Tammany's Town: Mike and George -- pals?

By JAMES B. CHAPIN, UPI National Political Analyst  |  June 14, 2002 at 10:06 AM
share with facebook
share with twitter

NEW YORK, June 10 (UPI) -- Normally, the relationships of New York City mayors and New York State governors have been about as friendly as that between Hatfields and McCoys. But six months into Mayor Mike Bloomberg's administration, he and Gov. George Pataki seem to be the best of friends, the most trustworthy of allies.

Since they're 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 Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, after helping make John Lindsay the mayor in 1965, spent the next six years feuding with his one-time protégé, until the latter changed parties? Or that Democratic Gov. 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 Giuliani -- violent fashion.

The thinly veiled hostilities between the Republican governor and the Republican mayor were on display for most of Giuliani's two terms. They temporarily died down when Pataki's people supported Giuliani'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 Sept. 11, of course, Giuliani suddenly became America's hero, and Pataki benefited by standing behind him in the months that followed. Indeed, except for the events of Sept. 11, it is almost certain that Bloomberg would not be mayor and Pataki would not be 30 points ahead in gubernatorial polls this year.

The post-Sept. 11 atmosphere, of course, is one reason why Bloomberg and Pataki 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 governmental 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 Bloomberg and Pataki? Sept. 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 Bloomberg has been helping Pataki win re-election. Bloomberg has been using his money and his chits to help Pataki reach to his left. Bloomberg has been careful to say nothing bad about Pataki even when he disagrees with him.

In return, Pataki has been repaying Bloomberg, 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. Pataki is helping Bloomberg win the control of the city education system, which he laid out as his top legislative priority.

Less visibly, because Bloomberg won his election with the support of both Giuliani and the tacit support of many of Giuliani's most bitter enemies, many of who 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 mayor's pledge not to raise taxes this year will expire. If these predictions come true, then Bloomberg will need Pataki to help him get permission to raise taxes in the city, while Pataki will need Bloomberg 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 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.

Related UPI Stories
Trending Stories