Mike and George: A beautiful Friendship?

By JAMES B. CHAPIN, UPI National Political Analyst   |   June 12, 2002 at 12:50 PM

NEW YORK, June 12 (UPI) -- Normally, the relationships of New York City mayors and New York State governors has been about as friendly as that between Hatfields and McCoys. But, six months into Mayor Mike Bloomberg's administration, he and Governor George Pataki seem to be the best of friends, the most trustworthy of allies.

Well, they are both moderate Republicans, shouldn't this be expected?

Actually, no. Historically, if anything, relations between mayors and governors of the same party have been worse than those between members of opposite parties.

Who can forget that Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller, after helping make John Lindsay the mayor in 1965, spent the next six years feuding with his one-time protege, until the latter changed parties? Or that Democratic Governor Hugh Carey went out of his way to defeat Mayor Abe Beame in the 1977 Democratic primaries, although his chosen tool for the job, Mario Cuomo, ended up losing the run-off election to Ed Koch?

Koch, at least, helped Carey win re-election in 1978, and Carey reciprocated by supporting him in his losing race for governor against Cuomo in 1982. Cuomo and Koch were never close, to put it mildly, and Koch's replacement by David Dinkins in 1989 did not bring tears to Cuomo's eyes.

Perhaps it should have, for the Dinkins circle blamed Cuomo, among others, for his defeat by Rudy Giuliani in 1993. Giuliani, of course, crossed party lines in 1994 to support Cuomo's bid for a fourth term, attacking George Pataki in typically (for Rudy) violent fashion.

The thinly-veiled hostilities between the Republican governor and the Republican mayor were on display for most of Rudy's two terms. They temporarily died down when Pataki's people supported Rudy's run for the Senate against Hillary Clinton in 2000, but resumed, full-force, as that campaign collapsed in a soap-opera nightmare of disease and marital dysfunction.

After 9-11, of course, Rudy suddenly became America's hero, and George benefited by standing behind him in the months that followed. Indeed, except for the events of 9-11, it is almost certain that Mike Bloomberg would not be Mayor and George Pataki would not be thirty points ahead in gubernatorial polls this year.

The post 9-11 atmosphere, of course, is one reason why Mike and George have been able to get along so well. When both mayor and governor are riding high in the polls, in an atmosphere favorable to incumbents and to "unity," there's a lot less reason to fight than there has been for four decades.

But that's not the only reason.

Let's look at why governors and mayors usually fight. There's a sharp imbalance between the two jobs in the nature of their power and of their publicity.

Mayors of New York get publicity -- the fact that New York City is the center of the national and the world media, and one of the few cities in America with competitive newspapers insures that. It's Mayors who appear on Saturday Night Live and the Letterman show, and Mayors who represent New York in the country's imagination.

Governors, stuck in the small city of Albany, don't get anywhere near as much publicity, but they have the power. And, while mayors get blamed for everything that goes wrong in their city, and usually end by losing an election, governors usually get re-elected for as long as they want to be. The "sophisticated" New York City media usually focuses obsessively on what City Hall is doing, while spending almost no time at all on what is happening in Albany, the place where most of the key goevernmental decisions are made.

Governors resent the mayors who get the publicity, and governors have the power to make the mayor's lives miserable. Mayors always have ambitions to go further than mayor -- and those ambitions always go nowhere, in part because governors make sure they don't. And in part because the very publicity of their jobs is a double-edged sword.

Why have these rules, so far, not affected Mike and George? 9-11 is, of course, one explanation, but it goes deeper than that.

For one thing, a billionaire New York City mayor has more power than a typical city mayor. For another, neither Bloomberg nor Pataki are as eager claimants for the spotlight as almost all of their predecessors.

This year, a lot of the attention has been paid to how Mike has been helping George win re-election. Mike has been using his money and his chits to help George reach to his left. Mike has been careful to say nothing bad about George even when he disagrees with him.

In return, George has been repaying Mike, making sure that in this year when everyone in Albany is up for re-election, and, while the state is passing a budget based on emptying every till in sight, that New York City is getting its share. Geoge is helping Mike win the control of the city education system which he laid out as his top legislative priority.

Less visibly, because Mike won his election with the support of both Rudy Giuliani and the tacit support of many of Giulaini's most bitter enemies, many of whom are tacitly or actively supporting Pataki this year, such issues as school governance, which have been "racialized" in the past, have not been racialized this year.

The real test of this alliance will come next year. In 2003, it is widely expected that the smoke-and-mirrors state budget passed this year will go to pieces altogether, while the Mayors' pledge not to raise taxes this year will expire. If these predictions come true, then Mike will need George to help him get permission to raise taxes in the city, while George will need Mike not to complain too bitterly while the city budget is creamed by necessary statewide cutbacks.

It's easy to be allies when both men are riding high in the polls together, but harder if and when one begins to feel that his own ratings are in jeopardy because of problems with the other's policies. On the other hand, both men seem more pragmatic and less passionate than many of their predecessors were, and it may be possible that this unusual relationship will continue.

If so, it will be the first time in some four decades that a generally positive relationship between a mayor and a governor has lasted for an entire term.

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