While the deal snared Rivera's endorsement, Pataki is counting on a highly unlikely billion-dollar ballooning of the federal share of Medicaid to pay for it, another hole the post-2002 governor will have to plug. Rivera's teachers-union counterpart, Randi Weingarten, has yet to endorse the gift-bearing governor, but she did give him the union's highest honor, the John Dewey Award, only given once before to a Republican, U.S. Senator Jacob Javits. Not even Pataki's decision to appeal a court ruling on the state's discriminatory funding formula stopped Weingarten, who understands the rules of election-year arrangements as well as the governor who once abhorred them.
All of this has occurred on the heels of an October 2001 budget agreement for the last fiscal year, patched together after the 9-11 assault by authorizing six new casinos, multistate lottery games, and video lottery machines at racetracks. Not since the state and city's near collapse in the '70s have we budgeted as irresponsibly, as if solvency itself were a gamble.
In the real world of re-election politics, some of this might be understandable if the governor faced a daunting Democratic challenge. What's worse is that the man who portrayed himself as a profile in courage is making the crassest deals with a 30-point lead in every poll. He is sacrificing the state's fiscal future to make himself a Republican star, foolishly hoping to earn the Cheney spot on the 2004 ticket or some other national post.
After voting against the 1993 budget and earning the enmity of the then senate GOP majority leader, Pataki went out for a drink at an Albany bar with his longtime aide Michael Finnegan. "It's all over for me in the senate," Pataki recalled saying in his book. "What's your choice?" asked Finnegan. "You said you'd be different."
Finnegan is now a wealthy investment banker, a sinecure secured by connections. Neither Assemblyman Pataki nor Senator Pataki would have voted for any of the recent deals engineered by Governor Pataki. The governor and his best friend are no longer pretending to be different.