By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The Pataki ad barrage began back in June with a 30-second spot called "Democrat." A casually dressed man identified as Connor Smith poured himself a cup of coffee and, from behind the counter of his home kitchen, stared into a camera and described himself as "a lifelong Democrat." Announcing that he would vote for the governor, Smith said Pataki "kept his word" and "cut taxes 25 percent, balanced the budget, and created 300,000 new jobs."
What Smith didn't say was that he was an actor, with an Off-Broadway and daytime TV résumé. Contacted by the Voice, neither his agent nor his wife would answer questions about what he earned for his Pataki endorsement. But his wife referred us to the agent for details, and David Coakley, who works for J. Michael Bloom and Associates, confirmed that their firm had booked the job. No payments to Smith or Bloom appear on the Pataki campaign-disclosure statements, but he may well have been compensated by Pataki's media consultants.
The 44-year-old Smith also didn't mention that he's the sort of Democrat who let his registration lapse altogether for two years in the '90s and who rarely voted in party primaries, skipping the bloody 1992 race between Gerry Ferraro, Bob Abrams, and Liz Holtzman, for example. He's a guest-appearance Democrat. The catchwords of the Smith ad have, however, become the nub of the Pataki campaign, repeated like a mantra in every commercial as if multimillion-dollar repetition alone could make bogus claims true. Indeed, on those rare occasions when the grinning governor emerges from his calculated cocoon, all he does is mouth the same myth, as much a Method actor as his Democratic devotee.
How, precisely, did Pataki "create" 300,000 jobs? Did his tax cuts provoke the boom in Wall Street jobs or the striking spurt in immigrant-owned small businesses or the upswing in health care, higher ed, and other social-service employment? (Most of the growth occurred in these three sectors.) And if the governor is in fact responsible for every newly employed New Yorker, isn't he also responsible for a job-growth rate that lags so far behind the nation's we are ranked 47th among the states? Isn't it his fault that Standard & Poor's predicts our job rate will drop to dead last the next four years, achieving a puny 0.4 percent annual growth mark?
If Pataki "balanced the budget," why do his own econometric projections forecast a postelection $5.5 billion deficit? Why is state debt mushrooming by $28 billion under him, leaving New York tied with Louisiana for the lowest credit rating in the country? Didn't a Times editorial just tell us that his tax cuts--which amount to less than 15 percent of state revenue--"could create a fiscal crisis" whenever the inevitable recession occurs?
The Pataki advertising onslaught is designed to obscure the hard facts of New York's economy:Of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the Rust Belt, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester ranked 48th, 49th, and 50th in job creation over the first half of 1998, with Rochester actually losing jobs. In the 52 counties north and west of the governor's home in Putnam, the number of employed residents declined by 17,100 between August of 1997 and August of 1998, according to the Albany-based Fiscal Policy Institute. Forty percent of Pataki's income tax cut goes to the 5 percent of New Yorkers, apparently including Connor Smith, with the highest incomes. There is a minuscule difference in the state job rate before and since the tax cut, or between growth in the final 20 months of Mario Cuomo and the first three-and-a-half years of George Pataki. The state's gap between rich and poor, already America's worst, is widening under Pataki, with the rich getting richer while the poor and middle class have seen their real incomes decline. The governor's budget division forecasts annual drops in almost every significant economic category--from corporate profits to personal income to private employment--between 1997 and 1999, leading Budget Director Robert King to conclude in an April revenue analysis, "Virtually all of the assembled experts at the annual consensus forecasting conference expressed concerns about the sustainability of the current expansion."
As fake as pataki's reelection rationale is, it appears to be working, even if state residents aren't. He is such a preordained winner that the Times, which has endorsed every incumbent governor seeking reelection since Malcolm Wilson in 1974, is visibly struggling to find a basis to bless him.
The day after Peter Vallone won the Democratic primary, the Times said on its front page that he was entering the general election campaign "with less stature statewide than any Democratic gubernatorial nominee since at least 1966." That ranked Vallone, the second most powerful figure in city government for a decade, behind Hugh Carey, who was merely one of the state's 39 congressional representatives when he climbed out of the bowels of Brooklyn to defeat Wilson.
When Al D'Amato and the state GOP began last week to air commercials designed to profit from a civil war of misunderstanding between upstate and downstate, the Times pretended that Pataki would never do such a thing, reporting that he "avoided direct appeals to rivalries between the two parts of the state" in his 1994 race against Cuomo. Maybe no one at the Times recalls Pataki's dark ad, played deep into the night in every upstate market, suggesting that Rudy Giuliani's endorsement of Cuomo was a quid pro quo for steering state dollars into city coffers.
"And now Cuomo's cut a deal with the mayor of New York," Pataki told suburban Buffalo shoppers a few days before the election, "to send our tax dollars down to New York City to bail them out of their budget problems in exchange for political support."
A Times editorial this week pointedly assailed D'Amato, whom it will not endorse, for these poisonous ads, but took a different tack with the governor. In its bottom paragraphs, the editorial said Pataki couldn't "dodge responsibility," and that it was "incredible" that he was "allowing" the state party, which sponsored the vilest of the recent ads, to get so nasty. The editorial did not note, as a Times reporter had the day before, that Pataki had displaced D'Amato as the party's "chief fundraiser," making him the guy who picked up the tab on ads that portrayed "Sheldon Silver and the New York City liberals" as "sharks."
Nor did the Times cite the track record of anticity attacks by Pataki chronicled on its own edit page:"His school aid and property tax cut formulas are almost brazen in the way they discriminate against New York City." "The Pataki administration, which distributes the federal low income tax credits" that foster affordable housing, "is not giving the city its fair share, directing them instead to upstate developers." By joining a dairy cartel that could drive up milk prices 10 percent, Pataki was "taxing poor mothers" so he could "subsidize his supporters in upstate dairy communities." His "deep, unwarranted cuts in state aid to the operating and capital sides of mass transit" provoked the largest fare increase in history, far more than the suburban lines, "amounting to a deliberate policy of picking out city riders for punishment." His welfare proposals, including a "Draconian 40 percent cut" in the benefit levels, "punished the city." Two years of the governor's proposed 7000-bed prison expansion unveiled Pataki as "more interested in satisfying upstate legislators who see prisons as economic development engines in their districts" than actually dealing with the crime issue. His "blend of cynicism and whimsy" in the selection of a "novice judge" for lieutenant governor, Mary Donohue, "caters solely to upstate." His push for the "biggest change in admission standards in 30 years" at CUNY--making it "virtually the only public university to bar remedial education"--was in sharp contrast with his hands-off policy on remediation at all 14 of the state university's four-year colleges.
No pretense will make George Pataki an evenhanded governor. Neither can an ad make this a boomtime, other than on Wall Street.
Rudy Giuliani was the preordained winner of 1997, with every newspaper in his pocket from the outset, but at least he had what appeared to be a record of achievement. The people, rightly or wrongly, credited him for the dramatic reduction in crime. The force of his own personality--everything from his energetic visibility to his blunt and often brilliant rhetoric--made him look like a leader.
Pataki is the antithesis of Giuliani. He has fashioned a make-believe record from the slightest economic uptick, for which he bears no discernible responsibility. He is rarely seen or heard, here or in Albany. The mandatory Sunday Times Magazine cover salute could not get beyond its title--"Bland Ambition"--to find a heart or a head worth knowing. It was one thing for the grand masters of the GOP to invent a gubernatorial candidate in 1994 and program him to wage a virtual three-sentence campaign whose core premise was that enough money and more-than-enough-of-Mario was all they needed to win. It is another thing for Pataki to be stuck on the same three sentences four years later, offering only the vision of more tax cuts if we give him a second term.
The city media will try to protect us from the truth for another few weeks, just as they successfully camouflaged Giuliani in 1997. But George Pataki's indiscriminate assault on welfare, parole, CUNY, the tax base, school construction, legal services for the poor, and campaign-finance reform make him the most conservative governor in state history. Even the Times's fig leaf of liberalism--Pataki's pro-choice posture--is in grave doubt in view of his support for a so-called partial-birth abortion bill that the paper suggested would "outlaw most procedures used after the first trimester of pregnancy."