The Imaginary Ticket


The Pataki coronation at the state Republican convention in Manhattan last week made little news, but one of the governor’s comments should have. Asked by the Times‘ Adam Nagourney if he would promise to complete his third term, the governor who vowed to never run for one said: “I absolutely expect to serve the full term.” When Nagourney tried again, Pataki declared: “It is my absolute intention” to finish the term. The answers were such classic doubletalk that the Times didn’t even choose to quote them.

Actually, the governor’s deliberate misdirection makes all the more important his decision to re-nominate Mary Donohue as lieutenant governor, positioning her to become governor should Pataki’s “expectation” or “intention” become less “absolute.” The Post did a pre-convention piece suggesting that Pataki will resign midterm either to join the Bush administration—as vice president or a Cabinet secretary—or to make real money in private practice while his administration is still in power. This speculation has become common wisdom in part because the governor, already exiled to Albany for most of his adult life, has long seemed disengaged and restless.

The specter of Donohue in charge of New York might be enough to prompt a statewide stampede to the Democrats. The Republicans added her to the ticket four years ago because she was blond and leggy, just like Pataki’s first lieutenant governor, Betsy McCaughey Ross, who was dumped because she wouldn’t shut up and just look good. Donohue used to work for senate GOP leader Joe Bruno and comes from Rensselaer County, right outside Albany, where her connections, both with Bruno and then state Republican boss Bill Powers, put her on the Supreme Court. She has been so invisible as lieutenant governor that her scant news clips feature a $37,000 breast cancer grant she steered to a Niagara County group.

Her convention biography stressed that she’s “traveled from her home in Troy to Buffalo to Mineola to Plattsburgh sharing the governor’s record.” It also said she chaired the governor’s Quality Communities Interagency Task Force, whose function was to spend a year “studying community growth throughout the Empire State.” The only other assignment noted in her biography was to chair a task force named by Pataki to examine school violence—a commission that produced innocuous recommendations that became state law without anyone even noticing.

The Post‘s Fred Dicker wrote in December that Donohue was “so widely regarded as a political lightweight that even many Republicans expect Pataki to dump her.” Bob McCarthy reported in The Buffalo News that Pataki was so close to dropping her that the state police “began a high level background check” on Erie County executive Joel Giambra, who was Pataki’s choice to replace her. But she somehow survived months of published put-downs leaked by unnamed Pataki aides.

Her acceptance speech was a cliché-ridden parody beginning with a look into the future that did not extend past election day: “Being here, all of us, together,” she said, “inspires me, invigorates me, and energizes me for what’s ahead for the next five months.” After wise words like “Our philosophy is people power, not political power,” Donohue invoked her own supposed “history-making” record “as a woman and a vote-getter.” She closed with a reference to 9-11: “Our unity will help us persevere to break through that dark cloud to see that bright horizon.”

Donohue, who had a press conference of her own when first nominated at the 1998 convention, is so under wraps that she had none this year. While even the GOP’s sacrificial lamb for attorney general, Dora Irizarry, answered reporters’ questions on the floor for 15 minutes, Donohue’s only appearance was at Pataki’s side during his press conference. When it was over, she was quickly guided out a side door.

The Voice followed her out the door and managed to get in two questions. Asked if she planned to serve out her full term, Donohue mimicked the governor. “It is my full intention to serve out my full term,” she said. “That is my intention.” We then asked about the latest Albany conspiracy theory, namely that Donohue will resign for a judgeship, possibly to an appeals court, before the governor steps down, paving the way for her 73-year-old mentor, Joe Bruno, to succeed Pataki and serve out the remainder of his term. “I will state unequivocally that there is no deal like that in the works,” she said.

It would be the last of many Pataki paradoxes if the governor who never is what he appears to be—ideologically or personally—were now to become a stalking horse for a senator who’s tormented him for much of his first two terms but now seems so inexplicably friendly.

Research assistance: Annachiara Danieli, Jen DiMascio.