week before last that Pataki was leading McCall by 11 percentage points among potential voters. Then it reported last week, in another page-one story, that Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was ready to write McCall off; the DNC would not give his campaign more money. "I've got to put the resources where we can win elections," McAuliffe told the Times.

That put the liberal Times in an untenable position. It did not want to back a loser, of course, but then it did not want to back a Republican, either. Nonetheless it had no choice. McCall was toast, and so it simply had to go with Pataki. Consequently it said that while Pataki did not deserve a third term, and had been mostly a flop as governor, he was a better choice than either McCall or Tom Golisano, the billionaire candidate of the Independence Party.

Meanwhile Golisano so far has spent $54 million on his campaign, while Pataki has spent $34 million. The TV and radio ads for both are ubiquitous, annoying and misleading. McCall, however, has spent only $14 million. Rush Limbaugh -- yes, Rush Limbaugh -- has said that Pataki is on the verge of "a slipshod victory," and that ordinary folks should contribute to McCall's campaign so there will be "a genuine competition."

Well, why not? There should be a genuine competition, and McCall, considered by most political observers to be a decent man, deserves better treatment than he has been getting. After all, he did knock the thuggish Andrew Cuomo out of the race, and since the Times supports his opponent, that should be a point in his favor. Conservatives, especially those few, those very few, in New York City, should consider voting for McCall at the top of the ballot, and then a straight Republican ticket thereafter. At least this would say you believe in a two-party system.

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About the Author

John Corry is a former New York Times media critic and reporter.